There remained the bill to be paid. Claims to the amount of L16,283 were sent in; and after a long and searching investigation of each claim separately, the sum of L15,027 was awarded to the sufferers. Rates to the amount of L20,000, for compensation, and to cover expenses, were, made in the Hundred of Hemlingford, and with the payment of these sums the Birmingham Riots of 1839 became matter of history only.
It is a very extraordinary circumstance that to this time no one, so far as I am aware, has observed a remarkable coincidence. On the 15th of July, 1791, the houses of Mr. John Ryland, at Easy Hill, Mr. John Taylor, Bordesley Hall, and William Hutton, the historian, in High Street, were destroyed by the "Church and King" rioters. On the 15th of July, in the year 1839, forty-eight years afterwards—to a day—the Chartist rioters were rampant in the Bull Ring.
After 1839, the Birmingham Chartists gave very little trouble. There were occasional meetings sympathising with the movement, in other places, as at Newport in the following November, and in the Potteries in 1842. These meetings, however, were not largely attended, and there was none of the former excitement. On the 11th of April, 1848, the date of Feargus O'Connor's wretched fiasco in London, they played their last feeble game. They held a meeting in the People's Hall, and I there heard some violent revolutionary speeches. There was, however, no response to their excited appeals, and from that day Chartism was practically extinct.
It is not, perhaps, generally known that the principles embodied in the famous "Charter" were not new. In 1780 Charles James Fox, the great Whig leader, declared himself in favour of the identical six points which were, so long after, embodied in the programme of the Chartists. The Duke of Richmond of that time brought into the House of Lords, in the same year, a Bill to give universal suffrage and annual parliaments; and afterwards, Mr. Erskine, Sir James Macintosh, and Earl Grey advocated similar views.
Several great causes were at work which tended to throw Chartism into obscurity. The repeal of the Corn Laws had given the people cheap bread, and the advent of free trade gave abundant work and good wages. With increased bodily comfort came contentment of mind. The greater freedom of intercourse, caused by railway travelling, showed the lower classes that the governing bodies were not so badly disposed towards them as they had been taught to believe. On the other hand, the upper classes acquired a higher sense of duty to their humbler neighbours. All grades came to understand each other better, and with increased knowledge came better feelings and a more friendly spirit.
But another cause has perhaps had a deeper and more lasting effect. The abolition of the stamp duty upon newspapers, and the consequent advent of a cheap press, enabling every working man to see his daily paper, and to know what is going on, has carried into effect, silently, a revolution, complete and thorough, in English thought and manners, in relation to political matters. Every man now sees that, differing as Englishmen do, and always will, upon some matters, they all agree as to one object. That object is, "the greatest good to the greatest number" of their fellow countrymen. The pride of all Englishmen now, is in the glory that their great country has achieved in peaceful directions. Their ardent desire and prayer is, that the benefits they have secured for themselves in the last few and fruitful years of judicious legislation, may descend with ever-widening beneficent influences to succeeding generations.
GOSSIP ABOUT ROYALTY.
As I sit down to write, on the stormy evening of this twenty-ninth day of January, 1877, I bethink me that it is fifty-seven years to-day since death terminated a life and a reign alike unexampled for their length in the history of English monarchs. King George the Third died on the 29th of January, 1820.
I remember the day perfectly. I, a child not quite five years old, was sitting with my parents in a room, the windows of which looked upon the street of a pleasant town in Kent. Snow was falling fast, and lay thick upon the ground outside. The weather was intensely cold, and we crowded round the fire for warmth and comfort. Suddenly there was a crash: a snowball fell in our midst, and the fragments of a windowpane were scattered in the room. My father rose in anger to go to catch the culprit who had thrown. He was unsuccessful; but in his short visit to the street he had learned some news, for when he returned he told us that the King was dead.
The King dead? I had heard of "the King" of course, but what it was I had never thought of. To me it represented strength and omnipotent protection, but it was an abstraction only; an undefined something of awful portent; and that it could die was very mysterious, and set me wondering what we should do now.
My father explained at once, that the King was only a man; that his sons and daughters, even, were old people now; that one of the sons died only a week ago, and wasn't buried yet; and that this son had left, fatherless, a little baby girl, not much over six months old, who, if she should live, might one day become the Queen of England. Such is my earliest recollection in connection with the illustrious lady who still, happily, sits upon the English throne.
