I started work at the Birmingham Municipal Bank in October 1949 and Quinton was the first branch to which I was sent. It was a quiet branch, with a manager, a cashier and sometimes a junior, such as I. It was one of 63 branches at that time. Soon I was transferred to Bearwood branch(see sketch below) in Sandon Road (which was a lot busier and had a manager, 2 cashiers and 2 juniors) and perhaps almost a year later, to Head Office in Broad Street. This was very different, with the main banking hall, the mortgage department and lots of smaller offices, and a doorman. On several occasions, shortly after my arrival, I lost my way when going to or from my office to collect the tea from the canteen.
After some months I was sent to Harborne branch ( see sketch below), opposite the Royalty Cinema, then on holiday relief to Rotton Park (where, unusually, there was a lady manager) and Selly Oak and finally to Handsworth branch, which proved to be a move too far for me.
One was expected to take Banking exams, consisting of 7 subjects, including Commerce, Savings Bank Law and Practice, and English. If you passed all 7 in 3 years you received a pay increase. If not, you had to take all 7 in one year. Our tutor called the Municipal Bank “one of the odds and sods”, which at the time I thought was unkind.
At that time the Bank gave 2.75% interest on savings against 2.5% from the Post Office. The Joint Stock Banks opened from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. but the Municipal Bank opened 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturday. Staff had to arrive about 15 minutes before opening time and stay until all the cashiers had balanced, which depended on size of branch, amount of business and luck. I remember that one Friday evening one cashier was £10 short and the Inspector had to be called in. He and the cashier went over every transaction, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the cashier trying to remember each one. Shortly before 10 p.m. I was allowed to go home (having handled no money) and the Inspector and the cashier went to call on one of his customers – who denied having been paid too much. I was 19 at that time and being paid £12 per month (less than £3 per week) so far fewer people would be withdrawing multiples of £10 then than now. I believe the big, white fivers were currency then, and they were always kept in a locked safe.
The smaller branches entered all their transactions in hand-written ledgers (one person entered and another checked) and the amounts of interest to the end of the year to be added or subtracted had to be worked out using tables. The bigger branches also worked out the interest from tables but the information was entered on ledger cards by machines.
The day I liked best was 31st March, the year-end, when the Bank closed all day. We worked like slaves from about 8.30 a.m. until we’d finished, because next day there would be long queues of customers wanting their pass books made up to date. All the ledger card balances had to be listed on hand adding machines which printed the amounts on a roll of paper, called back and checked to a figure. Then interest for a whole year had to be calculated and added to each account, checked, listed and checked again. At Bearwood branch the Manager took us out for lunch to a café in Bearwood Road and at teatime his wife brought in a selection of tasty bits and pieces. These both helped to lighten the long day. We all worked very hard in a friendly, co-operative atmosphere and it was very satisfying when everything balanced and checked.
However, after I was told that my stay at Handsworth would be lengthy, I found another job which entailed far less travelling and with an extra £1.30p per month pay.
So the Bank continued to expand its size and services. By its encouragement to save even tiny amounts, it promoted thrift and opened the imaginations of Birmingham’s lower-paid citizens to the personal achievements they could make. Neville Chamberlain’s persistence in fighting for the fledgling Bank was due to his belief in the benefits it would offer. He wouldn’t have imagined quite how successful it would become.
In 1949/1951, when I knew it from the inside, it was still a savings bank offering mortgage facilities. Customers didn’t receive cheque books (most working people used cash or postal orders) but anyone local could pay their gas, electric water and general rates bills over the counter at any branch of the Municipal bank, with no fee payable. Bearwood Branch banked at the Midland in Bearwood Road and we used to go there to pay in money and draw out cash – we 2 juniors going together, for security! It really was a world away from today. However, on the whole I enjoyed my time there.
Ed’s comment – Following the article from Stella in Oracle 20, I have printed her personal experiences of life at the BMB. My thanks to Stella for the articles, also I am indebted to a friend of mine , Mike Smith who kindly did the sketches for the two articles (helping to bridge the copyright difficulties) You will all be aware of Mike’s skills as he was the artist who did the line drawings for the society calendar.
© QLHS – Stella Linnington 2003
Click here to go back to the Oracle page.