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Mich’s memories…

1953 Richard Michaud RM- MBAimage046We are delighted to bring you some of the stories from the memoirs of Richard Michaud, who joined Martins in 1950.  His observations on his banking life, from being a junior member of staff to seeing the bank taken over by Barclays give an interesting, often amusing insight into Martins, that is bound to bring back happy memories for many Martins Staff.   We see just how involved and painstaking the work of a junior clerk used to be, and it is a sobering thought that most if not all of the tasks he describes are now no longer performed, and that this explains the empty looking banking halls of today.  Even the bank clerks of the 1970s spent their days performing endless sorting and checking routines that today have all gone by the board in the twenty-first century’s attempts to close banks and send us all to the internet…


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Refer to Drawer…

My first working branch of Martins Bank was in Whitehall, and was known as Cocks Biddulph Branch where, prior to circa 1919 Messrs Cocks and Lord Biddulph had looked after the finances of the Rich and Famous. Next-door to the Whitehall Theatre, where Brian Rix was losing his trousers nightly it was, for me, the perfect place to start my career in banking. At that time Martins was expanding, taking on staff they might not otherwise have engaged. I rather think that my main qualification was a long forgotten certificate from Pitman's College, for Book-keeping.


I entered the front door at 9am on that November Monday morning, after identifying myself to the Bank Messenger who answered, and directly in front of me was the counter with two serious-looking cashiers, unloading cash boxes into drawers, and I was taken behind the scenes to meet the Chief Clerk, Mr Clarke. I don't know what I was expecting, frock-coats, cravats, anything but a pleasant gentleman in a grey suit who immediately put me at my ease.


1950 to 1956 Mr W J Clemow Joint Manager MBM-Au56P51.jpgHe took me to meet the Manager, Mr Clemow, another very pleasant gentleman and then I was shown the kind of work I was expected to do as a beginner - filing away cheques, credit-slips and dividend vouchers, not to mention piles of internal vouchers issued and initialled by the various departmental heads. With many rich and famous families on the books there was bound to be some confusion but nothing had ever prepared me for the many Family Trustee accounts, where often the only indication as to which account they might apply was the order of the names on a dividend voucher. Thus: "A..., B.... C.... & D..." would be a reasonable title but, the next voucher might have "A. . . , B. . . , D. . . , & C. . . " , a different account entirely and if, for some reason a trustee's name was changed, filing could get very complicated.


Bank Customer statements followed, with items like dividend vouchers being carefully marked off against their entries in the ledgers, a sometimes irritating business as they were often mis-filed and I soon learned the value of being precise in this matter as any late-night work, in those days, got a payment entitlement of  Tea-money' .  This amounted to just a few shillings and was rarely paid out for most of the year, junior staff being ejected early.


302a Customer Statement - HandwrittenOnce I had got the hang of the filing I found myself embroiled in the 'Remittances' . This was the listing, in Bank order, of cheques paid in by customers during the day. These were sent off each day to the 'Clearing House', (somewhere in the City), where they would be swapped for Martins cheques. I therefore had to become familiar with the adding machine, which had many uses, one of which was quite new to me. It was called a Swing Carriage and, by moving a lever could list and total a column of figures and at the same time the serial number of the cheque would also be listed without adding it to the total.   At this time, all branches of clearing banks in the British Isles had code numbers, of four or more digits. Non-clearing banks had six digits which mostly began with a seven. Non-clearing banks had accounts with the Clearing Banks and their cheques took longer, via the Clearing System, to reach their destination. Clearing Bank cheques would arrive at the branch on which they were drawn within three days, Non-Clearing Bank cheques a couple of days later. Having got the hang of these systems I was then introduced to the ledgers, (the Bank’s copy of customers’ statements)  and the payment of the clearing - the huge piles of customer's cheques which came from the Clearing House every day.


At first, the cheques would be listed, single column, on the adding machine, then the amounts of the cheques, in words were read off; This would provide for the return of any cheque on which the words and figures differed. This required vigilance as there were customers who might do this deliberately. Dates would then be checked and any more than three months old also returned, but there were never very many in this category, except in early February of each New Year. Customers always took great care to put the New Year date in for the whole of January but, on the first of Feb, OH dear! After that, no further trouble. Next came the payee's name and the appropriate endorsement on the reverse of the cheque and finally, as if that were not enough, the cancellation of the signature, in red ink, confirming that it had been examined by the Clerk and found to be genuine.


