Revolver was kept on top of the safe
an article by Stanley Guy for the Bank's Golden Jubilee Souvenir: September 1969
My recollections of some of the lighter aspects of the bank's history go back to November, 1920, when as a junior clerk of about four weeks' standing, I became the assistant at the Handsworth branch, in a room in the Council House, Handsworth. My first glimpse of this room revealed a coal fire, a short counter with a safe beneath the counter, and a revolver on top of the safe! Here I was initiated into the rudiments of the bank's system and taught to make entries (in my best figures and handwriting) in the ledgers.
However, my stay at Handsworth was short and early in 1921 I returned to head office, then in Edmund Street, from where I was sent out on Monday and Saturday evenings to Bearwood branch which was then open only two evenings a week in premises formerly occupied by one of the joint stock banks. It was at this branch that I opened my first account in the bank and made a regular deposit of 2s a week - I can still, in my mind's eye, picture that first pass book with its regular array of similar deposits.
In a growing organisation there was, inevitably, much movement of staff and one did not remain anywhere for long. My next recollection of the unusual circumstances in which we sometimes operated is of serving customers through a hole in the brick wall at Kings Heath, while the new premises were in course of construction - I remember it was winter-time and our only form of heating an oil stove, which, eventually we extinguished as we preferred to freeze than suffocate!
My whole business life at that time seemed to be involved with building works and reconstructions of premises. Shortly after the episode at Kings Heath I was posted for a time to Small Heath where, again, the builders were much in evidence. The staff, temporarily had to manage with upstairs messroom accommodation which was extremely cramped. I recall a colleague, now retired, who knocked down a hat-stand from which the straw hat of a woman member of staff fell off and came to rest in front of the gas fire - before it could be retrieved it had become crownless! My colleague had to buy a new hat for the woman.
In 1923, I was sent for a time to the Rotton Park branch where, as reconstruction was taking place, the business was conducted in temporary premises round the corner in Heath Street. Being old property and adjoining a fish and chip shop with a common flue, our suffering can be imagined. There was a lighter note, however - accommodation was so cramped that the only way of getting behind the counter was to bend down almost on all fours and go beneath the counter - the then general manager, on a tour of inspection, bumped his head violently during such manoeuvres and thereafter we were left in peace.
I recall 'going into the country' to operate a branch open on Friday evenings only in the Church School at Quinton. There was an hourly bus to the King's Head, Hagley Road, and I often walked there to save the 2d fare! - my remuneration for this extra duty was 3s a session.
Another reminiscence was of far-flung outposts of the bank's empire - I was sent as assistant to the bank's accountant to open an evening branch in the front room of a cottage in Cock Hill Lane, Rubery, - winter time, with a welcome fire in the grate, but the accountant, having unwrapped certain books and stationery, discarded the wrappings with the result that we were soon told that the chimney was on fire.
But the bank was growing and, presumably, I was growing up, for I was appointed a manager in 1930 at the Aston Cross branch. Shortly afterwards, I was moved to take charge of the Erdington branch where I stayed for several years. It was here that I had my only serious encounter with the arm of the law. About 2am one day, the telephone rang at my home at Yardley and the police told me that a light had been seen in the bank at Erdington and would I go and investigate. My car proved to be somewhat troublesome to start and when I arrived and found no police officer in the vicinity I left the engine running while I entered the bank to investigate.
The rest of the story may be imagined - as I left the bank, having extinguished the offending light (which, incidentally, had been left on in the messroom by the general manager's daughter), the arm of the law was very much in evidence. My explanations were received with considerable incredulity and ultimately I agreed to take the police officer in my car to the station where my identity could be verified.
Further reminiscences include my managership at Small Heath branch shortly before the war where, after closing time, a dog was found on the public side of the counter and no one, police included, could get him to move until his owner had been traced and brought to the bank.
The outbreak of war brought many upheavals from the staff angle and imposed more work on those members not called up for National Service. For a time, I ran two branches, a never-to-be-forgotten experience; and was then placed in charge of the largest branch of the bank with, at times, a staff of two women and a girl junior clerk. Nevertheless, we tried to keep smiling - we felt we were doing 'our bit', and the bank was growing at a prodigious rate both in funds and in transactions.
Came the end of the war and the return of staff eventually to the respective branches. I was moved to head office and became first assistant in the house purchase department, eventually taking charge of that department in 1950. This was work which gave much satisfaction, for one felt that one was really helping depositors to acquire their own homes.