Transcribed by Doug Andrews
Hertford Oral History Group
Recording no: O2021.1
Interviewee: Doug Andrews
Date written: January 2021
NOTE: This is one of a number of self-recorded personal history transcripts. It is typed directly by the individual and, since it was not conducted by interview, is in a different format to that normally adopted by HOHG
I have produced a lengthy article on my banking experiences in the 1960's which I hope, some or all might be of interest to HOHG.
These anecdotes of my experiences as a bank cashier are intended as a cameo of life as it was over 50 years ago, in what would be regarded by most people as a somewhat staid and perhaps even boring industry, to show that in practice it was anything but boring, and that our activities were vital to the smooth running of commerce in our town, and were often amusing.
In the early 1960's all of the big five major banks were represented within 400 yards of Fore Street. I was a cashier with Westminster Bank at 104 Fore Street - where it still is, the only one of them to remain there - and a few yards from us towards The Shire Hall were Barclays and Lloyds. A further few yards in the same direction, almost to The Salisbury Hotel, was Midland Bank, with what was then National Provincial Bank on the other side of the road, almost but not quite opposite Westminster Bank. Parking outside any of them was always a problem, since there were yellow lines the length of Fore Street, and of course traffic lights near Barclays and Lloyds.
All the banks had one or more of the 'big names' in the town banking with them, with Woolworth's (the 'threepence & sixpence' store as it was then known) as customers with Nat. Pro., Addis's Brushworks with us, the early supermarket Finefare banking with Midland, and so on.
A bank's regular requirements by way of notes and coin is of course, determined by its customers. All the public houses, and there were a great many (the vast majority of which were McMullen's houses) were always seeking large & small silver coin for change. The Addis factory had its shiftworkers who were weekly paid and would wish to cash their wages cheques as soon as they received them. We therefore had to prepare for their demands starting on Thursday morning, when the overnight shift had been paid, then Friday morning for the day-workers. The salaried staff were paid monthly, so their requirements were not quite the same.
Mondays were always busy, with the weekend's takings to be safely banked, so the coming week's shopping started on Tuesday. We in Westminster always seemed to be short of small change - threepence pieces, sixpences and shillings, plus 10/- notes. Where did we get them? National Provincial via Woolworth's of course! Barclays and Lloyds were a good source of £1 and perhaps £5 notes, but our main supplier of 'fivers' - and ten-pound notes when they were introduced in 1964- was Midland; remember their supermarket? A series of ‘phone calls would be made to our competitors to establish just what they could let us have, with the necessary bankers' payment slips prepared, ready to hand over in order that they could reimburse themselves through the clearing system. Even in those far-off days, security was a paramount consideration, so the chore of gathering in our purchases was always carried out by two clerks - a task which I always enjoyed! - but, to confuse any would-be robber, we always carried a stout leather Gladstone bag, with the assumption always being that the bag would be his target. Our cunning knew no bounds however, because to stay one jump ahead of any assailant we never put the sealed packets of banknotes in the Gladstone, but always managed to stuff them in our jacket and trousers pockets! This was no problem with say, sealed packets of £500 x £5 notes, but £500 x £1 notes did produce a suspicious bulge, and our walk back to our bank could sometimes resemble a shoot-out between two cowboys at the O.K. Corral. This system worked well however, and during my regime -1962 to 1967- we were never attacked.