After that, overdrawn accounts, with the day's clearing items to be referred to the Managers and, if there was no satisfactory explanation from the customer, the cheque would be bounced. This might happen because, cheques paid in either yesterday, or today, had not yet had time to reach their destination bank and the entry at the head of the cheque might read, "Effects not Cleared, Please Represent". Sometimes a customer might decide that he was not satisfied as to the transaction for which the cheque had been issued and he might instruct us and the heading would read "Orders Not to Pay".  By far the worst heading was, of course, "Refer to Drawer".


One problem soon became apparent at this stage; Having now got a Bank Account for the first time in my life, I had chosen a particular signature which I considered easy to recognise and, the better written, more difficult to forge. Clever me! Unfortunately, a new customer had opened an account, the newly-appointed head-master of a quite famous school no less, and his signature was so identical to mine that, at first glance it was indistinguishable.  As a result errors began to accumulate and, worse still, statements had to be re-typed. This could not be allowed to continue, ‘bread and butter’ is there to be looked after and, alas for my clever signature, it had to be changed, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  Accuracy in all things was very important to the daily routine. Errors had to be found no matter how long it took. This was very much underlined by our new Assistant Manager, Mr Norman Birkbeck Butterworth, who's question "Are you sure?" whilst most irritating, probably brought greater care to my daily routine. I wonder what he would make of today's work? Things have changed since those days;  Computers I suppose…

An Inspector’s Tale (and other stories)…

Posh Nosh…


As I got to know the staff I was to learn that the office in which I worked had once been a private Bank, Messrs Cocks Biddulph & Company. Martin’s Private Bank had taken-over Cocks Biddulph. and had itself been later taken over by the Bank of Liverpool which gave it a rather complicated name – The Bank of Liverpool and Martins Limited – which was later shortened to Martins Bank, but the Head Office was still in Liverpool.  A measure of the importance of Cocks Biddulph as a private bank, is the story of how a former Chief Cashier had been on holiday with his family who returned to find his home burgled: I will tell Lord Biddulph (the manager at that time), when I get back”,  he thought to himself.  So on monday morning, when Lord Biddulph asked the Cashier how he had enjoyed his holiday and the sad tale was told to Lord Biddulph looked rather puzzled, "And where were the Servants at the time?" he enquired…


Lunch below stairs…


GeeGees.jpgOur lunch break would sometimes be taken in the old Board Room, upstairs, an Historical Treasure which is now lost, I fear. It held a collection of very impressive banking history. One of the great treasures, to me, was a selection of cuttings on the wall in one corner of the room. These were from newspapers dating back to the 18th century and one had an account of a naval action by a British Man-of-War off the Pacific coast of South America, an almost exact account as described in a Hornblower novel I was reading at the time. Occasionally we would lunch in far more entertaining circumstances . The Messengers, with whom we were not supposed to fraternise, had a small room below stairs where they had a mini-snooker table, and where we had a lot of fun.   At other times we would sit together to play Cribbage, a game I thought I knew quite well, and here I learned how to count in Cockney /thus , 'A Dinky-do, a Boiler-door, a Tom-Mix, a Cottage-gate5 , up to a ' Round-Brown-Dozen ' . This was to come in very useful some years later,, when I introduced both game, and the slang, to friends on Rock-hounding trips in Cumbria. But that is another story. One bit of mischief we got up to, was a bet or two on the Gee-gees. One of our lads, (known as "Dick" Barton), a keen follower of the turf, would collect our sixpences (five altogether), and we would decide on a horse running at, say Pontefract and he would put the cash on 'to win!. We always backed horses with Irish names, preferably with a lead name of 'Bally' , which may explain my support for the TV series ‘Ballykissangel’.