I am an old man now, but I remember that being without a King made me feel very uncomfortable then, particularly at night. A few days afterwards, however, there was a sound of trumpets in the street, and a number of elderly gentlemen, in very queer dresses and curious hats, stopped opposite our window, where one of them, standing upon a stool, read something from a paper. When he had finished, the trumpets sounded again, and I knew there was a new King, for all the people shouted, "God save the King." Then, for the first time since the fatal day, I felt re-assured; and I went to bed that night free from the dread which had been instilled into my mind by a very judicious nurse, that Bonaparte might come in the dark; steal me and my little brother; and cook us for his Sunday dinner.
Soon after this I had frequent opportunities of seeing a veritable Queen. The unfortunate Caroline, wife of George the Fourth, lived at Blackheath, and drove occasionally in an open carriage through the streets of Greenwich, and there I saw her. I have a perfect recollection of her face and figure. A very common-looking red face it was, and a very "dowdy" figure. She wore always an enormous flat-brimmed "Leghorn" hat, trimmed with ostrich feathers. The remainder of her dress was gaudy, and, if one may say so of a Queen's attire, rather vulgar. She was, however, very popular in the neighbourhood; and when, at her great trial, she was acquitted, the town of Greenwich was brilliantly illuminated. I remember, too, how she, having been snubbed at the coronation of her husband, died of grief only three weeks afterwards, and how in that very month of August, 1821, which saw her death, her illustrious spouse set forth, amid much pomp and gaiety, on a festive journey to Ireland.
In October, 1822, I saw the King himself, on his way to embark at Greenwich, for Scotland. I remember a double line of soldiers along the road, several very fussy horsemen riding to and fro, a troop of Cavalry, and a carriage, in which sat a very fat elderly man, with a pale flabby face, without beard or whisker, but fringed with the curls of a large brown wig. That is all I remember, or care to remember, of George the Fourth.
A little more than ten years after that cold January day of which I wrote, this King lay, dying, at Windsor. It was early summer, and I, a boy of fifteen, was one of a group of people who stood in front of a bookseller's shop at Guildford, reading a copy of a bulletin which had just arrived: "His Majesty has passed a restless night; the symptoms have not abated." As I turned away, I overheard a woman say, "The King'll be sure to die; he's got the symptoms, and I never knew anybody get over that." All at once the bells struck up a merry peal, and the Union Jack floated from the "Upper Church" tower. A crowd assembled round the "White Hart," and a dozen post-horses, ready harnessed, stood waiting in the street. Presently there was a sound of hoofs and wheels, and three carriages dashed rapidly up the hill, to the front of the hotel. The people waved their hats and shouted. The glass window of one of the carriages was let down, and a child's face and uncovered head appeared in the opening: it was the Princess Victoria, then eleven years old. A mass of golden curls; a fair round face, with the full apple-shaped cheeks peculiar to the Guelphs; a pair of bright blue eyes; an upper lip too short to cover the front teeth; a pleasant smile; and a graceful bending of the tiny figure as the carriage passed away, left favourable impressions of the future Queen. She had been summoned from the Isle of Wight to be near her uncle; at whose death, a few days after—amid a storm of thunder and lightning, such as had not been known since the night when Cromwell died—his brother, the Duke of Clarence, was proclaimed King, and she became the Heiress Presumptive to the Crown of England.
William the Fourth, with his good Queen, Adelaide, I saw once, as they rode in the great State carriage to the Handel commemoration, at Westminster Abbey, in June, 1834. The King had a good-tempered, simple-looking face, without much sign of intellectual power; the Queen's face was of Grecian shape, and had a thoughtful and intelligent expression. The face and features were good in form, but the complexion was highly coloured, and looked as though affected by some kind of inflammation. They were a quiet, unpretending, well-meaning, and moral couple. They purified the tainted precincts of the Court, and thus rendered it fit for the abode of the youthful and gracious lady who succeeded them.
