Britain's First Municipal Savings Bank
Part One: The History of Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank
Birmingham Corporation
Savings Bank

One serious difficulty remained, viz., the objection of the workers to a scheme which brought their employers into the arrangements in so prominent a manner. There was a natural impression that an employer might take advantage of his knowledge that a workman was a depositor in the Bank, and it was with a view to destroying what Councillor John Beard described as "this everlasting suspicion" that a propaganda campaign was started in factories, works, offices, etc. Headed by the Lord Mayor, members of the City Council and other enthusiastic citizens "flooded" the city with their oratory, explaining the Bank scheme and exhorting the workers to practise thrift. Morning, noon and night, at all hours, and in all weathers, these campaigners sallied forth. Their enthusiasm even extended to addressing workers in the middle of the night.

Workers became enthusiastic; employers caught the infection, and a real keenness was the result. No obstacle was placed in the way of addressing gatherings of workers which were often held in the employers' time. It was necessary to hold these meetings and explain the scheme because of the long delay which took place in obtaining powers and owing to the scheme being altered in many important parts. One cannot express in too high terms the great service rendered by the employers in this connection. So enthusiastically was the scheme taken up that the demand for speakers was overwhelming. When the reader is told that over 1,000 meetings took place in respect of this scheme, it will be agreed that the Bank was a "live" topic in Birmingham.

As for the speakers, their response to the call was splendid. It was in this capacity that the late Mr. Eldred Hallas rendered most valuable service. At that time he was a member of the Council and took a very active part in the campaign, together with Alderman W. E. Lovesy, J.P. These two public representatives between them addressed over 500 meetings. It was at this stage that Alderman Lovsey was invited to collaborate with the Bank Committee, but he could not be formally elected to the committee because it was limited by rule to six members.

Let us follow Councillor Hallas in this campaign, and see the line he took. He was always pointing out the moral of previous wars and prophesying with almost uncanny correctness what would happen again. Quoting from a report of a meeting he addressed at the works of the Birmingham Small Arms Company, we find him saying:-
Since the year 1872 booms and slumps have followed each other every eight or ten years, and we were just heading down into a commercial slump when the war broke out, and at once abnormal conditions came into being. Since then there has been as much work as anybody wanted, and it is likely to continue while the war lasts; but when the two and a quarter millions of people engaged in munitions are no longer so employed what is going to happen? In addition to the many hundreds of thousands of men and women, boys and girls, who will no longer be required for munition work, we shall have four million men coming from the Army and Navy to swell the ranks of the unemployed.
We do not know when the inevitable slump in trade will come. If we take the example of the last war, which was only a very small matter compared with this (I refer to the Franco-Prussian War) there was a period of three years during which commerce flourished; then came the slump with its awful unemployment and its corollary of soup kitchens. Now, I am not an alarmist, but I know what the working man's trials are. I have lived through hard times, and I do not want you to wait until the soup kitchen period comes before we wake up. Now is the time for us to make provision for the future.
This war is not re-productive - it is wasteful. We are blowing millions of pounds into the air and sinking millions in the sea. Some say, "Look at the work it will cause in rebuilding." Now, if you think that to be sound economics, when you go home get an axe and smash the piano, and then ask your wife how much better off you are after you have smashed the piano.
Social reformers have had municipal banking as one of the items on their programme for many years. We know the advantage that will accrue from it. We want the community to have the community's money to use to the advantage of the community. We don't want always to pay 3d. for a 1d. cake
We ought to establish a Municipal Bank that will be permanent in character for the interests of the community. We have got the skeleton of a Bill, and it is up to the working men and women of Birmingham to see that this skeleton is clothed with the raiment of success. Then we can go to the House of Commons and say, the working men and women have made this scheme so great a success that you must not shut the bank down; you must extend its life; it must be a permanent institution.
After explaining the details of the saving scheme, Councillor Hallas added:-
Yes, that is all very well, but when the average working man listens to someone on the stump, he usually says, "I wonder what this bloke is getting out of it?" I am getting less than nothing an hour; this is about my fiftieth meeting and it takes up a lot of time. I am doing this in the interests of the class I love; in the interests of the class for which I have been working for over thirty years. I know the time is coming when you will want some money; now is the time to get ready for it. We do not want you to be only one week removed from the workhouse when this business is through.
I know there are hundreds of men - thousands of men - in England, who, if they would, could save more now than they used to earn before the war. They are not getting too much, but I do say they have a serious responsibility.
When the war is over and our men come home with nothing in their pockets - and you cannot
expect them to have anything either - and no job for them to do, can you allow them to enter your houses to a bare cupboard and an empty larder?
That address is typical of hundreds he gave on the Bank. He never tired in urging his hearers to take full advantage of the Bank while they had the chance.

