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Leicester Charles Street Drive in in 1959 (above)

and as briefly uncovered by building work in 1993 (right)

Images © Martins Bank Archive Collections and Rob Hancock).


Drive on through…

1965 Life at the Drive In MBM-Au65 FC.jpgThings are not always as they seem. Martins’ gut reactions are sometimes very strong, and when on 30 January 1959 the Westminster bank openes a drive-in branch on Martins’ home patch – LIVERPOOL – the gloves are off.  The top Brass decides that the Bank will be first in the UK with a Banking computer, and follows this closely on 2 March 1959 with a beautifully appointed drive-in Branch of its own in the Midlands!  For the opening of the Drive-In Bank at Leicester, (and to the dismay and amazement of the staff of the Charles Street Branch itself), two girls are brought down from Liverpool, given expensive makeovers and placed behind the drive-in counter to add “glamour” to the many publicity shots that will be taken on opening day!

Images © Martins Bank Archive Collections

Six years on, and once drive-in banking has become much less of an experiment - more a way of life, Martins Bank Magazine asks Sylvia Butterworth and Maureen, Lovett - the REAL drive-in girls at Charles Street Leicester (pictured above) - to tell readers in their own words about the ups and downs and everyday running of this unusual Branch.  Given that these are the days where petrol has a high lead content, it makes you wonder if any of the staff were damaged by being effectively trapped in a tunnel full of noxious emissions!

Life at the Drive-In…

1965 02 MBM.jpgour drive-in branch attracted considerable publicity when it opened in 1959 and was certainly a most forward-looking development. Those who designed and built it overlooked nothing and after six years it does exactly what it was in­tended to do. We have, however, observed what many people before us have discovered—that no inanimate object has yet been invented which can cope with the unusua A drive-in bank is, in principle, the simplest way for a driver to pay in or draw out without leaving his vehicle. At our branch, vehicles drive into a one-way covered passage at the side of the branch. In this passage is the cashier's window which has a two-way microphone and beneath it is a retractable drawer on which is a bar, 'Teller Call'. Pressure on this brings the cashier to the window but, in addition, a photo-electric ray sounds a buzzer in the office when a car approaches the window. When the transaction is completed the car moves away, turns right along the back of the branch and out into a side street.  In the course of a day we see many cars of all sizes, shapes and ages but we lose sight of them once they leave the window. Round the back they could be up to anything and, the parking problem being what it is in any city, not surprisingly cars sometimes do just what they shouldn't do despite the imploring 'NO PARKING' notices. It is only for a few minutes of course, about ten usually, just while somebody nips across to somewhere. It's not really parking is it? Except to the next car which wants to get out, and the ones behind that.

Vehicles drive the length of the building to reach the cashier’s window. 

This allows for orderly queueing to take place, and provides the best shelter for the motorist from adverse weather conditions.

When the transactions are complete the motorist can exit straight back onto the road.

Cars can be temperamental and involve their drivers in embarrassing situations as on the day when, through the window, we saw a lady and gentleman exchanging names and addresses, pre­sumably of insurance companies for both cars were slightly scratched, while a third car waited patiently to use the banking facility just out of its driver's reach. The cashier can extend or retract the drawer at will but if the drawer is left out for more than a few moments it very wisely retracts automatically. Despite encouragement by word and printed leaflet to prepare cheques and paying-in slips before arrival, this may not always be possible. One cannot do these things while halted at traffic lights, for example, and thus the customer, hastily completing his signature, may notice the drawer receding and decide on a last minute effort to catch the post. So far we have, by careful manipulation, avoided the additional presentation of a glove which from a cashiering viewpoint would not be strictly nego­tiable.

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The early days…

The Minister of Transport

opens the Drive-In

Punch Magazine sees the

lighter side of the idea

Banking by scooter catches on

quickly at the Drive-In

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Business is brisk on opening day

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Two cashiers for the price of one

