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Banking on a good report from the dreaded inspectors

By Toby Neal | Wellington | Nostalgia | Published:

They turned up unannounced. They cased the joint. And then they moved in. Time for the bank staff to get nervous.

Wellington's NatWest Bank closed in July 2016.

They were the bank inspectors, and woe betide the bank manager if things were not up to scratch as they turned the place over.

Afterwards the inspectors would prepare a report of their findings. A host of these reports dating back to the 1920s have come to light for the National Provincial Bank in Wellington.

They were among documents salvaged years ago and shine a light on very different times far removed from these days of internet banking and, of course, waves of closures of smaller branches.

This July 1924 report may be the first one, as the bank opened in Wellington in December 1923

These were times when many records were handwritten, and customers were well-known faces.

The bank opened on December 13, 1923, in the front room of ground floor premises owned by T.G. Newman in Church Street in Wellington, the first manager being Mr C.A. Lewis. It was not there long before surrendering the lease and moving to a newly-built bank building, also in Church Street, which was completed in 1926.

National Provincial is a disappeared name in banking, merging with the Westminster Bank to become the National Westminster Bank – NatWest – in 1970. The Wellington branch of NatWest closed in July 2016.

The dreaded inspectors looked at all aspects of the bank's operation, picking up on things ranging from unattended cash to the standards of cleaning.

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"Cheerful and efficient service" – a good report in 1959.

Their descent on the Wellington branch in 1924 may have been the first inspection of all, and the report of July that year had it in for one staff member in particular, a Mr Williams, who may have been a junior.

It took the manager to task for having just one staff member in the bank at lunchtimes, and went on to say: "We understand that there is considerable room for improvement in the manner in which Mr Williams keeps the ledgers.

"There were far too many errors and his handwriting tends to be very untidy. The matter must be brought specially to his notice and we shall expect to find a great improvement next time."

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At least the manager, whose signature is illegible, had a right of reply.

"The conditions for lunching on the premises are most unsuitable," he (and we can take it for granted that it was a he) protested.

How the Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News reported the opening in December 1923

"The space is exceedingly limited and no accommodation exists for laying aside a meal should a customer decide an interview. The ventilation and heating arrangements create great discomfort and are detrimental to health. Mr Williams attributes his recent illness to this cause.

"Under such circumstances I submit a substantial meal and some exercise midday are essential."

As for the handwriting: "The matter has been brought specially to Mr Williams' notice and the need for great improvement strongly impressed on him."

The inspection report by Mr A.E. Spring in September 1943 hit a nerve when it called for closer supervision of routine work, and once more the then manager didn't take it lying down.

There was something unusual on the doorstep of the National Provincial Bank in 1940 – a Luftwaffe bomber put on display for Wellington War Weapons Week.

"In view of the fact that very little adverse criticism and no mention of the lack of supervision was made by the Inspector, I am at a loss to understand your remarks, and I must say that I feel rather hurt," the manager shot back – again, the signature is illegible.

"You must be aware that I am running this branch with a clerk who has only been here a little over seven months, two temporary clerks, and a part time helper of two months' experience."

His response was in essence that he was crushingly busy, both during the day and in evenings, which included Home Guard duties as an administrative officer.

"To point out that you would like to see a closer supervision of the routine work is poor acknowledgement for honest endeavour and I have yet to be convinced that it is necessary."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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