The next time I saw the Princess Victoria was in 1836. It was on a day which, but for the firmness of Sir John Conroy, who acted as Equerry, might have been her last. At any rate, but for him, she would have been in great peril. I was standing in the High Street of Rochester; a fearful hurricane was blowing from the west; chimney pots, tiles, and slates were flying in all directions, and the roaring of the wind, as it hurtled through the elms in the Deanery Garden, was loud as thunder. A strip of lead, two feet wide, the covering of a projecting shop window, rolled up like a ribbon, and fell into the street. At that moment three carriages, containing the Duchess of Kent, the Princess, and their suite, came by. They were on their way from Ramsgate to London, and a change of horses stood ready at the Bull Inn. Arriving there, a gentleman of the city approached Sir John, and advised him not to proceed further, telling him that if they attempted to cross Rochester bridge, the carriages might be upset by the force of the wind. The Royal travellers alighted, and Sir John proceeded to inspect the bridge. On his return, he advised the Duchess to stay, as the storm was raging fearfully, and the danger was imminent. The Princess, with characteristic courage, wanted to go on, but Sir John was firm, and he prevailed, for the journey onwards was postponed. In an hour from that time, nearly the whole of one parapet was lying in rains upon the footway of the bridge, and the other had been blown bodily into the river underneath. The Royal party had to stay all night, and the inn at which they slept, henceforth took the additional title of "Victoria Hotel," which it still retains. The journey was resumed next day, the horses being carefully led by grooms over the roadway of the wall-less bridge.
A few months after this, the Princess, at Kensington Palace, was called from her bed, in the twilight of a summer morning, and was greeted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, as Queen of England. Her first act, as Queen, was to write, and despatch by a special messenger to Windsor, an affectionate letter to her widowed aunt, the Queen Dowager. From that time forward her daily doings have been duly chronicled, and need not be dwelt upon here; but a few sketches, incidental to her own and the Prince Consort's visits to Birmingham, will perhaps be interesting.
When the Princess Victoria was a mere child, her excellent mother, in the course of a somewhat lengthy tour, brought her to Birmingham, to see some of the principal manufactories. Arrangements were made for their stay at Willday's Hotel, now the Eye Hospital, in Temple Row. On the day they were expected, a guard of honour, consisting of a company of Infantry, was in attendance, and, pending the Royal arrival, waited near the Rectory, in St. Philip's Churchyard. By a very singular chance, the officer then in command became, years after, the Rector of St. Philip's, and the occupier of the house before which he waited that day. He is now the Dean of Worcester, the Hon. and Rev. Grantham M. Yorke.
As the hour of the arrival of the Royal visitors approached, the troops drew up in front of the hotel, and they presented arms as the carriage arrived. A great crowd had assembled. There were no police then, and order was badly kept. As the Princess alighted, a lady, standing near the door of the hotel (Mrs. Fairfax, who recently lived in Great Charles Street), moved by a sudden impulse, rushed forward, caught the Princess in her arms, and kissed her. The Duchess was annoyed, and the attendants, too, were very angry; but the crowd, recognising in the act only the "one touch of nature" that "makes the whole world kin," gave the adventurous lady a round of hearty cheering.
It was many years after her accession that the Queen revisited the town, but the Prince Consort came frequently. His first visit was in 1843. Her Majesty and himself were the guests of Sir Robert Peel at Drayton Manor, and the Prince took the opportunity to come to Birmingham, to inspect some of the manufactories. There is reason to believe that the impressions he received that day were lasting, and that he ever afterwards took a very warm interest in the town and its various industries. Mr. Thomas Weston was Mayor at the time. He was a prosperous and very worthy man, possessing a large fund of common sense, but knowing little of courtly manners. Of course, as Chief Magistrate, he accompanied the Prince through the town, and joined him at the luncheon provided at the Grammar School, by the Rev. J.P. Lee, the Head Master. After luncheon, the Prince, his Equerry, and the Lord-Lieutenant, took their seats in the carriage, but the Mayor was missing. Anxious looks were exchanged, and as minute after minute went by, the attendants became impatient. The Prince stood up in the carriage, and put on an overcoat. Still the Mayor didn't come. At length it oozed out that he had lost his hat. A dozen hats were offered at once on loan; but the Mayor's head was a large one, and it was long before a hat sufficiently capacious could be found. It came at last, however, and the Mayor, in a borrowed hat, came rushing out, much disconcerted, and full, evidently, of apologies, which the Prince, with much good nature, laughingly accepted.
The next time he came to Birmingham was in 1849. At this time the area from Broad Street to Cambridge Street in one direction, and in the other from King Edward's to King Alfred's Place, now covered with buildings, was enclosed on all sides by a brick wall some ten feet high. Inside this wall there was a belt of trees all round, and a few "ancestral elms" were dotted here and there within the enclosure. About a hundred yards from the Broad Street wall stood a square house of red brick, built in the style of architecture current in the days of Queen Anne. It was known as Bingley House. Not far from the spot where the house now occupied by Mr. Mann, the surgeon, stands, was a carriage gate, leading to the dwelling. The grounds were laid out in park-like fashion, and so late as 1847 were abundantly tenanted by wild rabbits. The house had been occupied for a generation or two by the Lloyd family, but about 1846 or 1847 they removed, and it was understood that the ground was shortly to be devoted to building purposes.
