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Rev. Henry Duncan 1774 - 1846


Henry Duncan the father of Scotland's first savings bank, was born October 8th 1774 at the Duncan Manse in Lochrutton. Lochrutton is in the southwest of Scotland near the Solway Firth. As a young man his education started at Dumfries academy he would go on to study at St. Andrews, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. About this time the Duncan Manse was visited by Rabbie Burns himself. Henry's father told his sons "Look well boys, at Mr. Burns for you'll never see so great a genius." At age sixteen in a move that foreshadows his later life he followed his two brothers to Liverpool to work at Heywoods bank. However finding Liverpool full of Englishman he only stayed three years. 


At age nineteen he returned to his studies and prepared to become a minister. He was following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Through both sides of his family he was connected to 150 clerics. At age 24 he received his license as a preacher. In 1799 he was offered three pulpits Ireland, Lochmaben and Ruthwell. Ruthwell was the poorest post of the three but the lure of his home area took him there. As a minister in Ruthwell his main concern was the poor and trying to help them. Henry was a man of many interests and abilities. He had a farm behind his manse as well as a garden. In addition he was a talented artist with focus on drawing. He also founded two newspapers and wrote essays under the title "The Cottage Fireside" However what he is most known for is the founding of Scotland's first savings bank in 1810. Henry worked hard against unfair treatment of people wherever he saw it.

The Rev. Henry Duncan Father of the Scottish Savings bank

The Rev. Henry Duncan


This included working for fair treatment of Catholics as well as being a abolitionist. Because of his great concern for the poor he started his bank. He wanted financial independence for everyday people. He felt government handouts were degrading and crushed the spirit. His bank proved a success. After a year he had deposits worth 151 pounds a high amount considering the poverty of Ruthwell. The cottage where the bank started is now a museum and can be visited year round with no charge. 

The Ruthwell Parish Bank

The Ruthwell Parish Bank

Within five yrs banks based on his concept were found all over the UK. During this time he went to London to have formal legislation passed, in order to protect depositors. He paid for the expense of this with his own coin including hiring a replacement minister for Ruthwell while he was gone. Other then his bank Henry is most known for restoring the Ruthwell cross. The cross is 18 feet tall and dates from around 664. However the dour church leaders after the reformation didn't approve of it and it was broken up in 1642. Henry discovered parts of it buried and other parts laying around the church and realizing what it was, had it restored over a twenty yr period despite the fact the order of its destruction hadn't been rescinded. It can be seen at the Ruthwell Church.


The inscriptions on it are from a devotional poem "The Dream of the Rood", the oldest poem in English written by Northumbrian poets circa 7th century. 

Towards the end of his life in 1843 feeling the government was sticking there noses in Church business, he helped start the free church. This meant leaving Ruthwell which was in the established kirk. He built a new free Church at Mount Kedar. He later moved to Edinburgh for a time to help the new kirk. In his lifetime he had been given a honorary degree of Divinity from St. Andrews. When Rudyard Kipling gave an address at Duncan's alma mater he began by saying "At first sight, it may seem superfluous to speak of thrift and independence to men of your race and in a university that produced Duncan of Ruthwell" In February 1846 while giving a sermon he collapsed from a stroke. He died on Feb. 12 1846.

by Ron Bentz


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