Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), Founder of the Bank A history of New Court

‘Intended for magnificent business’, New Court in St Swithin’s Lane in the City has been the home of the London house of Rothschild for over 200 years.

The New Court Shield

For 150 years, visitors to New Court have been greeted by a large ornamental iron and enamel sign. Long before the addition of the words ‘New Court’ to the façade of the building, this sign announced to callers that they had indeed arrived at the home of the London Rothschild business.

In 1865, Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) who had succeeded his father in the family business decided that the time had come for a new building. A second ‘New Court’ was completed in the style of a grand Italian ‘palazzo’ to the design of Thomas Marsh Nelson. The domestic feel of the old New Court has swept away in favor of a building more imposing and business-like, and this impressive iron and enamel sign was hung over the entrance.

Enduring symbols

The New Court Shield incorporates a number of symbols associated with the Rothschild family of Frankfurt, most prominently, five arrows. A clue to the choice of arrows is in the work of Moritz Oppenheim, the ‘painter of the Rothschilds’. A sketch in oils depicts the story told by Plutarch of Scilurus who, on his deathbed, asked his sons to break a bundle of darts. When they all failed, he showed them how easily the arrows could be broken individually, cautioning them that their strength as a family lay in their unity.

The first appearance of arrows representing the Rothschild family was in the Austrian patent for arms of 1817 that placed the brothers on the first rung of the nobility. In 1822, the brothers advanced yet further in the ranks of the Austrian nobility, becoming barons of the Empire. Many members of the family began to adopt the motif of the five arrows. It appears in letterheads, on bookplates, on porcelain, in jewellery and in countless other decorative ways. Although it was purely a matter of personal choice, a cross-channel split of opinion began to develop. The French family and bank gradually adopted ‘arrows up’ for all uses of the symbol, while the English remained faithful to the ‘arrows down’ version, although this division of usage has not always been strictly adhered to.

The New Court Shield also features the Latin motto adopted by the family in 1822, ‘Concordia, Integritas, Industria’ (Harmony, Integrity, Diligence).

Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), the founder of the bank, first moved to London from Manchester (where he had founded Rothschild Brothers, a branch of his father’s merchant house in Frankfurt in 1799). Following the death of his father-in-law, the wealthy London merchant Levi Barent Cohen, Nathan moved to London in 1808 where it was clearly his intention to establish himself as a banker.

There have been four buildings called New Court on the site. Read more about the New Court buildings here.

The first New Court

‘Intended for magnificent business’, New Court has been the home of the London house of Rothschild for over 200 years. There have been four buildings called New Court on the site.

Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), the founder of the bank, first moved to New Court from Manchester (where he had founded Rothschild Brothers, a branch of his father’s merchant house in Frankfurt in 1799). Following the death of his father-in-law, the wealthy London merchant Levi Barent Cohen, Nathan moved to London in 1808 where it was clearly his intention to establish himself as a banker.

St Swithin’s Lane before the Rothschilds

St Swithin’s Church was founded in the 13th century, and the ‘lane called Swityhinnes’ was first recognized in about 1270. In 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed most of the properties in the lane. The first mention of a house called ‘New Court’ appears in John Strype’s Survey of London in 1720.

In 1734 the lane was described as “a very handsome large place, with an open passage into it for a coach or cart. Here are very good buildings and at the upper end is a very good large house inclosed [sic] from the rest by a handsome pale”.

The first New Court

In 1809, Nathan Mayer Rothschild acquired the lease of No.2, New Court for £750, as a home for his family and as the center of his London business interests. From 1779-1787, New Court had been the address of Acton & Winter, the legal firm that later became Freshfields. The property had an attached warehouse so Nathan could continue his business as a merchant, and was a short stroll away from the bank of England and the Royal Exchange where Nathan would soon make his mark. The family moved into New Court in March 1809.

The building Nathan acquired was in good order, having “a cantilevered cornice. A covered colonnade on the south side with steps up to the front door, a brick parapet, cock-loft, garrets and flats.”

In 1815, Nathan signed a new 21-year lease for New Court for £175 per annum. This was the year of the Rothschilds’ famous success in fulfilling the ‘Waterloo’ commission: news of the British victory at the battle of Waterloo is said to have reached New Court by Rothschild courier 24 hours before the news was received at Downing Street.

The Rothschild family moved out of New Court to a new villa Stamford Hill in 1816. New Court remained the heart of the business, and it was at New Court in 1824 that The Alliance Assurance Company (later to become Royal & Sun Alliance) was founded at a meeting of Nathan and his associates.

New Court passes to the next generation

Nathan died in Frankfurt in 1836, where he had been attending the wedding of his son Lionel. On the 8th August 1836, Nathan’s funeral cortege of 75 carriages left New Court. On his father’s death, Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) became the senior partner in the new firm N M Rothschild & Sons, which he formed with his three brothers. Business continued steadily under Lionel; the traditional clutch of sovereign clients was extended, and railway loans became a strong feature. In December 1846, the British Relief Association, established to raise funds for famine relief in Ireland, was organized in Lionel de Rothschild’s room at New Court.

A new building for a new age

In 1841, at the request of the City Surveyor, an engraved stone was added to the frontage of the building, bearing the name “New Court”. By 1850, 30-50 people worked for N M Rothschild & Sons and salaries at New Court ranged from £50 to £500 per annum. By the 1860s, the business of government loan issues had steadily increased and N M Rothschild & Sons remained the unchallenged leaders in this field. Lionel had entered the House of Commons in in 1857 as the first Jewish MP and it was, Lionel felt, time for a new building reflecting the firm’s position in the world. In 1860, the first re-building of New Court began.

