Head Offices of the Bank
at Broad Street:
November 28th 1933 to November 20th 1979
In its annual report to the City Council for the year-ended March 31st 1934, the Bank Committe commented under the heading
NEW HEAD OFFICES that:
The new building erected in Broad Street was formally opened by HRH The Prince George, KG, on the 27th November, 1933, in the presence of Members of the Council and many distinguished citizens and representatives from other towns. The building combines the latest features essential to the purpose for which it has been erected, and has been designed with due regard to the contemplated development of the area as a Civic Centre.
The work was carried through expeditiously, and with commendable co-operation between the Architect, the Clerk of Works, and the Contractors.
On the new building becoming available, the premises in Edmund Street and Easy Row which had served the purpose of Head Offices were given up.
The work of transferring the books, documents, etc, was carried out by the male staff of the Bank during the night of November 27th-28th in such a manner that there was no interference with the normal business of the Bank.
 
(Fixed Asset expenditure that was reported in the Annual Accounts for 1933 and 1934 indicate that the total cost, including Furniture and Fittings, for the new premises was approximately 100,000; a later report to the City Council stated that the project had been completed 2,931 14s. 7d. under contract. The cost of the 1,471-square yards of land purchased for the site was 13,441)
 
The foundation stone for the new Head Office building was laid by Neville Chamberlain on October 22nd 1932 - photographs at Image 077
 
The official opening ceremony is recorded on this website as follows:
 
      - photographs of the ceremony: Image 078;
 
      - details of The Prince George's programme for the day
 
The opening of the building by The Prince George was recorded by Pathe News, and the short film clip of the event can be seen at:
http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=4963
 
The following is an extract from the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts for the year ended March 31st 1934:
'The outstanding event of the year was the opening of new Head Offices in Broad Street by HRH The Prince George, KG [later, the Duke of Kent]. The ceremony took place on November 27th 1933 in the presence of a large gathering of citizens and distinguished representatives from other towns. The building, which was erected by Messrs W J Whittall and Son, Limited, of Birmingham, under the supervision of Mr T Cecil Howitt, FRIBA of Nottingham, who secured the first place in open competition for designs, will rank as one of the architectural features of the city, and is worthy of the great institution it represents. The latest known developments in construction and planning have been embodied, resulting in a building sufficient to meet the requirements of depositors and the necessary administrative offices.
'The introduction of a Safe Deposit at the new Head Offices of the Bank is a special feature and should prove a boom to depositors and others who have no satisfactory accommodation in their homes for the safe keeping of deeds, documents and private papers.
'The equipment of the Safe Deposit was entrusted to Messrs Chubb and Son's Lock and Safe Company, Limited, of Wolverhampton, whose reputation in such work is renowned.
'The most up-to-date system has been introduced, with the result that the Safe Deposit is the finest of its character in the provinces.'
 
That 1934 edition of the Annual Report featured a photograph of part of the Head Offices' facade on its front cover; the first time a photograph had so appeared. Similar views were depicted on successive Annual Reports up to 1961, and were then replaced with a rather plain cover. A souvenir book was produced to commemorate the opening ceremony performed by the Prince George. This book contained a detailed Description of the Building:
 
In December, 1930, the Bank Committee invited British Architects to submit designs in competition for the new Head Offices, and appointed Sir Reginald Blomfield, Litt.D., R.A., of London, to advise them on the conduct of the competition and act as an assessor in adjudicating on the designs submitted. The winning design was that of Mr T Cecil Howitt, FRIBA, of Nottingham, who was subsequently appointed Architect for the building. In due course tenders for the erection of the building were invited, and Messrs W J Whittall & Son Limited, of Birmingham, secured the contract.
The aim of the Architect has been to provide a building, distinctive in character, and yet in keeping with the adjoining Masonic Temple on the eastern side, and the contemplated Mansion House on the western side. The dignified treatment of the northern frontage of the building gives a sense of security, and the columned loggia emphasises the main approach to the building. The central entrance gives quick access to a Banking Hall of lofty proportions with easy circulation to various administration offices.
The building is of steel frame construction, admitting an economic thickness of walls, and the hollow tile floors, carrying light domestic loads, are fire-resisting. The reinforced concrete strong rooms and safe deposit have been designed in such a manner as to give the finest security of any known type of engineering construction.
The northern frontage to Broad Street, the western frontage facing the contemplated Mansion House, and the north eastern elevation near to the Masonic Temple, are of Portland stone with a base of axed Cornish granite. The remainder of the eastern elevation and the southern elevation are in cream-coloured bricks.

