Branches
 
Branch Night Lights
 
Branch Architecture
 
At the date of the above Circular (1961) all Night Lights were gas powered, as indicated by a Circular to branches (dated December 15th 1960) that preceded the one quoted above. This stated:
 
The re-introduction of night lights at Branches is being considered, and in order that I may have full knowledge of the position, will you please test the light over the Strong Room door at your branch, and when you have done so complete and return the form attached hereto.
 
The lights have been under maintenance by the West Midlands Gas Board, and should be in working order.
 
It is not intended that the lights should be operated by the clock, but by hand.
 
If a night light has not been installed at your Branch, please say whether there is a convenient electric light which may be used for this purpose.
 
A further letter from the General Manager to Branch Managers followed, one week later:
 
With reference to my letter of the 15th instant, it has been decided that the clocks operating the night lights shall be disconnected, and the West Midlands Gas Board is arranging for this work to be carried out. The clocks will be left at the Branch.
 
At the same time the lights will be serviced and a reserve supply of mantles will be left with you.
 
The lights are not to be used until you receive instructions.
 
Please let me know when this work has been completed.
It appears that Night Lights (sometimes referred to as 'Safe Lights' or 'Police Lights for Safes') were a standard security feature in the design of all permanent branches from the commencement of the Bank. These lights, which were installed above branch strongroom doors, were the subject of a report by the General Manager to the Finance Sub-Committee on February 11th 1924:
 
SAFE LIGHTS.
 
I have to report the failure on several occasions of the electric lights which are left burning at the Branches during the night in order that the police may inspect the premises through the peepholes which have been provided.
 
The cause of the failure, as a rule, is that the lamps have burnt out; and on enquiry at the Electric Supply Department I am informed that the maximum life of a lamp for the purpose in question is 1,000 hours, and that the best type of lamp to use would be a carbon one.
 
The question as to whether it is advisable to change the present system of providing these lights over the strong room doors from electric light to gas, on the ground of greater reliability, is worthy of consideration. In order to effect such a change certain expense would be involved. Gas is already on the premises, but the cost of fixing a new point would be, approximately, £1. 8. -d. This would include Pearl burner, mantle and shade. I am informed that the mantle used on this particular burner is very strong and reliable, and can be depended on to last for twelve months.
 
AUTOMATIC SWITCHES.
 
Under the present system the lights are left burning at the Branches from the time of the departure of the Staff until the opening on the following day. This means that on Sunday, for instance, the light is burning throughout the whole day. This could be overcome by the installation of automatic switches. A switch of this type could be set to switch the light on or off at given times, and a considerable saving in light would be effected; but against this must be set the cost of installing the switches, and as the amount of current used by the lights at present installed is very small, it would be a considerable time before the savings effected would pay for the cost of the switches and installation. I give below a comparative statement of the cost of switches for both gas and electric light:
 
 
 
 
To comply with the policy outlined in Head Office’s Circular dated January 27th 1961, these more modern branches required an electric Night Light to be installed, and an example of the fitting used in shown on the photograph of Kitts Green’s interior. It is believed that this type of fitting was eventually installed in all branches.

As to Head Office’s instruction that Managers should ensure that the light is on when leaving the premises after the close of business, and that it is extinguished after arrival on the morning of the next business day, many Managers would have felt it would avoid call-outs by the police in the early hours of the morning if the light remained permanently illuminated. In his editorial to the Spring 1961 CONTACT magazine, Howard Powell included the following alternative methods:
 
Having now joined the romantic fraternity of old lamplighters (or should that be "old lamp lighters"?), there arises the constant fear that one day it might be forgotten. There are several ways of combatting this, eg a piece of cord hanging from the gas-bracket that stops the strong-room door from shutting, an elastic band round the waist and gas-bracket, or a notice by the the bracket reading "If it is too dark for you to see this notice, you have forgotten to light the lamp".
 
 
(Above)
Form required to be completed by Branch Managers
regarding their branch's Night Light
 
Home
 
 
Gas. 
 Electric light.
Cost of Switch 
£1. 17. 6 
£2. 17. 6. 
Installation
(approximate) 
£1. 8. -. 
 10. -.
If time switches were installed the comparative cost per week of 125 hours would be:
 
    Electric light          11d.
    Gas                          9d.
 
The installation of the above switches would effect a saving of current or gas which would vary from about 25% during the winter months to 50% during the summer.
 
The Committee authorised the General Manager to have experiments made with the object of improving the present system of safe lights and automatic switches. Consequently, the General Manager reported to the Sub-Committee again on April 14th 1924:
 
POLICE LIGHTS FOR SAFES.
 