Weather plays a considerable part in the opera­tion of the drive-in bank. Any covered passage-way will act as a wind tunnel and a gusting Force 8 can, by a peculiar shift of power and direction, create sufficient over-draught to absorb the biggest cheque. This happened once when the drawer was retracting, the cheque being whisked into the main street. For one horrible moment customer and cashier stared at each other in consternation, then the cashier acted. Another member of the staff set off in pursuit of the cheque while the cashier allayed the worst fears of the customer. Between gusts the cheque was retrieved and re-presented. Rain often presents a problem as people naturally wish to avoid getting wet. Our drive-in—and prob­ably our drive-out as well, though we cannot see it —becomes a public shelter for pedestrians, mothers with perambulators, and watchful policemen with deceptively docile dogs. All of them indulge in a restless variation of 'family coach' on the arrival of each car. Humans are not alone in seeking sanctuary with us. For more than a week a cat became lodged in the roof of the drive-in, refusing to be enticed from its new-found home by the persuasiveness of an R.S.P.C.A. inspector, or by a tin of sardines generously provided by a member of the staff. Eventually, at dead of night, it responded to the combined charms of the Manager, the Messenger and its owner.

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A large number of publicity shots

are taken on the opening day…

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…so perhaps the Minister of Transport

has an incredible feeling of déjà vu?

But cars provide our greatest interest, particularly the rare ones which speed in from the exit in playful defiance of all the signs. Others for some un­fathomable reason find it possible to transfer or assign their effect on our photo-electric beam, so that they arrive at our window unheralded but cause an unsuspecting passer-by to produce an excruciating noise on our buzzer. And, of course, there are the cars which, when switched off while the customer transacts his business, later refuse to start.


Through the cashier's window one can only smile encouragingly or register sympathy. Anything one might say in such circumstances would be wrong— things like 'Have you switched on ?' To the increa­singly harassed customer the smile must seem more like a leer, and the look of sympathy one of disdain, but at the drive-in bank one quickly learns to be tactful. And so far the point has never been reached where we had to go out and push or telephone a garage for a tow. Taken all round our drive-in bank runs very smoothly both for our customers, who like it, and for us, who find it so interesting.

What became of the Leicester Drive-In?

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As drive-in banks don’t seem to be have been around for the last few decades, we wondered about the fate of Martins’ pioneering efforts at Leicester.  We asked our friends at Barclays Group Archives what happened following the merger with Barclays…


Barclays Personal {“The Leicester drive-in till at 81 Charles Street is last listed in 1988 – the branch closed in 1993 and the premises were acquired by Derbyshire Building Society”}


This means that Drive-in Banking at Leicester ran for 29 years, 1959-1988 – not bad for an experiment!  In 1993, when the Barclays signs are taken down in Leicester, Martins’ own signage is revealed intact and certainly not looking out of place.  We are grateful to our friend Rob Hancock, a former Barclays Operations Manager, who took this picture:


Images © Martins Bank Archive Collections - Rob Hancock

Rob says: {“This picture was taken during the alterations to the branch to ready it for re-opening as a branch of the Derbyshire Building Society. Sadly, that era did not last very long and the place is now operating as some ethnic food supermarket. The Drive-in section was already separated into a lock-up with two parking spaces at the back and this continues”.}


Rob has also unearthed some more images of Charles Street, this time from the mid to late 1980s.  The first shows the branch once more displaying its beautifully carved Martins Bank signage, during a refurbishment under Barclays’ Customer Service Programme.  The second shows the slight damage caused to the rear entrance of the Drive-in bank, by a Mini crashing into it on a Sunday morning!. Rob also recalls these events for us:

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Images © Martins Bank Archive Collections - Rob Hancock

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{This picture is taken during some refurbishment work in the mid-80s as part of the “CSP” (Customer Service Programme) cosmetic upgrades to certain branches.  At this stage, the outside signage had been removed ready for replacement with the then latest style, but revealing MARTINS underneath! }

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Image © 1985 Rob Hancock

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{This picture is taken in the mid to late 80s and as Branch Operationss Manager, I received a Sunday morning call-out from the local Police about an incident at my branch. I arrived to find a Mini embedded in the rear folding doors to the Drive-In, no passengers still about, or apparently harmed. I never got to discover whether this was a crude attempt at a ram-raid or just careless driving!  Whatever, the car was dragged away and after some shoving and kicking, these concertina doors were pushed clear to one side. So they remained for the remainder of the branch`s existence – the front portcullis grille to Charles Street was still useable so we could close off the roadway out of hours but the area now provided an accessible covered place for unsocial activities and modest vandalism – what signage that was left in here soon disappeared. The Drive-In was closed down not long afterwards, the space then remaining to provide parking for Management based nearby.  Charles Street branch itself ceased to exist a couple of years after that.}

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