Britannia Building Society

The Britannia Building Society was founded as the Leek & Moorlands Building Society in Leek in 1856. It expanded steadily as a regional society until the late 1950s when it began a major expansion drive, partly through branch openings but also some 55 acquisitions. The most substantial of these were the NALGO Building Society in 1960; the Westbourne Park in 1965 (becoming the Leek and Westbourne); and the Eastern Counties Building Society in 1974. The Society’s name was changed to the Britannia Building Society the following year.

Britannia Building Society
TypeBuilding Society (Mutual)
IndustryFinancial services
Founded1856; 167 years ago (1856)
Defunct1 August 2009; 13 years ago (2009-08-01) (merged into The Co-operative Banking Group)
HeadquartersLeek, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Number of locations
254 (2008)
Key people
Neville Richardson, final Chief Executive
ProductsSavings and Mortgages
£49.3 million (December 2007)
Total assets£36.8 billion (31 December 2007)
Number of employees
5,000 (2008)
ParentThe Co-operative Bank

Following theacquisition of the Bristol & West in 2005, the Britannia became the second-largest building society in the UK (based on total assets of £36.8 billion) at 31 December 2007.[1][2]

It merged with The Co-operative Banking Group in 2009, and was legally dissolved as a separate organisation on 1 August that year; it has remained as a trading name of The Co-operative Bank ever since.[3] In January 2013, the Co-operative announced that the brand would be phased out by the end of 2013,[4][5] and began rebranding branches under its own name.[6] However, the Co-operative Bank's own financial crisis resulted in the original plans being abandoned. Many Britannia branches were instead closed, and only a small number were retained and rebranded.


Early History and the Shaw eraEdit

The Leek & Moorlands Permanent Benefit Building Society was founded in the small Staffordshire town of Leek in 1856. There were already two terminating societies in the town, one of which was the Leek Benefit Building Society. The Leek Benefit’s solicitors saw the opportunity for a permanent organization and formed the Leek & Moorlands. The solicitor’s managing clerk, Thomas Shaw, was installed as Secretary, later managing director, and he ran the Society until his death in 1913. Under Shaw, the Society slowly expanded into the neighbouring areas of Derbyshire and the Potteries in the 1860s and 70s. One of the early features of the Society was that it was free to lend on commercial and agricultural property. In 1879 the Society registered under the 1874 Building Societies Act, taking the opportunity to shorten its name to the Leek & Moorlands. By this time the Society had around 1,750 members; this was to increase to 4,600 (now shareholders) by the end of Thomas Shaw’s long tenure. After his death, Thomas’s son Arthur took over the running of the Society until his death in 1929, by which time shareholder numbers were approaching 15,000. The Shaw family had controlled the Society for 73 years.[7]

1930s and Hubert NewtonEdit

Four years after the death of Arthur Shaw, the directors decided to look outside the Society for fresh leadership. In 1933, the 29-year-old [Sir] Hubert Newton was recruited as Secretary; he became a director in 1938 and under various titles, ran the Society until he retired as Chairman in1985, a span of 52 years. Like Sir Harold Bellman of the Abbey National and Sir Enoch Hill of the Halifax Building Society, Newton was one of the commanding figures in the building society industry. Described in the official history as “a maverick”, he had only been at the Leek for three years when he challenged the Building Societies Association over proposed rule changes and led a breakaway union, the National Federation of Building Societies (to merge back in 1940. Newton’s involvement with the Association (he was later chairman of the BSA) gave him a range of contacts which facilitated the Leek’s post-war acquisitions. However, with the exception of one small acquisition in 1938, expansion in the 1930s was still organic. Redden’s history recorded that in 1935 less than 2,000 out of 3,0000 members were local and branches had been opened as far afield as Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol.[7]

