Perry Beeches Branch,
and other adventures with Richard Mann
by David Parkes
In the early 1960s, Perry Beeches Branch was located in a wooden building at the junction of Old Oscott Lane and Aldridge Road (near the Drake's Drum public house) in Great Barr. This temporary structure was used to operate a part-time, sub-branch of the very busy Kingstanding Branch. Opening hours for Perry Beeches were restricted to four hours a week (Tuesdays: 11am to 1pm; Fridays: 5pm to 7pm). Kingstanding held the branch's ledgers and cash outside these hours; the wooden building not having a strong room.
The wooden building had few creature comforts for customers or staff; heating was provided by two small gas fires. Fortunately, the branch cleaner lived near to the branch and had her own key. Not only did she keep the branch immaculate, but during the winter, she went into the building prior to the bank staff arriving, to ignite the gas fires. This kindness not only ensured that the staff would work at a comfortable temperature, but also prevented the ink provided for customer use from freezing, and melted the ice on the interior of the windows.
The twice-weekly routine was for two or three staff to attend the sub-branch - the higher number being required on the late night opening when most of the office's business was transacted. On Tuesdays, staff would consist of a Relief Branch Manager plus either a Cashier or a Junior Clerk; Friday's staff would consist of the Relief Branch Manager plus a Cashier and a Junior Clerk. The staff, ledgers, and cash were transported from Kingstanding to Perry Beeches by taxi.
The staff at Kingstanding at this time consisted of the Manager (Mr W A Camwell - known as 'Cam' throughout the Bank and the transport enthusiasts' world - he was an acknowledged national authority on trams, and was also the Midland Area Secretary of the Stephenson Locomotive Society); a Relief Branch Manager (John Smith - known as 'Spotty John Smith' to distinguish him from another member of the Bank's staff, who was known as 'Ginger John Smith'); two Senior Cashiers (Edna Devereaux - later Edna Ireson, and Kath Clews - later Kath Vernon); a Junior Cashier (Chris Bolton); and a Junior Clerk (me).
During the two-hour period on a Friday afternoon (3pm to 5pm) when the Bank was closed, some staff went home whilst others took their break at the branch. On one particular Friday (fortunately not in the winter!), the staff designated to go to Perry Beeches for the evening shift were John Smith (who had gone home, but was to make his own way directly to the branch); Richard Mann (who had been sent from Aston Cross branch for the evening); and myself. The taxi duly took Richard, myself, the cash, and the ledgers from Kingstanding to Perry Beeches; arriving at 4:45pm for the 5pm opening.
On arrival at Perry Beeches, there was no sign of John Smith, who being in charge of the branch for the evening, had the keys. Notwithstanding that two young lads could not take their valuable cargo into the security of the branch, the taxi driver promptly departed. Fortunately, those were safer times than today, but Richard and I protected the Bank's assets by sitting on the ledger and cash cases, in front of the branch's door, until John Smith arrived just before opening time.
It was at Perry Beeches one quiet day, that as I was sitting at the ledger desk with my back to the counter, a lady customer entered the branch. This unfortunate soul could only talk at extremely high volumes that a Sergeant-Major would have been proud of, and I sneaked a look over my shoulder to see a very large lady at the counter as the decibels reverberated round the small wooden office. Putting my head down again, an eerie silence eventually returned, which was surprisingly not commented on by any other member of staff. Assuming the silence was due to the customer having left the branch, and with the ignorance and callowness of youth, I turned round with the intention of making the 'smart' remark on the lines of "it's gone quiet in here" - only to find that the lady was still in the branch. Another lesson learnt - fortunately, not the hard way!
Richard Mann and I were involved in one or two other 'adventures' at around that time. After attending night school in the city centre, Richard would often give me a lift home to Great Barr on the back of his scooter - a fearless rider; he would negotiate the traffic as he sang in full voice with me clinging on behind him.