Friday, 16 October 2015

Pens again

It's quite possibly something to do with my age, but I find these days that the slightest thing can trigger memories.  Like the word 'pens'.

It was way back in 1960 that I started employment with a High Street bank.  In those days, of course, I was the lowest of the low - and my duties as a junior clerk were in line with my lowly status.  Mr Biro, that Hungarian gentleman, had invented the tool that has desecrated handwriting but it had not then become the common implement that it is today.  Back then, dip pens were still in widespread use and it was my duty, every morning, to ensure that the inkwells on the customers' side of the counter were full and that the nibs on the pens were not splayed, and to change the blotting paper.  Woe betide me if the Chief Clerk spotted one of the previous day's blots!

There were machines, complicated adding machine type things, on which customers' statements were typed but the bank's ledgers were hand-written.  These ledgers were large - possibly two feet from top to bottom and eighteen inches across and they could be three inches thick.  They were loose-leaf binders which could only be opened in the presence of two people, each of whom held one of the two keys needed to open the ledger.  Blank sheets were also kept strictly under dual control.  The ledger clerks each had two inkwells and two pens, one for black ink, the other for red.  Ballpoint pens were strictly forbidden.

It was only years later that the bank discovered that the ink in ballpoint pens lasted better than the Stephens' blue-black or red that was the standard issue.

Another of my duties as a junior was to accompany the First Cashier (definitely Initial Capitals!) to collect coins from another branch.  The branch at which I worked used a lot of change, most of it 'bought' from us by the local shopkeepers, and we never had enough paid in.  Another branch across town got too much paid in (the bus company banked with them) so we would, from time to time, go there to collect some.  We hired a flat-bed lorry to transport it, and on the return journey it was my job to ride shotgun, sitting on bags of pennies, threepenny bits, sixpences, shillings, florins and half crowns.

Some two years later I had been transferred to a different branch (promoted) and I was responsible for manning a sub-branch two mornings a week - just me and a pensioner employed as a guard(!).  One of my customers was an elderly man aged 90+.  He had retired from the bank in the 1930s and, if I was not busy when he called, I delighted in hearing his tales of life in the Union Bank of Brighton in the 19th century.  I recall him telling me that the bank (later subsumed into Barclays) had two partners; one acted as the manager, the other as the cashier.  Favoured customers would be invited to "step along to the end of the counter and partake of a glass of Madeira".

How things have changed!

1 comment:

joeh said...

Interesting step back in time.