Next Memory

House Purchase Department

by Eric Bignell


It was in late 1959 that I was summoned into the House Purchase Department, which at that time was under the managership of Stanley Guy. I arrived in fear and trepidation, wondering just what I had let myself in for, but was greeted by the friendly faces of Norman Worwood, Ernest Williams, Marion Mclean, Connie Cope and a young shorthand typist, Margaret Cowell.


My main role at first was interviewing mortgage applicants in order to determine whether or not they qualified for a BMB mortgage. At this time we were charging a fixed rate of interest of 4½% when Building Societies were charging 6% plus. Consequently, it seemed that everyone in Birmingham who required a mortgage came to us first. There was another benefit of our mortgage scheme, this being the option of choosing between equal or reducing repayments. The reducing method required equal monthly repayments of capital plus one month's interest. I believe that the only Building Society offering a similar repayment scheme was the Burnley. As a consequence of these benefits, the demand for our mortgages was such that we had nowhere near the amount of funds required to satisfy the demand.


At this time, in order to spread the funds amongst as many depositors as possible, the maximum amount granted to one applicant was £2,500, and this could be no more than 80% of the Bank Valuer's mortgage valuation which was, generally speaking, about £250 less than the purchase price. Eg: purchase price £2,000, mortgage valuation £1,750, maximum advance £1,400, thus requiring a deposit of £600. This requirement eliminated many would be mortgagors. The next obstacle the applicants faced was the amount we would lend in relation to annual income. I regret that I have forgotten the formula for this calculation but I do remember that a spouse's income was totally ignored.


Another restriction was areas in which we would lend, these being Birmingham and only the immediate adjoining areas such as Marston Green.


If these hurdles were satisfactorily negotiated, then came the final test which was to compare their No. 1 Department savings. We took note of how long the applicants had been customers and their average balances, which were noted in a comprehensive report which was then submitted to Mr Guy for his decision. The majority were either "Approved" or "Declined" and the applicants informed of their fate some fortnight later. Marginal cases, Mr Guy would submit to the Bank's committee for its decision.


I remember one particular interview that I conducted when the applicants would just not take no for an answer, and after what seemed like an eternity I asked the Manager to intervene. That day, Norman Ling was in charge and I sat in on the discussion. He spoke to the couple like a Dutch Uncle, and I could not believe my ears when they exited thanking him profusely for granting them nothing! In the words of Frank Carson, "It's the way that you tell them".


If the above requirements were met, the next stage was for an application to be completed and the property valued by one of the Bank's panel of Valuers. These were Cecil Glover of Frank Wilde & Glover, Gilbert Moore of Leonard Ouston & Moore, and Ralph Slater of Slater Dann & Co. Cecil Glover who carried out the majority of our valuations had a young assistant at that time, one Michael Martin, who I now see regularly on the fairways of Robin Hood Golf Club. He is a past captain of the club and now has the doubtful privilege of being the oldest playing member having joined the club in 1940 at the age of 14.


(Please excuse this digression but I think many ex-BMB staff would remember Michael as he eventually took over from Cecil Glover.)


If the valuation was acceptable, a formal offer was made and upon acceptance, the Town Clerk instructed to investigate the title on behalf of the Bank. On encountering Solicitors in later years, several have said if the title deeds had been approved by the Town Clerk they knew that they were unlikely to find any problem with the Title.


In the early 1960s we would not, release Title Deeds before the mortgage was repaid, consequently, in order to progress the sale, solicitors had to attend the Bank's offices in Broad Street to examine them and extract whatever information they required. We did, however, allow them to borrow copy documents and Abstracts of Title. I can only assume that Building Societies did not follow this procedure as after about 1968 we did allow solicitor to take Deeds away upon their undertaking to either repay the mortgage or return them to us. When I started a second stint in House Purchase Department in 1968, a new system for releasing the Deeds to Solicitors was already in operation but I do not think that it had been going long as it was my job to telephone solicitors every month to confirm that any Deeds they were holding they were taking good care of. Fortunately, this practice didn't last long as it was, of course, rather embarrassing.


Under Stanley Guy's control, the Office ran like clockwork. Shortly after closing time, if Mr Guy gave a gentle cough we all knew that a light had been left on in one of the interview rooms!


Other anecdotes that come to mind from my initial spell in the Department are as follows:-


Each Derby Day, Banking Hall ran a sweep and House Purchase staff were included. On this particular occasion, Connie Cope, on perusing the runners said, "Larkspur will win this race. I was sitting in Sutton Park last Sunday when a lark hovered above me for some time". Sure enough, Larkspur won but I can't recall that either of us had a penny on it.


Continuing the gambling theme, I usually lunched with Harry Madeley and John Smith (both Villa fans) and Bob Snowdon (Albion). At the start of one season, I bet Harry Madeley that Blues would score more goals than the Villa - a wager that he accepted with alacrity. At Easter, Blues were 20 goals ahead of the Villa and I was cock-a-hoop! Villa then went to Arsenal and scored 5, then the next week they scored 8 at home against Leicester. On the last day of the season, the number of goals scored were tied but Blues had finished their programme, and Villa had to play Cardiff who had already been relegated. I envisaged a cricket score with the consequent ignominy of paying Harry five shillings (no small sum in the early 1960s). I couldn't believe it when the score came through - a nil-nil draw. As Jimmy Greaves says, "It's a funny old game".


I did have another unusual football wager - this one was with Bob Snowdon. I was always complaining to our lunch table about the abilities of a Blues' player called Brian Orritt (a Welsh International) and when he was transferred to Middlesborough, Bob said words to the effect that "Just watch him go now that he's with a decent club". This of course goaded me into saying that "I will give you a shilling for every goal that he scores for 'Boro, if you will give me 3-pence for every game he plays without scoring". You can imagine my red face when he scored two on his debut. However, by the end of the season, I was in profit but I cannot remember by how much.


I spent 4½ very happy years in the House Purchase Department and feel that speaking daily with solicitors and estate agents etc was a valuable experience.




(Eric Bignell had two spells working in House Purchase Department: the first being late 1959 to mid 1964 and the second 1968 to 1969, this time for 18 months. He was also involved in the Bank's Decimalisation project. Eric retired from the Bank as a senior branch manager.)