The Ulster Banking company was founded in 1836 by a group of merchants seeking to improve banking facilities in the north of Ireland. It first began trading in Belfast on 1st July 1836 and its aim was to establish branches in all the principle trading towns In Ulster.
Portadown was one of the first towns to attract the new banks attention. In the early nineteenth century, Portadown was a busy market town. Located on the main road from Armagh to Belfast, it was at the heart of a ‘prosperous agricultural district’. The town economy was thriving on the manufacture of cotton and linen. The River Bann also brought a number of trade opportunities to the local area.
The town developed further during the early Victorian period following the arrival of the Ulster Railway. The number of the town’s inhabitants increased from 1,591 in 1831 to 2,505 in 1841.
A Developing Market town welcomes the Ulster Banking Company
The Ulster Banking company was keen to be represented in the town and suitable premises were found. The Portadown Branch opened on 8th October 1836 under the management of Thomas Carleton. It was the new banks fifth branch and the only bank office in Portadown. The first premises were in Bridge Street opposite Watson Street, as most of the town was developed from the Edenderry area.
By 1857, the continued growth of business meant the bank had to move to larger premises in High Street under the management of James D Mitchell. The building the bank moved too was an old and established premises.
The basement it seems had been used by local Presbyterians for worship some time before 1816. The bank’s new home not only included public business rooms on the ground floor but also the then customary living quarters for the manager and his family. In this case, the living quarters were unusual as they were above the public thoroughfare used for horses and carts.
Of course, this is still open today for pedestrians to access Meadow Lane. The ornate cast iron wall protectors, made in Portadown Foundry, to protect the wall from horses and the wheels on the carts can still be seen today.
Name Change to Ulster Bank
The Ulster Banking company itself was also thriving. Its rapid expansion prompted the adoption of limited liability in 1883, and a change of name to Ulster Bank.
Ulster Bank continued to grow in the town and by the 1930’s a rebuild of the branch was required. The old bank was demolished and replaced by a new three storey building designed by Belfast architects Blackwood & Jury, which opened for business on 19th December 1933. The old carriage arch for meadow lane was of course retained.
In 1960 the branch was extensively refurbished as part of a major programme of branch modernisation. The branch is still going strong as it celebrates 184 years in the town.