Bid farewell to the Bowlerhats

For more than 40 years, and for generations of customers, the bowler hat-wearing Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley were the very British symbols of high-street banking.

But this week sees the end of the two silhouetted gents, and more than 150 years of history in the district, as the world-famous Bradford & Bingley logo finally disappears for good. It was last spring when the T&A announced that Bradford & Bingley was to close its former head office in Bingley town centre and move the 400 staff to its Crossflatts site.

The news came as the company's owners, Spanish banking giant Santander, which bought the B&B's savings business in 2008, announced that the familiar bowler hat logo and Bradford & Bingley name would disappear from Britain's high street in 2010.

Yesterday, Santander began the massive task of rebranding its Bradford & Bingley branches and Abbey UK franchises. Around 300 branches in London and the South-East will be the first to undergo the name change, followed by outlets across the rest of the country over the next three weeks.

By the end of January, the group aims to have rebranded all 1,000 of its Abbey and B&B branches.

Santander is also in the process of rebranding customers' cards, cheque books and pass books. Customers can now carry out transactions in any Santander branch, regardless of which group they formerly belonged to.

Bradford & Bingley staff now working for Santander have vacated B&B's landmark former head office which is on the market at an asking price of £4 million. A bigger branch is opening in Bingley's new 5Rise shopping centre.

The Bradford & Bingley Building Society was created in 1964 from the merger of Bradford Second Equitable and Bingley building societies, both founded in 1851.

Now, as the second decade of the 21st century gets under way, Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley have become a thing of the past.

The loss of the famous bowler hat branding has divided opinion in Bingley as much as the five-storey former B&B head office building, which appeared on Prince Charles's list of architectural 'carbuncles'.

Bingley town centre manager David Dinsey believes the name-change won't make any difference, and said it was more important that the branch continued operating normally.

It is business as usual. It is just a name-change," he said."The original Abbey branch on Main Street is still here, and the rebranded B&B branch is moving to the new precinct."

He does, however, believe some residents of the town won't be happy about it."I imagine quite a few people will miss the name Bradford & Bingley due to its association with the town and its history," he said.

Shipley MP Philip Davies said: "I'm very sad, because it signals the end of a 150-year heritage of having the Bradford & Bingley name on the high street. For all those years it was a name people trusted."

He said that he understood perfectly why Santander needed to rationalise its operation."I don't make any criticism of them - my beef is with the Government, who to my mind unnecessarily dismantled Bradford & Bingley in a way they didn't do with Northern Rock.

Northern Rock, which had been taking money from the Treasury, has been kept going, while Bradford & Bingley has been dismantled - it is a travesty. For me, the reason the name Bradford & Bingley will no longer be above the door is the fault of the Government." Bingley resident Mark James said: "I've lived here most of my life and have been proud of the town's association with Bradford & Bingley. It's a world-famous brand and it's part of our history. It's a sad loss, and a sad sign of the times, to no longer have such a distinctive high-street brand."

Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Santander's UK businesses, said: "The success of our UK business has given us the confidence to move to the Santander name now and with it deliver the next phase of our transformation programme and make 1,300 branches available to our 25 million UK customers."

Santander acquired Abbey in 2004, and A&L and the savings arm of Bradford & Bingley in 2008 when the two groups ran into problems due to the credit crunch.

The group is actively seeking to grow its share of the current account and mortgage markets.

It is marking the start of its re-branding exercise with the launch of its fee-free Zero account, available to mortgage customers only. From yesterday, Abbey and B&B current account customers can make free cash withdrawals from Santander ATMs in Spain.

Kevin Mountford, head of banking at moneysupermarket.com, said: "Although Santander has been in the UK market for some time, only now are we starting to see their brand appearing on the high street.

In terms of what this means going forward, it'll be interesting to see how Santander brings the two brands and products into alignment over the coming months, as well as A&L which will follow later on in the year.

Santander will be keen to maintain and grow their position as a major player in UK retail, and they are challenging their rivals by offering competitive rates and unique deals to their customers."