All was well until we had a change of sub-manager in our branch and the new man straight away set out to impress the manager with his efficiency. He was absolutely appalled by our regular weekly shopping expeditions and immediately instigated a taxi service, courtesy of Graves' Taxis, who had for some years provided transport every Friday to-and-from our sub-branch at Puckeridge, which was only open from 10.30am-2.30pm one day a week, and who was totally reliable. Thus it was that our transport would arrive sometime after 10.0am and the driver would ask "Where to?" "Barclays Bank," which was a journey of about 70 yards. A little later "where next?" "You stay there, we've got to call in at Lloyds." Remember the yellow lines and the traffic lights? A little later he would ask "Where now?" "Midland Bank next" - and the parking here really was a problem! After a swift visit came the inevitable question "Where now?" "National Provincial's our last one!" "Oh! That means I'll have to go round the War Memorial!" Having secured all our purchases, the driver would ask again "Where now?" "Back across the road!" - and that's literally what he did - start the engine, stick his hand out the window to indicate, then cross the road and switch off - job done! Now perhaps, it can be revealed that there were occasions when, on arriving outside Nat. Pro., we two chaps would enter the branch to collect some heavy bags of small silver (£100.00 in each one, weighing 25lbs) and we would suddenly realise that we had left rather a lot of money outside in the taxi in the care of the driver! Don't tell the sub-manager!
Whilst writing about the Imperial currency that we grew up with, where there were 240 pence in the pound and 12 in a shilling, it is worthy of note that each cashier had a lovely set of brass scales and just one cast iron weight to use when weighing coin, which weighed 1 lb 4 ozs. With this he could weigh:- 5 shillings' worth of farthings, ha'pennies or pennies, and £5 worth of silver 3 pence pieces, sixpences, shillings, two shillings (florins), half-crowns and crowns. Come decimal coinage on 14th February 1971, this one weight was replaced with a whole range of new brass weights! On the subject of decimal currency, a surprising fact of interest might be that it was in Queen Victoria's reign that the process began, with the introduction of the two-shilling piece, or florin, since it was one-tenth of a pound.
It follows from this that the size of each silver coin indicated its original value in silver - and up until 1920 each coin was 92.5% pure silver. Thereafter, it was reduced to 50% and in 1947 silver was entirely replaced by cupro-nickel. In the early 1960's the price of silver soared - so much so, that the Royal Mint went to great pains to quietly withdraw all coins with a very high silver content, because the value of the base metal far exceeded the value of the coin! We had a young lady cashier who was learning the art of cashiering and on a quiet day she was placed on the till farthest from the door and given a bag of £100 'shot' - i.e. loose - half-crowns to bag up into 20 x £5 paper bags. She very soon identified a pre-1920 half-crown, and when one of our regular customers came in who was known to collect silver coin, she sold him 'her' half-crown for 12s. 6d. - she was a very quick learner!
In Westminster Bank, we had our own bullion department in London from which we could order our supplies of bank notes and coin once a fortnight, which would be delivered by the bank's own fleet of vans. Our order usually consisted of large silver coin and the (yellow) threepenny pieces, plus new bank notes. This last item was essential because at that time, Lord Aldenham was the Chairman of the Bank and a member of his family was in the habit of popping in from time and she just loved new notes! Even though we were told on the 'phone periodically that there were no new notes available, our requirements were always satisfied - perhaps it was the threat of 'You mean that we'll have to give Lord Aldenham's family old notes?' That did the trick. The only thing was that the minimum order was £5,000 in pound notes and £2,500 in ten shilling ones and if the lady concerned did call in, maybe once every 5 or 6 weeks, she would withdraw no more than say, £40, and on seeing the pristine currency, would exclaim "Oh lovely, new notes!"
The bullion van would also collect from us any mutilated notes, called in issues (white £5 notes for instance) plus Scottish, Irish, Isle of Man and Channel Islands ones, since their banks had the power to issue their own paper money and which was worth its full face value, but was not legal tender in England. They also took away any demonetised coin - farthings & silver threepence pieces and, in this connection, we were once confronted with an unusual problem. At that time, the number of TV sets in people's homes was increasing very rapidly and for those that couldn't afford to buy a set, they could hire one from a rental company. Some sets were fitted with a coin meter at the rear that operated similar to the gas & electricity ones already in their houses and which were fed with large silver coin. Unfortunately, it was not unknown for these TV sets to catch fire without warning. One had done so locally, we were told by the rental company's agent who used our bank. The intensity of these fires was quite ferocious, and he produced what looked very much like a large piece of World War II shrapnel, from which protruded the visible remains of money. We assured him that this was no problem and that he would get his company's money refunded in full. We merely submitted an explanatory memorandum with the silver lump which the bullion department merely weighed, then informed us of the total to be paid out - problem solved!
