Golden Jubilee Reminiscences by Len Wright
My first experience of Branch work was in 1921/1922 as counter clerk at Saltley, a wooden hut built on brick piers. No water supply, therefore no wash basin or toilet. Gas lighting with one double cylinder bats-wing burner heater. I well remember a spell of extremely cold weather lasting a fortnight and my first duty on arriving was to fetch a gallon can of boiling water from the local coffee shop. The office dusters were soaked therein and wrapped around the gas meter to unfreeze the self-contained water valve. When gas finally came through to the heater the ink wells were placed on it to unfreeze and only then could ledger work commence.
Of the several branches I was at where a new branch or major alterations took place around the existing premises, the present Small Heath branch remains uppermost in my memory. During several strikes in various sections of the building trade it was 14 months or more before work was finished. During all that time access to the premises was given to the workmen by the manager, Mr A Lambeth, and myself taking alternate weeks.
(Here I must note that the Italian who laid the floor on the public side of the counter worked from 7am to 9pm without a break, for over a week, eating his meals as he worked.)
When workmen had finally finished, I agreed with the Branch Controller to charge meals for 28 Thursday half-days I had stayed - dinners at 1/3d, teas at 9d, total: £2-16s-0d, and that I had four days leave forthwith. On my return from this leave I was handed a pencilled note from the General Manager stating that he could not sanction both a money payment and leave, and that the £2-16s-0d was to be refunded immediately.
Before the time of all-night transport (trams in those days) or the ubiquitous motor car, I was in charge at Rotton Park branch when a new type of gas Police Light was fitted. In the first ten days it failed four times to function and I was called out by the police therefore, to attend the branch in the early hours of the morning, usually 12:30am, a total running/walking distance of 56 miles from and to my home, then at Ward End.
It occurs to me how times have changed since an occasion about 1930 at Saltley branch when I sent a new junior girl (Miss M Taverne) to the Post Office for 5/- of 1d and ½d stamps. She returned with three pots of Geraniums and 1/6d change saying that she thought brightening up the mess-room was more important than stamps.
I often recounted being at Sparkbrook branch, in the time of Mr J Ladbrooke there, when the decorators started work immediately after the March Balance. Two accountants were calling the balances saying 'Fortie - Fiftie - Sixtie' to distinguish from teen numbers. When they went to lunch, a painter up a ladder called down to his mate: 'Harry, chuck me up the bloodie puttie'!
An incident I recall with relish happened at Kings Heath branch about five years ago in my dinner time queue at the counter. An Irish girl asked me if I could transfer some money from an Irish Bank, which was due to her as she was now over 21 years. I asked her if it was due to her under a will or intestacy, and she replied: 'No, it's constipation money'. Amidst the tittering of customers close by, I established she had had an accident at work some time previously.
16 April 1969
The Police Light was a lamp fitted over the branch strongroom door - the gas fittings being replaced by an electric light in due course. This light allowed the strongroom door to be viewed during the night by police patrols, by means of a clear portion in the branch's otherwise frosted glass windows. An example of the light fitting is visible in the interior photograph of Harborne branch.
All strongrooms also had an internal light, of course, which was switched from just outside the door, and was normally kept extinguished. Cashiers entering the strongroom briefly would instinctively switch the light off upon leaving, sometimes leaving the branch junior (doing some filing) in the dark.