In February 1968, the work of the London Automation programmers at Clements House, bears fruit in the form of BRANCH ACCOUNTING – a set of computer programs that will run on the equipment at the London Computer Centre to process a range of bookkeeping tasks that are hitherto performed manually at Martins Branches. Thirty six Branches in London are converted one by one to computer input capability, and staff are given training to enable them to produce the all important punched paper tape that will be read and processed by the computer equipment at London Computer Centre. This is the culmination of nearly two years’ work, during which time the daily bookkeeping work of Martins Branches has been analysed down to the smallest of routines, individual programs and sub-routines have been written, tested and re-written, and a robust system developed, some aspects of which will last way beyond Martins own existence, and into the twenty-first century.
Life, like truth, is often stranger than fiction: We are indebted to one of Martins’ original programming staff – friend of the Archive Clive Frost – for turning up a reel of punched paper tape amongst his belongings and sending it to us. It was part of the 1967 final test run for Martins Bank’s Branch Accounting Computer Program. Having found ourselves in possession of such a significant piece of computer history, we thought what should we do with it – send send it down to Bletchley Park, home of the National Museum of Computing, and those nice codebreakers? Well, yes that’s exactly what we did. Bletchley Park ran the tape through a reader, extracted the data, and with the help of a coding chart that Clive had donated to us some years ago, the data was listed for us in several forms by the National Museum of Computing’s Tony Frazer. A series of test entries to fictitious bank accounts was thus revealed. When Martins began to roll out computerisation across London, customer data was collected in Branch using Addo X machines coupled to tape punching equipment.
The tapes were sent at the end of each working day to the Bank’s Computer Centre at Bucklersbury House in Walbrook where they were read and processed into what were then powerful computers, the NCR model 315. The data extracted gave a digital record of transactions and other customer records, as the basis for the production of bank statements, and the recording of statistics which would lead to the computerised decision making we take for granted in today’s banking world.
Martins’ method of collecting input from its London Branches in this way is the “missing link” between the early efforts of Banks to process everything direct to a single remote computer, and the delineation of data by computer terminals within branches themselves. The next stage for Martins was to have been the transmission of data by telephone line direct from Branch equipment to a central computer, and as we shall see later on this page, the building that in 1971 would become Barclays’ Wythenshawe Computer Centre, was originally planned by Martins as the home of its Branch Networked Computer Systems. Experiments were carried out in 1968 to transmit work between London and Liverpool. Martins Bank’s Branch Accounting was a sophisticated program even for its own time, as it enabled the collection of a large variety of accounting statistics alongside the daily recording of actual transactions. Significant chunks of this original program remained within Barclays’ own program – also known as Branch Accounting – well into the early years of the twenty-first Century.
Most of Martins Bank’s staff are provided with an annual handwritten payslip right up to the time of the merger with Barclays in 1969. This example from 1967 show just how little information is given to staff about the most important of their employment terms and conditions! Three years earlier the Bank had begun to treat the computerisation of its customers’ accounts as a priority, and working with N C R, Martins puts its finest brains to the task of producing what becomes known as BRANCH ACCOUNTING. Alongside this activity, the Bank begins to migrate the recording of Staff loans and the production of monthly payslips to automated systems at Martins’ London Computer Centre.
The computerised payslip will eventually provide a whole host of facts and figures, most importantly a permanent record for each member of staff of where their money actually goes in the course of deductions between gross and net pay. The example here is actually a payslip produced on an accounting machine, NOT a computer, but it provides the basis from which computerised forms will be produced to ease the manual work of Branches. It is interesting to note that at this stage “National Health Insurance” and “Government Pension” are listed as separate deductions, whereas today a single amount is taken as “National Insurance”. Members of staff can also see their contributions to the Bank’s own pensions scheme – Superannuation Fund – and to the Widows and Orphans Scheme. In modern times these two separate items have been absorbed into one deduction for Occupational Pension for those who have to pay into a pension scheme.