An Inspector’s tale…


InspectionI was always a little astonished when Accountants appeared in the Office, to check the balances for a particular date (End of the Year stuff),but much more fun were the surprise visits by the Bank's Inspectors. Generally considered "a pain", their job was to check all the figures to see that everything was properly done and count the cash down to the last farthing. I remember being much taken with the story, related by one of these gentlemen to us junior staff in the Board Room. It was an almost heart-rending tale of a clerk who, back in the early thirties, had forged a customer's signature and stolen a sum of money. When it was discovered, he confessed and was forgiven his sin by a generous employer. The teller of this story then sat back and looked at each one of us intently. Was he expecting a confession? Had there been some hanky-panky of which we were not aware?? Silence! Eventually I asked "How much did he steal?" "Five pounds" came the solemn reply. "You mean, " I gasped, "he risked a steady job and a pension for a mere five pounds?" "Well" asked the Inspector, fixing me with a gimlet eye, "what would YOU consider worth the risk?" I thought for a moment; "If I were not married and an expectant father I would give consideration to the opportunity taken by Alec Guinness in the film 'The Lavender Hill Mob' where he played the part of a Bullion Van clerk for the Bank of England (£250,000)", for which I got a deserved raspberry and the session ended. I was to learn a great deal about the Bullion Van in the not too distant future. That was not the end of the Inspector's Tale as the forgiven thief was dumb enough to try his luck again and he was not given another chance.


I had discussed my plans for our wedding and had been advised by the Manager Mr. Clemow that the Bank did not approve of a marriage before the age of 24.  He then told me that I should, when a family was on the way, apply for a Staff Housing Loan. The Bank was most generous to staff in this respect, and he also advised me to ask for a little more than the house price, as there were always little extras involved when buying a house, if it was only the garden. A little later, there were some changes at top-level in Head Office at Liverpool, and Mr Clemow told me that things had now changed and to forget what he had said about Staff Loans. He was to retire shortly after this.


Don’t go home at 5, it’s only a break for tea…


Five to twelve.jpgOn one occasion I was given a great treat, having to visit one of the Lady customers who wanted a cheque cashed. Off I went, in a taxi, to her flat where this Grand Dame, solemnly handed me her cheque and I gave her the cash. She then offered me a glass of very fine sherry which was much appreciated. The run-up to my first Christmas was one I would never forget. I was told that we would be working late and, sure enough we did, but nothing like I had expected. New Year's Eve I was told, would be The latest of the lot but, at five o'clock most of the staff were putting on their coats and leaving, and so did I. Next morning there was all sorts of a to do, 'Where did you get to last night?' about summed it up so I said, "Well, everyone was going home at five, so I went too!" Innocent that I was.  In the month of June, when the half year figures had to be produced, one could always count on a first week of rain, while any odd holiday was taken. From then to the end of the month the weather was glorious, with brilliant sunsets as you worked, sometimes to II". By July 4th, the rain would have begun again, without fail as weeks became available. No longer applies, the computer has taken care of that and people are out to enjoy Wimbledon Fortnight.  Sods Law.

Safe Custody…

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After a while I was moved on to the Securities Section and worked under the guidance of Mr Reginald Kant, who taught me a very great deal about Stocks and Shares, Government Bonds and the like. Also I learned something of the how and why people bought this share and sold that one, or how they should think of investing money at all, which was becoming bewildering in view of the rapidly developing, and complicated Taxation system. This was to get much worse in the years to come.  To facilitate the work of the Securities Section we had the use of Direct-line telephones to one or two Stock-brokers in the City and we received regular daily reports on how the Stock Market was behaving. We received a great many orders from customers every day and we were also responsible for the safe-custody of share-certificates, the collection of dividends, documents both legal and private and boxes containing all sorts of mystery objects.


The Securities Department was sandwiched between the Loans Section and the Foreign department and behind us were the typists and the postal section which also handled the Standing Orders. The postal section consisted of a very long shelf upon which would be put the sealed envelopes, graded by size and ready for stamping and I was much intrigued when, at the end of the day, these would be passed through a black box and emerge ready-stamped for posting. From time to time this box would be carried off to the Post Office where, presumably, the bill was settled. I suppose such devices were/are in common usage but I have never seen another so maybe it was rather special.


envelope.jpgI recall the shelf of envelopes most vividly because, on one occasion, Mr Clemow emerged from his office, carrying papers and, as he passed this long line of envelopes he suddenly reached out and took one which he handed to the clerk saying “The address is wrong. The clerk scowled disbelievingly but, on checking, found that Mr C. was correct I! I know there had to be a trick to it, but how? I suspect Sleight of Hand, but I am not sure.  As I have already described, the Section I now worked in lay between the Foreign and Loans Departments, and behind us was an old Strong Room which, at night, housed all the Safe Custody and Security ledgers, along with the Foreign records, Customer ledgers and Statements. Next to this were the typists who were kept pretty busy most of the time.


