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Memories
030 

Memories

 

by Frank Jones

 

I will begin at the beginning! It's always best to start there, because sooner or later you are certain to reach the end. It has been verified that I was born on the 23rd of May 1905, just in the Edwardian period. One of my few, early recollections is of a teddy bear, which went to bed with me every night, and I always had a quiet and peaceful night, knowing that he would guard me well! I next remember that I had a very large, wooden train, with large cast-iron wheels, made by an uncle; a penetrating whistle and many toots on the horn as I went round corners ensured that my parents knew that I was not lost, but what the nearby residents thought, I can hardly imagine! At a very tender age, I was taken by an adoring aunt, a teacher, and no doubt 'on exhibition' to her friends, to a Sunday service. I was very impressed with the service, if not somewhat awestruck. However, during quite a long pause, I was studying the walls and spotted a memorial tablet with a sculptured bird on top. As loudly as I could, I shouted out: "DODO!" The congregation seemed amused and I suppose that this was my first public speech, or was it my one and only sermon? The bird was the Dove of Peace! The service took place in St Philip's Cathedral Church, Colmore Row in Birmingham. What better place could have I chosen for my very first public performance? At the age of five, I was sent to Albert Road Higher Elementary School at a fee of 2d in the Infants, 4d in the Juniors, and 6d in the Seniors. Having regard to the difference in values in those days, this was no small sacrifice for my parents. I remember when there, the celebration of Empire Day when I had the privilege - or was it an honour? - of carrying the Union Jack around the school on that most important day. In that same era, I remember the celebrations in Birmingham's Aston Park, for the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. There was a very large crowd in the park. A large screen bore hundreds of electric light bulbs and at the appointed time, a gun-salute was fired, a firework display began and the screen was illuminated with a very impressive portrait of the King and Queen, to a roar from the crowd. The outbreak of the 1914-1918 War was a worrying time for all and a tragic time for many. My father went into the Army and it became ration time and Army pay. I passed the entrance examination for the King Edward VI Grammar School in Aston in 1916, and under the guidance of an uncle, entered. In 1917, I passed the entrance examination for King Edward's New Street, but at the same time was offered a foundation scholarship for Aston, which involved no financial cost for my education and in the circumstances, was thankfully accepted. There I had many embarrassing, amusing and entertaining experiences. I became an eager Rugby player and formed friendships which have lasted to this day. My stay there was a very happy one. There was one incident worth recording. In 1917, there was an appeal round the school for volunteers to help at the Post Office on Christmas Day. Most of the men had been called up. I volunteered. My schoolmaster looked at me and said: "You're rather young and very small, Jones." However, it so happens that I was chosen to go to Aston Manor Post Office, only about a quarter of mile from my grandmother's, where we were going for Christmas Dinner and it was arranged to hold back dinner until a quarter past one. I went to the Post Office punctually and my first job was to check that all the letters coming down the chute had been cancelled: if not, I was to stamp them immediately. When this was completed, the letters were sorted and handed to the postmen in large sacks. I was delegated to go to Alum Rock, but of course, we did not have the variety of transport systems then, only trams. Looking at me in sympathy, the postman put both my sack and his own over his back and we proceeded to our district. Curiously, though, he always went to the houses with large drives on his own, leaving me standing at the bottom. I think there was a purpose behind it all! We returned to the Post Office where we were paid off. The fee was sixpence per hour for five hours, so for Christmas Day morning I received the handsome sum of half a crown, not to be sneezed at in those days. Translated into a normal working day that was equivalent to thirty shillings for a six-day week and the average worker in industry was getting one pound to twenty five shillings per week. I considered myself very lucky and my first official job was with the Post Office! Every letter in the Post Office was delivered on Christmas Day. The cost was ½d for a postcard or unsealed envelope containing a Christmas card, and 1d for a normal letter. It has sadly changed today. In the year 1920/21, when I was in the 6th form, I had a very heavy fall whilst playing Rugby. My leg stuck in the ground, and I had a blow on the knee resulting in the formation of fluid. The next day, my leg was like a balloon and my pyjamas had to be slit in order to remove them. The local doctor, Dr Jessop, happened to be the doctor for Aston Villa Football