HRH the Prince George opened the new Broad Street Head Office on Monday, November 27th 1933.
The programme of events that day included the official opening at 12 noon; an address by Prince George to distinguished guests in the new building’s Assembly Hall; a lunch in the Council House;
and a Commemorative Dinner in the Assembly Hall that included a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer – Neville Chamberlain. Reproduced below are newspaper reports of the events and speeches of that day, and the photographs that accompanied them.
Prince George received an enthusiastic welcome at Birmingham to-day when he opened the new head offices of the Municipal Bank, erected at a cost of about £85,000. The building stands in Broad Street, within the area which is to be the future civic centre, and faces the lawns of the Hall of Memory. Among those at the opening ceremony were Lord Dudley, who had entertained Prince George at Himley Hall; Mr Chamberlain, to whose initiative the bank owes its existence; and the Bishop of Birmingham. After the Prince had unlocked the main entrance door he entered and was conducted over the building. The inspection at an end, he addressed the guests in the Assembly Hall.
Before inviting Prince George to speak the Lord Mayor (Alderman H E Goodby) said the bank premises represented the beginning of new administrative buildings which would ultimately form part of a replanned civic centre. Carried through during probably the most acute phase of the industrial depression, the scheme had made a useful contribution toward creating employment and promoting trade.
Prince George, in declaring the building open and wishing the bank continued and increasing success, said that during the 17 years of its existence the bank had abundantly proved itself to be an institution in which Birmingham could justly take pride. “During years which have included some of the most difficult times that industry has ever had to face in this country,” he continued, “the bank has maintained a course of unfaltering progress. Each year has witnessed an expansion in the volume of the moneys entrusted to its charge, until to-day the bank holds nearly £15,500,000 of deposits. That is a great sum, but what is perhaps even more remarkable is the number of your citizens from whose saving those deposits have been drawn. It is a striking fact that the membership of the bank represents no less than one-third of the total population of your city.
Birmingham is justly celebrated for traditions of prudence and enthusiasm in the management of her local affairs. It is on these traditions that the success of your bank is founded, and it is fitting that to-day we should pay a tribute to the wisdom and foresight of those to whom 17 years ago the inception of this great enterprise was due. Of those founders pride of place belongs, above all, to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Neville Chamberlain, who first conceived the idea of bringing local civic effort to mobilize the savings of the people, and who has constantly given his support and counsel to the wise management of the bank. His name is inscribed, and rightly inscribed, on the foundation stone of this building. To him, and to those who have served the bank, both as representatives of the city and as members of its staff throughout its career, your city owes a debt of gratitude.
“The bank now occupies an intimate place in the life of Birmingham. Its activities enhance the material welfare of your citizens. It is fitting that its new home should form part of the great civic centre which your city contemplates. In this building it will have a worthy home.”
Alderman Gelling, chairman of the Bank Committee, thanked Prince George for his address and for opening the building. In doing so, he said Prince George had set the hallmark of distinction on their earnest labours and given added security to the cause of thrift and to the depositors of the city.
Prince George was afterwards entertained at luncheon at the Council House.
Before leaving Birmingham Prince George visited a number of occupational centres, and at the conclusion of his tour said he had been greatly impressed by the excellent work being done, as well as by the courage and cheerfulness of the men and their wives and families. He added: “I should like all to bear in mind the appeal of my brother, the Prince of Wales, and to continue to increase the efforts which are being made to alleviate the difficulties of those in distress through unemployment.”
of Neville Chamberlain, speaking at the Commemoration Dinner:
Report of Neville Chamberlain, speaking at the Commemoration Dinner:
Mr Neville Chamberlain, MP, proposing the toast of the Birmingham Municipal Bank, said it was many years since Birmingham was described as “the best-governed city in the world.” It was bestowed upon the city by an American trying to stimulate his fellow-countrymen to emulate the methods of British local government. Since that day, the standard of British local government had continued steadily to rise, but if the American could come back to England and see what was the most striking and original piece of municipal work since he called Birmingham the best-governed city, he would still have to come to Birmingham and find in the Municipal Bank his example.
Speaking legally, the history of the Bank began in 1919, but it was perhaps not always remembered that it was not the first bank of its kind, and that it sprang, like the phoenix from the ashes, from its predecessor, the Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank, started in 1916. It was necessary in both cases to obtain an Act of Parliament before such a bank could be established by a municipality, but the first bank was so great a success that, in effect, it enabled them to get the second Bill through Parliament.
“As one of the survivors of that small band who started the Bank in 1916, perhaps you will allow me to tell you something of what was in our minds at that time. In 1916 we were in the thick of war. The Bank was a war baby. It arose from the circumstances we saw around us, and I think we had in mind primarily two objects at that time. The first was to win the war. It gave the munition workers, who were then earning high wages, an opportunity of making savings which afterwards would be lent to the State. And the second was to induce the workers of the city to put something by that would be of value to them when the war was over and when, as we foresaw, hard times might come to them.
“We were, of course, local people, and thought about local conditions, yet our ideas were limited neither in time nor in space. We believed that our plan was applicable, not only to our own city, but it might well be found useful and valuable in all the great centres of population in the country, and our efforts were devoted to obtaining enabling powers, not for one city alone, but for all the great towns and districts in the country.
“We at that time believed also that if we could obtain these powers the Bank we could set up would take a permanent place among the municipal operations of our time.”
Mr Chamberlain explained that there was heated criticism of the scheme, and people who looked with no friendly eye on the promoters. Still, he always felt that the people of Birmingham needed the Bank, and that there would be ways and means of getting something done. All knew what followed. The old Bank was wound up in 1919, but in the meantime power had been secured to start a new one, and the whole of the depositors transferred their deposits to the new Bank. Progress since that time has been unbroken.