Securities had numerous standing instructions, one of which was to immediately buy, for certain customers, a complete set of any new National Savings Certificate issued by the Government, and I began to learn how wealthy people avoided rather than evaded paying taxes where they could – Stocks and Shares, The Dollar Premium, which was designed to discourage U.K. investors from buying foreign shares but which, in the end, caused gamblers to deal on the fluctuation of the Premium itself – Nothing ever really works for long, sooner or later someone gets around it.


As customers gave orders to buy this or that share, or stock, Reggie would explain the motive behind the purchase which might be just a simple gamble, or a complicated way of reducing the tax bill or, dare it be said, insider knowledge. I did become aware of one wealthy lady who bought shares from time to time and that the Company Board of Directors of her latest purchase had one member, newly appointed, who was also a Board Member of all her other share holdings, and that the shares would, thereafter, begin to rise in price. A very useful observation for those with cash to spare.


I became fascinated by one Company, a Scottish Distillery, those shares were usually quoted in a few shillings for most of the year, reaching their lowest by late September, the time to buy. With bated breath I would watch, (and pray), until the end of December or early January when I sold, after their price had doubled (or more), just before they announced their Annual results. Everyone told me I was nuts but I did that for three consecutive years and it paid for our summer holidays. Alas, it got taken over in the end.  One of the duties of the Securities Clerks was to file  way – and retrieve for sale – share certificates in the Strong Room.  Among these were American type Bearer share certificates which might have the name of the customer or, more usually, a Nominee Company which made life a lot easier when collecting dividends etc.


1963 Special Capital Distribution Voucher 400th Anniversary of MartinsThere were also seeming mountains of Bearer Bonds which entitled the Bearer to regular dividend payments on presentation of one, or more, of the attached dividend vouchers.  The size of postage stamps, these had to be carefully detached from the Bond and equally carefully, sent off for collection. At this time all such shares had, by law, to be held by a Bank and it became the Holding Bank’s job to collect all such payments. It always struck me that enormous sums of money had been totally wasted in investing in Mexican Railways, Brazilian ventures, or on loans to East European Royal Houses. I suppose even the wealthy can be Suckers at times. As most of these latter certificates bore the signature of one 19th Century Czar Nicholas or other and the latest dividend vouchers usually bore a date in 1917, there was little to be done with them except, in a quiet moment, to admire the beautifully illuminated graphics and wonder if such Bonds might be better used as wal1 decorations…

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What Larks!

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Ham and Lettuce.jpgWe not only had some hilarious lunch hours at this office, we also had some amusing coffee breaks when, in small groups, we would troop out into Whitehall, up to the traffic lights at Trafalgar Sq, cross over and walk back down to the Lyons Tea shop. Here we had a gentle ten-minute break and returned much refreshed. Not that Lyons was exactly an inspiration; I recall, one day watching a young woman behind the counter preparing bread rolls for lunch-time. She had them all laid out in neat rows, each with lettuce, tomato and/or cucumber already inserted; Then she picked up a plate of ham slices to complete the feast Now we have ail worked through a large pile of papers at some time and, 1 am sure, licked a thumb in order to speed up the process. This is exactly what that young woman did.  No one would believe me when I told them what I saw, but I never touched a Lyons Salad after that.


At the traffic lights where we crossed Whitehall there is a statue of Charles I, and I always felt much sympathy for the sad little group who would assemble in late winter on the anniversary of his execution. It was at this place where, one spring morning, as Censored.jpgwe were headed for Lyons and the road was being worked over by a gang of navvies, one of our staff, a rather sweet, but very well-endowed, lass was lagging behind and started to run to catch up which caused a considerable wave of excitement to ripple through her blouse, and the navvies, one of whom was heard to shout, “Hey Charlie! Look at them bleedin’ great udders”. This was in the days when navvies wore tight-fitting belts to keep their trousers at waist level.


