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1963 Clearing Dept 68 Lombard StOn Sunday 22 October 1961 Martins Bank takes delivery  - at Clearing Department, 68 LOMBARD STREET London - of the latest “reader/sorter” technology, a piece of machinery that will revolutionise the way customers’ vouchers are sorted into order for processing to their accounts.   At great cost, the question of how to remove a significant chunk of monotonous work from back office staff has finally been addressed. Whilst it will still be many years before the widespread use of customer account numbers will start to ease the work of the clearing banks, Martins has made a firm commitment to technology, and there follows a period of tests during which a lot of work will still need to be done to meet the challenges of the 1970s  The government will soon give notice to Britain’s Banks that by the time of DECIMALISATION in 1971, all branch accounting procedures must be computerised.   For now, the IBM Reader/Sorter provides the first real chance to speed up the clearing of cheques, and also another FIRST for Martins Bank. On 25 April 1963, the day chosen to celebrate 400 years of Banking on the site of The Grasshopper in Lombard street, the Chairman of Martins Bank, Sir John Nicholson, makes the following announcement to assembled staff and national newspaper editors in the board room at 68 Lombard Street:

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“I can now announce that within the last two weeks, we have introduced a new operational system which is a major step forward in clearing operations for cheques on a country-wide basis, and we understand we are the first to operate such a system outside the USA.  We are working on developments to marry the current account and the clearing operations in order to provide an integrated accounting system in which we can see, for the future, advantages to our customers, as well as to ourselves”

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The future arrives – on the fourth floor…

Between the arrival of the Reader/Sorter in October 1961, and the the first regularl processing of cheques in April 1963, Martins Bank’s Organisation Research and Development Department pulls out all the stops to make the system work effectively.  What what exactly does the future look like, when it first arrives on the fourth floor of 68 Lombard street?  These rare pictures from the Ron hindle Estate show that it was actually quite a spectacle for anyone who happened to be walking down Lombard Street on that particular October Sunday Morning.  Shown here for the first time are several shots of the action showing just how mammoth a task it is to deliver an IBM Reader Sorter.

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1962 IBM Reader Sorter Arrives at 68 Lombard Street Sunday 22nd October (orig) (1 of 6) RH.jpg

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Is that an enormous upright piano on a crane?

(you hum it, i’ll play it)…,

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Phew – inside the building at last, and

ready to slide down the ramp

1962 IBM Reader Sorter Arrives at 68 Lombard Street Sunday 22nd October (orig) (2 of 6) RH.jpg

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The machine heads towards a specially

constructed ramp atop the scaffolding.

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1962 IBM Reader Sorter Arrives at 68 Lombard Street Sunday 22nd October (orig) (5 of 6) RH.jpg

Easy does it.  The reader/sorter is

worth thousands, so don’t drop it

1962 IBM Reader Sorter Arrives at 68 Lombard Street Sunday 22nd October (orig) (3 of 6) RH.jpg

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At this point we can only imagine everyone

looking through their fingers

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1962 IBM Reader Sorter Arrives at 68 Lombard Street Sunday 22nd October (orig) (6 of 6) RH.jpg

Parts one and two, side by side, to be joined

for years of happy sorting.


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Images © Martins Bank Archive Collections - Ron Hindle Estate

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1962 First batch of cheques loaded at 68 Lombard St MBM-Sp62P34.jpg

Huge sighs of relief as cheques

are finally read and sorted

The two halves of the Reader/Sorter are now joined, and the two halves of Martins Bank’s Computer Operations are coming closer, but are not yet completely together.  The LIVERPOOL COMPUTER CENTRE and and two branches – Heywoods in Liverpool and South Audley Street in London are equipped to enable experimentation with processing the day’s work of these branches using PEGASUS.  Lombard Street Clearing Department uses the IBM Reader Sorter to speed up its clearing operations, and our new and state of the art LONDON COMPUTER CENTRE will arrive in 1966. At this point, a susbstantial plan to automate thirty-six of the London Branches will stretch the new technology to new limits, and see the transmission of data down telephone lines.


For such a determined foray into the future, the arrival of the IBM Reader Sorter technology is given a rather low-key mention in Martins Bank Magazine under “London District News”.  Perhaps this serves to remind everyone that Martins’ Head Office is in Liverpool, and that London is like any other outpost of the bank!

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London District News…


1962 01 MBM.jpgSimultaneously with last year's move into computer operation, though for the time being it is a separate exercise, the Bank has installed its first automatic cheque sorter in the Clearing Department in London. This machine can read for itself the identity of the branches on which cheques are drawn and sorts the cheques accordingly. It is unable to read ordinary printed matter, however, and consequently the branch code numbers (and later on other data) have to be printed in special characters using a magnetisable ink. In due course the cheque sorters will join up with the computer to provide a fully automatic system of accounting. Before this can be done it will be necessary to encode the account identity and the amount in the special characters referred to. When this can be provided the cheque sorters will be able to read and pass to a computer all the information that is needed for the main­tenance of accounts.


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1963 IBM Reader Sorter MBM-Au63P29.jpg

Putting the machine through its paces is Clearing Staff member

Miss Valerie Blunden

An amazing 950 cheques per minute are read and sorted at an

incredible speed of fifteen miles per hour!

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Images: Martins Bank Archive Collections - Ron Hindle Estate

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