After referring to the assistance the Bank had given citizens in house purchase, Mr Chamberlain said there were three features that occurred to him as the root cause of the expansion of the Bank’s success. In the first place they had been singularly fortunate in obtaining the enthusiastic voluntary service of members of the City Council from the beginning of the Bank’s existence until to-day. He recalled the names, some of them no longer with them, of Eldred Hallas, John Beard and Alderman Lovsey, all of whom did yeomen service as pioneers in the early days. He recalled his old colleague Councillor Appleby, who devoted almost the whole of his life to the Bank and was responsible for many of the ideas that had since been successfully developed. Then they had Sir Percival Bower, who held the chairmanship of the Bank for five years, and to whose personal efforts were very largely due the selection of that site and the erection upon it of that building, and last he would mention the present chairman, Alderman Gelling, who worthily filled the seat of his predecessors.
He thought that they would agree that if they were to pay honour where honour was due there was one name that could not be forgotten by local historians when they came to relate the history of the Bank, and that was the name of the general manager, Mr J P Hilton, who had inspired his staff with his own conviction of the value of the bank to his fellow-citizens.
Since the bank was established, the city had been growing at a portentous rate. New suburbs, the size of small towns, had sprung up all round the core of the city. The bank had not waited for customers to come to it, but had gone out, and to-day its fifty-five branches not only covered all the city, but were beginning to spill over into neighbouring districts – the only invasion those districts would tolerate from their great neighbour.
They had reached the culmination of their ambitions in the opening of that magnificent building, a building not only of practical convenience but of beauty and dignity. It set a worthy standard for the Civic Centre of which ultimately it would form a part.
He thought they would all desire to offer congratulations to the architect, whose high reputation would assuredly be enhanced by what he had done for the city of Birmingham.
"I do not suppose (Mr Chamberlain said) there is another in this country in which municipal traditions are stronger or are more warmly cherished than they are in Birmingham. Our people feel that the municipal bank is their own. They are proud of it. They are familiar with their city council, and they feel they are sensible that the money put into the bank is safe and will be available for them whenever they want it.
"To my mind the great figure of withdrawals, £43,000,000 since the bank has started, is just as significant of the practical usefulness of the bank to the population as the larger figure of £56,000,000 which the people have put in.
"Of course, it must be admitted that the municipality has advantages which cannot be possessed by any private institution in the opportunities it has for displaying and recommending the virtues and advantages of the bank to all its inhabitants from the time when at school they begin to save and first learn what is the pleasure of having a little balance to their credit.
"When we first thought of this bank we thought of it, not only as a Birmingham bank, but as one which might be established in other great popular centres.
"I do not know whether I am glad or sorry that our bank stands alone, unrivalled, unique. It may seem a strange thing that nobody has imitated the example which has been so conspicuously successful. There are thousands of municipalities, but there is only one Birmingham, and after all one must remember that there are many ways of encouraging thrift.
"Before the War our own city had been somewhat strangely neglectful in that respect. Since we began our experiment the National Savings Certificate movement has been started, and to-day it forms one of the great saving trinity, of which the other two members are the Post Office Savings Bank and the Trustee Savings Banks.
"Between them these three institutions are responsible to-day for over £1,000,000,000 of savings by people who are not wealthy people, a huge national reserve which has played a great part in building up the national character, which enables the vast population to support itself in independence, to make provision against unexpected misfortunes, and in many cases perhaps to leave something to children to start them in life.
"But it has done something more than that. The aggregation of those savings of multitudes of comparatively poor people is doing a great service to the general community. To my mind it is a short-sighted view which holds that such savings are withdrawn out of the funds available for employment.
"Particularly it is true that the savings of the comparatively rich, and still more of the very rich, which were formerly mainly instrumental in financing new enterprises have been greatly reduced owing largely, I suppose, to the very heavy burden of taxation. Whether that burden is likely to be reduced in the very near future probably only the Chancellor of the Exchequer can say.
"And in the meantime, and without any hint from him, it seems to me that the moral one must draw is that it is necessary now to take the volume of savings from a much larger range of persons than was formerly the case.
"It is probable that the aggregate savings of those people require, considering their circumstances, a greater degree of security than is necessary for individuals who can afford to lose should misfortune occur, but the purchase of these gilt-edged and safer investments sets in train a series of operations which finally frees the money that is necessary for the financing of industrial enterprise – and so, in the end, not merely the individual, but the interests of the nation are served.
"It had fallen to Alderman Gelling to preside over the fortunes of the bank at a moment when it had reached a great landmark in its progress. That day the bank was firmly established in the affection of the citizens. It had their complete confidence, and he had no doubt that under the wise and progressive leadership of Alderman Gelling it would continue to prosper and extend its career of usefulness to the city and the nation as a whole."
Responding, Alderman Gelling said Mr Chamberlain had been ready at all times to assist the bank, and the Bank Committee regarded it as fitting that he should be there to share with them in the joy they experienced in having such splendid headquarters. The foundation of Birmingham’s greatness was laid by Mr Joseph Chamberlain, and the progress of the city to this day had been assisted by Mr Chamberlain’s children. He was glad Mr Chamberlain had referred to the pioneer workers in connection with the establishment of the bank. That evening they were glad to have as their guests Mrs Hallas and Mrs Appleby, to whom he felt sure it must give great pleasure to think that work in which their husbands took so notable a part had progressed so wonderfully, and in part the progress was due to the fact that the initial work for the bank was done so well.
The Lord Mayor named the distinguished guests who were present and proposed their health.