Private Issues – The Chief Treasury of Wales and the Black Sheep Company

Peter Symes

In Wales the flame of independence lingers many centuries after the conquest of the principality by the English. A Welsh language and culture struggles to survive the onslaught of English domination and the struggle sometimes produces interesting side-effects. Over thirty years ago the threatened interests of Wales prompted a Welshman to challenge the authority of the British Government and the British banking system. The issues by the Chief Treasury of Wales and the Black Sheep Bank managed to attract the interest of Welsh nationalists and gained great notoriety in Great Britain. Today, the notes issued by the two authorities are amongst the most sought after of all private banknote issues.

            The man behind both ‘issuing authorities’ and their note issues was Richard Williams, a Welshman who had been employed in the banking industry for many years and who was an Associate of the Institute of Bankers. In 1968 there was some debate in Wales concerning the possibility of establishing a Bank of Wales, which would be used to promote trade and industry in the principality. While the debate carried on around him, Mr. Williams wrote to the Prime Minister of Britain asking that the name ‘Bank of Wales’ should only be used for a company that promoted the best interests of Wales. His letter passed through official channels and he received several replies. One of the replies was a letter from the Board of Trade, which stated that no company would be permitted to use the title ‘Bank of Wales’ unless they really deserved the name.

            Richard Williams, as will become apparent, was not overly impressed with the bureaucratic government of his day and so he immediately devised a response to the letter from the Board of Trade. His response was to register a company with the name ‘Prif Trysorfa Cymru Limited’, with shares of £100 split between himself and his wife. The Board of Trade duly registered the company, apparently unaware that the Welsh name of the company was translated as ‘Chief Treasury of Wales Limited’.

            Having embarrassed the Board of Trade, Mr. Williams then wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales, stating that it was unnecessary for the debate on the formation of the Bank of Wales to continue, as he had taken the necessary steps in establishing his company, which would look after the interests of Wales. Having taken his enterprise to this point, the next logical step was to produce some form of currency. Aware of the law and the restrictions placed on him, Mr. Williams decided to print and issue bills of exchange.

            Within several months the ‘Prif Trysorfa Cymru Limited’ was issuing ‘payment orders’, which looked and worked in a manner similar to cheques. The payment orders were used to transfer money and pay bills, and they were cleared through the clearing banks just like cheques. The payment orders, and subsequent financial instruments prepared by Mr. Williams, had a block of black ink towards the bottom of the notes. This ink was magnetic ink and it allowed the encoding of data which was used by the clearing houses to process the payment orders, just as the cheques of the day had encoded blocks. Mr. Williams’ experience in the computing industry had made him aware of this necessity, which enabled his payment orders to be efficiently processed.

            In 1969 the activities of the ‘Prif Trysorfa Cymru Limited’ and the realization of how the name should be translated brought a reaction from the Board of Trade. They wrote to Mr. Williams, stating that they had misinterpreted the name as the ‘Chief Treasure house of Wales’ and debated whether ‘Treasure house’ or ‘Treasury’ was the correct translation of the company’s name. The letter also asked what activities the company intended to undertake and whether Mr. Williams might consider changing the name of his company.

            Ever ready to accommodate the officials, Mr. Williams replied that he did not wish to change the name of his company and that very soon he intended to issue promissory notes payable on demand. He also mentioned that he had plans to undertake the business of foreign exchange. Immediately after replying to the Board of Trade, Mr. Williams created four promissory notes on his typewriter. The text of the four notes – in the denominations of 10/-, £1, £5 and £10 – was in Welsh and stated that the Chief Treasury of Wales promised to pay the bearer on demand. To be legal instruments, the notes had to carry a two-penny duty stamp from the Board of Inland Revenue. So the notes were sent to the Board and returned with the stamps duly imprinted, without so much as a murmur from officialdom.

            Having gained success in this exercise, he immediately lifted his horizons and printed a number of banknotes and had them stamped with a revenue stamp dated 17 March 1969. The notes carried a promissory clause in Welsh and English. The English clause read: ‘This promissory note drawn by the Chief Treasury of Wales Limited promises to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ten shillings sterling’. This clause appeared on the 10-shilling note, but he also issued three other denominations. However, very few of each denomination were stamped with the revenue stamp. The numbers of each denomination to receive a revenue stamp were: 10/- – 100 notes, £1 – 49 notes, £5 – 26 notes, and £10 – 26 notes.