In accordance with the instructions of the Committee, time clocks have been fixed and connected with the police lights at the Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath Branches, the one at Sparkbrook being for gas and that at Balsall Heath for electric light.
 
At Sparkbrook an experimental glowing asbestos light on the by-pass had to be replaced with a flame by-pass, but the Branch Managers of both Branches now report that the installations are quite satisfactory.
 
At the present time the clocks are set to switch on gas or electric light respectively at 7pm and cut off at 6am. They require winding once a week and are then re-set to meet the varying hours during which the police light is required.
 
The clocks so far have been in use for about three weeks and the consumption of gas for this burner at present is about 150 feet per week costing 5½d., and of electricity 1¾ units costing 7d.
 
With regard to reliability, failures may be reduced to approximately three causes:
 
1. Failure of the clock to switch on the light at the proper time. This would apply to both gas and electricity.
2. In the case of electricity, failure of the electric bulb.
3. In the case of gas, failure of the mantle.
 
No 1 - A failure of this nature would not be so serious as one in the middle of the night for, in all probability, the officer in charge could be informed before he had retired for the night.
 
No 2 - It is impossible to tell when an electric globe is going to give out and the only protection which could be obtained would be by instituting a system recording the number of hours when the globe is in use and replacing after it has been lighted for a period not exceeding 800 hours.
 
No 3 - This should not occur if the mantle is examined by the officer before leaving the Bank, as it is not likely to break completely before the morning, and should therefore, in my opinion, be rather more reliable.
 
The cost of installing time switches is as follows:
 
 
 
Gas. 
 Electric light.
Cost of Switch 
£1. 17. 6 
£2. 17. 6. 
Installation
(approximate) 
£1. 8. -. 
 10. -.
The instructions of the Committee are requested.
 
After considering the Report, the Sub-Committee agreed that the General Manager be instructed to arrange for automatic switching on of a gas light at the Daily Branches.
 
Whether the new installations of a gas system proved to be more reliable than the electric light system seems to be doubtful, as the recollections of Len Wright (Memory 026) recall:
Before the time of all-night transport (trams in those days) or the ubiquitous motor car, I was in charge at Rotton Park branch when a new type of gas Police Light was fitted. In the first ten days it failed four times to function and I was called out by the police therefore, to attend the branch in the early hours of the morning, usually 12:30am, a total running/walking distance of 56 miles from and to my home, then at Ward End.
 
The Night Light was positioned immediately above the strong room door, the door being visible from the street outside the branch by means of a peephole - a small area of clear glass in the frosted glass windows at the front of the branch. The local police officer, on his beat during the night, would use the peephole to ascertain that the strong room door was secure, calling out the registered keyholder for the branch if there were any problems, such as described by Len Wright.

Few domestic telephones having been installed before the Second World War, ‘calling-out’ would probably involve a telephone call from the police station local to the branch, to the police station local to the Branch Manager’s home. A constable would then knock the Manager up to inform him that his presence (and key) were required at the branch. The Manager might also be called out by the police if a light (other than the Night Light) had been left on, as recalled by Stanley Guy (Memory 001).
 
It is not known when the practice of using Night Lights was discontinued, but it is likely to have occurred on September 1st 1939 when ’blackout’ regulations were imposed in anticipation of the declaration of War.

Gas lighting continued to be installed in new branch buildings, designed to pre-war standards, as an emergency lighting system. The last of the pre-war designed branches was Weoley Castle (opened March 7th 1941), and a photograph of the interior clearly shows that a large number of gas lamps were affixed to the walls, as a back-up to the electric lighting suspended from the ceiling. At this date, electric lighting was probably not considered reliable.

The interior photographs of the first two branches opened after the Second World War (Wells Green and Great Barr) show what appears to be a limited number of emergency light units on the wall. Subsequent new branch buildings do not appear to have any such provision.
 
On January 27th 1961, the Bank’s Head Office issued a Circular to Branch Managers regarding the subject of Night Lights:
It has been agreed with the Chief Constable of Birmingham that night-lights should be re-introduced at Branches within the City, as and from the 1st February 1961.
Branches outside the City will also re-introduce the lights, and Managers of these Branches must inform the local Police Station that as and from the 1st February 1961 the night light will be on at all times when the staff are not present.
It will be the responsibility of the Branch Manager to see that the light is on when leaving the premises after the close of business, and that it is extinguished after arrival on the morning of the next business day.
Before the 1st February, Managers are requested to check with the local Police Station that their records as regards the keyholder are correct.
Also please ensure that there is a clear view of the strong room door from the peep-hole in the window.

No reason for this decision was provided, but it seems to have been part of a general review of branch security following  two armed raids on branches in 1960, including one at Billesley where shots were fired.
BACK TO THE TOP