It is probably fair to say that those who can remember July of 1969, will most likely recall the Moon Landing as the most significant event of that month, that year, indeed of the whole decade. Nevertheless, for tens of thousands of people, the first week of July 1969 means that an argument which has rumbled on for at least one hundred years, has finally been settled – British Banks will now CLOSE on Saturdays, at long last providing a full weekend for staff.  In this special feature, we look at many of the attempts that were made to shorten or abolish Saturday banking hours, and we also have the personal recollections of two people – one a Martins employee, the other a Barclays colleague - who were there in 1969, and can tell us about the impact of a move which the eleven clearing banks were finally compelled to make under intense pressure from the trade unions.  The victory does however seem remarkably short-lived, as Barclays becomes the first bank to RE-OPEN on Saturdays just thirteen years later!

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1868 – A small victory…

We begin with this notice published in the Brighton Guardian newspaper on 15 April 1868, one hundred and one years before the abolition of Saturday Banking. This local “victory” has only shaved about three hours from the drudge of working on a Saturday at a few local banks.  Six long days’ opening for a variety of businesses and industries is a reality, the concept of “the weekend” not yet fully realised, and with Sunday taken up with Church, the ideas of free time and striking a work-life balance are still a long way off.  Now, we move forward ten years, to an extract from the London Illustrated News, where a Bank Clerk writes eloquently on the subject of Saturday working.

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1868 – “rounded shoulders and pale faces”…

The article below is published on 6 July 1878, and by this time is seems that banks are closing at three in the afternoon on Saturday, but the workload keeps staff at their desks well beyond that time. Note how the author cleverly argues that other workers are finishing work earlier than bank staff, and that these people are more likely to be worrying about their journey home, than popping into the bank of a Saturday afternoon. He asks the question “Is it wonderful that there are round shoulders and pale faces behind the desks scowling at late customers on Saturday Afternoons?”  Comparison is also drawn with the provinces, where banks can close from twelve noon onwards, and our grumpy bank clerk demands to know just why the London banks have to be different!

 

{A word may in conclusion be permitted in reference to a very old grievance under which the employees of the London banks have long groaned, one of the few real grievances now left in the remedying of which (for it is surely capable of remedy) some reformer may earn grateful laurels—I refer to the Saturday half-holiday movement. It does seem somewhat strange that while workmen throw aside their tools at twelve o’clock, and merchants, and merchants’ clerks, are hurrying from the City to catch two o’clock trains for suburban fields and lanes, that bank-clerks should have to toil over their ledgers and cash-books till four o’clock (although the banks close at three o’clock to the public, an hour’s work remains to be done by the majority of employees) and frequently later.

 

This in winter means reaching home tired and jaded every working day of the week after dark. Is it wonderful that there are rounded shoulders and pale faces behind the desks scowling at late customers on Saturday afternoons? Why is it that in the provinces, in cities, towns, and country villages, the banks can close on Saturdays at hours varying from twelve to two o’clock, while the London banks find it imperative to remain open till three o’clock ? Allowing for the obvious reason of the vastness of the business transacted in the City as compared with the largest provincial towns, it is a fact that the same efforts to attain the end in view are not employed}.

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1884 to 1911 Still no consensus…

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In YORK (left) Saturday opening is restricted to just the morning, whilst in GLOUCESTER (above) a single hour is cut, and staff must still serve customers until 4pm on Saturdays. Meanwhile the banks in AYLESBURY (below) make the case for also keeping staff at their desks until at least 4pm.

The Driffield Times, 29 March 1884

The Gloucestershire Journal 3 December 1904

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As a result of the sheer number of tiny local banks, the position ahead of the mergers and acquisitions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries renders a policy on the opening of banks on a Saturday completely arbitrary. Thus, the difference between the working hours of staff in some parts of the country compared with those in other areas, must have seemed grossly unfair.

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The situation will also surely have been be confusing for customers, who must have had to check local opening times whenever they visited a different town or city. By the beginning of the twentieth century, banking hours finally begin to settle, and the majority open between the hours of ten in the morning until three in the afternoon, and usually no more than three hours from nine or nine thirty on a Saturday.  Some banks, including Martins express within their rules a “wish” that staff be allowed one or more Saturdays off each month, but this system is difficult to administer. We understand that this also led to a kind of favouritism being shown to those who took part in a sport in which they represented the bank.

