A Granddaughter's Memories
by Sally Cherry
My Grandmother Edith Cherry was widowed in 1938 and with two young children to support she was very pleased to be employed by the Birmingham Municipal Bank. As far as I know she always worked at the Head Office in Broad Street, she was immensely proud of working for the bank. Although she retired when I was quite young the bank plays a large part in my memories of childhood and a recent tour of the newly refurbished building has brought back a flood of memories.
My father used to tell us about ‘the balance’ which I understand was an annual event when the accounts were reconciled and everyone used to work extremely long hours. As a teenager he and his sister learned to be very quiet and undemanding at this time as I think my exhausted grandmother was a bit tetchy to say the least. He also used to tell me how she could run her fingers down a column of figures and add them all up as she went without pausing. No calculators in those days.
Although money was extremely tight in the Cherry household my grandmother always used to a look very smart, especially for work. Once a year she had a costume (as she called it) made, this was basically a skirt suit and along with a couple of blouses, this was what she wore every day. As a small child I used to be impressed by the fact that she always arrived at our house wearing a hat and then she never took it off. Presumably this avoided the risk of ‘hat hair’. I don’t know if she would have kept her hat on at work but I wouldn’t have been surprised.
My brother and sister and cousins and I used to be taken to the Christmas Party at Broad St. It was a very special occasion and necessitated a new dress, made by my mother, white ankle socks and, according to my sister, white gloves, which were worn by little girls for special occasions in those days. I remember the room and the sense of occasion; it was a mixture of excitement and tension as I was just about old enough to know that I must not let my Grandmother down. My sister remembers Father Christmas and I remember that we got really good presents, although I can’t remember what they were.
We all, including my parents, had money boxes in the shape of a book with the Birmingham Corporation crest on the front. I don’t know if these were rare at the time but a recent internet search showed up only one of these and lots of the ones shaped like weights. My sister has reminded me that they were kept on a shelf in the pantry presumably as some attempt at security, although I think they were pretty impenetrable except by the bank. I guess that the bank must have kept them when we closed our accounts.
I remember my Grandmother taking me with her to get something out of her Safe Deposit box once. I was very impressed by the apparent ceremony involved, the use of two keys and then the way in which the member of bank staff accompanying us turned away to allow her confidentiality. I was also impressed by the rows and rows of boxes, all with their two locks.
Revisiting memories of my grandmother's time at the bank, looking at the BMB History website, and swapping information with David Parkes has reminded me that she had a career at a time when many middle class women did not work (married women were not allowed to work at the bank prior to the Second World War). That career was really important both for the survival of her family and for an institution that was so important to the City of Birmingham and its people, it is no wonder that she was so proud of it.