Club. I thought a great deal of him. He applied poultices, the usual treatment of those days, but it was thirteen weeks, a whole term, before I was fit to return to school. My absence had been noticed. Worse, at the end of that academic year, I was one subject short of Matriculation and though obtaining School Certificate I had to go into the 6th form for another year in order to gain all the subjects necessary. There then arose the question of what I should do, as it was very difficult to obtain jobs. In November 1922, I was called for an interview at the Birmingham Municipal Bank. I attended as directed, and was taken to an office by the Deputy General Manager and placed on a high stool at a long desk in the old Dickensian manner. Another boy was brought in and we were given an 'extraction' pad with a mass of figures making quite a long list and we were instructed to cast the figures and wait until the Deputy GM came back. We were left for a considerable time - no doubt he had some other important matter to attend to - and in the meantime, my friend asked me what I had obtained as the answer. I had been taught to make a cast, ink in the figure, and then check in the opposite direction, thus satisfying all the requirements. He looked over my shoulder and remarked: "I haven't got that" then went back to his own stool and furiously recast his own columns. The Deputy GM eventually returned and we were sent home. A short time afterwards, I was informed that I had obtained the job and should report to the Bank's Head Office. I was made the General Manager's office boy. I worked in an office in the top corridor of the Birmingham Water Department. On the left-hand side was the secretary/typist's office and on the right my room, which I shared, and the General Manager's office. I was allocated a long desk and a very high stool. My desk formed a 'corridor' to the GM's office. Behind me were two desks, one for the Controller of Branches, the other for the House Purchase Controller. There was one telephone between them. To the rear, on my right, there was a strongroom, with a sturdy main door and a steel grille for any use during normal daytime. Nearly all men smoked in those days. It was the 'in thing'. I acquired some cigarettes from my aunt and puffed them in and puffed them out! At Christmas, an uncle, no doubt well-meaning, gave me a box of cigarettes as a present. After the Christmas holiday, I returned to work taking the box with me. I offered a cigarette to both the Controllers and they graciously accepted. It was after closing time, and a little time afterwards the General Manager came through the door, walked past my desk, looked at me in amazement and said: "Smoking, Jones?" I replied: "Yes". He continued: "Does your father know?" I felt even smaller. After leaving school, I had ceased to play Rugby and because of further trouble with my knee was glad to undertake the refereeing of the home matches of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th teams. Meeting up with some of my friends, it was remarked: "We have to play XYZ next week. We'll beat them. We won't smoke." I took heed of this. I decided that I would stop smoking too. I had never really become addicted and just 'puffed it in and puffed it out' to feel grown up, and because it was the thing to do, acting as it did as a sort of introduction. I had been House-Captain in my last year, and kept my interest in Rugby by refereeing the Old Boys' team for many years. One day in my new post, the telephone rang and 'Mr C' picked it up, saying: "Oh! you want the House Purchase Department. I'll put you through." He paused for a moment, then solemnly passed the phone to 'Mr I' who took the call - a lesson in true diplomacy! On another day, there arose an incident which almost reversed my embarrassment from the previous occasion. The General Manager came from his office and with 'Mr C' went into the strongroom to look for some documents. Not being satisfied that they were there, he sent 'Mr C' out to look for them, and the latter shut the grille door behind him, automatically locking it; he had left the lion in the cage! There was a roar and someone was sent to look for the departed 'Mr C', who returned later a little crestfallen, and the lion was released from his imprisonment. I had to chuckle to myself, but there was a solemn silence in the office for the rest of the day. My main task was to look after the postage book, entering the names of all those to whom letters were posted and balancing the stamp expenditure. I must have been successful, because some time later I was promoted to junior-junior at Head Office. My responsibilities were very much increased. On Saturday morning, my job was to take the staff order for Pattison's (a renowned Birmingham confectioner) farthing buns. We had a break during the morning so that we could cope with the unusually long morning session. We were still on the Gold Standard and the rate of exchange for farthing buns was 960 for £1. The task was made immensely more difficult if anyone varied their order and the greatest care had to be taken to see that the cash balanced, or you could be out of pocket! Also on occasions, I had to accompany