            By this time the activities of Mr. Williams had been brought to the attention of the media and the demand for the notes was immediate. The very few notes, which were really a token issue to challenge the banking laws, were quickly sold. Due to the limited number of notes prepared, they are now prized collector’s items.

            Surprised at the success of his ‘Treasury Notes’, another batch of the notes was sent to the Board of Inland Revenue to be stamped. However, by this time, such was the publicity surrounding the notes, that a little more care was taken by the Board of Inland Revenue in examining them. In due course Richard Williams was advised that under the ‘Bank Notes Act, 1826’ no promissory notes under the value of £5 can be issued and therefore the notes would not be stamped. The Board also noted that the notes previously stamped had been done so in error.

            Not deterred, and actually encouraged by the demand for his notes, the £5 and £10 notes, which could be issued under the Bank Notes Act, were returned to the Board of Inland Revenue and duly stamped. The two lower denominations without the revenue stamps were stamped ‘Cancelled by Order’ and sold as souvenirs.

            The notes issued by the Chief Treasury of Wales are very simple in Design. The value of the note appears in a circle in the top right and bottom left of the notes. Most of the text of the notes, including the name of the issuing authority and the promissory clause, appear in the top left. The bottom right of the note contains the red dragon of Wales astride an abacus. The back of the notes carry a full colour illustration of Caernarvon Castle and quayside. The illustration of Caenarvon Castle in Victorian times was copied from a watercolour by an obscure artist identified as A. Netherwood. This painting had been plucked from obscurity to appear on the banknotes simply because it had hung in the family home of Mr. Williams and he had a fondness for the painting.

            On 26 March 1969 the Board of Trade advised Mr. Williams that he would have to change the name of his company, as its title was misleading. Realizing that officialdom was about to bring its full weight down on him, he decided to perpetrate a little sleight of hand. He duly applied to change the name of his company to ‘Cwmni y Ddafad Ddu Gymreig Limited’. The Board of Trade, no doubt relieved at the capitulation, duly authorized the change. The officials who consented to the change were probably unaware that the ‘Welsh Black Sheep Company’, which is how the Welsh name is translated, was the name by which the last Welsh bank was commonly called.

            The Aberystwith and Tregaron Bank had previously issued notes with black sheep on them, with the number of sheep indicating the denomination of the notes. While the term ‘Black Sheep Bank’ would have been unknown to most Englishmen, it was part of the history of every Welshman. However, before the change of name was to take effect, on 30 April, the cunning Welshman identified a way of issuing his 10 shilling and £1 notes prepared for the Chief Treasury of Wales. Rather than issuing them as promissory notes, payable on demand, the text on the back of the notes was altered to make the notes payable one day after sight. By making the notes below the value of £5 ‘sight’ notes, rather than ‘demand’ notes, Mr. Williams was able to circumvent the restrictions of the ‘Bank Notes Act, 1826’. The Inland Revenue Board, after some hesitation, duly printed their revenue stamp on the ‘sight’ notes and returned them.

            In an effort to indicate the transition from the Chief Treasury of Wales to the Welsh Black Sheep Company, the ‘sight’ notes had two black sheep printed on them. Very soon after the Welsh Black Sheep Company came into existence, a new series of notes was issued and the notes were issued in the usual four denominations. Dominated by a line drawing of the Menai Bridge, the design of the notes includes black sheep on the front of each note. The 10/- note has a black lamb, the £1 note a ewe, the £5 a ram and the £10 two rams. The 10/- and £1 notes were issued as ‘sight’ notes, while the £5 and £10 notes were payable on demand.

            However, in recognition of the change in name of his company, the following Welsh phrase appeared at the bottom of the notes: ‘Gynt Prif Trysorfa Cymru Cyfyngedig’. This translates as ‘Formerly, Chief Treasury of Wales Limited’.