We also had a problem with the banknotes we had collected which had been issued other than by the Bank of England. Midland Bank, Hertford did not have a similar bullion service to ours and so had to order their requirements and dispatch any obsolete paper money through the Royal Mail service's high value package system One of their cashiers hit upon the idea of buying his bank's postage stamps from the post office in Fore Street with their Scottish & Irish notes in order to dispose of them promptly. What he did not appreciate was that the post office paid in to us (every day, in fact, so we had an excellent relationship with its staff), and one of their counter staff banked with Midland. One day, the Post Office was paying in over £70 in these notes and we normally only saw one or two at the most. When we queried it, he told us of their source, which we regarded as a bit of a cheek. He then asked "Do you want me to take them back, and I'll pay them in to my account?" He did just that, and we were never troubled with that problem again.
On the subject of our bullion department, in mid-1965 the Bank of England abolished the very strict regulations that had existed from the outbreak of the Second World War governing the ownership of gold coins by private individuals, at the same time authorising the Royal Mint to issue Queen Elizabeth II gold sovereigns (dated 1965) again, for the first time since her grandfather King George V's reign. The issue price was £4 each to our customers, and £3.15/- to bank staff. I immediately ordered two coins from Bullion - and remember saying to my wife 'That's two weeks' housekeeping tied up for ever more!' That statement was correct, in that we still have them. One of our customers ordered 25 sovereigns costing him £100, and they arrived a few days later, resembling a small shot-gun cartridge. Just think - the sum he invested then, would not buy him just one such coin in these enlightened times.
Mention has already been made to our sub-branch in Puckeridge where one cashier and a guard staffed it every Friday. Every few years, the Bank's Inspectors would descend on each branch without prior notice, arriving usually just after 3.30pm when the branch closed (to see if the correct identification procedure was followed before admitting a stranger), and during their stay, which could be six weeks or more, they went through the working practices with a fine tooth-comb, noting countless points (or so it seemed) in distinctive green ink and which required correction before they left. During their stay, the Chief Inspector decided one Wednesday morning that he wanted to inspect the sub-branch, so he and our manager duly drove out there. During the course of this process, they were very nearly arrested - an observant resident in the village had seen two strange men entering the branch on the wrong day and had promptly 'phoned the police, who quickly arrived in their 'jam sandwich' - a patrol car with a distinctive red stripe on each side!
After finishing work on Saturday morning, it was our usual habit to adjourn to the bar of The Dimsdale Arms pub to relax over a pint or two of beer. On this particular Saturday, one chap found it necessary to attend to a call of nature after work had ended, and, unaware of this, the rest of us left the office and locked the large front door. We had been in the bar for quite some time, when the barman answered the 'phone, then called out the name of one of us to take the call. At first we were mystified - who knew where we were at that time, and why were they calling? It turned out to be our missing colleague of course, who could not get out of the branch! He'd quickly grabbed the local telephone directory, desperately trying to recall the name of the pub's manager. No luck. Try D for Dimsdale - no luck, Try T for 'The' Dimsdale Arms - no luck again. How about looking under M for McMullen's? Success at last, there were all the Mac's pubs, listed in alphabetical order - he was very relieved (in more ways than one!)