the commissionaire-cum-caretaker to and from the bank at which all agency transactions were made. All monies were carried in a leather case. He was a retired policeman but rather heavily-built and just a little awkward in his physical attributes. However, just what protection I was intended to provide I am not sure. It was the usual procedure in those days and there was no thought of security vans. The journey was to one or other of the joint stock banks and I also had to provide an escort to the Post Office for the PO Box letters. Later I was appointed to the position of counter clerk, where one had to list the account number on a counter sheet, then either handing the book back to the cashier or passing it back to have the signature and balance checked if a payment was involved. History and J P Hilton's book: 'Britain's First Municipal Savings Bank' amply recorded the conception and growth of the bank, but it is worthy of mention here that the Annual Balance at the 31st March was an occasion on which we worked all night, with the exception of juniors and ladies, who were allowed to catch the last tram home. It was all a long, hard slog, which was later recompensed by a Committee authorised bonus, amounting to £2, £3, and later £5. We were called into Head Office to receive the payment and I remember going with a certain branch manager to obtain our amounts due. Due to increasing seniority, I received £3 and the branch manager £5. On the way home on the tram, he said to me: "Frank, you won't mention this to the wife will you? She doesn't know I've got it." In due course, I was trained as a senior cashier, then clerk-in-charge and ultimately to a relief manager. There were a few amusing incidents. One day someone entered by the main door, and almost immediately all the cashiers disappeared, one to the back with a query, another to carry out urgent work in the stationery cupboard, leaving me as the only person on the counter. The customer came to me and produced from a large bag a heap of coins. There was a faint atmosphere. He was from the fishmarket and the other cashiers knew him as a 'regular'. I fell for it! In another incident, we had a cashier who was rather outspoken. We were at that time recruiting a number of new people from TSBs because of a shortage of qualified staff. Answering a knock at the side door, the cashier in question heard the newcomer announce: "I'm 'J' of Plymouth (his surname happened to be a Royal name) to which the reply was instantly made: "Hello! I'm King Charles the First". It transpired that he was a member of the Plymouth Brethren and he soon settled into our routines. There was to be an amazing sequel. I had occasion to exchange visits with a gentleman and his wife who had recognised me as their branch manager and during the course of their visit, I learned they were Plymouth Brethren, so I recounted the story of the newcomer to our staff. They were intensively interested and it soon became apparent that our 'Mr J of Royal namesake' had been responsible for introducing the man to his wife-to-be. It shows how careful one has to be.
Life in a village is even more intimate and everyone knows each other. Life in the early days of the bank was like that of a happy family, likewise. The General Manager expected his instructions to be closely obeyed but took a great interest in the social life of the staff. He quickly realised the growing responsibilities carried in the rapid growth of the bank . It was directed that all members of the staff should qualify by examination, men wholly and ladies by Part 1 only. I was lucky. I passed Part 1 of the Institute of Bankers exams in 1925 and the remainder in 1926, becoming an Associate. By 1932 at the age of 27, I was appointed branch manager. Our reward was £10 for passing Part 1 and £25 for Part 2.
An incident remains in my memory concerning a reversion to my knee injury. Whilst gardening, my sister and a friend playfully turned a hose on me and I bumped my suspect knee. Later, I was due to go to camp for a brief holiday and bumped it again, whereupon it swelled like a balloon.
At the camp, no doctor was available since he came only once a week from Cleobury Mortimer but I received the attentions of a district nurse who administered a traditional remedy of a poultice. The doctor later insisted that his experience of the Territorial Army suggested that I should have a week from work and he notified the bank of that requirement. It was a glorious week in beautiful surroundings, with sunshine, butterflies and dragonflies surrounding me and I eventually was taken home and reported back for work. Shortly after my return, an inspector came to the branch and said: "Jones, you've been away. I understand you've hurt your knee. Let's have a look at it."
I dutifully rolled up my trouser leg and he expressed himself satisfied. It shows, however, how very efficient the inspectors were in that day.
