A Few Random Recollections of
the Birmingham Municipal Bank
Golden Jubilee Reminiscences by Norman Ling
Nucleus of staff working for the Corporation Savings Bank; extra staff recruited from other Corporation Departments who had to learn the job as they went along. I started work in the semi-basement of the Water Dept., which served as a Head Office (pro tem).
Main work consisted of
(a) Dealing with transfers from old Bank to the new
(b) Trying to reach a balance on the old Bank ledgers (Interest calculated to decimal points which left plenty of scope for error)
(c) Getting together materials and equipment to be taken to Branches of the new Bank which were to be opened on the 1st September
Everyone worked long hours and the average finishing time was somewhere between 8 & 10pm.
At this period I remember:
J P Hilton; F Ellison; A J Smith; Robbins; Heath; J Baker; Miss Blackwell; Miss Bloxham; and about half-a-dozen others who had served the old Bank, plus those who had taken up appointments with the new Bank.
The whole day opened, by all the staff working on the ground floor of the Water Dept. (9am - 9pm), writing up Signature Books for the respective Branches of the new Bank and transferring cash balances to the ledgers. (It was on this day that photographs were taken both in the office and outside in the Courtyard.)
Monday, 1st September
All staff gathered at Edmund Street at 8am. Taxis arrived at 9am to take staff, materials and equipment to the new Branches to be opened at 10am (generally, Manager plus one assistant, plus in one or two cases an extra junior).
No general instructions were issued, and staff hardly knew what might happen when they arrived at their Branch, but hoped that commonsense plus a few preliminary directions would enable them to do the right thing.
I went with T J Ladbrooke to open the Handsworth Branch in a small ground-floor room of the Council House. We stuck up as many posters as possible - inside and outside the building, and waited for customers to turn up. They soon started to trickle in and the early ones were as much interested in the success of the new Bank, as were the staff.
Pattern of business very simple - mostly straightforward deposits with few payments - which were limited to £5 on demand.
Open daily plus Monday and Saturday evenings. Business quickly grew - Saturday evening became quite hectic with queues forming up outside the doors.
The monies were not left in the safe over the weekend but taken by taxi to Head Office by Manager (who carried a revolver) and assistant. Similar conditions prevailed at most of the new Branches though some of them were open on alternate days only.
Thoughts were soon directed at getting better premises with more suitable accommodation. Sparkbrook was the first permanent Branch under management of Mr Carver - a very proud day.
Many late hours were worked at Edmund Street previously to ascertain that account numbers entered for the draw complied with conditions of entry. In the end, the job became so confused and lengthy that it had to be abandoned and a chance had to be taken - it worked out alright.
The First Annual Balance: 31st March 1920
It is on record that the books of the Corporation Savings Bank were never exactly balanced and it was the determination of the Management that the balancing of the books of the new Bank should be more precise and accordingly a high standard of accuracy and endeavour were called for. No mistakes or alterations on the extracted lists of balances were permitted and a time for completing the work was set down. This meant that work went on sometimes into the early hours of the morning and it was a case of 'woe betide' the late finisher. This attitude continued for many years and the period of the Annual Balance was regarded as a time of 'Sweat and Toil' - and perhaps still is, but certainly to a lesser degree.
J P Hilton made a practice for many years of receiving the completed Balance Lists personally and it would be an understatement to say that his criticism of any Manager handing in anything less than a perfectly completed job was severe.
Stands at Trade Exhibitions
In 1920 and several succeeding years, the Bank had a stand at the Trades Exhibition at Bingley Hall.
J Kesterton and A J Smith were the two officers mainly concerned with running it, plus the additional help of other members of the staff to lend a hand in the evenings.
Publicity material was handed out and some high-pressure salesmanship exercised. Arrangements were made for the opening of new accounts - both adults and children - at a Branch selected. Moderately successful results were obtained but records - still extant - show that many who deposited a few coppers - or shillings - failed to follow up by attending at the Branch later to register their signature and to take up their passbook, and so become established depositors.
The Bank also had a stand at the British Industries Fair held in the Airfield Buildings at Castle Bromwich - the purpose of this stand was restricted to publicity only but it attracted a great deal of interest - particularly from overseas visitors - and helped to make the Bank better known. H G Wright was the officer mainly concerned with this enterprise.
The overall impression I still have after 50 years, is of the tremendous enthusiasm of the staff in the early days to get the Bank established and to see it grow. I well remember the late Alderman Lovsey telling us in 1919 when he took our oaths of secrecy, that if the Bank succeeded we should have a job, but that if it failed we should not. No effort was spared and countless hours of overtime were worked to ensure its success, and there was keen competition among the Managers - at that time called Branch Superintendents - to develop the biggest and best Branches. I recall that sometimes a Manager would set off in the evening in his own time to call upon prospective depositors to induce them to sign up.
Working conditions for the staff were poor in the extreme - generally no mess room accommodation and sometimes not even a lavatory - as at the Saltley hut. Erdington branch was started in a classroom of the Church School in High Street, the only working surface being a pupil's desk. This branch was later transferred to a shop in the Church House opposite, measuring about 15´ square and it was not until 1926 that the present premises were opened - which by standards then applicable were considered palatial.
It was in 1926/27 that evening branches were opened in temporary hut premises at Perry Common, Brookvale, and Pype Hayes, and all these three Branches were attached to Erdington Branch for administration purposes, and their books and cash were taken to Erdington after each opening. Almost a state of panic one evening when it was discovered that the Clerk-in-Charge of Brookvale Branch had left the bags containing the books and money on the pavement outside the Branch when entering the taxi to journey up to Erdington. Police were notified and a full-scale search was started. Much relief at about 10pm, when the finder handed in the missing bags to the local police station.
It should be remembered that J P Hilton was always very keen to promote the social activities of the staff. His determination in this direction was almost as strong as his efforts to ensure their clerical efficiency. He took a close and personal interest in the cricket team and hardly ever failed to attend their inter-departmental matches. Golf matches and bowls matches were often arranged at his instigation - supported by members of the Committee. The annual Staff Dinner was regarded as a 'must' and no lame excuse would be accepted for not attending.
During the War the staff undertook - on a so-called voluntary basis - spare time work inspecting rivets, bolts, and similar small parts for the Aircraft Industry and they became so efficient at this that they were able to take over the whole of this work on behalf of one of the City's largest manufacturers (Baxters Bolts Rivets & Screws Ltd). The present Stationery Store at Head Office was taken over and adapted for this purpose - and evening, as well as Sunday shifts were worked, and in spite of frequent bombing raids, the work went on without interruption.
Golden Jubilee. Norman Ling retired from the Bank as a senior officer after a long
period of service.
These recollections have been extracted from 1969 correspondence by Norman Ling with the then Bank's General Manager (Mr S A Guy) in relation to a possible publication to celebrate the Bank's