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This bank’s statement design made national headlines when it was unveiled by rising young architect Alfred Waterhouse in 1866. Waterhouse was commissioned by the Bassett family to create the bank – Leighton Buzzard’s prominent banking family wanted an impressive new building that matched their ambitions.
Then aged 36, he delivered an eye-catching design reinforced with steel and fitted out with fine mahogany and ebony wood. It would serve as one of the launchpads for a career that would see him become one of the pre-eminent architects of his time – certainly the most financially successful of the Victorian era.
Famed for his Victorian ‘Gothic Revival’ style he went on to create the Manchester Town Hall, the Law Courts on London’s Strand and, most famously, the iconic Natural History Museum – his crowning achievement.
The Bassetts, who began in the banking business with other Quaker partners in 1812, had their heart set on a new bank two years after the Corn Exchange was built. They carried on conducting their affairs across the road at 55 High Street while the exciting design came to life on Market Square, complete with a spacious home for the manager upstairs and an attractive garden shaded by mulberry trees. In 1896 it amalgamated with Barclays and other Quaker banks.
Its construction was one of many architectural achievements overseen by the Bassett family during their 150 years in Leighton Buzzard. They included the Friends Meeting House in North Street, Lecton House – the home of Mary Bassett’s philanthropic work, the Corn Exchange – bought by Francis Bassett, and The Cedars, formerly a Bassett family home that the Borrowers author Mary Norton lived in.