Banks in Wolverton

Banks. Not the most popular institutions nowadays, yet it now feels as if they’ve always been with us. Not so, as a review of banks in the history of Wolverton will show.

Banks, as we might now recognize them, emerged in Italy in the 14th century, when Christian merchants with cash surpluses overcame their scruples about lending for interest. These early banks lent money to governments and to other merchant venturers. They usually enhanced their wealth.

Ordinary people did not need banks, and this is where we come to Wolverton. Savings institutions came first. People could save through the Post Office Savings Bank on the Stratford Road, operated by that serial entrepreneur Charles Aveline – Cabinet Maker, Furniture Maker, Undertaker, Builder, Postmaster, Stationer and Publisher. After the 1870s there was a London and North Western Savings Bank. Mr George Fitzsimmons was Secretary. Mr. Fitsimmons was the Works Accountant and given his record for community service in other areas I suspect that he did this in a volunteer capacity. Wolverton people saved, but they didn’t borrow. Banks were mostly irrelevant to them.

Stony Stratford, with a more established commercial base did have a bank in the 19th century. Richard Hrrison of Wolverton house was one of the investors. Unfortunately the bank failed in 1820 and Mr Harrison, to his credit, was able to call upon his own resources to ensure that all creditors were paid off. Subsequently a branch of the Buckingham Bank served the need of the commercial cummunities of Stony Stratford and Wolverton. Wolverton had to wait until the 20th century for its own bank branches and by this time the larger banks had taken over the locally-owned banks. Barclays had opened a branch on Church Street by 1903. I think it may have been at Number 20, where the Empire Cinema was later built. It was only open Mondays from 11 to 2. Lloyds Bank also appear in the same directory on the Market Square. They opened only on Saturday from 11 to 3pm. Both banks operated as sub-branches of Stony Stratford.

According to the 1911 directory Barclays had moved to 7 Stratford Road, either next door to or part of the Post Office, and expanding their hours to Tuesday and Saturday opening. Lloyds in the meantime had opened a branch at 24 Stratford Road that was open daily. These arrangements continued until the mid-1920s when Barclays moved to 29 Stratford Road and Lloyds established themselves at 47 Stratford Road. These were the banks that were familiar to us in the mid-century.

I think that Lloyds was used by the London North Western Railway Company and was therefore the bigger of the two banks.

The Trustee Savings Bank opened on Church Street in the early 1950s but it was then a very different sort of institution. The Co-op may have had a savings bank on the Square (I’m uncertain about this) and I believe the Wolverton Mutual Society at 50 Church Street may have managed some sort of savings scheme. Post Office savings continued to offer its service. Apart from these the only other financial institutions were the “Frierndly Societies” which provided sickness insurance and other benefits prior to the National Health scheme of 1948.

In 1962 Alan Cosford started his career at Lloyds Bank on the Stratford Road. He lived at Number 55; the bank was at Number 47, so his daily walk to work was a few steps. That might have been an exception but it was still rare in 1962 for people to travel too far to go to work. Women were beginning to be recruited by banks at this time but they were rarely promoted due to the fear that they might get married. (Yes these were different times!) New bank recruits started at a low level and step by step promoted through the ranks. In time (and it usually took a long time) you could rise to Bank Manager. They were, as I said, conservative. The dress code was strict and the work rigorous. The use of ball point pens was banned and ink and blotting papaer was provided on every desk. Strange as it may seem today, mechanical calculators were only just beginning to appear in banks and even then they were not wholly trusted. Recruits to the banks were expected to be good at Maths. Customers, even in 1960 were still fairly exclusive. The majority of people were still paid in cash and had no need for banks, even for savings. Banks were largely inaccessible institutions. When I applied for my first bank account at Barclays in 1960 I had to prove that I was a person of good standing before I was entrusted with a cheque book. They also had restricted

Former Lloyds Bank at 47 Stratford Road

As I said this was still a cash society. Most workers were paid in cash once a week. The money earned was counted out, after deductions, in pounds shillings and pence and placed in an envelope with punched holes so that you could see that there was money in it. The works payroll was huge and they had to go to Lloyds bank every Friday to collect the money. Alan tells me that quite often a member of staff had to drive to Stony Stratford or Bletchley to pick up sufficient cash to meet the need. Securicor vans had not been invented at this date, or if they were, they were not deployed in Wolverton. Money was simply carried across the road and there was not even a policeman in sight. Once behind the wall the money was counted out into packets and wheeled around from workshop to workshop in handcarts like these.

Organized criminals would have found this an easy target yet it never happened. The only serious crime that I can recall from that period (and it was almost a scene from an Ealing comedy), was when some hapless chap robbed Sigwarts, the jewellers, at that time run by two old ladies. The robber grabbed what he could stuff in his pockets but it appears that he had not thought through his getaway plan. He ran to the station hoping to hop on a train and outwit the police. It had obviously not occurred to him that trains left Wolverton Station every half hour rather than every 30 seconds and that even if he got on a train there might be some uniformed officers waiting for him at every station. Needless to add, he was collared  within a few minutes.
Alan also tells me that they regularly took cash to the General Post Office for transfer to London. The bank did take some security precautions by having two staff members take the suitcase (which was chained to one person’s wrist) to the Post Office. On one occasion they were doing this errand and unnoticed by them the catch on the suitcase had sprung open and sealed packages of money were dropping on to the pavement in a trail. The two of them were unaware of this until a passer-by alerted them to what was happening. Alarmed they scrambled back to retrieve them all, successfully of course as it probably wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to steal them.
Wolverton was still an ordered, self-contained and even self-policing society. A lot of people only locked their doors when they went on holiday, and even if they did lock the door they key was often left under the door mat. The magistrate’s court mostly dealt with disorderly and drunken behaviour at the weekend and petty crime such as stealing a few shillings from the gas meter.
Innocent days!