The Bank's Motor Car

After the Bank had been in existence for some three years, the acquisition of a motor car came under consideration. The General Manager pointed out to the Bank Committee that the annual cost incurred by the Bank  in respect of the hire of taxis etc for the past year amounted to approximately 250. The main use of taxis appears to have been the transmission of cash, stationery, and home safes between Head Office and branches. At this early stage of the Bank's development, deposits considerably exceeded repayments, and a large proportion of the deposits would have been in coin - a heavy load to be transported to Head Office.


The City Council had formulated a policy in relation to the purchase of motor vehicles by Corporation Departments in 1921:


(1) That all petrol should be purchased by contract through the Tramways Committee, and that the insurance of all cars should be effected by the Finance Committee.


(2) That a uniform system of accounts relating to cars should be kept by all Committees retaining them for their private use.


(3) That no further purchases of cars for private Committee use be made without express sanction of the Council.


(4) That in future all cars purchased shall be painted in some uniform and distinctive colour, easily recognisable, and the City Arms painted boldly, say not less than six inches overall, on each side of the cars and that the City Arms be similarly painted on all the motor cars at present in use. (This latter instruction does not apply to the Police and Weights and Measures Departments.)


(5) That before recommending the purchase of further motor cars, Committees should consider the possibility of using motor bicycles for minor inspecting officials who have to cover long distances. Motor bicycles are much less expensive than motor cars, both in first cost and upkeep, and they require no chauffeurs. If necessary, a side car could be added to carry small articles or  second official.


In the event of motor bicycles being purchased for this purpose, the petrol tank at least should be painted the same colour as that adopted for Corporation cars and the City Arms also painted thereon.


The Bank Committee, after considering the prices and illustrations of cars submitted to them by the Tramways Department, and also taking into account the observations of the General Manager of the Tramways Department, the purchase of a 20 H.P. (3.6-litre) Austin Landaulette was chosen. The cost of this vehicle was 750, but the Corporation was able to get a 10% discount.


In 1923, the number of cars registered in Great Britain was less than 400,000, compared with some 40-million in modern times. The Austin Motor Company had just restructured after going into receivership in 1921.

(above) the type of Austin vehicle purchased by the Bank
(right) the official opening of Rotton Park branch on June 16th 1923 - the vehicle may be the Bank's first motor car

The Bank Committee resolved that the City Council be asked to consent to the purchase of the Austin and that exemption from the requirement to have the City Arms or other identification mark be granted. Included in the Bank Committee's report to the City Council (on June 5th) for the year ended March 31st 1923 was the following:


Purchase of Motor Car.


In view of the continued development in the Bank's activities, and the inevitable increase of the work of the numerous Branches which are distributed over various parts of the City, it has been necessary to consider the provision of more efficient travelling and transport facilities between the Head Office and the Branches.


Apart from the desirability of providing for a ready and constant supervision, a considerable amount of cash, etc, is collected from the Branches, and the practice of meeting this by hiring taxis has reached the stage of being expensive and lacking in despatch.


Your Committee, after carefully reviewing the matter, have come to the conclusion that the most effective and economic manner of dealing with this position is by the purchase of a motor car, and they have therefore, been in communication with the Tramways Committee with this end in view.


Your Committee are advised that the type of car necessary to meet the requirements of the Department will cost 675, and they now recommend that they be authorised to make this purchase and defray the cost from the funds of the Bank.


At the meeting, the City Council authorised the Bank Committee to purchase a motor car at a cost of 675. However, the City's General Purposes Committee were not prepared to give any exemption from the requirement regarding the City Arms.
On receiving this ruling, the Bank Committee considered a communication received from the Chief Constable:


Corporation Street,


8th June, 1923.


The Manager,

Birmingham Municipal Bank,

The Council House,



Dear Sir,


        I think it would be extremely unwise on the part of the Birmingham Municipal Bank Committee to have the Birmingham Coat of Arms painted on any vehicle that they use for periodically calling at the Branch Banks to convey cash. I know that a number of Departments of the Corporation have the Coat of Arms painted on them.


      In the case of the Police Department, although exempted from the requirement by the Council, we had a small garter on the panels with the words "Birmingham City Police", but it was found that this much interfered with the car going about in connection with confidential Police enquiries, and we had it painted out. I have heard also, that in connection with other Departments, the Coat of Arms has from time to time led to considerable inconvenience. There are many reasons why official cars should not be labelled in that way.


                           Yours faithfully,


                                (Sd.)    C. H. RAFTER,


                                                         Chief Constable.

In view of the Chief Constable's observations, the City's General Purposes Committee was asked to review the whole question of their policy as it affected Corporation Departments generally, and especially those Departments who use cars for the transit of cash. Subsequently, the City Council reviewed the 1921 instructions issued regarding the provision and use of motor cars. The following Minute recorded the presentation of a report by the General Purposes Committee:


These instructions have worked well with the exception of No 4, which in practice has been found vexatious and disadvantageous to the Corporation. The cars of the Police, Weights and Measures Departments and that of the Inspector of Licensed Houses and Places of Entertainment, etc, have been exempted from the instructions, and from time to time your Committee have considered requests for similar exemption to the cars of other Departments, but in view of the Council's instruction have been unable to meet those requests.