On a normal weekday, it was the junior lad's task to get in early to unlock the book-room and fetch up from the vault downstairs, all the ledgers, runs of customers' statements etc., and to return them again when work was finished. He was usually therefore the last person to leave and it was his job to lock the front door on completion. On this particular day which just happened to be a Friday, the junior lad - let's call him Terry - had been given a rare honour, the Saturday morning off. So on finishing his duties he duly put the front door keys back through the letter-box and went home. On passing through Hertford later that evening, he noticed that in his haste to get away, he had inadvertently left a light on in the bank. He was also only too well aware that the Manager Mr. Brigham and his wife, who occupied the flat above the branch, had been on holiday for the past two weeks and were due to return home that weekend. Our Terry, who was something of a reprobate, had no wish to be in hot water yet again and began searching for a way to correct matters. Passing up the alley between the bank and the premises next door (now no longer there), he glanced up and saw that a bedroom window had been left very slightly open, so he climbed up a drain pipe and managed to get into the flat. Passing down the beautiful mahogany staircase, he let himself into the branch, turned out the light, recovered the door keys from the letterbox, let himself out into the road then put the keys back through the letterbox, and went on his way, convinced that he had successfully extricated himself from the muck. Monday morning, with the manager back at his desk, there was hell to pay! On his return from holiday the previous evening, Mr. Brigham, who was equally as observant as Terry, had noticed that his bedroom curtains had been disturbed. Even though he suffered from an arthritic hip and always used a heavy walking stick, he spent some considerable time searching his entire apartments armed with his stick, in case the intruder was still on the premises! The truth of what had happened did finally emerge, but the manager, whose bark was worse than his bite, was most forgiving. I think he was secretly rather impressed with Terry's actions.
Every few years it fell to some unfortunate clerk to come to work with some old clothes to change into, because it had fallen to his lot to dispose of the old books and papers accumulated over a number of years and which were gathering dust in the downstairs vault. This process could take a week or more, because it wasn't done very often, and the obsolete items had to be carefully disposed of via the Bank's own confidential waste system. This particular year, I was that unfortunate clerk and during the course of this task I discovered some items of interest to me, which made it all worthwhile. Firstly, I came across evidence of a former manager's Pig Account which he had operated during the war, recording the transactions relating to a pig which he kept in his garden, which not only ate any kitchen waste food, but also supplemented his meagre meat ration at the appropriate time. This was a common practice for those fortunate enough to have a small piece of land available.
Next, I came across statements for his Pony & Trap Account recording the expenses incurred by his personal transport system, which was of course of vital importance to him when calling on customers or visiting the two sub-branches of Puckeridge and Buntingford. The item which I found to be of the greatest interest however was a large green ledger which dated back to Queen Victoria's time, with gold block printing on the cover reading 'Applications & Decisions Book.' It transpired that, by virtue of his office as branch manager, he was the administrator of a charitable trust and could distribute funds to the needy poor of the parish. In it there were entries like 'a half-chaldron of coals to a needy widow,' 'a quartern loaf (about 4 lbs) to the mother of four children,' and 'a pair of boots for a young boy' - but the entry that intrigued me the most was the very last one recorded. It simply read 'four women at a shilling each.' The mind boggles!
My five-year stay in Hertford was made all the more enjoyable because I was working alongside the late Don Blackeby (who died in Seaton Hospital in April 2010 aged 88) a very well-known local chap who had come up through Hertford Grammar School for Boys, the RAF (where he had been a member of a Mosquito Fighter-Bomber crew just after W.W.II) and Old Hertfordians Rugby Club, where he and his son Peter had actually played in the same First Fifteen side I believe it was, on a few occasions. Don had a wonderful sense of humour and I was quite saddened when he was transferred to our Ware branch as sub-manager. Sometime later our 'phone rang and, as I was nearest, I answered it - "Westminster Bank, Hertford." There was a slight pregnant pause, then came a voice I instantly recognised. It asked "Is that you, Doug?" "It is," I replied. "Tell me, do you work for Barclays?" No, you know I don't!" "B****r, I've dialled the wrong number!" The caller had of course been Don and he was trying to ring Barclays because he was the OHRFC's Treasurer, and the club banked with Barclays. Our 'phone number was 2236 and theirs was 2326. Small world, isn't it?
!4th January 2021.