Hat.jpgBranch customers were instantly recognisable by their names, if nothing else. At Whitehall branch they were composed of the Good and the Famous but, somehow, we lost one completely. The strong-room, where the cash and securities were kept, was a modern affair, built inside the original strongroom of many years ago. The outer area was the place where all the customers private boxes were held and I remember on one occasion we disturbed one box and found that the bottom had rusted away leaving the contents exposed -an old Admiral’s hat we thought. No indication as to whose it might have been, a complete mystery, despite research. (Hornblower’s perhaps?).


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3d coin bag.jpgA great treat which came my way on an irregular basis was a trip out in the Bank Bullion Van. This was crewed by a driver, a couple of messengers, a junior clerk and a Clerk in Charge. (Shades of Alec Guinness?). The van was loaded in the City and notes and coin were delivered and collected to and from branches in town and the suburbs. Obviously great care was taken in handling the bullion which was mostly packed for each branch, but coin was very bulky and any surplus was picked up and/or delivered along with notes.


The greatest care had to be taken when parking the van as, on one never-to-be-forgotten occasion, a £100 bag of silver was dropped in the gutter over a drain where it burst, with fearful, if  hilarious consequences. The nearest to a moment of excitement on my journeys came one day in the West End when the messengers recognised a very famous boxer, Randolph Turpin, walking in Piccadilly; They whistled and cheered him and were disappointed that he only looked somewhat taken aback, until I pointed out that the van we were in was black and had only a very small, barred window in the side so we could be mistaken for a load of prisoners on the way to jail!! Lunch was a problem on these journeys and on one occasion we stopped at a pub and two or three of us, by turns, went together to have a meat pie and a pint. As we entered the, seemingly empty, pub a back door opened and, as if from nowhere, the head of a large Great Dane appeared on the counter accompanied by a very loud Woof! As the Landlady appeared I found myself almost paralysed and quite alone for a few moments. Bank staff are not the stuff of heroes.


PoundsThe time came when it was decided that I should learn the trade of a cashier, and I was duly given training by the two gents at the counter, each keeping a fatherly eye upon my efforts. No problems until one day I was allowed to take the pay-in of a very important account. As this always involved cheques there could be no trouble; But not this day , there was an unusual item (for this firm) of ten pounds in cash only there were eleven one pound notes handed across. Try as 1 might 1 could not make the gent concerned take back the extra single pound. He maintained that the amount “could not be wrong”. Eventually Mr Clarke whispered to me, “We cant upset such an important customer, so it will have to go down as your error!!! Shortly after this I expressed a desire to move to another branch, to gain more experience. This was in discussion with Mr Clarke who thought it best if I said nothing to anyone else and some weeks later I left Cocks Biddulph for a spell on Relief…

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Lamb to the slaughter…

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Counter Refer.jpgI left cocks Biddulph forever and was sent out as a Relief Cashier in order to learn more of the mental and physical requirements for the front-line meeting with the customer. It was decided that my first spell was to be at the Oxford Circus Branch, which seemed to be situated in the windows of a large Store. I was to learn that this Store was part of an Empire, known as “Great Universal Stores”, or Gussie's for short). I had to take over a till of considerable proportions and, by the time I had done this, it was approaching ten o’clock and, to my innocent amusement, customers were banging on the windows and doors. Little did I know what was about to happen. As one of the messengers was preparing to open up, the Chief Clerk asked me if I was ready and did I have a list of people to whom I should NOT pay out any money without reference? Yes I was ready (a lamb to the slaughter) and no, I had no such list. "I'll get you one", he promised. The messenger approached the doors cautiously, put his foot against them as he warily unlocked, and fled;  And all Hell broke loose. The "Smart Crowd" soon spotted the new, innocent, face and I was mobbed for the next half-hour, when the Chief Clerk returned with a long list and was rather upset on learning that I had already paid out to most of them. How I got through that week without jumping off the Thames Embankment I will never know.

