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

The unreasonable delay experienced in obtaining powers to set up the Bank was a great handicap at the outset. Those workers who had been enthusiastic in 1915 were disappointed and not so keen in 1916. Anticipating such would be the case, Mr. Chamberlain and other prominent citizens placed sums of money with the editor of the Birmingham Mail to be drawn for as prizes at the end of the war, the idea being to encourage the workers to save at a keener rate and thus make up for the delay.

The editor of the Mail, who was responsible, announced on the 23rd September, 1916, the conditions which would attach to the "draw" as follows:
     1 Distribution of prizes to take place three months after the termination of the war.
     2 Every depositor will be eligible for a prize who
          (a) is on the books of the Bank at the time of distribution;
          (b) has been on the books at least six months;
          (c) has saved an amount proportionate to the time the Bank has been in existence at the time of the "draw,"
                          If the Bank has existed 6 months, 1 0s. 0d.
                          If the Bank has existed 9 months, 1 10s. 0d.
                          If the Bank has existed 12 months, 2 0s. 0d. and so on; 10s. being added to the amount which must have been
                          saved for every three complete calendar months that the Bank has existed.
     3 Any depositor who has joined or joins any unit of H. M. Forces and who is in consequence unable to
        continue his or her deposits, shall, on notifying the Bank to that effect, be registered in the books of the Bank,
        and be eligible for participation in the "draw," provided always that at the date of the "draw" the amount
        standing to his or her credit in the Bank shall be no less than would have been required to qualify him or her at
        the date of joining the Forces.

Even those who regard "the sporting instinct" as a device of the Evil One, can hardly fail to admire this ingenious scheme for encouraging thrift. It was so drafted that no class of worker using the Bank would be debarred from participating. It excluded nobody who worked for wages, thus the cook or the policeman, the butcher or the baker, the postman, the clerk, the artisan, the labourer, the dustman, the shop assistant, the typist, the factory girl - all were equally invited to save and take their chance of winning a prize.

There was no desire on the part of the donors of the prizes that the inducement to save should be such as might tempt a man to deprive his family of necessaries, and to secure that this should be so, the low qualifying minimum amount, referred to above, was fixed. There is no doubt the attractiveness and fairness of this scheme had the effect of enrolling many who were hesitating as to whether or not they should join the Bank.

The announcement of the Mail prize scheme was the signal for many similar schemes to be inaugurated by employers in respect of their own workmen. Some kept closely to the conditions laid down in the larger scheme; others made their own conditions. Some employers granted a percentage on the amount saved, while others distributed monthly gifts of coupons to their workpeople who had complied with their special conditions.

A valuable contribution in this respect was made by the Birmingham Rotary Club. Addressing the members of the club at their weekly luncheon on the 5th February, 1917, the writer made an appeal for their co-operation in making the Bank scheme a success. A discussion took place which demonstrated that the members were in sympathy with the aims of the Bank, and felt that if a "draw" could be arranged for an early date it would do much towards increasing the depositors.

The Rotary "wheel" was passed round and resulted in promises of a substantial sum for the purpose, and on the proposition of Mr. Matthias Watts the following resolution was adopted:
That with a view to encouraging the workers of Birmingham to do their best to ensure the success of the great Victory Loan, a mass meeting of the depositors in the Corporation Savings Bank be held in the Town Hall at Easter, under the auspices of the Rotary Club, when a drawing will take place for prizes amounting to about 75, to include a gross lot of 50; every worker who has deposited 1 by that date will participate in the drawing.
Mr. Watts said the Bank had been the means of bringing capital and labour into closer contact, and that as a club, they should assist in such a movement. They could say to the workers "Stop building Mugs' Row; begin to build your own cottage."

The first of the public prize "draws" in connection with the Bank took place on the 25th April, 1917, under the auspices of the Rotary Club. It aroused considerable interest amongst depositors and the public generally.

Long before the advertised hour for the proceedings to commence, queues of depositors began to form round the Town Hall (which had been kindly lent by the Lord Mayor for the occasion), and when the doors were opened there was a fine display of pass books, for the pass book acted as a magic entrance ticket to the Hall.

The President of the Club, Mr. H. O. Worrall, presided over the gathering, and was supported by Messrs. Wilfrid Hill and John Weatherhead (past presidents), Mr. Matthias Watts, Mr. O'Shaughnessy (secretary to the Club), Councillors Appleby, Beard and Hallas, and others.

On the 31st October, 1919, the Town Hall, which the Lord Mayor once again permitted to be used, was packed with depositors anxious to know the result of the Birmingham Mail prize scheme. The Right Hon. Neville Chamberlain, M.P., presided, and was supported by several of the donors of prizes, members of the City Council, and others. Mr. Chamberlain recapitulated the history of the Bank, and explained the origin of the prize scheme. If the scheme was considered a lottery, it had, in his opinion, at least the saving grace of being a lottery in which no one could lose. "The Bank is now established on a permanent basis and I shall always be proud of having been associated with a movement of the greatest value to the workers," said Mr. Chamberlain.

Mr. H. F. Harvey (Editor of the Mail), who had charge of the arrangements, read a statement of the prize fund, certified by a firm of chartered accountants, showing the amount to be distributed to be 378 10s. 10d., and announced how the "draw" would be conducted.

The "draw" illustrated the vagaries of figures: for instance, No. 5003 corresponded to 15003 in the register. A little later the same combination of figures occurred in 0305, and as if to complete the coincidence 0305 was drawn later on, but as the rules debarred anyone from winning two prizes another drawing took place in this last instance.

Shakespeare asked, "What's in a name?" The cynic may reply, "There's a good deal in it when it appears on a cheque." Anyway, one might be tempted to believe there is luck in certain christian names, and this particular "draw" would support such a belief. What, for instance, is the exact value in pounds, shillings and pence of the name "Leonard"? That name figured in the first and second prize-winners, and also in a later case, so that three men, who rejoiced in the cognomen, were fortunate. Five times the name of "William" figured in the list, and amongst the ladies the lucky name appeared to be "Florence," for it occurred five times amongst the winners.

At the conclusion of the Mail prize drawing, Mr. Harvey acted in a similar capacity in respect of prize schemes for the employees of several private firms.
Press Cuttings