Alderman Lovsey's popularity at these meetings was only too evident; requests came to hand both from employers and workers for his presence. Was it his humour? Was it the tales he could tell? Or was it his cheery optimism during these dark days, which created the demand? One recalls the numerous occasions on which Alderman Lovsey went to the works of Messrs. Kynoch at Witton, to the delight of the workers (especially the women workers) and persuaded them to save. The strong position of the branches of the Bank in the Aston, Lozells, Witton and Handsworth districts is in no small measure due to his pleadings in the days of 1916-1917, resulting as they did in a good depositorship for the permanent Bank of 1919.

The Lord Mayor (Alderman Neville Chamberlain) would not be kept out of these excursions and addressed many works meetings with much fervour. On one occasion in particular he told a very large gathering how valuable the Bank would be to them, and ended by saying:-
Though under existing powers the Bank has to he wound up three months after the termination of the war, I promise you that if it is really shown to meet a need, not all the bankers in Lombard Street will prevent its becoming a permanent part of the municipal undertaking.
This declaration "brought down the house," so to speak. If there is one thing a British working man likes it is a fighter, and that was a fighting speech.

Many members of the City Council and other public representatives addressed works' meetings, despite the demands of their own businesses, and did not spare themselves in exhorting the citizens to take full advantage of the facilities of the Bank. An idea of the strenuous times through which the writer passed can be formed when it is recorded that in addition to managing the Bank, arranging the meetings, accompanying speakers on numerous occasions, he addressed over 300 meetings.

Enthusiasm was certainly present in the speakers. What of their audiences? Well, they appeared in different moods. At first suspicious; then doubtful; then thoughtful; and finally enthusiastic.

An instance of genuine support from a recognised Labour leader is shown in the following letter from Mr. W. J. Davis, who was for many years the secretary of the National Society of Brass and Metal Mechanics:-
All workers are indebted to our Lord Mayor (Alderman Neville Chamberlain) for his great efforts in establishing by Act of Parliament our Corporation Savings Bank. It is, I am glad to know, going well. Its advantages to the investors are considerable, and, in addition to obtaining an increased rate of interest, it brings men and women into municipal life, and its success will help the country in the hour of its need.
The Lord Mayor did all he could to obtain broader powers for Municipal Banks, and if in Birmingham we make a success of the undertaking, the City Council will be more encouraged to obtain, if possible, an early amendment of the Act.
I hope and recommend that all will save a little money weekly, and give consent in this particular instance to those for whom they work to join the scheme on their behalf. The security is as safe as the Bank of England.

Another instance was afforded by Alderman J. V. Stevens, J.P., for many years the highly respected secretary of the Birmingham Operative Tin-Plate Sheet Metal Workers' and Braziers' Society. On the last appearance of Alderman Neville Chamberlain as a member of the City Council, Alderman Stevens took occasion to express in feeling terms his appreciation of the valuable services rendered by Alderman Chamberlain in fighting for the establishment of the Bank. The sincerity of that speech could not be mistaken, and one knew that Alderman Stevens was voicing the feeling of the workers.