            The front of each note was designed by Francis Llewelyn Traversi, a commercial artist from Llandudno, and his name is printed at the bottom left of each note along with the date ‘1969’. The drawing of the Menai Bridge is adapted from line engraving by J. W. Amrose of Bangor, which was published about 1830. The bridge across the Menai Strait is a wonderful feat of nineteenth-century engineering. Designed by the famous British engineer, Thomas Telford, it was the first suspension bridge of its scale constructed. The building of the bridge commenced in 1819 with the construction of the limestone arches and piers. The bridge was opened with much celebration on 30 January 1826. Although having undergone a number of modifications and some reconstruction over the years, it remains an important element of the Welsh road system. The back of each note continued to carry the full colour illustration of Caernarvon Castle that had appeared on the earlier issues of the Chief Treasury of Wales.

            The details of the Chief Treasury of Wales and the Welsh Black Sheep Company to this point have been garnered from book by Ivor Wynne Jones called ‘Money For All, The Story of the Welsh Pound’. The book was published in May 1969 and does not complete the story of the enterprises launched by Richard Williams.

            Although the book describes several other challenges undertaken by Mr. Williams, such as creating a million-pound note and trying to get his notes recognized as legitimate instruments for sterling currency, the end of his story remains untold in the book. However, it is possible to identify some of the later issues of Mr. Williams’ Black Sheep Bank.

            It is one of those happy coincidences that the necessity for the notes of the Black Sheep Bank to carry a revenue stamp has also left a trail of the chronology of the issues. Each revenue stamp carries the day, month and year of issue, and it is possible to build a picture of the banknote issues from this identifier.

            The last banknote issue mentioned by Ivor Wynne Jones is the issue with the Menai Bridge on the front and Caernarvon Castle on the back. This issue is known to carry revenue stamps for 28 April and 6 May 1969. The next issue is the new denomination of five shillings. It is not certain whether this was an extension to the previous series, a single note issue, or whether this note was part of a larger series, as only one of this type of note has been identified during the research undertaken for this study. The 5-shilling note sees the retention of the design with the Menai Bridge on the front, but the back of the notes carry a green geometric design with the denomination repeated five times in numerals. The front of this note carries an image of what is (probably) a black sheep, but it looks more like a small bull. The notes of this issue have been seen with a revenue stamp of 18 June 1969 and carry the signature of Richard Williams printed with a blue stamp. Also stamped on the front of the notes is ‘ENGHRAIFFT’ which is the Welsh word for ‘Example’. This suggests that a number of these notes, if not all of them, were sold as unissued samples.

            The next series to be recorded is the ‘Castle’ series. Each of the usual denominations were printed with an image of a Welsh Castle on their front. The castles on each note are: 10/- – Laugharne Castle; 1 pound – Conway Castle; 5 pounds – Harlech Castle; and 10 pounds – Cardiff Castle. In addition to the castles, each note carries an image of a sheep at the bottom left and a red dragon, the national symbol of Wales, at the top right. Although Richard Williams had used the red dragon on his issues by the Chief Treasury of Wales, this was the first series of the Welsh Black Sheep Company to carry the symbol.

            The notes of the castle series are of interest in that they are all ‘sight’ notes, even the higher denomination notes. It is not known why the issue of sight notes for the higher denominations was preferred to demand notes. There are two different varieties of notes in this series. The varieties are determined by the text on the front of the notes and the design on the back of the notes. The first variety is identified by the text in the promissory clause, which (for the 10-shilling note) ends ‘... DDEG SWLLT GYMRAEG’. This translates as ‘... Ten Welsh Shillings’ and the theme of denominating the notes as ‘Welsh Shillings’ and ‘Welsh Pounds’ extends to the promissory clause and the design on the back of the notes.

            The other identifying feature of the first variety of Castle series notes is the text at the bottom on the front of the notes. The Welsh text for ‘Chief Treasury of Wales Limited’ is written just above the English translation of the phrase. The oversight in omitting the word ‘Gynt’, which translates as ‘Formerly’, before the phrase has been recognized and it appears misaligned before the Welsh phrase in a different typeface, appearing very much as an afterthought. These notes of the first Castle series have been recorded with revenue stamps dated 9 and 20 October 1969.

