The cheque clearing system has, until very recently been one of the most important functions of British banking. Only now, in the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, are we comtemplating the death of the cheque and the total adoption of the electronic payment – something that Martins both envisaged, and was the first bank in the UK to experiment with as long ago as 1959. In 1941, maintaining the cheque clearing cycle is vitally important to the war effort, and so moving the central clearing processes out of London and to a place of relative safety is achieved with the use of the dance hall at Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire. By the Summer of 1946, everything has been moved back to London, and Martins Bank Magazine takes the opportunity to mark the passing of a remarkable Wartime collaberation between all of the Clearing Banks…
The Central Clearing House
On Saturday, July 20th, the war-time Central Clearing House closed down. One can describe this remarkable wartime arrangement from various angles. There are those who are most impressed by facts and figures. Others are more interested in the human aspect of this gigantic move which involved the transfer of close on a thousand employees from the heart of the capital to a dance hall in Trentham Gardens, three miles from Stoke-on-Trent in the Potteries, whose "Five Towns" Arnold Bennett immortalised in his famous novels. A week before war broke out three special trains transported staff and equipment to Stoke.
The first problem to be tackled was the billeting, feeding and welfare of the staff while at the same time preparing to open for business less than forty-eight hours after arrival. More than 600 machines were needed to deal with the daily load of over a million cheques. As the London staff was gradually replaced by the local girls who shortly began to join the Clearing House staff, speed competitions were instituted to establish standards, and it was proved that operators of less than one year's service could accurately list from 1,000 to 2,100 cheques an hour.
Highly skilled operators of more than two years' service reached 3,000 to 3,650 per hour. A postal department was set up to handle the daily dispatch of about 7,000 envelopes and packages. Special precautions had to be taken to deal with the situation arising from the possible destruction by air bombing of mail bags containing cheques, and micro-photo apparatus was installed which recorded every cheque, so that when losses took place duplicates could be prepared.
The average number of staff employed on our section was thirty-two. On our record day we handled 82,000 articles, the staff being sent home to their billets that night by car between 11 and 11-30 p.m., all buses having stopped running. Most of the girls were very young and had never left home before, so in addition to supervising them during working hours, it fell to the lot of Mr. Stephens, the Head Clearer, and to Mr. Day, to act as father to a number of them. A glance at the " Outcast Observer," inaugurated in February, 1940, to chronicle the doings of and to entertain the thousand outcasts from the City of London who, by the exigency of war, found themselves in strange surroundings to carry on a vital national service, will reveal the extent to which the social life of the Clearing House was organised.
Badminton, bowls, golf, darts, netball, hockey, table tennis, tennis, a social club, a dramatic society, dances, motor-coach tours—all were arranged in that true community spirit of which one often reads but so seldom sees. The names of Martins' girls figure in all activities. Joan Evans was the first secretary of the netball section of the Sports Club. Edna Cadman was captain of the winning team this year, which also included Joan Trickett, Margaret Trickett, Muriel Smart and Margaret Bullock. Martins Bank held the interbank netball cup in 1939-1940. Margaret Bullock and Pat Freeman played in the hockey team.
And so the gathering which took place a day or two before the move back, though happy, was tinged with regret, for not all of the splendid team of girls who have made up the foster family of Mr. Stephens and Mr. Day was returning to London. Some of the local girls were leaving to follow their interrupted careers in the pottery industry. An inch of rain was falling on the five towns as Martins' section sat down to a farewell tea which reminded us all of the far-off happy days of peace.
Mr. Stephens presided and among those present were : Mr. G. O. Papworth, Assistant General Manager; Mr. W. H. T. Laidlaw, Chief Accountant; Mr. Bennett, Controller of the Clearing House; and Mr. Chatham, Inspector of the Clearing House. After tea a pleasant surprise was provided by the presentation of souvenir gifts of Wedgwood pottery to Mr. Stephens and a lighter to Mr.Day, and by gifts of flowers totheir wives. Speeches were madeby Lilian Evans, Beryl Foxalland Edna Cadman and all boreample testimony to the affectionin which all the girls had heldtheir foster parents. After the recipients of the gifts had replied Mr. Papworth expressed the appreciation of the bank for thework done by the staff at Stoke. A very fine job indeed !