The central entrance door, of high-class enriched bronze metal, and the large bronze metal grilles around the Banking Hall, are special features, and a testimony to expert craftsmanship. The Entrance Hall and Banking Hall are paved with biscuit-coloured marble slabs and panelled pale grey marble margins; the walls are of pale biscuit-coloured marble slabs with an egg-shell surface and black marble skirting. The shields on the walls depict the Egyptian signs for gold and silver; symbols of plenty or prosperity; and trade or commerce. The vaulted entrance hall ceiling and the coffered ceiling to the Banking Hall are in fibrous plaster, decorated a pale stone colour, and the staircase approaches and corridors have been treated with rubber-paved floors, French stuc walls, and bronze metal balustrades. In the main entrance corridor there are panels in antique glass depicting Labour, Perseverance, Commerce, Integrity, Industry, Progress, Banking and Finance.
The building is heated by a variety of systems adapted to the particular type of rooms, and fed by automatically controlled gas-fire boilers. Extract fans assist with the ventilation of the safe deposit, strong rooms, etc, and a complete equipment of electric light, power and bells, synchronised clocks, vacuum points, telephone and dictograph tubes has been provided. The Banking Hall is flood-lighted, the lights being reflected through the ceiling laylight, and the flood-lighting of the loggia has been specially designed. There is also a large neon lighting display sign on the southern elevation of the building.
The safe deposit, which is believed to be the largest of its kind in the provinces, possesses all the latest known improvements. It is approximately fifty feet square, and is surrounded by safes of various sizes clothed on the face and edges with a special aluminium anodised metal. 4,640 safes have been installed, but there is ample room for additional safes. A continuous glazed metal frame around the top of the safe deposit, and two bronzed framed columns, give adequate lighting to the room. Worked in the frieze on the southern wall is the motto: "Prudent people seek a safe place wherein to lodge their securities," emphasising the object of the safe deposit. Five reference rooms have been provided in close proximity to the safe deposit, where customers may inspect the contents of their safes in strict privacy.
The Banking Hall itself measures 67 feet by 53 feet, and approximately 100 feet of counter space has been provided. On the eastern and western sides of the Banking Hall, approached through the corridors, are interview rooms for Savings Bank and House Purchase business. The motto, "Saving is the Mother of Riches" on the eastern wall of the Banking Hall near to the ceiling, and its companion, "Thrift Radiates Happiness" on the western wall, emphasises the objects for which the Bank is established.
 
Photographs from the above-quoted souvenir book are reproduced on a separate page; and links in the remaining sections of this article produce individual photographs that illustrate the topic described.
 
This Description of the Building at its inauguration in 1933 would be completely familiar to staff, customers, and visitors to the Broad Street offices over the next thirty-five years; not until the late 1960s (when the centralised Current Accounts Department occupied the Interview Rooms area of the Ground Floor) and the installation of computer equipment in the early 1970s, were significant alterations made to the building. The comments below generally reflect the building's use as it was in the early 1960s.
 
Comments on the Description of the Building:
 
Thomas Cecil Howitt, OBE (1889 - 1968): the bank's architect was a designer associated with prominent public buildings including the Council House in Nottingham, and Baskerville House on the opposite side of Broad Street. A drawing showed his concept for the new building, which was to be erected on a site previously occupied by the furniture retailer, Lee Longlands. The northern frontage (facing Broad Street) and western elevation of the building, both in Portland stone, are the most striking aspects of the structure
 
Messrs W J Whittall & Son Limited: after this firm had completed the building of Head Office, the Bank employed one of the builder's employees as its Maintenance Engineer. This was Alf Maggs, who probably held a position with Whittall's as site foreman. Mr Maggs apparently ensured that there were no short cuts taken in the building's construction - in particular making sure that the strongroom walls were built to specification, and rubble was not used as infill. The strength of the strongroom walls was thoroughly tested when an alarm system was installed in the late 1960s. The installation required the walls to be drilled to fit cables, and this proved to be extremely difficult as several special drill bits were burnt out.
 
During the building's early stages of construction, an important process was carried out by the Birmingham Val de Travers Paving Company of Lower Temple Street, in co-operation with the general contactors. For a building of this description, particularly in relation to the Safe Deposit and other strongrooms, it was essential that the underground walls be not only damp-proof, but also absolutely impervious to water. This was achieved by building these walls in two separate thicknesses with the Val de Travers natural rock asphalt lining laid in between. In order that this waterproof lining was continuous around the building, it was necessary to encase the steel stanchions where they intersected with the walls. Layers of asphalt were also laid beneath the stone floor of the portico, and to form a waterproof covering on the building's concrete flat roofs.
 