In 1848, an exhibition of Birmingham manufactures was projected: the idea, I believe, originating with the late Mr. Aitken. It was received with considerable favour, and a strong committee being formed, a plan was soon matured for carrying it into effect. Negotiations resulted in the tenancy, for the purpose, of Bingley House and grounds. Very soon a substantial timber building was seen rising within the wall, near the corner of King Alfred's Place. In a few weeks it was covered in; a broad corridor connected it with the old mansion; and early in 1849 an exhibition, most interesting in its details, and artistic in its arrangement, was opened. The larger articles were displayed in the temporary building; flat exhibits covered the walls of the corridor; and smaller matters were arranged, with great judgment, in the old-fashioned rooms of the house itself.
The exhibition opened with great eclat. The buildings were thronged from morning till night with gratified crowds. Special reporters from the daily newspapers came down from London, and sent long and special reports for publication. The veteran magazine, now called The Art Journal, but then known as The Art Union, gave interesting accounts, with engravings of many of the articles on view, and the whole matter was a great and signal success.
One morning the secretary received an intimation that Prince Albert was coming on the following day. Preparations on a suitable scale were at once commenced for his reception, and the principal exhibitors were invited to be in attendance. At the time appointed, the Prince, who had made a special journey from London for the purpose, was met by the officials at the entrance, and conducted systematically through the place. He made a most minute and careful examination of the whole of the contents, took copious memoranda, and chatted familiarly with everybody. One remark I heard him make struck me as significant of the practical, observant character of his mind. Cocoa-fibre matting was then comparatively unknown; the stone steps of the old hall had been carpeted with this new material; observing this, as he walked up the steps, the Prince turned to Mr. Aitken and said, "Capital invention this; the only material I know of that wears better in a damp place than when dry."
As he left the place on his return to London, he expressed, in cordial terms, his thanks for the attention shown him, and said he had "been very much pleased; quite delighted, in fact," and so ended a visit which eventually led to the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Royal Commission for the establishment of which was gazetted January 3, 1850.
The Prince came again, to lay the foundation stone of the Midland Institute buildings. On that occasion he accepted an invitation to a public luncheon in the Town Hall, and it was here that he delivered the celebrated speech which placed him at once in the foremost rank of philosophic thinkers. He was much pleased at his cordial reception on this occasion, and it is known that it had much to do in overcoming the avowed reluctance of the Queen to visit Birmingham, and was mainly instrumental in inducing her to consent to open Aston Hall and Park.
The 15th of June, 1858, was eagerly looked forward to, for on that day the Queen was coming. Taking a lesson from continental practice, it was wisely resolved that individual attempts at decoration should be discouraged, and that the inhabitants of each street should combine for effective artistic arrangements. For the first time, I believe, in England, Venetian masts were a principal feature, where possible. Poles by hundreds, and flags by thousands, were sought in all directions. The Town Hall was placed in the hands of skilful decorators. The interior was, as yet, a mystery; but the pediment fronting Paradise street was fitted with an enormous canvas-covered frame, upon which was emblazoned, in gorgeous, but proper heraldic style, the Royal Arms of England. All along the line of route through the town, and on the road to Aston, rose hundreds of galleries for spectators. Every one was busy in preparation, and nothing was omitted to make the scene as gay as possible.
The morning of the day was fine and intensely hot. Each street had its own style of ornamentation, but the number of separate short lengths of the route, gave sufficient variety to avoid monotony. Bull Street, as seen from the bottom, seemed like a fairy scene from a theatre; all looked gay and pleasant to the artistic eye. The Town Hall had been transformed into a gorgeous Throne Room, and was crowded with the elite of the neighbourhood. The Queen, as usual, was punctual, and took her seat under a regal canopy. A short reception was held. The Mayor knelt, and rose up a Knight. The mover and seconder of the address from the Corporation kissed hands. Poor Alderman Horatio Cutler, in his confusion at finding himself in so august a presence, forgot the customary bending of the knee. In vain Lords in Waiting touched the back of his leg with their wands to remind him. He had lost his presence of mind, and retired in utter confusion, amid a general but suppressed titter.