The Bucks Herald, 24 June 1911

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1961 The demands are tabled…

Although the closure on Saturdays of the branches of all the Banks in England and Wales is not implemented until 1969, the National Union of Banking employees (NUBE) starts their campaign EIGHT YEARS earlier - in 1961 - following a move that year by the banks to harmonise Saturday closure at 11.30am, but with an earlier opening time of 9am.  This report from the Coventry Evening Telegraph of 16 June 1961, takes up the story…

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{The National Union of Bank Employees wants to see all banks closed on Saturdays.

That is what they mean by their policy of a 35-hour five day week according to a statement by the national executive on the changed Saturday banking hours.

The statement says “Any slight advantage to the staff arising through earlier closing will be more than offset by the need for attendance at branches before 9am. We have in mind the preparatory work that has to be undertaken before the branches open to the public at that hour.

“we fear that the new opening hours will result in a concentration of that public business hitherto conducted between 11am and 12 noon into the half-hour between 11am and 11.30am.  Closing time is more important than opening time.

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1968 Agreement is reached…

At long last, the wishes of the Banking Union and their counterparts in the many Staff Association groups in the eleven clearing banks, have been granted.  Huge change is just around the corner: 

·         Decimalisation is due in February 1971 and the Government makes it clear to all banks that plans for the computerisation of customers’ accounts must be in place, with computers working and able to handle the new decimal currency.

·         Two major banking mergers within two years will see the demise of Martins Bank into Barclays, and the merger of the National Provincial Bank, the District Bank AND the Westminster Bank to form NatWest.

·         Crucially, cash machines, which were trialled first in the world by Barclays and Martins within weeks of each other, are seen as an important weapon in the war against losing customers who want access to their money on a Saturday:

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Scan No603.jpgBARCLAYS Bank Limited, which recently ordered 75 automatic cash dispensing machines from De La Rue Instruments Limited for its Barclaycash Service, has increased the order to 250 machines. Delivery of these 'robot cashiers' started last month and it is planned to have the majority installed and in operation by the end of June next year. These machines, which en­able customers to withdraw cash from their accounts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, will be sited to cover areas with the largest population and the greatest number of accounts, giving the best possible geo­graphic coverage', said Mr. D. M. Taylor, a General Manager of Barclays Bank.

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Barclaycash Voucher.jpg'We are spending over £1 million on the installation of these machines in an effort to provide a com­pensatory service for the Satur­day closure of branches, due to come into operation on July 1 next year. 'Every customer within the Greater London area, and over half of those outside London, will have one of these machines within three miles of their usual banking branch.  For the remaining customers the nearest machine will be only a short car journey away.' The Barclaycash Service, developed by the Bank's Management Services Department in conjunction with De La Rue Instruments, is designed to dispense £10 against a special voucher which can be processed in the same way as an ordinary cheque and debited to the customer's account. The vouchers are valid for six months and do not have to be paid for in advance. They are issued free to approved customers, each of whom is allocated a personal code number.

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In exchange for the removal of Saturday opening hours, the Banks are allowed to open “late” on one day each week (but not Friday) between 4.30 and 6.00pm.  Monday to Friday hours have half an hour added at each end of the day, so that most banks will open from 9.30 to 3.30. The staff have a clear victory, but some customer groups are not too happy - Once again, we turn to the Coventry Evening Telegraph, this time on 13 September 1968 and 25 October 1968 for the announcement of Saturday closing, and a report detailing the fears of some retailers regarding the new banking hours.

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BANKS TO CLOSE ON SATURDAYS

{Banks throughout Britain are to close on Saturday mornings as from July 1 next year.  There will be certain exceptions such as banking branches as airports.  Announcing this decision, the Committee of London Clearing Bankers said “It is inherent in this decision that service to the public from Monday to Friday will be improved by extending opening hours.  The extension of Bank opening hours from Monday to Friday will be notified in due course. The decision has been brought about by the increasing difficulty of recruiting and keeping staff of high calibre and maintaining a first class service from Monday to Friday”}

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RETAILERS FEARS ON BANK HOURS

{A resolution expressing concern that the decision of the banks to close on Saturdays will create “many problems” for the retail trade is to be discussed at the National Chamber of Trade’s autumn conference at Peebles on Monday.  It fears that retailers will be expected to act as “stand-in bankers” to the public, and calls on the banks to provide “reasonable facilities” to reduce the effects of their decision.}

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1969 The “weekend” is finally a reality for banking staff…

 

Martins Bank Archive asked staff who worked for both Martins and Barclays in 1969, to recall for us just what closing on a Saturday meant to them and the people they worked with.  From the replies we received, we have picked the following memories…

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TONY CLAYTON – MARTINS BANK

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{“Saturday closing was something most staff were most anxious to obtain. It was not just the three hours from 9 to 12, with the bank opening at 9.30 and closing at 12. We had to prepare for customer service and when we had closed we had till up plus other book keeping procedures. It would often 12.45 before we left the bank, though of course some branches would leave a little earlier. For most that meant that they had to be at work by 9 and often they would not be home until sometime after 1pm.