The Merger EraEdit

Led by Hubert Newton, the Leek & Moorlands embarked on a sustained strategy of both branch openings and the acquisition of smaller building societies. Between 1956 and 1983 there were 55 separate “amalgamations” of varying sizes. Some of these were very small. For instance, in 1967 and 1968, the Leek bought two London societies: the Acme with assets of only £62,000 and the Greater London Permanent with £30,000 assets – barely enough to mortgage a couple of four bedroom detached houses. The first large acquisition came in 1960 with the NALGO Building Society; .it added £13m assets to Leek’s £33m making Leek now number eight in the industry. In 1965 Leek merged with the Westbourne Park Building Society. Based in the Paddington area of London the Westbourne had been founded in 1885 by members of the Westbourne Park Baptist Church. With assets of £53m it was the 17th largest in the industry and it propelled the Leek up to number six. In the spirit of the merger, the Moorlands name went and the Society became the Leek & Westbourne. There were joint head offices and joint managing directors. The next large acquisition was in 1974, the purchase of the substantial Eastern Counties Building Society. Recognizing the Eastern’s regional importance, the Society changed its name to the unwieldy Leek Westbourne and Eastern Counties Building Society. However, within months the acquisition of the small Oldbury Britannia Building Society was the cue for a name change to the Britannia Building Society, effected in 1975.[7]

The BritanniaEdit

One year after the renaming of the Britannia, the number of individual shareholders was 550,000 compared with only 23,000 after the War. Albeit helped by substantial inflation, the value of total assets was £781m compared with only £11m in 1946. Of course, it was not the only society growing by acquisition and the Britannia was still ranked around number seven in the industry. The growth continued unabated and by1982 the number of members exceeded one million. In that year alone there were four acquisitions and 18 branches were opened, taking the total to 221. By then, however, the old guard was about to depart. The long serving managing director stood down in 1984 and Sir Hubert Newton retired as Chairman in 1985.[7] After that, there were only two more small acquisitions – the Blackheath in 1986 and the Mornington in 1991.[8]

Bristol & WestEdit

A branch of the Britannia in Gloucester displaying Co-operative branding.

The last acquisition was the deposit base and branch network of former building society Bristol & West (bringing with it approximately 700,000 customers) from Bank of Ireland in May 2005. This was the first major re-mutualisation in the United Kingdom (following the earlier demutualisation trend) and brought membership of the enlarged society to just under three million. Bank of Ireland retained ownership of the Bristol & West brand and all other parts of the business.[9]

Co-operative GroupEdit

On 21 January 2009, Co-operative Financial Services (later The Co-operative Banking Group) and Britannia Building Society proposed a merger,[10][11][12] first mooted in October 2008.[13][14] On 29 April 2009, Britannia members voted overwhelmingly to become part of Co-operative Financial Services, the first such merger between different types of mutual under the Butterfill Act.[15][16][17] CFS, which incorporated the Co-operative Bank and Co-operative Insurance Society, was itself a subsidiary of the Co-operative Group. On 1 August 2009, Britannia Building Society was legally dissolved and Neville Richardson, its last Chief Executive, became Chief Executive of the enlarged CFS.[18][19]

Coincidentally, the largest remaining building society, Nationwide, a competitor with Britannia, was itself formed in 1884 as the Co-operative Permanent Building Society to provide services to members of the co-operative movement.[20]


Earlier logo used until 1995

The Britannia group of companies included the following principal subsidiary undertakings:

  • Britannia International Limited[21]
  • Britannia Treasury Services Ltd.[22]
  • Britsafe Insurance Services (Guernsey) Ltd.[23]
  • Platform Home Loans Ltd.,[24] subprime mortgage loans for the use of UK intermediaries (mortgage brokers) only
  • Western Mortgage Services Ltd.[25]

A former member of the Building Societies Association and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, Britannia also subscribed to the Financial Ombudsman Service.


