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Newspaper Feature - 1956

The images on this page illustrated an article regarding the Bank that was published in March 1956. The original text and captions are reproduced below.


Birmingham has been the birthplace of many innovations in civic administration, but none of its municipal enterprises has attracted more world-wide interest than the Municipal Bank.

The latest inquiry on how the bank is run came from Wellington, New Zealand.

The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Ald A L Gibson, is preparing a report to be sent to the Mayor of Wellington. In the past, other queries have come from the Continent and even from Japan.

Even today, the Birmingham Municipal Bank is the only one of its kind in the country. The idea of establishing such a bank was originated by the late Alderman Neville Chamberlain when he was Lord Mayor of the city in 1915. He felt there was no local thrift organisation that appealed to the working man.

With the support of the city’s trades union leaders, opposition was overcome, and the Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank, parent of the present bank, was opened in 1916.

This bank, however, was limited to the period of the First World War. But such was the success that the Corporation sought powers in 1919, by means of a Parliamentary Bill to establish a permanent savings bank, with in addition a department to make advances to depositors for house purchase.

Today, the Birmingham Municipal Bank, with its imposing Head Office in the city’s Civic Centre and its 68 branches, deals with 5½m transactions a year, has over 700,000 depositors, and a turnover for the last 12 months of £67½m.

It is guaranteed by the Corporation and is essentially a savings bank; its funds are not used for financing commercial operations. “Home safes” were introduced in 1922.

Since 1919 the value of National Savings Certificates sold amounts to nearly £14m.

Birmingham Municipal Bank owes much of its success to its sympathetic treatment of new customers. Mrs Muriel Packard, who lives in Aldridge Road, Great Barr, is consulting Mr John Raftery, superintendent of the Savings Bank Department. He was a junior when the bank began in 1919. Mrs Packard is not entirely a new customer: she had an account as a schoolgirl but allowed it to lapse. The Schools’ Saving Scheme, through the bank and with the assistance of the teachers, has helped countless scholars to become money-wise. Another popular scheme is that of saving by means of deductions from wages authorised by works’ employees. These are credited direct to their personal accounts. After nearly forty years, the bank remains a municipal institution unique in England, and a feature of local civic pride.
“Time is Money” reads the motto on the desk of Mr Harold Carver (left), general manager of the bank since 1946. Viewing the accounts with him is Ald Albert H Cooper, who has been on the Bank Committee more than 32 years. At present he is again chairman, a position he has held twice before: from 1934-36 and from 1951-52.
The massive steel door of the Municipal Bank’s underground safe deposit weighs 8½ tons. But it is so finely balanced that Mr Reginald Clamp, the custodian, can swing it shut using one finger. Beyond it is the 50 feet square room containing 10,528 safes of varying sizes, the smallest of which can be hired for as little as 7s 6d a year. The room is, in effect, an island site, safe from fire, flood, and burglary. The ceiling, walls, and floor are made of steel and concrete two feet thick; that on the ceiling alone weighs 460 tons. During the war, Mr Clamp was honorary secretary of the Birmingham Savings Committee. His services to that body earned him an MBE.
From the Italian marble observation balcony, the floodlit banking hall below looks like a labyrinth of desks and counters. The walls and counter fronts are biscuit-coloured marble; the counter-tops, dark teak; the grilles, cast bronze; the ceiling colours are biscuit, old gold, brick red, and peacock blue, with amber glazing. Around the walls are ancient Egyptian money signs – and more thrift maxims.

Notes as well as silver and coppers can be weighed on this modern balance. Operating it is Mr Frank Hood, assistant manager of the banking hall, who has worked with the Municipal Bank for 26 years. He is also a relief branch manager.

Night has come, and the staff have gone, but the vigil at the bank is not relaxed. In one of the subterranean passages that lead to the strong room, Mr Fred Brittain, the caretaker, pauses to check a bronze grille door. Down here, mirrors are positioned so that he can see round all four corners of the block at a glance. His life as nightwatchman has been uneventful. “The great safe doors do not encourage intruders,” he says. But his job is as vital as nay in the complex organisation that goes into a bank that is a model of its kind.
About six o’clock in the morning the silence of the long, deserted corridors is broken by the arrival of the bank’s 11 long-serving cleaners. In charge is the night-watchman’s wife, Mrs Frances Britain (right). Working to her instructions are Mrs Eleanor Hudson, of Moseley Road, and Mrs Lilian Orton, of Hampden Street, Balsall Heath.
The newspaper feature also contained an image of the Head Office Commissionaire (Joseph McQuaid) which is reproduced on a separate page under the heading Mac the Bank