A BEAUTIFULLY decorated old book was found last December in the Danske Bank (formerly the Northern Bank) in Kilrea, Co. Londonderry, while it was being cleared out for closure.

It was an ‘Illuminated Address Book’ ¬– once an important symbol of achievement, presented on retirement, promotion or departure from a job.

In the mid- to late-19th and early 20th Centuries, these limited edition books were traditionally given to prominent individuals, honouring their contribution to communities and organisations.

However, the custom is all but defunct today.

The book found in Kilrea’s bank has eight thick, card pages, bound in red hardback covers with gold leaf patterns embossed on back and front.

There were watercolour paintings included of the town’s bridge, bank, golf links and the view from the railway station.

Dated October 27, 1923, the introduction states that the book (and a silver plate) was presented 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”.

The exquisitely crafted tome was designed and printed by Carey and Thomson of Royal Avenue, Belfast.

Gavin Bamford, Chair of History Hub Ulster, was asked by the Northern Bank to trace Mr. Mitchell’s relatives so that the book could be returned to his family.

This called for tireless research of the banker’s family in local newspapers and websites.

The research revealed that John Mitchell was born in Glasgow on February 13, 1879, to Peter and Hester Mitchell, of No. 24, Ardgowan Street.

John had a little sister called Hester, and another sister, Mary, was born on December 30, 1885.

In 1886, the family moved to Milford, in Co. Donegal, where more siblings were born: Peter, Colina, Robert and Jessie.

John joined the Northern Bank around 1897, and in 1901 he was living and working in Belfast. His family returned to Scotland, where his 51-year-old father died in Glasgow in 1910.

By 1911 John was living in a boarding house in Clones. His sister Colina married Arnold Barrs in 1912, and in 1914, John married Violet Arrowsmith, at Rathmines, Dublin.

There are no known records of John serving during World War One, but both of his brothers joined up ¬– Robert in the Royal Navy, and Peter in the Glasgow Highlanders, with Peter killed in action in October, 1917.

John’s niece, Hester Barrs, was born in 1918.

While John was Northern Bank Branch Manager in Kilrea in 1919, he and Violet had a son, Ian.

John, a keen golfer, was instrumental in setting up a new golf club in the town and was appointed Honorary Treasurer of the club around September, 1919.

In 1923, he was transferred to Londonderry’s Northern Bank.

A committee of Kilrea residents organised the publication of his Illuminated Address Book, bearing the names of 81 subscribers, presented to John on October 27, 1923.

The Mitchell family lived happily in the Manager’s accommodation in the three-story bank building in Shipquay Place.

As the local Bank Manager, John was involved with numerous community organisations and charities, often as honorary treasurer, and was also an enthusiastic member of the Irish Bank Officials’ Association (IBOA).

In 1929, John’s sister, Jessie, married John Macintosh in Glasgow but later that year, and on into the mid 1930s, tragedy impacted the wider Mitchell family.

John’s mother, Hester, died in 1929; his brother, Robert, died in 1935 in a Karachi hospital whilst serving in the Royal Navy; and his sister, Hester, died in Glasgow in 1936, aged 90.

John’s son, Ian, had been serving in the British Army as an officer for a few years prior to World War Two being declared on September 3, 1939.

Ian was based in Singapore when the Japanese invaded, and he became a POW.

He died in July, 1942, and is buried in Kranji Cemetery, Singapore, with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone and a family inscription, ‘Thy Will Be Done’.

Sadly, the following year, on July 20, 1943, a local newspaper reported that John received a postcard advising that his son, Ian, was a POW in Japanese hands and “is well”.

The postcard’s arrival was an enormous emotional trauma for John and Violet.

Having retired from the bank, John died in November, 1946.

Thereafter, the Londonderry Sentinel reported on an annual basis that Violet Mitchell made donations to the Derry City and County Hospital in memory of her son, Captain Ian D. V. Mitchell, on his birthday.

John’s sister, Colina Barrs, died in Glasgow in 1960, aged 70.

With his son deceased and with no evidence of any surviving wider family, John Mitchell’s Illuminated Address Book remains with the Northern Bank, now the Danske Bank, for the time being.

Gavin Bamford’s fully illustrated account of the Illuminated Address Book, with an explanatory video, is at historyhubulster.co.uk.