Masonic Temple: this building (architect R Savage) became the Engineering and Building Centre in 1961. The Mansion House was never completed to the west of the bank. These two buildings were to form part of a Civic Centre to be built at the city centre end of Broad Street, which included Baskerville House (a neo-Georgian office block for Birmingham Corporation, another building designed by T Cecil Howitt), the Hall of Memory (the city's war memorial), and the bank. The intervention of the Second World War prevented the scheme coming to fruition. The Masonic Temple was demolished in 2008.
 
Heating: although the above description refers only to gas-fired boilers as the source of heating, in about 1960 the Bank employed someone to maintain a coal-firing boiler, suggesting that there was a back-up system. Distribution of the heat was by radiators, and a ducted air system - the ducts for which were concealed in the Banking Hall by baffles matching the walls
 
Vacuum Points: this refers to a centralised vacuum-cleaning system. Valves to which a vacuum unit could be attached were located at skirting board level throughout the building. These were not being used by the 1960s, presumably because modern individual vacuum cleaners were proving to be more efficient. These were utilised by a team of cleaners that kept the building immaculate - the majority of the cleaning ladies lived in a small terrace behind The Crown pub on the opposite side of Broad Street
 
Dictograph System: this internal phone system directly connected all the main offices of the building. Calls emanating from the General Manager or the Deputy General Manager were immediately distinguishable by the fact that the buzzer sounded continuously until answered!
 
Banking Hall Lighting: the floodlights must have proved inadequate as a set of elaborate light fittings were subsequently suspended from the ceiling
 
Neon Lighting Display Sign: this sign displayed the Bank's name in a light blue colour, and could be easily seen across a wide area of the city centre, until more modern high-rise buildings intervened
 
Safe Deposit: this facility is described in a separate section of the website. The 4,640 safes were installed on the room's four walls. The large open floor was later utilised to install blocks of safes providing a further 5,888 safes. Public access down to the Safe Deposit was by means of a staircase in the northwest corner of the building, or by a lift in the same area. For many years a commissionaire assisted customers with the lift and the very heavy bronze and glass doors. Bronze grilles controlled access to the area containing the elaborate Safe Deposit door, which was inserted on the north wall of the strongroom. On the opposite side of the short corridor in front of the safe deposit door was the Custodian's reception desk and five reference rooms for use by renters to examine their documents etc in private.
The Safe Deposit was isolated on the other three sides by a corridor around the unit, the whole length of which was viewable by means of full-length, angled mirrors fitted at the corridor junctions. The corridors also gave access to other strongrooms and muniment rooms. A service tunnel ran below the corridor, and may have been designed as a means of diverting flood waters from entering the Safe Deposit
 
Banking Hall: this magnificent feature filled the building from ground floor level up to the skylights at the top of the building - the skylights were fitted with a watering system designed to keep the outside of the glass clean, but this was not entirely successful. The description above does not mention an unusual feature of the Banking Hall: an observation balcony at first floor level on the north side. The wide, teak-topped counter provided tills for 10 cashiers on three sides of a square that protruded towards the customer entrance on Broad Street; positions 4 and 7 at the corners of the counter were permanently manned, these two tills being supplemented as demand required. The cashiers' duties were limited to instructing the depositors on the necessary procedures, followed by pure cash-handling. For withdrawals and making-up passbooks, the books and receipts were passed to staff working on 'the back'. The cashiers were isolated from the back area (with its ledger card bins) by a secondary counter topped with a frosted glass screen - the books and receipts being passed to the back under this screen. This system enabled cashiers during very busy periods to handle far more transactions than at any other branch, where the cashier was required to compare passbooks and signatures with the ledger personally. General enquiries were dealt with at the end of the counter on the west side.
 
Sub-Basement: the garage was entered at the back (south) of the building, accessed via a short drive from Bridge Street. The first General Manager (J P Hilton) had use of a chauffeur-driven car, which was presumably parked here. Subsequent General Managers also parked their cars here, though not until 1979 were they 'company' cars. At the rear of the garage, a loading bay gave access to the Stationery Department - enabling deliveries of new supplies and deliveries to branches to be easily handled. Near the entrance to the garage, steps down gave access to a sub-basement containing the boiler house; meters and switch room; engineer's stores; and plenum rooms.
 
