Incidents - Humorous and Otherwise: 1922 - 1969
Golden Jubilee Reminiscences by Hedley Massey
1. A Branch in a wooden hut on the site of which is now a flourishing office. Staff: the Manager and a lady assistant. Time: nearly 23.00 hours on the night of the Annual Balance. Having worked until the last possible moment, the Staff hurriedly locked up the premises and dashed across the road to board the last City bound bus which was even then approaching. They were not to board that bus; as they stepped on to the platform they were promptly removed by two motor patrol police officers who had noticed their hurried departure and decided to apprehend and question persons who they considered were acting in a suspicious manner.
Explanations and apologies followed whereupon the lady assistant drew herself up to her full height of 5' 2" and demanded of the police officers "and how do you suggest I get home now?" Not to be outdone one of the officers opened the door of the patrol car (history does not relate if he removed his cap), and assured madam that "if she would step inside, the City Police would be honoured to deliver her safely to her family". Which indeed they did.
2. The young and newly appointed Manager who was deputed to call and see a lady depositor about her account, great care to be exercised, as it was thought probable that her husband was unaware of the fact that she maintained an account with the BMB.
Unfortunately, the door of the house was opened by husband himself, the local bookmaker with the build and physique of a prize fighter. The insistence of the said young Manager on seeing the lady depositor on her own and refusing steadfastly to state his business provoked such a display of belligerence as to jeopardize not only his future in the Bank but his stay on earth. However, courage prevailed and husband retired to the kitchen (leaving the door open) and the good lady was informed by the Manager of the purpose of his visit.
The following morning the "bookie" turned up at the Bank demanding to see the Manager. He stated that his wife had told him of the purpose of the visit and that he had always known she banked with us. He then embarked on a paean of praise directed at the Bank and its servants who would flinch at nothing (even a man of his size) in the discharge of their duties and departed swearing eternal friendship.
The sequel - the Manager and his first assistant were wont to adjourn to the Lea Bridge Tavern on Monday and Friday evenings to recover from their evening's labours, and the "bookie" and his friends frequented the same hostelry. Whenever the Manager and first assistant entered the lounge bar, the stentorian voice of the "bookie" could be heard instructing the barmaid to take "two pints to the gents".
3. The first Head Office in the Water Department. Time 1922. A dear old lady handed her transaction to the counter clerk, asked him to process it for her, informing him that she would sit down meantime. She then retreated backwards from the counter in the direction of a bench seat provided for this purpose. Unfortunately, she retired from the counter at an angle and instead of sitting on the bench sat in the fire bucket, which in those days was carefully maintained full of water (fire extinguishers as we know them now did not exist). One still recalls a burly commissionaire of those days named Parkes who hauled the dear old lady out and brushed off as much surplus water as he could...
Although there were a number of temporary Branches at Works and in rented premises transferred from the former Bank, no time was lost in acquiring and converting premises at Small Heath and Sparkbrook into permanent Branches. The success of the new enterprise even astounded Mr Neville Chamberlain; the first Chairman of the Committee of Management, for the canny citizens of Birmingham knew a good thing and immediately took the permanent Bank to their hearts and homes. The problem then was to secure suitable sites and build or convert lasting structures to open as soon as possible, for the Committee, like Shakespeare, were quick to realise that "There comes a tide in the affairs of man which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."
Their first step was to appoint as the Bank's Valuer, Frank Wilde of Messrs Wilde & Glover, who excelled in securing several valuable sites in important thoroughfares throughout the City; and, I suppose, that, on an average four or five permanent Branches were established each year during the next decade; most of them at strikingly low prices compared with present-day values. One or two choice sites were acquired on very favourable terms through Mr Jack Cotton, who was then an Estate Agent in Birmingham before he became the World-renowned property magnate.
Mr Neville Chamberlain commenced his historic Parliamentary career soon after the new Bank was established, but not before the Head Office had moved from its confined premises in the Water Dept. to a building in Edmund Street, now used by the Registrars; the inauguration of the House Purchase Department; and the settling of the designs for the Bank Key and Home Safes. On Mr Chamberlain's departure, Mr Councillor Appleby, an Accountant, was appointed Chairman, and, until his decease, he dedicated himself to the welfare of the Bank, and it was largely due to him that the happy relationship was arrived at with the Corporation, by which the deposits in the Bank substantially benefitted the depositors and the Citizens generally, and the Municipal Bank itself was established on a firm financial basis.
On the passing of Councillor Appleby, Alderman Sir Percival Bower became Chairman and, under his leadership, the staff became very efficient, for it became more and more necessary to appoint really competent Branch Managers. During Sir Percival's period of office also, the famous Bradbury Report was issued, no doubt as the result of the Bank's rapid development, which possibly the Trustee Savings Banks and Building Societies eyed with some misgiving, as the Bank at that time were giving a more favourable rate of interest to depositors and also the terms for House Purchase loans were more advantageous. Much time was spent in preparing the Bank's reply to this Report, and as the result, the Bank retained much of their unique powers. In fact, shortly afterwards, Clauses in a local Act gave the Bank power to open Branches in adjoining areas outside the City.
Under the Chairmanship of Alderman Gelling, the fine new Head Office premises were opened by the late Prince George in November, 1933. As this was the first Municipal building on the new Civic Centre, the Architect (Mr Howitt), the main Contractors (Messrs Whittall & Sons), and the Sub-Contractors all vied to put their best into this splendid structure.
Soon afterwards, Alderman Martineau (later Sir Wilfred) became Chairman, and during his period of office, the Bank made rapid progress. Several Branches were opened outside the City; the scheme for savings in schools was inaugurated; and the Rules and Regulations relating to the Bank were consolidated. Also, a comprehensive Code for House Purchase was adopted; the fundamentals of which were drafted by Sir Wilfred himself. I remember also that about this time there was a scheme in force for advancing money to builders at various stages in their operations, in conjunction with Mortgage advances, which in suitable cases were very near the purchase price.
(NOTE: these recollections have been extracted from 1969 correspondence by Hedley Massey with the then Bank's General Manager (Mr S A Guy) in relation to a possible publication to celebrate the Bank's Golden Jubilee. Mr C H Massey joined the Bank in May 1922, and retired on November 30th 1969 as Assistant General Manager.)