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The taming of the customer…

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From Oxford Circus I was moved on to another branch with quieter conditions, where I could learn the trade properly, in Holborn. As at Cocks Biddulph branch, I was treated calmly, helpfully and pleasantly by all the staff so that I was soon able to recover what little confidence I had remaining. Life here was much easier and the customers were pleasant to serve except in one case. One morning I had the curious feeling that the office had emptied; No chief cashier, no chief clerk, no staff at all as the door opened and a gentleman I had never seen before entered. To my “Good Morning” he returned a glare, made a sarcastic remark about the office and the lack of speed with which I did my work. and coldly left. Whilst I had been dealing with him I had heard gentle tip-toeing behind the screen at the back of the counter and gathered that the staff were returning from whatever impromptu meeting they had attended. As the door closed behind the customer I turned and saw the faces of all the staff, from manager to junior, peering over the top of the back-screen, and the Chief Clerk smiled at me and said how well I had done. I was then told that the gent who had just left was considered a very unpleasant character and that everyone at the office had had a rough deal from him at one time or another. I resolved that I would "get on" with him before I moved to another office or bust, and I was wished "The best of luck". It turned out that the Gent in question had a son who was as aggressive as his dad and, try as I might, I could get no change out of either until one beautiful Monday morning I greeted Junior with a remark about how good it would be for my Allotment. His eyes widened and we found we had something in common and so I became, if not a friend, at least someone to whom he would be pleasant. He must have said something to Dad because, thereafter, he too was more pleasant. The staff were totally gob-smacked. After I left Holborn branch I learned that Father and Son got rather cross and changed their bank altogether.

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Baby talk…

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The GrasshopperI visited many branches in the London area at this time and met a host of curious people, places and customers. I was learning a lot, at a time when my wife was having our second child and we were preparing to move into a house in Orpington, on the direct orders of the London Office. This turned out to be a good move as travel to London could be made to any of the main Southern termini and there was relatively easy access to the county of Kent, of which more later. All this time I had been studying for the Institute of Bankers Exams, at a night-class in Tooting Broadway. With another member of the staff I would, after class make my way homewards, stopping for a half-pint in a Pub which had an amateur Music Hall show on the nights we stopped by. More usually I caught a tram for part of the journey home and one night met a rather dejected, exhausted couple nursing a small infant, which seemed full of the joys of life. They told me how the little blighter would sleep all day and woke up after 9pm and I asked them if the baby had, by any chance, been born in the South London Hospital, where my eldest had arrived. Oh, yes! So I told them how I had visited the hospital late one night to see my wife and eldest, who was in a separate room. There, in the late evening/early morning, the nurses were playing with the babes who were having a lovely time of it. I told the couple that the only way to restore junior's clock was to be cruel and keep him awake all next day until he had to sleep at night. It worked, for the following week, there they were, looking out for me to say thank you. So I had learned something.

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A singular convenience…

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Loo Signs.jpgBack in London, I continued to visit branches all over, some of them little more than tobacconist kiosks in size, with a staff of four as a rule, two men two girls. From the West End to Wimbledon, out to Bedford, down to Maidstone, or perhaps Brighton, I was on the go, sometimes two or three Branches in a week. One very small office was at Sevenoaks. Although it was well outside the town, it had been built, I was told, beside the station for the convenience of the local Lord of the Manor in the 19th century. It had an all male staff of three and I often had to go home with the key to the strong-room, although not the combination. (Well, not always) . The latter was hardly necessary as, if it didn't work you gave the door a good wallop and 'Hey presto”! At Sevenoaks there was only one “little boys’/girls’ room” and to my knowledge there was only ever one young lady who worked there, briefly. Thus, when the law made it essential that office toilets should be clearly marked “Ladies” or “Gents , the single nameplate, when it duly arrived, was put in place with great ceremony and, with equal ceremony, duly Christened…

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Ladies in Waiting…

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Two plus two.jpgInevitably,  I was sent to the Clearing Department on one or two occasions and saw what problems the Bank had with ‘differences’ in the daily Clearing sent out to Branches. One popular customer in the Midlands made up cheques where the figure two was written in such a manner that it looked like a four. Then there was the lovely girl who had charge of the Post book, (always the job for the new Junior), and the irate reaction of an Inspector when he found that the balance and cash/stamps did not agree. I got the (to me tiresome) job of checking the figures and I found that the girl had a problem with her times tables. It did not help matters that she multiplied 8 x 2d and made it 1s.6d. It took me hours to correct her sums, and She was supposed to have a high-grade Schools Certificate for Maths on leaving school.