Basement: apart from the Safe Deposit (which occupied the central section of this floor), the basement contained the Stationery Department and a number of strongrooms. The Stationery Department was located on the east side of the building with access to it by a door at the northeast corner of the building and via the garage's loading bay referred to above.
In the two rear corners of the Safe Deposit (ie on the south side), grille gates controlled access to two storage areas. Because of their location within the Safe Deposit 'island', these areas were used to store valuable documents including packets deposited by customers at the times when all individual safes were rented. Between these two storage areas was located the cash strongroom - which, therefore, was also contained within the Safe Deposit 'island'. This strongroom not only contained the cash required to service the customers of Head Office branch, but also generally contained a 'reserve' that could be sent to a branch requiring an emergency delivery of cash.
Access to the cash strongroom was via another extremely substantial safe door that was very similar to the one used to enter the Safe Deposit, but the cash door did not have the superior finish of its counterpart that was on show to (and gave reassurance to) the public. Opening of both doors was controlled by two combination locks - the combinations being held by the Banking Hall Superintendent and his Deputy for the cash safe; and by the Chief Accountant and the Safe Deposit Custodian for the other door. Although there were also time lock facilities on both doors, these do not seem to have ever been utilised.
A service lift enabled the cash boxes to be transported between the basement and the Banking Hall on the Ground Floor. Stairs alongside the lift shaft also provided access between these two points only, but the service lift also went up to the First Floor. To allow ventilation into the large Safe Deposit, a venting facility was provided at the southeast corner. At this point in the corridor surrounding the 'island', a small door (of strongroom quality, and controlled by two combination locks) was inserted close to the ceiling - this opening going through to the Safe Deposit's rear storage area. Each morning, when the main Safe Deposit door was opened, this small door was also opened, and a hollow box inserted so as to link the door frame with a ventilation shaft in the corridor's ceiling; at close of business each day, the procedure was reversed. This small door also had a secondary purpose: as there was also a similar door between the Safe Deposit rear storage area and the Cash Safe, it provided an alternative route to remove the cash in an emergency caused by the main Cash Safe door not being operable. (The author has first-hand knowledge of this emergency route, having had to crawl through the emergency door into the Cash Safe in order to pass out the cash, when there was a problem getting the strongroom door open.)
The corridor on the west side of the 'island' gave access to two further strongrooms (that were outside the 'island'); one of these stored the deeds held as security for loans granted on mortgage, the other (the 'Muniment Room') held items such as historical documents, and the spare keys for the branch network
 
Ground Floor: the major feature of this level, of course, was the Banking Hall described above. Customers would normally enter the Banking Hall through a revolving door, located directly opposite the Broad Street entrance, separated only by the north corridor. Corridors surrounded the Banking Hall; the three on the north, west, and east sides that were accessible by customers having wide and high proportions. The south corridor at the rear of the Banking Hall was of narrow, utilitarian proportions. An original major feature of these corridors was several splendid bronze metal doors. Unfortunately, following a Fire Service assessment which claimed that any fire could sweep through the corridors with lightning speed, much of the bronze grille-work was removed and replaced (probably in the late 1960s) by partially-glazed, wooden doors. The removal of the grilles entailed removal of some of the marble tiling and it was discovered that the Italian quarry that supplied the original marble had closed, and the replacement material from a different quarry was of an inferior quality.
The Banking Hall's size, particularly its height, together with its skylight roof, gave a perception of space and light. The walls between the corridors and Banking Hall contributed to this, by mainly consisting of slim pillars between arched openings that were fitted with bronze grilles.
Early additions/improvements to the original design of the Banking Hall were: a large calendar; supplementary lighting (both of these were suspended from the Banking Hall ceiling); and a revolving door for the customers' main entrance from the north corridor. Reference was made to some of these alterations by Fred Parsonage (see Memory 034) in his 1969 Reminiscences: We had been [in Broad Street] only about two weeks when a strong northeasterly gale blew for some days. Head Office faces northeast and so we had the full effect of the gale in the Banking Hall. Deposit slips and Receipt forms were blown all over the place and the conditions for the staff were terrible. We were like frozen rabbits. The revolving doors were not fitted then, and all the sundry doors were just blown open by the wind - nor was there a heater over the door as now. Draughts there were in plenty. The lighting was very poor, a form of diffused lighting from above the lay lights - absolutely hopeless from a practical point of view. (Many of the photographs of the interior of Head Office, on this website, were taken in 1933, and show the banking hall without these alterations.)
The western side of the Ground Floor, between the two sets of staircases in the corners of this side of the building, was entirely given over to the House Purchase Department. Most of this area was occupied by a large office, part of which was screened off (at the southern end) to create a slightly private area for the House Purchase Superintendent. Attached to the northern end of the office, were three rooms off a vestibule, in which mortgage applicants were interviewed. An additional interview room was located nearby in the northwest corner of the building, close to the passenger lift's ground floor entrance.
Off the corridor on the southern side of Banking Hall were two machine rooms, separated by the lift and stair accesses to the Basement strongroom areas. At each of the southern corners of the Ground Floor were staff cloakrooms/toilets, next to the stairwells. The southwest stairs, going down, linked to the staff entrance; while the southeast stairs down provided access to the Stationery Department/Garage area.
On the eastern side of the Ground Floor were three interview rooms (behind a vestibule) that were flanked by two offices. Uses of these offices seems to have varied over the years, but at different times provided accommodation for the branch inspectors, and the staff who controlled stocks of national savings products, savings coupons, etc. The Bank's Clearing Department was located in the larger of these two offices, situated next to the northeast staircase. Also in this corner of the building, on the north side, was the telephone exchange and another office (originally designated 'Controller 2'). The room used for the Clearing Department was created out of a much larger room, originally designated 'Inspectors', leaving the branch inspectors with a smaller office.
In the late 1960s, much of this area on the eastern side of the Ground Floor was utilised for the Current Accounts Department.
 