Now we turn our attention to various aspects of the BRANCH ACCOUNTING program, and the way in which it is initially set up to handle the work of Martins Bank’s London Branches. A little later, we shall see some of the test data from the punched paper tape decoded for us by Bletchley Park, but first we need to understand that although computers are “fast” in 1968, they work on infinitely less memory power and processing capability than we take for granted today. This can be seen by the amount of machine time taken to process each separate tape of work from the Branches…
Image © Martins Bank Archive
The speed of computers compared with the amount of work they will process gives us Machine Time. Branch Accounting will be run for a large number of Martins Bank’s London Branches - It is calculated that the time needed to process the day’s work of a branch will be as follows:
The input phase consists of two NCR 315 Computers reading the information from the punched paper tape and storing it on three magnetic tape machines. This is estimated at 30 minutes (per branch).
The NCR Rod Memory Core computers sort the information into the many different files that will store details of customer transactions, other changes to their accounts, and a range of statistical information used to calculate charges and interest. This will take around three hours twenty minutes.
The printing of Bank Statements for Customers, copies for retention by the bank, and various reports (activity of accounts and other Management Information) takes about 5 hours.
One of the most complex of the Branch Accounting Programs is the input program – called BAINP050. Hard copies of the various Branch Accounting programs are printed by line printer onto A3 sized fan folded paper. The list of instructions for each is vast, with a major program like BAINP050 stretching over hundreds of pages of code, as in this example from another of the Branch Accounting programs, responsible for generating automatic transfers between customers’ accounts. BAINP050 reads the paper tapes from branches and performs a number of validity checks to ensure the security of the information held on the tapes, as Martins must go to extremes to protect its Customers’ Data.
Image © Martins Bank Archive
Procedures are in place for rejected information, and for its re-input once the necessary corrections have been made. Branches are informed when errors are detected and also if this has necessitated the computer centre having to re-process the work. This is because the fault could well lie in the machinery Branches have used to punch data onto the tapes in the first place. The system constantly checks data, and will report errors as it goes, providing error messages to help staff identify the problem. A further complicated program, BAMFU120 (BRANCH ACCOUNTING MAIN FILE UPDATE) is responsible for updating all the records, and by virtue of its having to constantly access magnetic tape for various pieces of information, it takes a very long time to run.
Image © Martins Bank Archive
The seriousness with which the Bank is taking computerisation shows itself in many ways – some quite subtle such as these futuristic items of stationery, designed specifically to help with the production of computer programs.
At this time in the development of computers, it is necessary to input ALL the leading zeros that might come before an amount, so that every amount of money debited or credited to a customer’s account will have the same quantity of characters. This will be tedious for machine operators, who will have to take extra care inputting amounts. Branch Accounting Input will recognise an entry to a customer’s account in the following format:
Detail, e.g. Cheque Number
Amount – here, £10-13-6 (ten pounds, thirteen shillings and sixpence)
The machinists in the newly automated branches will be very familiar (and doubtless fed up) with having to input all those leading zeros in order to achieve the correct amount to be debited or credited to an account! All this, and having to meet the end of day deadlines too - one member of staff who remembers this, is Alicia Blaney, who worked at London 88 Wigmore Street Branch during the conversion to computer accounting:
“I worked in the machine room and I was involved in computerisation. I remember very well if we hadn't finished our input by the time it was due to be picked up by security at the end of the day we had to take the tape on the tube ourselves to somewhere near Bank station”.
How appropriate it seems, to have used BANK underground station!
N C R 32 Range Accounting Machine
Image © 1966 N C R Limited
As far as customers are concerned, one of the major benefits of automation will be the production of statements by the computer. Until now staff have repeatedly fed the same sheet of paper into a manual statement printing machine like the one shown above, to add sometimes just one transaction to a customer’s records, and the results have never been ideal. Staff loans are one of the first types of account to be computerised:
Still not perfect, but getting there.