In those days, there was only one manager salary grade, which commenced at £300 pa and rose by eight annual increments of £25 to £500, depending upon satisfactory service. The start of the Second World War began a new era for all of us and also for the bank. This so far has been the simple tale of a bank clerk in the Birmingham Municipal Bank, but I think it may not be very different from the tale of a clerk in the TSB during the same period and I hope that all members of the Retired Staff Association will have found something entertaining and amusing in my account. The more elderly BMB members may even remember some of the characters.
It was not considered respectable thenadays to be in debt and anyone applying for a bank post and known to be in debt would not have been employed. We were on the Gold Standard and many gold sovereigns were deposited. I wonder how many of those people would now like their deposits back? I now have a heap of notes and coins of various denominations. It was a simple system of size related to value, but now I am muddled to death.
During the war years it was found that the average hours worked by bank staff were not sufficient to satisfy the Ministry of Labour and staff were expected to attend for two hours per week checking small parts used in the aeroplane manufacturing industry, later taking part in fire-watching duties. Following the war, men returned from service and a large increase in facilities offered helped the citizens of Birmingham and eventually ourselves. The fine Safe Deposit became very popular.
In 1959, I became an Inspector. Shortly afterwards I discovered quite accidentally that I had lost the entire sight in my left eye and had an operation on my right eye. The General Manager was entirely satisfied that I could continue my duties and I never turned a "blind eye" and always obeyed instructions!
At that time, TSB's were doing vocational courses at certain universities, and entertaining and hosting European savings bankers. I myself was sent by the bank to University College, Durham, a magnificent experience, even travelling by first class rail ticket as befitted my status! During one of the conference sessions, the question was asked as to why the BMB was not a member of the TSB interbank payment scheme and it transpired that there was no good reason. Subsequently, the necessary applications and Treasury permissions were obtained. Was it a sign of the merger to come? One important guest was the Chairman of the TSB Association, a knight, and although I was the only non-member of the TSB present, I was seated at his right hand for breakfast. One morning I found that porridge was being served and naturally put sugar on it. The Chairman was horrified: "Mon!" he said, "you've spoilt it!" How difficult political diplomacy is. The incident was not put in my report to my General Manager, when I returned.
Shortly afterwards, it became one of my tasks to entertain some members of foreign savings banks who were staying in Birmingham for a few days visiting Head Office and a selection of branches. I took them to various places of entertainment and interest, including the TSB Training College at Shirley. One in particular was told that it was a "free" afternoon and was asked by me what he would like to do. "I would like to watch West Bromwich Albion Football team", he said. I was shocked. I had never seen a soccer match in all my life. Amazingly, he also knew the names of every member of the team. What an enthusiast!
When a certain 'Mr S' was appointed Controller of Branches, I was appointed Acting Deputy Controller in his absence. It was a job that required one to be quick on the ball and adept at being a master of communications, especially when staff would burst in with unexpected queries from branches. It was good training for anyone anticipating employment as a bookmaker or on the Stock Exchange.
On one Saturday morning, the Assistant General Manager rushed in shouting: "Quick, Jones! Get the Estates Department." It seemed that a lady member of staff had been in the cloakroom adjusting her hair before leaving, when she happened to glance through the window, only to see a man on a crane opposite, waving to her. She diplomatically returned the gesture with a slight wave and immediately left to contact the Personnel Officer. That lady returned with her to check the facts and the same thing happened also to her! My contact with the Estates Department obtained the immediate decree that frosted glass must be fitted, despite the fact that it was a Saturday morning. It showed how any emergency had to be dealt with, even if it came from any of the seventy branches on a Saturday morning -- at the time and on the spot.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose or is it I wonder: I have seen the Gold Standard go and now the ECU is being gilded and polished; in my short lifetime I have seen empires go and come and go. Sic transit gloria mundi and he is not much better on Tuesday. However, he is generally known as being Frank!

 

 

 

(This article first appeared in episodic form in the Retired Staff Association's Members' Magazine (TSB England & Wales: Midland & Wales Region) between April 1991 and January 1992. At that time, Frank Jones was in his mid-80s and was registered blind. He compiled his 'Memories' by audio tape and his words were transcribed by Norman Worwood - the then editor of the Members' Magazine.)
 
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