Several of the cars are used for the conveyance of large sums of money from point to point for the purposes of paying wages, etc, in many other cases too it has been found undesirable that the presence of Corporation representatives, either members of the Council or officials, should be indicated and that it is not considerate to persons upon whom the doctors dealing with infectious diseases and lunacy cases call that the doctors' cars should be officially marked.


After carefully reviewing the position, your Committee feel that the instruction above referred to no longer serves any useful purpose, is distinctly disadvantageous and should be rescinded. They, therefore, recommend that this be done.


It was moved by Alderman Sir David Brooks, and seconded by Mr Councillor Dean:

That, as from the date of this meeting, instruction No 4, relating to the painting of the City Arms on the motor cars of the Corporation, adopted by this Council on 4th January, 1921, be, and the same is hereby, rescinded.


However, by this date, the Coat of Arms was now on the Bank's Motor Car, and it seems that the Council's decision to rescind the requirement for cars to carry the City's Coat of Arms was not implemented. Presumably, despite the obvious security implications for the Bank, and the opinion of the Chief Constable, the City's General Purposes Committee had obtained a reversal of the rescission.


The car was insured via the City's Finance Committee for the sum of 18. 6. 6. and the General Manager was authorised to loan the car to the Public Libraries Department on occasions when the car was not desired for the use of the Bank, on similar terms to those charged for the hire of motor cars from the Tramways Department. Arrangements were made with the Lighting Department to garage the motor car at their Cambridge Street Depot.


A further use for the car was suggested in 1926 at a meeting of the Bank's General Purposes Sub-Committee. A proposal was put forward that the car should be used as a mobile bank in sparsely populated areas of the city. However, the Sub-Committee felt that the practical difficulties involved and the risk entailed in carrying out such a scheme would be too great to warrant an experiment of this nature being attempted.


By 1928, the car's condition resulted in a report by the Finance Sub-Committee to the Bank Committee:


Your Sub-Committee have considered a report on the condition of the motor-car purchased for the use of the Bank which was acquired in 1923. They consider that it will be wiser to purchase a new car, in part exchange for the present car rather than spend further money on putting the present car into a satisfactory state, and they have accordingly authorised the Chairman of your Committee and Councillor Gelling with the General Manager to purchase a new car suitable for the work of the Bank in exchange for the present car.


In October 1928, the Finance Sub-Committee reported that a new Wolseley car had been purchased at a cost of 405, which included the cost of a partition separating the chauffeur from the rest of the occupants of the car. The old car was disposed of for the sum of 120.


Despite the Bank owning its own vehicle, it was occasionally necessary for staff to use their own cars for official purposes. In February 1932, the Finance Sub-Committee considered the implications of this and reported to the Bank Committee:


Use of Private Cars for official purposes.


Your Sub-Committee have for some time past had under consideration the adoption of scale allowances to officers for the use of their private motor-cars for official purposes. It frequently happens that such cars are used for urgent Bank business but up to the present no allowances have been made in this connection.


Your Sub-Committee feel it is only fair to make some allowance in approved cases, and after considering the scheme adopted by the Electric Supply Department, they recommend as follows:


(1) That where an officer uses his private car for Bank purposes, an allowance should be made at the following rates:


Up to 8 h.p.

2d. per mile

 "    " 11 h. p.

  3d.     "     "

Over 11 h. p.

3d.    "    "


the horse-power of the vehicle to be calculated on the basis taken for taxation purposes.


(2) That the vehicle must be fully insured and the policy endorsed to indemnify the Bank against any third-party claim.


(3) That only such officers as are approved by the General Manager shall qualify for such allowances.


(4) That all accounts under this scheme must be made on the official form provided for the purpose.


The Bank Committee agreed to the recommendations subject to the officers to qualify for the allowances being approved by the Committee.


In 1933, when considering the roles of the manual staff to be employed in the new Broad Street Head Offices, the General Manager suggested that it would be more economical to arrange for the stationery clerk to include in his duties the delivery of stationery to branches from time to time, for which purpose the Bank car could be used. The stationery clerk at this date was Mr H V Watson who appears to have been employed as a chauffeur since the purchase of the original car. In 1933, the Bank's car had been put up for sale, but not yet sold


The revised arrangement after the sale of the car was that  the chauffeur (Mr Perkins) would use his own car for Bank purposes, combining this task with duties as an attendant in the new Safe Deposit facility.


Ownership of a vehicle by the Bank ceased after approximately ten years, and transport requirements were partly satisfied by contractors, eg in delivering stationery to branches. However, it would be many years before specialist security companies were used to deliver and collect cash to/from branches - in the meantime branch staff carried out this task (usually on foot) by an arrangement with the nearest branch of a Joint Stock Bank.


It would also be many years before vehicles were to be part of the Bank's assets - in 1979, senior officers were provided with 'status' cars.