The second New Court

‘Intended for magnificent business’, New Court has been the home of the London house of Rothschild for over 200 years. There have been four buildings called New Court on the site.

The second New Court: a ‘palazzo’ for business

In 1865 the new building was completed in the style of a grand Italian ‘palazzo’ to the design of Thomas Marsh Nelson, of the firm Nelson & Innes. Nelson had already worked on Lionel de Rothschild’s London house at 148 Piccadilly. The domestic feel of the old New Court has swept away in favor of a building more imposing and business-like, and an impressive iron and enamel sign was hung over the entrance.

“New Court – I mean the new portion which I had never seen, seems to me quite marvellous, and intended for magnificent business” Charlotte, Baroness Lionel de Rothschild, 1865

The City around New Court was changing rapidly, and in 1867, the Cannon Street extension of the South Eastern Railway opened. New Court was again the setting for global business – Lionel is remembered for his assistance to the British Government in 1875, helping his friend, Disraeli, secure the necessary sum to procure the Khedive of Egypt’s share in the Suez Canal.

Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild takes the helm

In 1879 Lionel de Rothschild died and the business was taken over by his three sons, Nathaniel (‘Natty’) (1840-1915) later to become the first Lord Rothschild, Alfred (1842-1918) and Leopold (1845-1917). In 1884, the Dividend Office was extended and Rothschild business was in such demand that in 1889, Natty had to climb into New Court via a first-floor window to avoid crowds clamoring for shares in the Burma Ruby Mine issue. New Court was fitted with the most modern on conveniences, and in 1889 electric light for New Court was costing £1,000 per month. In 1899, No 7 St Swithin’s Lane was acquired for £8,000.

The twentieth century

During the First World War Alfred de Rothschild constructed a special shelter after wartime air-raid attacks. In 1918 Alfred died (his brothers having pre-deceased him), and a new generation took over: Charles (1877-1923), Lionel (1882-1942) and Anthony (1887-1961) directed the Bank’s affairs from New Court. In 1919 the first gold fixing took place at New Court, on the 12 September.

The second New Court survived the London bombing of the Second World War. In 1941, a bombing raid destroyed the St Swithin London Stone, Salter’s Hall (next door to New Court) and the church of St Swithin; New Court survived relatively unscathed. Much business was temporarily relocated to Tring Park (the former country estate of Natty) for the duration.

By the 1960s, the number of staff had increased to over 300, half of them women. The century-old building was beginning to show signs of strain. Attempts were made to extend it upwards, but the building was looking dated, at a time when N M Rothschild & Sons were looking resolutely to the future. The time had come to rebuild again.

The third New Court

‘Intended for magnificent business’, New Court has been the home of the London house of Rothschild for over 200 years. There have been four buildings called New Court on the site.

The third New Court: a brave new world

In 1962, the bold decision was taken to rebuild New Court. Senior Partner Mr. Edmund de Rothschild (1916-2009), and the Partners Evelyn (later Sir Evelyn) de Rothschild (b.1931), Mr. Leopold de Rothschild (1927-2012) and Jacob (later Jacob, 4th Lord Rothschild) de Rothschild (b.1936) created a new Rothschild-owned company to undertake the development.

The architect Fitzroy Robinson was commissioned and the construction company Trollope & Colls were appointed to oversee the project. In 1962, staff said goodbye to the old New Court and left for a temporary office in City Gate House, Finsbury Square.

A building of its time

In 1965 the staff returned to St Swithin’s Lane to a building very different to that which they had left. The main building had two floors below ground and seven above, set back from the Lane, with two 3-storey wings joining the main block at right angles, arranged, in a deliberate echo of the two earlier buildings, around a central courtyard. Granite setts from the old courtyard were laid in decorative patterns in the new, and the New Court sign from the 1860 building was prominently displayed. Elsewhere in the building, historic features were incorporated including paneling from the Partners’ Room and historic paintings.  New features included air conditioning and a strongroom manufactured by Chubb, with Europe’s then biggest strongroom door, with a lock offering over 4,000,000,000 different combinations.

The new building was the visible symbol of a trend of modernisation within the firm. The 1960s was the last decade in which the partnership operated, and in 1970 N M Rothschild & Sons became N M Rothschild & Sons Limited, with a board of directors. As business grew, extra premises were taken in Croydon to accommodate staff from administrative and accounting departments, and in 1984 an extra story was added to New Court to create a new Board Room.

The ‘Crowned Heads’

New Court contains a collection of striking portraits of early clients of the Rothschild business.

In a small room in the third New Court where, until 2004, the London price of gold was set twice each business day by five representatives from The London Gold Market Fixing Ltd., hung a small series of early nineteenth-century portraits, known as the ‘Crowned Heads’.

These heads of state represented five of the countries for which the Rothschild brothers provided government loans in the two decades after the Napoleonic Wars (1803 –1815). The portraits are identified by small brass labels as the Empress Catherine of Russia, King William of the Netherlands, Emperor Francis of Austria, King Frederick William of Prussia, and King John of Portugal. They now hang together with two other ‘Crowned Heads’ of significance – William IX, the Elector of Hesse, and Andrew Jackson, President of the United States – in a prominent corridor in the present New Court.

Please note that these portraits are not publicly accessible

Frederick William III (King of Prussia)

Frederick William III (King of Prussia)

William IX (The Elector of Hesse)

William IX (The Elector of Hesse)

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