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Securing the site

From the very beginning our bank has been headquartered in Athol Street, in the heart of Douglas. Our first premises there, in 1865, were modest in size. As we thrived and grew our directors decided that we needed more prestigious premises, which could offer purpose-built and more spacious accommodation and which would better reflect our growing importance.

An opportunity was presented in 1898 by the sale of a number of adjoining properties on a commanding site at the junction of Athol Street and Prospect Hill. Prospect Hill had recently been widened to make way for a new cable tramway, and the resulting demolitions had created exactly the sort of site the bank’s directors wanted. They bought the property for £7,250.

A Scottish architect

As soon as the plot had been bought our chairman and general manager were quickly sent to seek inspiration from bank premises in England and Scotland. They returned full of ideas. It was agreed that the building should be constructed of granite – a finish that implied solidity and permanence – and several architects were invited to submit competitive designs. In 1899, after long debate, it was agreed that a Scottish architect, Dr Alexander Marshall Mackenzie of Aberdeen, should be appointed. Mackenzie had a promising track record, having designed a number of notable buildings in Scotland, including head offices and branches for three banks.

A palace of banking

Built between 1900 and 1902, our new head office was an impressive building by any standard. Mackenzie designed the façade in Italian Renaissance style using light grey granite especially shipped from Scotland; it ran 80 feet along Athol Street and 60 feet up Prospect Hill. This long and striking frontage boasted a cornice frieze of festoons carved out of solid stone, with polished medallions on the piers between the arched windows.

The grand doorway, surrounded by a pediment featuring the Viking ship of the ancient arms of the Kings of Mann, led into an unusual circular vestibule. Inside, the banking hall was fitted out with Norwegian and Italian marble, above which was a central dome of coloured glass depicting the towns on the island where we had branches. The woodwork was all polished mahogany, except in the directors’ room which had walls panelled in oak.

The doors open

The branch at our prestigious new head office opened to the public for the first time on 9 June 1902. The Isle of Man Times reported that it was: ‘without doubt the most imposing and beautiful building in the Isle of Man … Manxmen will be proud to see such a building occupy a prominent site in the town’.

In subsequent decades our Athol Street building has been extended and refurbished, notably in the 1930s and 1980s. Despite growing and changing to serve the needs of the customers, staff and business it serves it remains our historic flagship building and one of Douglas’s most distinctive landmarks.