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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 CLC/B/207-5
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1909-1972
Level of description: Collection
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Extent: 1261 production units.
Name of creator(s): Eastern Bank Ltd


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Eastern Bank Limited was founded in London as a limited company at the end of 1909 as a new Eastern 'exchange' bank, to help finance trade with the East. As well as the Head Office in London, which exercised close day-to-day control, it had two overseas branches, established in 1910 in Bombay and Calcutta. From the start the Bank had a number of powerful institutional shareholders, including the Eastern trading house, E D Sassoon.

A Baghdad branch opened in 1912, but was closed by the Turks at the start of the First World War. However, as British power increased in the region, the Bank profited greatly from British official support, and from the Banking business of the Government of India. The Baghdad branch was reopened, and further branches in Iraq were opened at Basra (1915), Amarah (1916), Mosul (1919) and Kirkuk (1926). There was also a branch at Hillah from ca.1919 to ca.1925.

Further branches in the Indian sub-continent opened at Colombo, Sri Lanka (1920), Madras (1922) and Karachi (1923). A branch in Singapore opened in 1928.

After the First World War the Bank faced stiff competition in India from older-established British banks, and needed to diversify. It thus became the pioneer of modern banking in the small sheikhdoms on the Arab side of the Gulf, British protectorates which lacked modern financial institutions. The first such branch opened on the island of Bahrain in 1920. This was a logical development because of the Bank's existing strength in Bombay, which had close trading links with Bahrain. The British authorities welcomed this initiative, and the Bank remained the only bank on the island until 1944.

The economy in Bahrain, based on pearl diving, was virtually destroyed in the late 1920s when the Japanese discovered how to make artificial pearls, but was saved in the early 1930s by the discovery of oil in the Gulf. By the late 1930s the Bank was very profitable from meeting the needs of the oil industry.

However the vigour of the 1920s was not followed through, and between 1928 (Singapore) and 1947 no new branches were opened. The effects of this inaction were particularly serious in the Arab Gulf, where the Imperial Bank of Persia (later the British Bank of the Middle East) secured monopoly agreements during the 1940s with the rulers of several important sheikhdoms, in particular Kuwait. Eastern Bank's room for expansion among the Gulf states was thereafter severely limited.

Piecemeal expansion after the Second World War, in areas of South East Asia and the Indian sub-continent in which the Bank already had a presence, led to new branches in Penang, (Malaysia) (1947, closed 1958), with a sub-branch at Butterworth (1948, closed 1957); Kuala Lumpur (1948), Chittagong (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) (1948, closed 1958); and Cochin (India) (1953, closed 1958). New branches were also opened at Aden (1951), with a sub-branch at Steamer Point (1953, closed 1958), and further branches or sub-branches in the hinterland of Aden at Ma'alla (1963, closed 1968) and Sheikh Othman (1964), and in Yemen at Mukalla (1955) and Seiyun (1962).

A branch was also opened in Beirut (1956), as were sub-branches in Baghdad: at Southgate, also known as Rashid Street (1955); and Alwiyah (1962). Otherwise expansion up to the mid 1960s was confined to the Arab Gulf, including Doha (Qatar) (1950); Sharjah (1958); Abu Dhabi (1961); Al Ain (Buraimi, Abu Dhabi) (1962); and a sub-branch at Muharraq (Bahrain) (1964).

During the 1960s the Bank suffered from political changes in several Arab countries. For example on 14 July 1964 all the branches in Iraq were nationalised, and those at Aden, Mukalla and Sheikh Othman were nationalised on 28 November 1969. At the end of the 1960s, therefore, there was a further spate of branch openings, especially in the Gulf states, which were seen as offering greater political stability: Abu Dhabi (Sheikh Hamdan Avenue sub-branch, 1970); Bahrain (sub-branches at Umm al Hassam, 1967 and East Rifa'a, 1970); Dubai (1967), with a second branch in Dubai at Deira (1968); and Muscat (1968), with a sub-branch at Muttrah (1970). A sub-branch was also opened at Bowbazar in Calcutta (1969).

During the 1930s and 1940s Barclays Bank (DCO) had built up an interest in Eastern Bank's shares. It appears that it did this both as an investment, and to facilitate business with Arab customers, in which Barclays had been handicapped because of its strong Jewish customer base in Palestine. In 1939 the Chairman of Barclays (DCO) joined the Eastern Bank board, and by 1957 Barclays Bank and the Sassoon family between them held 65% of the shares and effectively owned the bank

In 1957 Eastern Bank was seriously weakened by heavy losses in Bombay and Calcutta, much of it the result of business dealings of a single customer, Haridas Mundhra. In the same year Barclays and the Sassoon family sold their controlling interest in the bank to Eastern Bank's old rival, Chartered Bank. Chartered Bank at that time faced increasing difficulties with national governments in its traditional areas of China, India, Burma and Ceylon, and was looking for new areas of business. Eastern Bank's Gulf business was immensely attractive.

Eastern Bank remained a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chartered Bank, but with autonomy, from 1957 until 1971. In that year it was absorbed by Chartered Bank and its name disappeared.

Eastern Bank's sole London branch, and Head Office, was at 9 Fenchurch Avene, 1910; 4 Crosby Square, 1911-24; and at 2-3 Crosby Square, 1925-71.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of Eastern Bank Limited. The archives are those of the London Head Office, and most of the correspondence is in the name of the General Manager. The collection includes corporate records; minutes; General Manager's papers; accounts; correspondence with branches; inspection of branches; lending (except the Mundhra loan); staff records; and premises records.

Access to the archives is subject to a 45 year rule, with a 70 year rule for records containing personally sensitive information. In addition, all records are held off-site, and require at least 24 hours notice for access.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Records arranged by MS number, assigned during cataloguing at the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.

Conditions governing access:

Access by appointment only. Please contact staff.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to this collection rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

The Eastern Bank archives have some significant gaps. First, Standard Chartered has retained all board minute books and all shareholders' records. In addition, a cut-off date of ca.1965 was applied to the transfer, to protect confidentiality. Material later than 1965 which was left with Standard Chartered is believed to have been destroyed, though Guildhall Library was able to receive the whole of several major archive series to 1971. In addition, important early material on Eastern Bank between 1910 and ca.1930, listed before 1989 in archival surveys by the Business Archives Council and others, remains untraced.

Immediate source of acquisition:

The Eastern Bank archives, part of the archives of Standard Chartered Bank, were deposited in the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library at various dates after August 1989, when Standard Chartered discontinued its in-house archive service. GL Ms 39015/1-3, comprising three bundles of correspondence, and Ms 39037, comprising one bundle of circulars of specimen signatures, were presented to the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library by Barclays Bank Group Archives in May 2000 and February 2001. The Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section merged with the London Metropolitan Archives in 2009.

Allied Materials

Related material:

See CLC/B/207-6 for papers relating to the Mundhra Loan.

Publication note:

For further information about the transfer of the records to Guildhall, see S G H Freeth, 'Destroying Archives: a case study of the records of Standard Chartered Bank', Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol.12 no.2 (autumn 1991), pp.85-94.

There is no published history of Eastern Bank, but the following are useful: A Story Brought Up To Date, (Standard Chartered Bank, privately printed, 1980); and Geoffrey Jones, British Multinational Banking, 1830-1990 (Oxford 1993). However some of the material used by Jones has not reached the Archive.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
January to May 2011.

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