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Reaper.jpgOne new branch in Kent I visited several times, had a very smart lay-out. Unfortunately the business did not match as it seemed just about every rogue in the County had an account there. I felt extremely sorry for the manager who had merely followed orders from Head Office to “Get out on the Golf Course” in order to pick up business. Not a good idea. But then, this was not the only branch with a number of rogues who needed watching. Some years later I was at a branch in the same region, and had slipped out to the Local for a quick lunch when I was approached by a charming fellow who offered me a split if I would arrange for him to draw some money without the knowledge of the manager. Another Branch where I learned a great deal about the business was in Curzon Street, which had a quite elegant exterior in keeping with the area. The manager was very meticulous and always there when all the other staff had left, frequently until 10pm I believe. He was then aged 59 and due for retirement fairly soon and I once asked him what he was going to do when the moment came, as he seemed to have no other interest than the job. He looked at me with slightly glazed eyes and said, Good God! I’ve never thought about it”.  I often think about him as, on a visit to Staff Department, I was told by a clerk that a review had shown that the average life-expectancy of a manager after retirement was one month. This seemed unbelievable but later observation showed it as a very distinct prospect.

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1960 s London Curzon Street Exterior BGA Ref 30-783.jpgMy visits to Curzon Street, London, were in the days before the Street Offences Act put a stop to ladies of the night propositioning office workers, on their way to the station, with their “Would you like to come home with me?” question as they straightened up from their chosen lamp-post or doorway. Running the gauntlet of these creatures was a nightly business but it didn’t stop there. Some had opened deposit accounts at the branch and I learned later that our busy, conscientious manager was totally unaware of this. When he found out he at once indignantly demanded that such accounts should be closed. After a while he discovered that he could not tell which Lady, or “lady” should be asked to close her account because they all looked “much the same” to him!  In those days the term  “Body Language” was not in general use but, even so, I never understood how he could miss.  He presumably went home at night and must have run the gauntlet too. Little did he know that the club/cafe just round the corner was not up to his standards either, and that the owner’s girls had opened up accounts as well.  One of these clever-clogs actually tried a little swindle by depositing a small sum and withdrawing it next day until one day she caught an unwary cashier, (not me), who paid out her usual against a nil balance, and she then disappeared.  About par for the course, I suppose…


The outside decor of Curzon Street made an excellent background for use by professional photographers and it was quite common to see models pouting and posing outside and sometimes, like the manager, we could not tell t'other from which! Shepherds Market was just along the road, a quaint little group of building and passageways, where you could get a jolly good pub-lunch cheaply, provided you were prepared to sit at crowded tables and put up with the pandemonium. I like to carry a camera about with me and, one day, as I was going home, I paused to look along the market passageways. As usual on the corner of each block, leaning, hands against the wail, were the “Ladies”, all of whom had their heads turned away looking at some kerfuffle at the far end. I thought, – what a great picture – “Ladies” in Waiting!  As I frantically hauled out my camera, the “Ladies”, as if their heads were on a string, turned and looked at me and, as one, straightened up and stepped toward me. I fled!

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£10In those days the Bank Card was still little more than an idea and making arrangements for a customer to withdraw cash at a holiday resort in the country or coast was very common. However, identifying a complete stranger who required a large sum of money in a hurry involved risks. One day a rather generously-built lady came to the counter and told us that she was passing through and had seen a Bentley which she 'Just had to have'. Her account was at our Blackpool branch and she certainly had a Gracie Fields accent, so the Chief Clerk rang that office and spoke to their Chief Clerk. 'Can you describe her?' he asked. 'Describe her?' our man replied looking her dead in the eye. 'Weil she is young, slim and attractive.  At that she hooted with laughter and the Chief Clerk at the other end heard and said, “Oh yes, that! s her!” If only life were always so simple. Before the lady left she told me she had had to leave her little house in the South of France because it was too hot there. Even the orange trees in her garden were suffering, she said, the fruit were little larger than walnuts this year. What it is to be poorly rich.