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As I recall in the last few months the closing time was brought forward to 11.30 – that last Saturday one customer living next door to the bank came in as usual with the late morning crowds about 11.15 or so. He was in his slippers and was carrying his cup of tea and saucer. In those days drinking in public as today was not done. For us in a L.C.C. estate the customers were not early risers, many relied upon HP for their purchases and so the only bank to make their instalment payments. 

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Of course our open hours were not suitable for many if they worked a 5 ½ day week as we did, the 10-3 weekday certainly did not help. Even with mechanised branches there was much manual work involved with banking as compared with today’s automation. I believe we had a 40+ hour week when I joined the bank. Suddenly instead of just instead of having only half the afternoon free we had an entire day, time when the staff could enjoy their family and friends, doing things with them.

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It was a great improvement to our lives although for the previous few years we had been allowed a regular day off, subject to staffing. This was useful, but for many their friends were working. For us at that time we in the bank seemed to be the only ones working a 5 1/2 day week and it was something we had looked forward to for some time.  At that stage customers just seemed to accept it, though more use was made of the night safe facilities. It was the power of the unions which had helped secure us this benefit. In those earlier years, for me from 1948, the employees had to suffer many impositions from those above without much thought to their staff.

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Happily from the 70s onwards it did improve.”}

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The National Union of Bank Employees wanted a 35 hour working week, but by extending the Monday to Friday opening hours by six and a half hours, getting away from work on time must have been difficult. The so called “late opening” from 4.30 to 6pm one day each week did not last very long before most banks scrapped it altogether. A notable exception was the TSB which still operated extended hours on one day a week until it was taken over by Lloyds Bank.  We asked staff to recall whether or not they felt that the new 35 hour week actually worked, and this is covered by David Singleton, in his reply as follows:

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DAVID SINGLETON – BARCLAYS BANK

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{“I joined Barclays in 1968 as a teenager and remember Saturday morning opening. You had to be in work at 8.30 am as the doors opened at 9am.I had nearly an hour to travel to the office so had to leave home about 7.30 on a Saturday. As a teenager this meant no Friday nights out with friends as I had to be up early! We were allowed to wear 'Sports jacket and slacks' but since I was a poor teenager it meant the suit again for me. The waste was held over to the Monday for posting. Incidentally Martins and Barclays processed waste differently....Martins credits first and Barclays debits first).

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The branch closed at 12.30pm and we were usually able to leave about 1pm which for me meant getting home about 2pm and mother having to deal with a second sitting as it were for lunch. In the week it was rare to be home before 7pm and so the remainder of Saturday was all you had to do shopping and haircuts etc. I was transferred to a branch in a neighbouring town which was worse for travelling and I lost what was called 'Large Town Allowance' and yet my travel costs went up. It was at this later branch that on July 1st 1969 we closed the doors on Saturday working. {Hurrah!!)

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When late night opening came in I was a cashier and we had a rota to work to the 6pm closing...we did get overtime. Shop keeper customers chose to pay in as much as they could from that day's takings and often left it to the last minute before 6pm to pay in large amounts of cash......so we usually left late to go home. When Saturday working came back in it was optional for people like me but later it became part of new entrants’ employment contracts. I never took up Saturday working again because you couldn't go away for a weekend or guarantee you could attend matches etc.in the afternoons.

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In your article you enquired about using a 35 hour week however in my experience you never worked a 35 hour week in practice as overtime was always necessary. When Saturday opening was in existence in the week opening hours were 10-3pm and as part of the deal for customers when Saturday closing took place opening hours were extended 9.30 to 3.30pm which caused more work and inevitably led to overtime being needed.

The TV programme 'Dad's Army' was very much my experience when I joined the Barclays. I had a very eventful time in Barclays including being held up at gunpoint......the days before the cashless society!”}

 

Our thanks to Tony Clayton and David Singleton.

Newspaper Images reproduced with kind permission of

The British Newspaper Archive www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

 

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