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16/10/2021

98-year-old leaving memento discovered during bank clear out

The recipient appeared to have left the gift behind when he moved branches.

An ornate book presented to a bank manager in 1923 has been discovered in a now defunct bank branch in a County Derry town.

Officials undertaking the clear out of the Northern Bank branch in Kilrea, which closed in December 2020, came across an 'illuminated address' book in storage.

The hardback book, dated October 27 1923, consisted of eight thick card pages, bound in a red cover and embossed with gold leaf patterns on each cover.

An address was made to 'John Mitchell, Manager of the Northern Bank by his friends in Kilrea and District upon the occasion of his transfer to the Managership of the Londonderry Branch.'

Historian and former Northern Bank official Gavin Bamford, of History Hub Ulster, was contacted in an attempt to trace Mr Mitchell.

“Basically, he was a Northern Bank worker who rose to manager in Kilrea,” he told the County Derry Post.

“In 1923 then he was posted to Londonderry, the big one in Shipquay Place and the customers and staff organised a subscription and got 81 people to subscribe money to order the illustrated book.

“It's the type of thing managers would have been given in those days. In the Northern Bank archive, they have a couple of brand new ones which they kept for some reason.

“They are lovely things to have, a lot of effort was put into them. They may only be eight or ten pages long, but they are beautifully ornate.”

Mr Mitchell was born in Glasgow but the family moved to Milford, Co Donegal in 1886 and John joined the bank around 1897 while still a teenager.

In the course of his research, Gavin found Mr Mitchell had moved around a lot as a junior official, with addresses found in Belfast, Clones, Co Monaghan and Warrenpoint, Co Down.

He settled though in Kilrea, where he was appointed manager and lived above the bank branch at the top of the Drumagarner Road.

A keen golfer, he helped found Kilrea Golf Club in 1919 and was appointed as the club's Honorary Treasurer.

With the book being such an ornate, personal memento, those clearing out the branch were at a loss as to how it had remained there.

“I was amazed he didn't take it,” said Gavin.

“The girl who ran that branch commented that she was pleased we'd found it, but couldn't understand why it had been lying in their office gathering dust for so long.”

With Gavin unable to find any surviving blood relatives of Mr Mitchell, the book may well find its way into a local museum to be preserved.

“He had six or seven siblings. His eldest son died in the Second World War and the chances of a surviving blood relative are low,” said Gavin.

“I told this to the guy in the bank and he wasn't sure what stage they could go to next. I had thought about getting it to a local museum, so I had suggested Garvagh Museum.”

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