Then came the journey to the Park, through the long line of decorated streets; the short ceremony at the Hall, and the luncheon. Then the appearance in the gallery upon the roof of the glass pavilion, where the Queen and Prince received, and acknowledged gracefully, the plaudits of the spectators; and finally came the announcement by Sir Francis Scott, that he had received "Her Majesty's gracious commands to declare, in her name, that the Park was now open."
At the door of departure, her Majesty, in thanking the Mayor for the arrangements made for her comfort and convenience, was pleased to say that she had never before been greeted with such enthusiastic loyalty, and that the decorations had exceeded in beauty anything of the kind she had ever seen.
I have never seen the Queen since. Her photographs, however, show me that, although she has twenty-seven grand-children, and has been Queen of England for more than forty years, she is still a comely matron, with every appearance of health and vigour. Long may she remain so! Long may she continue to be, as now, the kindly, sympathetic, motherly head of a contented, loyal, and united people.
BIRMINGHAM BANKS: OLD AND NEW.
At the close of the French war in 1814, the Bank of England commenced preparations for the return to specie payments. Immediate "tightness" in the money market was the result. Prices fell. Trade became dull. Credit was injured. The return of peace seemed, to the unthinking, a curse rather than a blessing. Alarming riots were frequent, and general distress and discontent existed. The Government, in some alarm, resolved to postpone the resumption of cash payments until 1819.
In the meantime, the subject of the proper regulation of the currency underwent a good deal of discussion, and in the year 1819 the Act known as "Peel's Bill" was passed. It provided that after 1821 the bank should be compelled to pay its notes in bullion at the rate of L3 17s. 10-1/2d. per ounce, and that after 1823 holders of notes might demand at the bank current coin of the realm in Exchange. The same Act abolished the legal tender of silver for any sum beyond forty shillings.
This made matters worse. Banks became more stringent. Prices of all commodities fell. Numbers of people were thrown out of work. Poor's rates increased in amount and frequency, and general discontent prevailed. Corn and agricultural produce no longer fetched war prices. Landlords insisted upon retaining war rents, which farmers were unable to pay. To meet this difficulty, Parliament passed the Corn Laws, hoping thereby to keep up prices. These new laws produced the contrary effect. Wheat fell from 12s. to 5s. the bushel. Rents could not be collected. Mortgages upon land could not be redeemed, and land became practically unsaleable.
Things at length attained such a condition, that Government became seriously alarmed, and brought into Parliament five distinct money bills in one night. These bills were hurried through both Houses as fast as the forms of Parliament would allow. All of them had for their object the relaxation of the stringency of the money laws; and one Act permitted the issue of one pound notes for ten years longer, i.e., to 1833.
Trade immediately revived. Labour became abundant, and everyone, high or low, in the country, felt immediate relief and benefit. Unfortunately, with the return to prosperity came the usual unwise rebound in public feeling. Everything became couleur de rose. The wildest joint stock enterprises were projected. Capital, obtained on easy terms of credit, was forced into every branch of commerce. Trade was pushed beyond legitimate requirements. Imports of cotton, wine, and silk increased so far beyond their usual amount, that the rates of exchange turned against this country. The Bank of England, in self-defence, "put on the screw." Money invested in distant countries, in speculative operations, was now badly wanted at home. Suspicion arose, and confidence was shaken. Merchants, in default of their usual help from bankers, suspended payment. Bankers themselves, having depended upon the return of their former advances, were in great peril. Alarm having become general, there was a simultaneous run for gold throughout the country, with the result that in a very short time seventy-nine banks stopped payment, of which no fewer than fifty-nine became bankrupt. The whole kingdom was in a frightful state of consternation. Failure followed failure in rapid succession. The whole circulation of the country was deranged, and at the beginning of December, 1825, the Bank of England stock of cash amounted only to a very few thousand pounds.
Ministers were called together in haste, and Cabinet Councils were daily held. It was decided to issue two millions sterling of Exchequer bills, upon which the bank was authorised to issue an equal amount of notes. The bank was also "recommended" to make advances of a further sum of three millions, upon the security of produce and general merchandise.