            The green geometric design of the previous series is continued in the Castle series, but it has been modified and the quality of printing has decreased. In the centre on the back of the ten-shilling note is ‘10/- G’ and in the top right and bottom left is written ‘Punt Gymraeg £g’ which indicates ‘Welsh Pounds’. Some of these notes also have a black sheep in the top-left and a red dragon in the bottom right on their backs. The notes observed with these devices have ‘Cancelled’ printed in red on the front of the notes and Richard Williams signature stamped in red. Some notes without the black sheep and the red dragon printed on their back have ‘Cancelled 22 Oct 1969’ stamped in red on the front of the notes.

            The second variety of the Castle series removes the use of ‘Welsh Shillings’ and ‘Welsh Pounds’ and the promissory clause ends ‘... DDEG SWILLT’, or ‘... Ten Shillings’. The reference is also remove on the back of the notes and the value, for the 10-shilling note, now appears simply as ‘10/-’. The four corners of the green design on the back of the notes now carry a small drawing of what appears to be Caernarvon Castle.

            On the front of the notes of this variety the word ‘Gynt’ appears before the Welsh phrase in a common typeface and correctly positioned to read: ‘Gynt, Prif Trysorfa Cymru Cyfyngedig’. Interestingly, the English translation on both varieties does not include the word ‘Formerly’ and simply reads ‘Chief Treasury of Wales Limited’. Notes of the second variety of the Castle series have been seen with revenue stamps dated 10 December 1969 and the only examples of this series observed during the research for this study were cancelled.

            Further issues of the Welsh Black Sheep Company remain unknown to this researcher until an issue made fourteen months later. It is possible that further issues were undertaken during this time, but there may also have been no further issues until early 1971. On 15 February 1971 Great Britain converted to a decimal currency system. The opportunity was not lost on the Black Sheep Bank, which issued a new series of notes to commemorate the occasion.

            The only note of this series that has been positively identified is of the denomination ‘50 New Pence Sterling’, although it is likely that there were other denominations issued. Carrying a picture of a mountain on its front, the design of the 50-pence note is very similar to the Castle series. However, there are several significant differences. Most noticeable is the exclusive use of English for the promissory clause (apart from the Welsh name of the company) and for the phrase at the bottom of the note: ‘Formerly The Chief Treasury of Wales Ltd’. Also missing is the revenue stamp, but in its place is stamped ‘First February 1971 Stamp Duty abolished’. The back of the note uses the same design as the second variety of the Castle series.

            One further series of notes is known to have been issued by the Cwmni y Ddafad Ddu Gymreig Cyfyngedig. This series was issued in the denominations of 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound and 2 pounds. The notes have illustrations of steam engines on their front and Britannia Bridge on the back. Britannia Bridge is a sister bridge to the Menai Bridge. Designed by Robert Stephenson, the son of the locomotive engineer George Stephenson, the bridge was designed to carry trains across the Menai Straits. The bridge was opened on 5 March 1850. The choice of subject for the front of the notes may well have been aimed to entice railway enthusiasts to collect the notes, as well as the usual banknote collectors and collectors of Welsh souvenirs. This series has been reported to the author and not actually sighted. According to the report, these notes have only been recorded as specimen notes, although issued varieties of the notes may exist.

            The great number of designs utilized by Richard Williams for his banknotes, and the variations in design, reflect the demand for, and his desire to provide, notes for public consumption. Although the notes were payable on demand and on sight, it is unlikely that many of the notes were actually presented for payment. For most people who have acquired these notes, they remain a magnificent souvenir of Richard Williams’ challenge to the Government of Great Britain and the banking establishment. The number of cancelled and specimen notes also indicates that many of the notes were sold in this form as souvenirs, rather than as redeemable banknotes.

            One of the positive sides to collecting this series is that any one individual will probably never collect a complete series. In fact, it is quite probable that all issues have not been described in this article. Certainly, far more note issues have been uncovered during the research for this article than were initially known by the author. Should the probability of never obtaining the whole series be seen as a negative? Of course not! What would a collection be if we never stopped trying to obtain all the notes of a series. This series will certainly keep many collectors searching for many years.

This article was completed in May 2000
© Peter Symes