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A Brief History Of The Hongkong & Shanghai Bank Building, Ipoh
This photograph shows the magnificent Hongkong & Shanghai Bank building. Classical in style and once the tallest building in town it is described in the ‘Encyclopedia of Malaysia’ as:
'....showing the classical tripartite divisions of the base, piano nobile (main storey), and attic floor. Each is given a different treatment : the base is arcaded, the piano nobile defined by a series of bays, the attic level emphasized by the double band of cornices enclosing the row of panel windows.'
The Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corporation was founded in 1865 primarily for the China Trade and the mainly British Board of Directors saw no reason why they should expand into South East Asia. Nonetheless despite the ‘Great Depression’ of 1873 to 1876, they did open a Singapore branch in 1877, partly because of the opportunities offered by weakened competitors who had suffered badly during the depression years. In 1881 they were authorised to issue their own banknotes. Success in Singapore then led to the bank moving into Penang in 1884, albeit only in a small way and it was not until 1890 that it was deemed appropriate to build a house for the senior staff member there, who was still only known as an agent rather than manager.
It was not until 1910 that the bank embarked on expansion into the Malay Peninsula from the Straits Settlements. The driving force of this expansion was one, Mr T S Baker, the Singapore Manager, who after seeking assistance from Sir John Anderson, High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States and Governor of the Straits Settlements, on 19 August 1909, took a train, first to Melaka, then Seremban, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh and latterly Klang, to inspect the prospects for new branches. He reported to his superiors that it was essential that new branches be opened if the bank was not to lose both new and existing business from the Peninsula, for at that time Chartered Bank (The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China) already had branches in Kuala Lumpur, Taiping and Klang and representatives in Ipoh. Consequently, based on Baker’s report, new branches were opened within weeks of each other in Ipoh (rather than in Taiping), Kuala Lumpur and Johor. All were operational before the end of 1910.
Ioh Remembered advises that it would be more correct to say:
What Baker found in Ipoh in 1909 was a full-fledged branch of the Chartered Bank, not merely "representatives." In fact, by 1909 the Ipoh branch had already expanded beyond its original building.
As for the Ipoh branch of Baker's own bank, we can be more precise about when it opened for business: March, 1910.
The first manager of the Ipoh branch, based in a modest wooden building opposite the post office, provided by the government, was Arthur Hynes. However in June 1911, he rented space at the Straits Trading Company building in Station Road. It was not until 1931 that the bank could move into this magnificent building (above) at 138 Belfield Street, its own premises, at the corner of Belfield Street and Hale Street. which, subsequently, was officially opened by HRH, the Sultan of Perak.
Ipoh Remembered also offered:
"The "modest wooden building" provided to the bank was actually just a part of the old Government office building. At the time, another part of the building was being used as a church: it hosted the first Anglican congregation in Ipoh."
On the occupation of Ipoh by the Japanese invaders in 1941 and the bank was closed. The Japanese then set up a “People’s Bank of Perak,” house it in the samek Building and had it managed by the Yokohama Specie Bank. It reopened in 1942 and ran as the Yokohama Specie Bank until the Japanese surrender in 1945. During the period, many of the Hong kong Bank’s original local staff stayed on under their Japanese masters. It reopened again as the Hong kong and Shanghai Bank in early 1946. Surprisingly, the Japanese bankers had been kind to its predecessor as although gold and other valuables had disappeared, almost all the banking ledgers were untouched allowing banking to restart in 1946, from where it left off in 1942.
During the 1950’s changes in relationship between the value of the US Dollar and the Pound Sterling and the consequent rise in the USA’s economic power, led to British banks like the Hongkong Bank and Chartered Bank consolidating/merging with other banks. Thus in 1957 Chartered Bank took over Eastern Bank and Hongkong and Shanghai Bank took a 14% stake in Mercantile Bank (who had a branch in Ipoh). Then, in 1959 took over Mercantile completely. In Malaya, and latterly Malaysia this gave the Hongkong Bank a national branch network that could seriously challenge its old rival the Chartered Bank.