Men of money: Bradford and Bingley's history

BRADFORD & Bingley has only existed as a bank for the last eight years but its roots can be traced back more than 150 years.

Before Bradford & Bingley Plc was listed on the London Stock Exchange in December 2000, it was one of Britain's best known building societies.

The logo featured two silhouetted city gents in bowler hats and the jovial Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley were brought to life in humorous television adverts.

Using the two characters was a nod to the 1964 merger which amalgamated the Bradford Equitable Building Society and the Bingley Building Society into the Bradford & Bingley.

The two West Yorkshire building societies were initially established in 1851 to help local people build a better future for themselves by paying in money which could be used to give loans to others within the community, often to buy a home.

Their products expanded and the successful building societies, based only five miles apart, opened branches in London in the 1930s.

By the early 1960s the Bradford had 22 branches, including one in Glasgow, and the Bingley had more than 30 concentrated in the north of England.

The Building Society Act of 1962 consolidated legislation and prompted many societies to merge.

The Bradford and the Bingley - which were already working together to protect themselves from the competition - formally amalgamated in 1964, becoming the nation's eighth largest building society.

The characters of Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley were created and remained the faces of the society for more than 30 years.

In the 1970s and 1980s embracing computer technology and creating new financial products helped Bradford & Bingley to expand.

Legislation passed in the 1980s allowed banks to offer mortgages, which had traditionally been the preserve of building societies, but also allowed the societies to extend their services.

Building societies were also allowed to abandon their mutual status and some, including Abbey National, did so quickly.

Woolwich, Alliance & Leicester, Halifax and Northern Rock followed suit.

Bradford & Bingley stayed as a mutual but took advantage of new freedoms to shift focus to include retail services including offering financial advice.

By 1999, it was the second largest building society in Britain, with 2.5 million members and specialised in mortgages for the buy-to-let market.

But in July 2000 when its voting members overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal from the board of directors to convert to a public limited company.

Bradford & Bingley plc was formed in December 2000.

Two years later, the bank's image was updated when advertising agency M&C Saatchi retired Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley and gave their bowler hat to a young woman.

She whispers "Aren't hopes and dreams fragile? But they could happen with Bradford & Bingley."

Its message is aimed at first-time buyers, the self-employed and those who want to buy a property to rent out.

But now the bank which was the eighth largest lender of new mortgages in Britain last year, is looking rather fragile itself.

In February it announced annual profits had slumped by half and reported a steep rise in mortgage arrears and bad debts.

The collapse of the mortgage market has seen its share price fall sharply in recent days and 370 of its 3,000 staff have lost their jobs.

Reports today suggest the bank will be nationalised using special legislation passed to take another struggling bank Northern Rock into public ownership earlier this year.

Full coverage of the Bradford & Bingley crisis