At this moment a fortunate discovery was made which did more to allay the excitement than the measures just mentioned. The bank had ceased to issue one pound notes six years before, and it was thought that they had all been destroyed. Accidentally, and most opportunely, when things were at the worst, one of the employes of the Bank, in searching a store-room, found a case of the L1 unissued notes, which had escaped observation at the time of the destruction. They were at once issued to the public, by whom they were hailed with delight, as the first "bit of blue" in the monetary sky. Under these re-assuring circumstances the panic soon subsided, but it left its blighting legacy of misery, ruin, diminished credit, and general embarrassment.
The banking laws were soon after altered. The Bank of England was induced to forego its exclusive monopoly of having more than six proprietors, and the formation of joint stock banks consequently became possible. A new era in banking commenced, which, modified from time to time, has existed down to the present time.
It will be seen that the close of the war, in 1814, was the commencement of the great and violent monetary changes I have attempted to describe. There were then six banks in Birmingham. Two of these are altogether extinct; the other four have merged into existing banks. For convenience sake, I will sketch the extinct banks first, and afterwards show the processes by which the others have been incorporated with existing institutions.
At the period mentioned, the firm of Smith, Gray, Cooper, and Co. had the largest banking business in the town. They carried on their operations in the premises in Union Street now occupied by the Corporation as offices for their gas department. This bank did a large business with merchants and wholesale traders, and it "was a very useful bank." After several changes, the firm became Gibbins, Smith, and Goode. In the great panic of 1825, one of their customers, a merchant named Wallace, failed, owing them L70,000. This, with other severe losses, brought them down. They failed for a very large amount. Such, however, had been their actual stability, that, after all their losses, and after payment of the costs of their bankruptcy, the creditors received a dividend of nineteen shillings and eightpence in the pound. Mr. Smith, of this firm, was a man of great shrewdness and probity, and was greatly esteemed by his friends. The late Mr. Thomas Upfill had, in his dining-room, an excellent life-size portrait of Mr. Smith, taken, probably, about the year 1820. This portrait is now in the possession of a lady at Harborne. The face is a shrewd and observant one, and it always struck me as having a remarkable likeness to the great James Watt, the engineer. Of Mr. Gibbins and Mr. Goode we shall hear more as we go on, but "Smith's Bank" became extinct.
The firm of Galton, Galton, and James had their offices in the tall building in Steelhouse Lane, opposite the Children's Hospital. They weathered the storm of 1825, but, some years later on, Mr. James accepted the post of manager of the Birmingham Banking Company, whereupon the remaining partners retired into private life, and the bank was closed.
Messrs. Freer, Rotton, Lloyds, and Co. had offices in New Street, now pulled down. They had a large number of customers, principally among the retail traders and the smaller manufacturers. The firm underwent several changes, being altered to Rotton, Onion, and Co., then Rotton and Scholefield, and finally to Rotton and Son. The banking office, in the meantime, had been removed to the corner of Steelhouse Lane, in Bull Street. Upon the death of the elder Mr. Rotton, the business was transferred to the National Provincial Bank of England, Mr. Henry Rotton becoming manager. This gentleman, whose death only recently occurred, held this position for many years, and was universally respected. His mental organisation was, however, too refined and feminine to battle with the rough energy of modern trading. The bank, under his management, was tolerably successful, but it remained a small and somewhat insignificant concern in comparison with others. An arrangement, satisfactory on all sides, was at length entered into, under which he resigned his appointment. His successor is Mr. J.L. Porter, a man of different stamp. Under his sturdy and vigorous management the business has rapidly increased. The premises were soon found too small. They were, shortly after he came, pulled down, and the present magnificent banking house in Bennetts Hill was built upon the site of its somewhat ugly and badly-contrived predecessor.
The firm of Coates, Woolley, and Gordon occupied, in 1815, the premises in Cherry Street now held by the Worcester City and County Bank. The business was, at a date I cannot learn, transferred to Moilliet, Smith, and Pearson, and this was subsequently changed to J.L. Moilliet and Sons, who carried the business on for many years, finally transferring it to Lloyds and Company Limited. This company removed it to their splendid branch establishment in Ann Street. Mr. Moilliet, the senior partner in the Cherry Street Bank, was a Swiss by birth, and lived in Newhall Street. In a warehouse at the back of his residence, he carried on the business of a continental merchant. The mercantile firm became afterwards Moilliet and Gem, who removed it to extensive premises in Charlotte Street. Here, under the firm of E. Gem and Co., it is still carried on.