Image (content simulated) © Martins Bank Archive
The Branch Accounting system is capable of producing a wealth of statistics which even for 1968 seems to be quite sophisticated and comprehensive. Reports are produced daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, half-yearly and annually, and cover everything from those required to ensure correctness of book-keeping, to management reports that show trends, or that comply with legal requirements such as snapshots of savings or lending across all accounts at a specific point in time. The following list shows those reports that must be produced DAILY for use by branches and the London Computer Centre:
Image © Martins Bank Archive
February 1968 sees Martins pushing the bounds of available technology once again, with the fruition of its experimental plans to transmit data from the Liverpool Computer Centre to London, so that the bookkeeping being recorded at both ends of the Country can be combined into one centralised record system. Although the capability to transmit data down telephone lines has existed since the Second World War, this is the first time that this method will be used so widely, as the implication is that all Branches in England Wales, the Channel islands and the Isle of Man will be connected to the system. The whole thing relies on a clever method of data transmission known as “packet switching”, which is commonplace in today’s wireless world. In the home it allows your broadband router to process the data that is sent and received by any number of devices, laptops, tablets etc.. The beauty of the system is that instead of having to keep each stream of data separate, everything combines into one stream which is separated out at the destination and fed to individual devices. Even our televisions use this system now that the UK has gone digital. Instead of the image being scanned line by line and sent to your tv on a single channel, the picture is encoded into conveniently sized “blocks”, and in the space previously needed for just one analogue channel, up to twenty or so channels are now fed simultaneously to your TV’s digital receiver which then extracts only the information needed to show the programme you want to watch.
Well before the merger with Barclays, the British Government makes it clear that the clearing banks should be computerised in time for decimalisation on “D-Day” 15 February 1971. Martins is already researching long distance data transmission in the mid 1960s, and experiments successfully with the processing of the work of several Liverpool Branches at the LONDON Computer Centre, using the transmission of data down GPO telephone lines. With a large concentration of branches in the North of England, Martins chooses to develop a site at Wythenshawe, Manchester to provide a computer centre that can handle the traffic of data being transmitted to and from these branches. Martins chooses Wythenshawe as it meets the requirements of the availability of GPO telephone lines, adequate labour resources and good road communications. The plans have to be put on hold pending the merger, but Barclays, faced with having to revise its own computerisation methods once it takes over so many Northern branches, revisits Martins’ original plans and revises them to develop a much larger centre on the same site. The centre will be the receiving point for all input to the Branch Accounting Program by branches all over England, Wales the Channel islands and Isle of man. Thus Wythenshawe opens in November 1971, and goes on to serve the needs of Barclays’ computer operations for several decades; Barclays’ Gloucester Computer Centre handles a proportion of the work, and both centres are capable of taking over from each other in the case of major faults. Sadly as computer centre technology becomes less labour intensive, Wythenshawe is eventually closed in the 1990s.
Wythenshawe Computer Centre – open for business November 1971
Image © Barclays
The familiar strains of “Hello, Wythenshawe” will be fondly remembered by many Barclays staff, especially those of us still trying to process the day’s work at 8pm because the computer centre had ground to a halt. Even as late as 1985, some Barclays branch staff were faced with turning computer engineer, having to manually switch the branch telephone lines from “four wire” to “two wire “ working. Surprisingly the two wire option usually did the trick and work disappeared quickly up the line to Wythenshawe. In the days before the call centre threatened to execute staff who did not answer the phone within two rings, is was quite normal to phone Wythenshawe and sit with a plate of sandwiches, waiting for an answer. The call itself could take anything up to an hour, as the always friendly staff helped you with your problem. Such happy days, now gone forever along with branch machine rooms and the staff who worked there…
Image and some detail kindly provided by Barclays Group Archives.
In July 1968, the programmers at Clements House decide for fun to write a program that will test the capabilities of line printing. They need to write more than fifty pages of code simply to reproduce Martins’ Coat of Arms, using a collection of dots, dashes, strokes and letters. By the standards of today’s sophisticated graphics, the result might well seem primitive, but we think the Coat of Arms is a tribute to the ingenuity of the pioneers at London Automation. What we have seen in this feature is only a glimpse into the capabilities of Branch Accounting, but it shows that those at work in Clements house and London Computer Centre strived to produce a highly sophisticated set of programs, given the equipment they had to work with. The fact that Branch Accounting is written “in-house” – i.e. not bought in from an outside agency, shows the sheer quality of Martins’ Computer Staff, all of whom are hand-picked for their analytical skills from branches all over the country. That parts of this program remain at work within Barclays for the next forty years and beyond, is an amazing legacy and a great tribute to their dedication…