Doing a man’s job

Former premises of the Commercial Bank

Former premises of the Commercial Bank, Kilmacolm

After I’d been left school a few months in 1941, I met Miss Steadman when I was getting the shopping. She told me the Commercial Bank was looking for a clerk, as the two young women working there were both leaving, and she had suggested me to the Bank Agent. I was to tell my parents. At that time banks were unknown ground – I’d never been in one! They only employed men until the War took most of them away. I pondered over this, but on the Saturday morning when Dad was fast asleep in bed after his night-shift, Mr Robert Stewart, Deputy Agent of the Bank, called on us before I’d got round to telling them about it. He explained the ins and outs, including that I’d be on probation for 3 months at a salary of £50 p.a. which would rise to £60 if I was accepted as a Female Temporary Assistant. It was arranged that Mr Thorburn, the Agent, who was off unwell, would come to the Bank on Monday morning and interview me. I was to go to see Mr McNeill, the Minister of the Old Kirk which I attended, to get a reference. Dr W.W. Ferguson would come to the Bank and examine me in the Agent’s office. He took some measurements, in the process of which telling me I shouldn’t have any problems in child-birth which rather puzzled me! He sent me out of the door and spoke to see if I could hear him, and that was my hearing test. Reading small print tested my eyes and that was it! After Mr Thorburn spoke to me they asked if I could start that day, then I was sent home to tell my Mum and have some lunch.

I joined the bank about I pm on 5th January 1942 and worked there until 30th June 1956. The hours of opening were 10am until 2pm, emergency hours, with no break. Working hours were 9am till about 3pm. My writing was not great but before long it had improved greatly. We used pens dipped in ink. There were no machines, only our own numeral and writing skills. Sounds primitive but we were a clever lot! I started on the ‘day books’ and eventually moved to the Ledgers, which were very large and heavy and no errors were allowed. If a blot or a figure error happened I used a razor blade to carefully scrape the ink away. Every October, a new ledger was prepared to transfer all accounts on 31st October, the Annual Balance. Mr Thorburn had actually retired and was persuaded to come back because of the war. He was a lovely person. I noticed he had a very long nail on his right index finger which I copied: it made it easier to lift stacks of coins. Every now and then he would go to Glasgow Chief Office, and on these occasions it was my job to give his bowler hat a good brushing and the same for his black coat before he set off to the station looking very smart with his spats and his Gladstone bag.

Mrs Peggy McDonald was the senior clerk and we became good friends. There was a coal fire which Mrs Borland the cleaner, who kept the place spick and span, lit every morning in the cold weather. It was a cheery bank, we were happy at our work and I got to know all the customers by name before long. The hardest bit was deciphering some of the signatures on cheques which along with pay-in slips had to be listed in the day books each day, and again on documents which were posted to Head Office in Edinburgh after we were finished. The cheques and slips were filed every day. The cash had to balance and only occasionally was it ‘out’, when we had to keep checking till we got it right or found an error.

Former premises of the Commercial Bank. With Annabel (left) September 2014

Former premises of the Commercial Bank. With Annabel (left) September 2014

The counter was a thing of beauty, about 5 feet wide, maybe more, and highly polished, which made it easy to count coins quickly. My section by the window was a high desk with a lift-up top and a high stool. I could stretch up when a customer came in to smile and say “Good morning” or whatever. One elderly retired Minister said it was a pleasure to come in to such a nice smile and a cheery good day from Miss Stroud! With only a few exceptions, I liked all our customers and enjoyed working in the bank. The first time I opened the desk drawer to get a ruler I got a surprise. There was a whole sheet of Penny Black stamps and some loose ones lying there. I mentioned them and Mr. Thorburn said they were his. I told him I collected stamps and had a Twopenny Blue. I hoped he might give me one PB, but he never did and I was too honest to take one. When I joined the bank I had to sign a Bond of Fidelity in which I promised not to frequent race courses or indulge in any other form of gambling, never to divulge information about bank business and so on, I was to be ‘squeaky clean’!

Every morning I called at the Post sorting office for our letter from Head Office which was as long as our computer screen and half as high. The letter, that is! Sometimes the contents were interesting and sometimes they weren’t. There were several occasions when I was instructed to present myself on the next Monday to Clydebank or Greenock West to cover for someone on holiday or ill. I enjoyed these times, meeting new staff and hoping I’d be able to cope in a larger branch. I didn’t worry about that for long. In a wee branch we learned to do everything!. Clydebank Branch wondered if I would like to ask for a transfer to them! I might have tried for it but I wanted to keep my links with Kilmacolm.