Taylor and Lloyd's Bank was established in 1765, at the corner of Bank Passage in Dale End. Mr. Taylor had been a very successful manufacturer of japanned goods, and made a very large number of snuff-boxes, then in universal use. He produced, among others, a style which was very popular, and the demand for which became enormous. They were of various colours and shapes, their peculiarity consisting entirely in the ornamentation of the surface. Each had a bright coloured ground, upon which was a very extraordinary wavy style of ornament of a different shade of colour, showing streaks and curves of the two colours alternately, in such an infinity of patterns, that it was said that no two were ever found alike. Other makers tried in vain to imitate them; "how it was done" became an important question. The mystery increased, when it became known that Mr. Taylor ornamented them all with his own hands, in a room to which no one else was admitted. The fortunate discoverer of the secret soon accumulated a large fortune, and he used to chuckle, years after, as he told that the process consisted in smearing the second coat of colour, while still wet, with the fleshy part of his thumb, which happened to have a peculiarly open or coarse "grain." It will be seen at once that in this way he could produce an infinite variety. Mr. Lloyd, the other partner, belonged to a very old Welsh family, which, as landed proprietors, had been settled for generations near Llansantfraid, in Merionethshire. There are some very ancient monuments of the ancestors of this family in the parish church there.
Somewhere about twenty-five years ago, the business was removed to the present premises in High Street, and a few years later on, the death—at Brighton—by his own hand, of Mr. Taylor, left the business entirely vested in the Lloyd family. About ten or twelve years ago it was decided to convert it into a limited liability company, and a very searching examination was made by public accountants, as a preliminary step. Just as the thing was ripe, the stoppage of the Birmingham Banking Company was announced. This deferred the project for a time, but the Messrs. Lloyd, with great judgment, published the accountants' report. As soon as the excitement had abated, the prospectus was issued. The shares were eagerly subscribed for, and the company was formed. Moilliet's bank was included in the operation, and the bank, under the able presidency of Mr. Sampson Lloyd, commenced the energetic course of action which has resulted in its becoming the largest banking concern in the Midland Counties.
I cannot at the moment ascertain the date of the formation of the firm of Attwood, Spooner, and Co., but in 1815 the partners appear to have been the three brothers—Thomas, Matthias, and George Attwood, and Mr. Richard Spooner. Matthias Attwood seceded, and went to London. Of Thomas, it is unnecessary to say one word to Birmingham people; his statue in our principal street shows that he was considered to be no common man. He was one of the first Members for Birmingham upon its incorporation, and was re-elected in 1837. Although he had been so great and successful as a popular political leader, he made no "way" in Parliament; and soon after the riots of 1839 he retired, being succeeded by Mr. George Frederick Muntz. The last time I saw Mr. Attwood was in 1849, at the exhibition in Bingley House. He was then a thin, wasted, and decrepit old man. It was about this time that he retired from the bank.
George Attwood—his brother—was a man of different type. He was not a politician. He was, in his best days, energetic, prompt, and far-seeing. As he advanced in years he became fond of the pleasures of the table, and the quality of his port wine became proverbial. His intellect became dimmed, but his spirit of enterprise was active as ever. He speculated in mines and other property to a very large extent, and had not, as of old, the clear head to manage them properly. There is little reason to doubt that here lies the secret of the failure of the bank some years later.
Richard Spooner was a remarkable man in many respects. Like many others who in their later years have become "rank Tories," he began his political life as a Liberal, contesting the town of Stafford unsuccessfully in that interest. After the change in his views, he, upon the death of Mr. Joshua Scholefield, in July, 1844, was elected to be one of the Members for Birmingham, in opposition to the candidature of Mr. William Scholefield. At the general election in August, 1847, this decision was reversed; and Mr. Spooner, to this day, is remembered as having been the only Conservative Member Birmingham ever sent to Parliament.
Mr. Spooner was afterwards chosen to represent North Warwickshire, a position he held until his death, at the great age of 85, in November, 1864. He was quite blind for some years before his death. He had a great horror of photographers, and refused all requests to sit for his portrait. One was at length obtained surreptitiously. On a fine summer day, he was persuaded, for the sake of the fresh air, to take a seat in the yard, which then existed at the back of the bank. Mr. Whitlock was in attendance, and succeeded, greatly to the delight of Mr. Spooner's friends, in obtaining a very good portrait of the blind old man, as he sat there, perfectly unconscious of what was going on. I believe this was the only portrait ever taken.