First Floor: because the Banking Hall filled the space from Ground Floor upwards, there was little office accommodation on the First Floor. Off the north corridor (eastern end) was the Accounts Department, which went through to the south corridor via a small hallway, off which was another office - not always used, but utilised in the 1970s for computer equipment. Also off the north corridor, opposite the Accounts Department, was a small office, at times used by the Chief Accountant and at others by the Auditor's clerk; on the original plans this room was designated 'Waiting'. But generally, the Chief Accountant occupied a screened off area within the Accounts Department. Near the stairwell at this northeast corner, was the General Manager's cloakroom.
The panelled offices of the General Manager and the Deputy General Manager were located in the central section of the west side of the First Floor. Two secretarial offices flanked those of the general managers; all four rooms inter-connected by doors. The secretarial office next to the General Manager's room was fitted with a small goods lift, enabling post to be despatched directly to the House Purchase Department on the floor below.
Small offices were also located at the two west stair landings; these were only used when additional accommodation was required, such as when the Bank had an Assistant General Manager; they were originally designated 'Female Rest' and 'Waiting'. As on the Ground Floor, the southern corridor was narrow and, except for having doors to the service lift and the lift's motor, merely connected the west corridor with the rear access to the Accounts Department. Additional staff cloakrooms/toilets were located above their counterparts on the Ground Floor.
 
Second Floor: the main feature of this floor was the Assembly Room, which occupied much of the west side of the building, with double doors at both ends (north and south). This room was used on a daily basis as the staff dining room, but also hosted staff social functions, meetings of branch managers, presentations by visiting lecturers, and as an examination room for the Savings Banks Institute qualification. Members of staff who succeeded with the examinations of the Institute of Bankers and Savings Banks Institute were commemorated with their names on honour boards mounted on the south side of the Assembly Room. At the opposite end of the room were portraits of the Bank's General Managers, and a plaque remembering members of staff who gave their lives in the Second World War. The south side of the Second Floor was occupied by the  staff kitchens and the caretaker's flat. The kitchen complex comprised the cooking area; a servery; a larder; and a staff room for the use of both the cooking staff and the building's cleaners. A passage connected this area in the southwest part of the building to the caretaker's flat in the southeast corner. One of the duties of the live-in caretaker was to make security patrols of the building outside office hours; he was required to verify that these checks had been made by operating key-activateded devices at various locations - these actions making a time-stamped record in the telephone exchange.
The two-bedroom flat had a hall; parlour; kitchen; scullery; larder; and bathroom. This accommodation had access to a flat section of the roof (marked as a 'Yard' on the architect's plans) that was situated between it and the Bank Committee's Boardroom.
The passage between the kitchen and the entrance to the caretaker's flat also provided access to a small goods lift that enabled food supplies to be easily delivered to the second floor.
A corridor on the north side provided access to a number of rooms, which had a variety of purposes over the years including use as a classroom, an auditor's office, committee dining room, microfilm record office, and for general meetings. On the original plan, the rooms were designated (from west to east) as female rest room; lift; auditors; luncheon room; library; committee cloak rooms.
The main feature of this area, however, was the splendid Committee Board Room - situated at the east end of the corridor - opposite the cloakroom and a small library.
 

Following the opening of the new Head Offices by HRH The Prince George, KG., a Commemoration Dinner was held in the building's Assembly Room. An invitation and ticket for the event provide some details.
 
Head Office
 
 
Broad Street - Revisted
January 2009
 
 
Plans of
the Building
 
 
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