Customers often provided comic relief, either in the way they worked their accounts or the way they treated the people they met. I recall the two American Ladies who came in to change their Dollars for Sterling. When I quoted the rate they were quite upset as, the day before they had been quoted a different rate and, no matter how hard I tried to explain that they were better off with today's rate, they wanted that of the day before. So I gave them what they wanted and they went away happy…

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Two foaming pints, and a blue tit…

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Alarm equals two pints.jpgIn South East London, right on the border of Kent, there was a branch which gave me a new insight into Banking with Martins. The branch was in London, but across the road was the county of Kent, and it was here, for the first time, that I made use of the alarm bell. It came about thus; It was after two-o-clock, on a warm day and I said to the Chief Clerk, I am very thirst1 and a pint would be more than welcome. 'Well, in that case, kick the alarm bell” , he replied and, after he had egged me further, I did so. As a result, the landlord of the Pub over the road, which was in Kent, (where closing time was 2.30pm), emerged with two foaming pints of ale. This was the only use they could think of for the alarm bell at that time.  Great! Some years later, I returned to that same branch and found all the staff in a state of utter terror. They were expecting an armed bank raid at any time and, although my arrival was expected, they were not keen to open the door.


Safe Door.jpgI do not think the anticipated raid took place but, the stress factor of such an event should, in my opinion, be taken into account when robbers are sentenced for the crime. I remember one cashier who was attacked on his way to the sub-branch in Chislehurst, on two separate occasions. He was not hurt but after the second event, Staff Department advised him to have a heart check-up and I seem to recall that it revealed a problem. Out on the boundary of Kent/London, (at that time), was the little village of Farnborough, close-by to Orpington where I have lived for many years. In the middle of the High Street was a Branch which had been built for the purpose, probably in the 19th century. On the face of it, a quiet place, but with quite a lot of small businesses and, shops around, and under the management of Mr Bennett. Here was an instance of how Martins Bank took care of its staff, for Mr B. had a heart problem and this was the ideal place for him, quiet, and with no travel problems as he lived in the flat  ‘over the shop’. Mr Bennett was a quiet man, but with the thoroughness of Mr Butterworth at Cocks Biddulph. It was when the days work was done and we locked up, that his care for detail became more than somewhat pronounced. Having watched us lock up doors, (including the Safe), he would then test each lock and, with the safe door he would grasp the brass handle, put his foot against the wall and heave. Outside, we would watch as he locked the front door and then peered in at the windows before going in again and checking anything that might have been overlooked. This performance took place at the end of each working day and produced many a stifled giggle from the staff who ought to have become used to it. Some years later I met up with one of those staff who told the tale of how some wit had loosened the brass handle of the Safe door with the result that Mr Bennett, after his nightly heave, fell across the room slamming into the wall. I understand he made no complaint about this but then, care was his watch-word, and who knows what might have happened as the door opened next morning.


Blue tit stamp 1960sAt one West End office there seemed to be a lot of Oriental ladies about and on one stormy, rainy day one such came in and commented on the weather and I sympathised, it was indeed a typical English Summer. What is a typical English Summer?” she asked and I replied “Three warm days and a thunderstorm”. That was the first time I learned that the Chinese could look anything but inscrutable. I had finished my Call-up Service in 1948 and, during that time I had been subjected, as had we all, to the inevitable rude, crude jokes, stories and recitations, some of which still hung around in the back of my mind. One such came back to me at about this time when a Chinese maiden, it may have been the same one, came into the office. After she had conducted her business she then asked me if “this new postage stamp, was a printing error, and if it might be very valuable?” The General  Post Office had begun to print stamps for collectors some time before this and, instead of the usual Queens Head in various colours and values, today it was a series on British Birds, and the stamp she showed me was of a Blue Tit hanging upside-down from a branch of a tree. My past experiences of Military Entertainment now caught up with me. and this, considering who was asking, caused me some distress as I tried to keep a straight face. A fellow cashier, seeing the state I was in came to my aid and was at once overtaken by the same problem. The Chief Clerk quickly cottoned on that “summat was up" and came to join us, at which point I left the counter where I met the Manager who was to become similarly embroiled. I don't think my lapse of concentration that day earned me any Brownie Points but I did learn a lesson which stood me in good stead thereafter, I must confess, however, that I am still a slow leaner…

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