£500 Under Floorboards
The following article was produced for a publication in connection with the Bank's 1969 Golden Jubilee commemoration. The author is unknown, but part of it was taken from an article in the Daily Express dated November 26th 1925 (see Memory 045)
By the 1920s depositors were getting used to the banking system. However, there was still an element of mistrust and some depositors demanded to be shown their money. One day in November, 1925, one branch of the bank was as crowded as usual with customers depositing small amounts when an untidy old man edged his way to the counter and in a rather threatening voice asked: " 'Ave you got it still?" "Got what?" asked the clerk. "My blinkin' money," the man whispered. The manager interjected: "Of course we've got it," he said. "You're Mr ---------. Of course we have. Twelve Pounds, fifteen and ninepence." The man appeared soothed and then a dogged look came into his eyes, and, leaning over the counter, he whispered: "Then let's have a look at it". The man was taken behind the counter and into a back room where a safe was opened and the man was shown bags of money and piles of treasury notes.
This incidence was not uncommon at that time.
In the 1920s, hundreds of old women were 'walking banks'. They often carried as much as £100 sewn into their clothing - the savings of a lifetime. And when they became converted to the banking habit it was necessary to show them to a dressing room at the bank. A manager recalled an incident at that time. "One day a poor, old woman came in and, after telling me the story of her life, placed a petrol tin on the counter.Inside," he goes on, "was over £5 in half-crowns. I explained to her how safe it would be and that it gained interest, and that any day she might take it out. "She was delighted and placed another tin on the counter containing another £5 in half-crowns.
"Finding that I was pleased she asked me to come round and take an old suitcase which was also full of half-crowns. Altogether I suppose she had about £40 in silver. "As she was going she invited me to tea and told me that she had a little more money at home. "I went to a tiny house at the back of an entry. The bedroom floor, under the boards, were lined with silver. Some of the half-crowns were black with age. We nearly pulled that house down. We took more than £500 from it, which now stands to the old lady's account. "She often comes in to see it. It appears that her husband, who lived to a great age, was always hiding half-crowns and before he died he said: 'Pull up the bedroom floor and you'll be all right'."
(NOTE: even in the 1960s, it was not unknown for depositors to seek reassurance that the Bank would hold their individual deposit personally and safely - this happened to me in 1964 at Duddeston branch, when a customer brought in a parcel of cash that had been carefully wrapped. He wanted the cash to be kept in its wrapping so that he could call and personally inspect it from time to time. However, the manager (John Ager) was able to persuade him that his money was quite secure, and that the Bank did not allow depositors to retain a proprietary interest in their deposits.
Half-crowns (a silver coin worth 12½ new pence) were a favourite method of saving for a customer who regularly called at Kingstanding branch in 1963. This very old gentleman would enter the branch, announcing his arrival with the statement "I'm from Moseley Road" (his account was at Balsall Heath branch) and by the fact that he suffered very badly with body odour. His tramp-like appearance indicated that he was living rough, but he always made substantial deposits that consisted entirely of half-crowns that were always covered in a film of light machine oil. Ray Lovell was the only cashier willing to serve him, but he never found out the mysterious source of the half-crowns.