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The London Banking House

N M Rothschild & Sons

Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), left Frankfurt in 1798 and travelled to Manchester in England to take advantage of the revolution in the English textile trade. In 1806, Nathan married the daughter of a wealthy London merchant, and moved his family to London, to focus on the business of merchant banking. Nathan's London house, N M Rothschild, dealt in bullion and foreign exchange, issuing loans and providing banking facilities for a circle of clients. The London house, N M Rothschild & Sons, was to become one of the most renowned banks in the world. For further information, see The London house: history » 

The records of the London banking house

The records of the London house are a unique and unrivalled business archive. The London house, N M Rothschild & Sons founded by Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) has remained in premises in St Swithin's Lane in the City of London for over 200 years. Despite the depredations of time and occasional bouts of over-enthusiastic destruction, a high proportion of the records of N M Rothschild & Sons have survived across nearly two centuries of continuing business, in good physical condition and carefully preserved order, looked after by generations of clerks in the Archives Department of the London Bank.

It was Victor, 3rd Lord Rothschild, who, in 1978, with the encouragement of the historian J. H. Plumb, then Master of Christ's College, Cambridge, took the first steps towards putting the records of the London business in order so as to make them available to the research community. An Archivist was appointed and work began on sorting the records and systematising procedures for access. His initial task was to supervise the return of the volumes and parcels which made up the Bank's archives, from Exbury in Hampshire, the home of Edmund de Rothschild, where they had been housed for safe-keeping during and since the Second World War. Accommodation was secured within the Bank's City offices and sorting and listing work began in earnest. The only finding aid which then existed was a catalogue (hereafter referred to as the Old Catalogue) compiled around 1920 by clerks at a time when the Bank's filing system was being reorganised. The clerks were probably responsible for parcelling up the old records and recording the contents of each parcel or volume with covering dates, although some of this work may have been done when the material was sent down to the archive store, then housed beneath the courtyard of New Court. Within each department every series of records had a unique number assigned to it for ease of reference, though, in archival terms, it carried and revealed no organisational significance. 

When the archives were returned to the Bank, the Archivist arranged the records in order of department to reflect the sequence imposed by the compilers of the Old Catalogue in 1920. He assigned a Roman numeral reference code to each department and prefixed the departmental series number as allocated in the Old Catalogue with this Roman numeral. Thus the records of the Accounts Current Department bear the prefix I, the American Department II, and so on, in alphabetical order. Papers which had remained in New Court rather than going to Exbury were cleared out of the Bank's Vault and placed with the main Archive. The majority of these records related to Bank business, but some private family papers, mainly relating to deceased estates, were also accessioned.

In 1999, the Board of Directors of N M Rothschild & Sons Limited, under the Chairmanship of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, formally gifted the contents of the Archive Department of the London business to a newly established body of Trustees. Since 1999, the scope and scale of the Archive have gradually broadened as donations and deposits of further papers concerning the activities and history of the Rothschild family have been received.

How to use the Guide to records of the London banking house

The layout of the Guide has been designed to make the Archive both intelligible and accessible to researchers. Records relating to Nathan Rothschild's early business in Manchester have been placed first followed by records generated by departments of the London Bank, N M Rothschild & Sons. These broadly follow the alphabetical order imposed by the first Archivist. As the numbering system of the Old Catalogue follows no archival logic, the compilers of the Guide have imposed an artificial structure on the records within each Department to assist the researcher. For example, the records of the Bullion Department have been divided into accounting records and correspondence, and the latter division has been further subdivided into incoming correspondence and copies of outgoing correspondence.  

Two sources of information are useful for understanding the structure of the Bank around the turn of the 20th century and the function of some of the record series. In 1908, Charles Rothschild carried out a review of the Bank's accounting practices with a view to improving the speed at which the balance sheet could be drawn up. A list was prepared "of the books and records which enter into the framing of the accounts", not all of which have survived. Questioning of the various departmental heads revealed a lack of understanding as to why some accounts were recorded in a particular series (the Indian 4½% Rupee Account within the records of the American Department caused particular consternation). It became apparent that there was much repetition of work by different departments, especially in relation to Rothschild family stocks, which were handled by the Accounts Current Department and the Private Accounts Department. The report that Charles Rothschild produced provides some comfort to the archivist who tries to understand an accounting system that was, in part at least, unintelligible to those working with it.

Records of N M Rothschild & Sons, London held by the Archives Nationales du Monde du Travail, Roubaix, France

There is one series of material relating to the London house which is held at the Centre des Archives du Monde du Travail : 132 AQ 15 Rapports avec la maison de Londres, 1921-1938. 

Records of other banking houses in the collections of the London banking house

Records of other Rothschild banking houses, M A Rothschild & Söhne, (Frankfurt), de Rothschild Frères, (Paris), S M von Rothschild, (Vienna) and C M de Rothschild & Figli, (Naples) are to be found in the records of the London business, N M Rothschild & Sons.