Martins Bank Building


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Martins Bank Building, 4 and 6, Water Street, Liverpool, L2 3SP


Ordnance survey map of Martins Bank Building
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Statutory Address:
Martins Bank Building, 4 and 6, Water Street, Liverpool, L2 3SP

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Liverpool (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 34123 90479


This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 02/10/2015


WATER STREET (North side) 4 AND 6 Martins Bank Building

(Formerly listed as BARCLAY'S BANK) 12-JUL-1966 II* Bank building, lying on the north side of Water Street. Built as headquarters for Martins Bank, 1927-32, by Herbert J. Rowse. Sculpture by Herbert Tyson Smith, assisted by Edmund Thomson and George Capstick. The building was latterly, and until recently, a branch of Barclay's Bank. It is currently (2007) undergoing renovation.

EXTERIOR: Portland stone on steel frame. Large square block in classical style. Seven storeys, with mezzanine, attic, and basement, end bays of four storeys. Eleven bays and rusticated canted corner bays; eleven-bay returns. Rusticated ground floor. Centre giant round arch with keystone and coffering, balcony above to three central windows; another entrance to left with cornice. Three round-arched windows to right and one to left with keystones and carved tympana. Arms on flat band over third floor, rich frieze and cornice over fourth floor. Mezzanine above with Greek key band. Bronze doors in low relief.

INTERIOR: Main doorway flanked by identical relief sculpture panels, the flat, linear style is influenced by the Paris Exhibition of 1925. These depict Liverpool as Neptune, accompanied by African children carrying bags of money, with anchor and weighing-scales. Above, grasshoppers, the sign of Martins Bank. The frieze of the entrance hall shows tribute bearers pouring coins into central receptacle. The entrance hall leads to large top-lit banking hall, with vaulted arcades on four sides, the columns hollow, threaded on to the frame. Travertine walls, floor, and columns. Circular corner lobbies. Curved counter in centre; light fittings, desks, and war memorial. The design of every detail was overseen by Rowse.

HISTORY: Martins Bank has its origins in the sixteenth century; the bank is supposed to have been founded by Sir Thomas Gresham - the grasshoppers at the entrance to the Water Street building are from his crest. In 1918 Martins Bank was acquired by the Bank of Liverpool (the new name, Bank of Liverpool and Martins was shortened to Martins Bank in 1928); the Bank of Liverpool had previously absorbed Heywood's Bank, founded by brothers Arthur and Benjamin Heywood in 1773. In 1969 Martins Bank was incorporated into Barclays Bank.

While the original Martins Bank is not known to have any direct links with the slave trade, banks were inextricably linked to the trade in eighteenth-century Liverpool, supplying the credit essential to a risky business which offered relatively long-term returns. The Heywood brothers, having been left a fortune by their father, established themselves as Africa merchants, engaging in at least 125 slaving voyages.

The relief sculptures at the entrance to 4 and 6 Water Street have provoked controversy in Liverpool since the late twentieth century. Some see them as dignifying, or accepting unquestioningly, the role of slavery in Liverpool's economy; whilst some see them as a more general celebration of the international aspect of Liverpool's trade and prosperity. Either way, the fact that the subject was chosen in 1927-32 is an indication of the extent to which Liverpool's former involvement with the slave trade has been embedded in its economic culture.

SOURCES: Joseph Sharples, Liverpool (2004); R. Pollard and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Lancashire: Liverpool and the South West (2006); Terry Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool (1997) pp.241-42.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION 4 and 6 Water Street is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Masterpiece of Herbert J. Rowse; one of the best interwar classical buildings in the country * An essentially Liverpool building, its design perfectly expresses the American classicism promoted through Charles Reilly's Liverpool School of Architecture * Sculptural decorations, referring to Africa's contribution to Liverpool's economy, in combination with the bank's connection with slavery, add to historical interest of building. This amendment is written in 2007, the bicentenary year of the 1807 Abolition Act.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 29 August 2017.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Cavanagh, T, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, (1997), 241-242
Pevsner, N, Pollard, R, The Buildings of England: Lancashire, Liverpool and the South-West, (2006)
Picton, JA , Memorials of Liverpool Volume 2, (1875), 142, 279
Sharples, J, Pevsner Architectural Guides: Liverpool, (2004)
'Historic Building Report' in The Royal Institution, Colquitt Street, Liverpool, (1995)
War Memorials Online, accessed 29 August 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 29 August 2017 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 13 Sep 2006
Reference: IOE01/16040/33
Rights: Copyright IoE Ms Pamela Jackson. Source Historic England Archive
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