Birmingham’s palatial new Municipal Bank was opened for business to-day with a little comedy.
Out of all its thousands of depositors, only three seemingly thought it worthwhile to strive for the distinction of being the first to increase their accounts there.
Mrs Claire Alexander, of the White Swan, Edmund-street, claimed to be the first to arrive. She turned up half-an-hour before the massive bronze doors were opened at ten o’clock.
But the clinging iciness of the morning air was too much for her; so instead of shivering beneath the portico she walked up and down, and up and down again to keep warm.
Ten minutes later a man whose surname is appropriately the same as the founder of the bank, Chamberlain – his full name is Mr Laurence T Chamberlain, of 16, Grange-road, Erdington – huddled in a corner by the door.
Ten o’clock came, the doors were slowly opened. Mr Chamberlain had one foot on the threshold, with Mrs Alexander at his heels, when another man rushed past and shot into the bank as though his life depended on it.
The clerks looked startled at the unprecedented rush!
Mr Chamberlain, Mrs Alexander and the other man dead-heated at the counter. The former had a double-object in view – not only to be the first depositor, but to open the first account.
There wasn’t a second between Mr Chamberlain and his feminine rival in getting their money paid in.
Then, taking his deposit book, Mr Chamberlain rushed round to another part of the counter to open a new account.
It seemed that the third would-be-first arrival was also there on the same errand, but his hurry was his own undoing.
Snatching up the first form that came to hand, he filled it in, and triumphantly handed it to the counter-clerk.
Much has been written of the beginnings of the Birmingham Municipal Bank, including the story of its early days as the old Savings Bank in a basement room at the Water Department. However, it would appear that the real story has never been told.
The person who can tell it is Mrs Walter Whittle, of 14, Robert Road, Handsworth. She claims to have been not only the first manager of the bank, but the first depositor as well.
It happened this way. When the idea of the Savings Bank was first taking shape, Mrs Whittle was acting as paymaster and head supervisor of the clerical staff for the chief National Service representative, Captain Sydenham. The need arose for a staff with which to start the bank. There was then, of course, a considerable shortage of labour, and the task fell to Mrs Whittle, whose office was Room 55 at the municipal buildings in Margaret Street. It was in that room, states Mrs Whittle, that the bank actually began.
“We started it” she says, “as the Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank, and the first thing I had to do was to send out a lot of posters announcing the scheme. Somebody had to be the first depositor, so I myself put in the first five shillings. Most of the girls who worked under me put in deposits also, and that was how we began.
“But we had nowhere to put the money. Captain Sydenham was afraid that I might get it mixed up with the national service accounts, and there seemed only one thing to do with it. I took it home! The first amount I took was £50, but I soon began to get concerned about it, so they gave me a key to a safe in the Water Department.
“Then the matter began to be taken up seriously, and, for the time being, Lloyds Bank assisted us with it. It seems astonishing to reflect how much the movement had grown since its small beginnings among my staff.”