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Upon arriving in London from Manchester in March 1809, Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) moved to New Court St Swithin’s Lane, establishing N M Rothschild as a finance house dealing in bullion and foreign exchange. Nathan's sudden death in 1836 did not unduly affect the Rothschild partnership. Its operations continued much as before with Nathan's eldest son, Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879), at the helm of the London House. Lionel had been apprenticed in the family business in London, Paris and Frankfurt, before being admitted to the family partnership in 1836; Nathan's death just days later left Lionel as senior partner in the new firm N M Rothschild & Sons, which he formed with his three brothers under the close supervision of his uncle James (1792-1868) in Paris.
Nathaniel Mayer de Rothschild ('Natty') (1840-1915), created first Lord Rothschild in 1885, inherited his father's position as Senior Partner in 1879. Under his leadership, during a period of unprecedented growth in overseas investment the London house made over 70 loans, and was instrumental in establishing the Exploration Company to exploit new mining opportunities in the New World.
The Partnership in the twentieth century
The First World War marked a change of fortune and emphasis for the London house. By the end of hostilities in 1918, a new generation of Rothschilds found themselves at the helm of the London bank. Natty died in 1915, and was briefly succeeded by his brother Alfred (1842-1918). Alfred was in turn succeeded by his nephew Charles Rothschild (1877-1923). While the bank benefited from his practical and systematic approach to the organisation of the firm, his real interests lay outside the financial sphere. Upon Charles’ unexpected death in 1923, the bank was led by Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942). Lionel led the bank through the years of transition in the financial markets, when the demand for economic reconstruction in Europe resulted in a host of bond issues.
N M Rothschild & Sons entered the 1950s under the direction of Anthony de Rothschild. After the war, the British and French banks committed themselves to further developing their new operation in the United States, which was eventually to become Rothschild Inc., and increased focus on mergers and acquisitions and asset management. Although they withdrew from the business of refining bullion in 1967, with the sale of the Royal Mint Refinery to Engelhardt industries, the Rothschilds continued their role as leading international bullion dealers, having chaired the London gold fixing since its introduction in 1919.
The first non-Rothschild partner, David Colville (1909-1987) was appointed in 1960 and in 1970, under the leadership of Edmund de Rothschild, the bank was incorporated as a limited liability company - N M Rothschild & Sons Limited.
The Partners' Room
The Rothschild in charge of the business was traditionally known as the Senior Partner, other Rothschilds being Partners of the business. In 1865 the second New Court was completed in the style of a grand Italian ‘palazzo’ to the design of Thomas Marsh Nelson, of the firm Nelson & Innes. The domestic feel of the old New Court was swept away in favour of a building more imposing and business-like. An imposing stone facade faced St Swithins Lane, with great mahogany doors. Having been questioned and directed by the bowler-hatted officer at the gate, visitors would turn to the right and enter a panelled, deeply carpeted Entrance Hall. In front of them lay the great high-ceilinged General Office. To their left, if approved by the ‘front-hall man’ who stood guard in blue suit and morning coat, they might be ushered in to the Partners’ Room (known to employees simply as “The Room”), again panelled, where the family partners sat together, each with his own desk. The conversations of the Partners thus took place in a single large office at New Court. “The three brothers sat behind three desks in the same thickly carpeted, richly ornamented office, known reverently as ‘The Room’.”
It was in this room that they would agree on business, as well as discussing family and social matters. Natty had a hatred of letter writing and the very nature of life at New Court during his Senior Partnership meant that many of the the everyday decisions of the course of the bank were not recorded in paper and ink; the Partners did not formally minute their meetings, but they did keep correspondence files and notes, and the Partners wrote daily to their French cousins to inform them of their opinions and decisions, and any other matters they deemed pertinent.
This section of The Guide describes records of the Partners’ Room, and sundry papers of the Rothschild Partners; they are listed in chronological order of the date of their partnership. Unfortunately many of Natty’s papers were destroyed (on his wishes) after his death, including many personal papers, and papers kept by the Rothschild bank, a practice that was followed by his brothers and sons. Thus few series of Partners' records survive, although correspondence between the Rothschild banks will be found in records of the Correspondence Department. For later records see Chairman's Office. Records dated later than 1945 are closed and access to records earlier than 1945 is at the discretion of the Archive.