One of my duties was to go into the Bank on a Sunday and check the strong room doors and look around the place. Fortunately there were no potential bank robbers in the village! I also frequently trotted up from the Royal Bank carrying a bag of £100 mixed silver or £5 mixed copper if we were short. That was a lot of money in the 40/50s. We would help the Royal out in the same way. When the war ended Mr Wood and Mr Cowan came to the Branch and Mrs McDonald retired. I was put on the permanent Staff. John Cowan was moved to Greenock and Mr. Thorburn retired again. He went to live in The Hydro and every now and again would invite John and me to have afternoon tea with him. Mr Andrew McKerchar became Manager. I have two particular memories of him. Mr Thorburn told Mr McKerchar that I had been Dux when I left school and he remarked on it to me. I said something like – it was just a wee school. His reply was, “Better to be a big man in a wee place than a wee man in a big place”! That stuck with me! He and his wife had a boy called Jimmy, a lovely wee lad. He became ill with polio and I can never forget the day his Dad came into the office looking awful and simply said “Jimmy’s gone”, then walked away leaving us heartbroken for him and all the family.

Marion Kerr worked in the Royal Bank and lived in Greenock and we became good friends. She was my bridesmaid when I got married. In 1948, Annabel left school and I put her name forward as a potential Bank Clerk. She had been Junior Dux at Kilmacolm when she was 10 and was a bright child. Annabel did well in the Bank Test and I was very disappointed when she was sent to Greenock West End Branch. I suppose the bank didn’t want to have two sisters at one branch. Four years later I put Elizabeth Mitchell’s name in, (sister of John to whom I was engaged) and we worked well together till I left in 1956. I’m sure the two of us could have run the branch on our own!

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One thought on “Doing a man’s job

  1. Another interesting instalment,That was a really good position for a young girl to begin her working life..I reckon you were 15 years old then..I started work at age 14,having left school in May 1939, I went to work in a cottage industry,where we made Satin Quilts for the royal family..They were beautifully made by” Italian Quilting”, I was set to work on a quilted pram cover,,which I was allowed to keep after finishing…Of course,my mother gave it to the lady next door,who was having a baby.That was my mum she would have given her last penny away..but I really would have loved to keep it… The quilts were all marked out in a shell pattern by workers who were trained to do that job.
    I worked for 5 weeks without any pay,as I was learning a trade..on the 6th week my wage was 2 shillings & sixpence,less 1 penny which we paid in what was called a “Sick Club”..being fortunate enough never to use it.I cant tell you anything about it..Then war broke out September 1939.In May 1040,having worked for a full year.I wasawarded a pay increase because they were very pleased with my work .I thought now, 5 shillings would be very nice,..but when I received my pay, had been given an increase of one shilling.making it 3 shillings & sixpence less the 1 penny.The beautiful satin was beginning to run out,so we found ourselved knitting “Comforts for the soldiers”.
    This consisted of knitting,Gloves Mittens,Balaclavers,Socks etc.By this time clothes rationing had been introduced,therefor the wool was no longer in supply,& our industry had to be closed down…As we were good at hand sewing,we were all sent to the “Glove Factory”in Barnard Castle…We had to make,by hand,”Riverters Gloves”which were leather gauntlets,for the ships engineers. Firstly we were given “Three cornered sewing needles”& strong black thread,which we had to pull through wax,for sewing,these gloves..We then had to sew on a palm.followed by putting the thumb in place..which was very hard to do,sewing then through 3 pieces of leather,,Next we had to put gussetts between the fingers,& between the long length of the glove..after which we had the whole glove to sew up..For all this work we were paid 3 pence a glove,6 pence a pair..The inspector came around..put the gloves on,looked between the fingers,& if there was even the tiniest bit of light showing through,the glove was rejected & we didnt get any pay for it..It took me all my time to make 8 shillings a week,which was 16 pairs of gloves..By then I was aged 17,so time for me to either go in the forces,or on the land..instead of which,I chose to go as cook to the local hospital..Barnard Castle was a Garrison town,so the hospital was taken over as a Military one,,Where I worked we had all the injured officers,the other ranks were placed in what had been the old workhouse..But all their food came from my kitchen & was taken over there on heated trolleys…Iworked there until I was married on November 20th 1948,one year after our Queen Elizabeth….Fred had mumps two months before we were married,The Dr told him he would never be a father,When Anne came along 5 years later,we knew she was a gift from God..I was a stay at home mum,& loved everyminute of it..We always said our marriage was made in heaven,I really believe that,& Anne was God,s great gift
    to us…..You might want to delete this Chris,I hadnt intended it to be so long..
    Hoping you are both well…..Love to you both..Marion xx

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