Plaque for the founding of the Society, in Leek

In 1999, Britannia was one of seven building societies unsuccessfully targeted by the carpetbagger Michael Hardern.[26][27] To fight this threat to its mutual status, in 1998, the society announced that new members would in future be required to assign any future windfall payments to the Britannia Building Society Foundation, a charity set up for this purpose.[28]

On the merger with Co-operative Financial Services, members of the former Britannia Building Society became members of the Co-operative Group. The membership reward scheme was replaced with the Co-operative Membership scheme on 31 December 2009, when members began to earn dividend based on their account holding and borrowing with Britannia.


Britannia was official sponsor of Stoke City F.C., which played in the Premier League between 2008 and 2018, and lent its name to the club's stadium. It also sponsored Ipswich Town F.C.'s west stand at Portman Road, the Britannia Stand, which was renamed the East of England Co-operative Stand in 2012.[29]

Britannia also maintained trade union affinity partnerships with UNISON—the Public Service Union (successor to NALGO), the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and Unity (formerly CATU).[30]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Building Societies' Assets Archived March 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Building Societies Association, July 2008
  2. ^ Building Societies Database Archived March 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine KPMG Financial Services, August 2008
  3. ^ Registered in England and Wales No. 990937. The Co-operative Bank is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority, No. 121885
  4. ^ Co-operative Bank to close 37 branches BBC News, 24 January 2013
  5. ^ Britannia Building Society: Unions disappointed at name change BBC News, 25 January 2013
  6. ^ "Branch updates". The Co-operative Bank. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d Richard Redden, A History of the Britannia Building Society 1856-1985, 1985, London
  8. ^ BSA list of mergers
  9. ^ Bank of Ireland to sell its Bristol & West branch network for £150 million Archived September 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine The Governor and Company of the Bank of Ireland, 24 May 2005
  10. ^ Britannia and Co-operative Financial Services unveil plans for super-mutual[permanent dead link] Britannia Media Centre, 21 January 2009
  11. ^ CFS and Britannia to create 'super mutual' Archived January 26, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Co-operative News, 21 January 2009
  12. ^ Haurant, Sandra CFS joins Britannia to form 'super mutual' The Observer, 25 January 2009
  13. ^ "Britannia in Co-op merger talks". BBC News. 12 October 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  14. ^ Hopkins, Kathryn Britannia and Co-op explore mutual tie-up The Guardian, 13 October 2008
  15. ^ Britannia members back super-mutual merger with The Co-operative Financial Services[permanent dead link] Britannia Media Centre, 29 April 2009
  16. ^ "Britannia/Co-op merger date set". BBC News. 29 April 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  17. ^ Sunderland, Ruth A mutual desire to be at the centre of banking The Observer, 5 April 2009
  18. ^ Merger Creates Powerful Force in Financial Services[permanent dead link] Britannia Media Centre, 3 August 2009
  19. ^ New-look CFS ready to take on the banks Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Co-operative News, 4 August 2009
  20. ^ Mansbridge, Albert Brick upon Brick: 50 years of the Co-operative Permanent Building Society London: JM Dent & Sons, 1934
  21. ^ Registered in the Isle of Man No. 50583. Licensed by the Manx Financial Supervision Commission to take deposits
  22. ^ Registered in England and Wales No. 03416197
  23. ^ Registered in Guernsey No. 30499. In Voluntary Liquidation[permanent dead link] La Gazette Officielle, JS980418/7/15
  24. ^ Registered in England and Wales No. 02334606
  25. ^ Registered in England and Wales No. 03191608
  26. ^ Jones, Rupert Britannia puts carpetbagger to ballot test The Guardian, 19 January 1999
  27. ^ "Britannia faces £3m ballot bill". BBC News. 22 April 1999. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  28. ^ Britannia Building Society Archived July 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine The Sentinel, 4 February 2009
  29. ^ Gooderham, Dave (11 July 2012). "Updated: Britannia Stand becomes the East of England Co-operative Stand". East Anglian Daily Times. Archived from the original on 21 July 2021. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  30. ^ The Added Value of Membership Archived December 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine UNISONPlus Membership Services (retrieved 15 August 2009)

External linksEdit