At the death of Mr. George Attwood—which preceded that of Mr. Spooner by some years—the firm had been re-constituted, and became Attwood, Spooner, Marshalls, and Co. The partners in the new firm were Mr. Thomas Aurelius Attwood, Mr. R. Spooner, and Messrs. William and Henry Marshall, who had been clerks in the bank all their lives. The deaths, in a comparatively short period, of Mr. T.A. Attwood and Mr. W. Marshall, followed soon after by that of Mr. Spooner, left Mr. Henry Marshall the only surviving member of this firm.
Soon after Mr. Spooner's death, it was announced that an amalgamation of this bank with the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank in Temple Row had been agreed upon, and satisfaction with this arrangement was universally expressed. On Saturday March 10, 1865—only four months after Mr. Spooner's decease—the town, and in fact the whole country, was electrified by the announcement that the bank had stopped payment. People were incredulous, as it had been thought to be one of the safest banks in the kingdom. An excited crowd surrounded the bank premises during the whole day, and a strong force of police was in attendance to preserve order. In the course of the day a circular was issued, of which the following is a copy:
"It is with feelings of the deepest concern and distress that we announce that we are compelled to suspend payment, and this at the moment when, after several months of anxious negotiation, we had confidently trusted we should obtain such assistance as would enable us to carry into effect, on our part, the preliminary agreement for the amalgamation of the bank with the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank. In this hope we have been disappointed. Sums of money to a large amount were drawn out of the bank some years since by the family of the Attwoods. To this circumstance it can be clearly shown, at the proper time, our failure is to be attributed. For the last ten years every effort has been made to redeem the loss thus occasioned, but this has only been partially accomplished. The assets of the bank are, however, still very considerable, and there are real estates of great value belonging to the bank, and but slightly encumbered. We hope that in now suspending payment we shall be considered as taking the best and only step to ensure a just and equal distribution of our assets among our creditors."
Upon a full investigation of the state of affairs, it was found that the total amount of liabilities amounted to the large sum of L1,007,000, and that the assets consisted chiefly of landed and mining properties of a very speculative nature. There was also a very large amount of overdrawn balances due from customers. After many projects had been launched, it was announced that the committee of investigation had, subject to the approval of the general body of creditors, disposed of the entire assets to the directors of the Joint Stock Bank, they undertaking to pay the creditors of Attwood and Co., in immediate cash, a dividend of 11s. 3d. in the pound. This arrangement was carried into effect, and "Attwood's Bank" became a memory only. Mr. Henry Marshall is, however, still living in retirement at Weston-Super-Mare, and is, notwithstanding his great age, in vigorous health, both of mind and body.
The old familiar premises have now, too, passed away. The inconvenient old office, with its rows of leather buckets, and its harmless array of antiquated blunderbuses; its old-fashioned desks, dark with age, and begrimed with ink spattered by successive generations of bygone clerks; the low ceiling and quaint elliptic arches; the little fire-place near the counter, where Aurelius Attwood, with his good-humoured face, used to stand warming his coat-tails, and greeting the customers as they came in, were all so much in harmony with the staid, gray-headed clerks, and the quiet, methodical ways of the place, that when there, one might fancy he had stepped back for fifty years, or was looking upon a picture by Hogarth.
It was stated a few pages back that the Bank of England, after the great panic of 1825, consented to forego their exclusive privilege of joint-stock banking. This, however, was not done without an equivalent, for the Act of 1826, ratifying this consent, gave them the power of establishing branch banks in the large towns of England. In pursuance of the powers thus granted, the first branch was opened at Gloucester on July 19th of that year. Others were started at Manchester, September 21st, and Swansea, October 23rd. On New Year's Day, 1827, the Branch Bank of England commenced business in Birmingham, occupying the premises of the defunct firm of Gibbins, Smith, and Goode, in Union Street, now the Gas Offices of the Corporation. The first manager was Captain Nichols, who brought with him, from the parent bank, a staff of clerks. One of these, a mere youth at the time, was destined to fill an important position in the town and in the country. This was Charles Geach; a very remarkable man, of whom I shall have more to say by and by.
Captain Nichols was succeeded by Captain Tindal, brother of the illustrious jurist, Lord Chief Justice Tindal. During this gentleman's tenure of office the business was removed to the premises in Bennetts Hill, vacated by the unfortunate "Bank of Birmingham," of which more hereafter. Here the business has ever since been conducted.
Captain Tindal was a good man of business, and under his management the bank was very prosperous. He was a man of highly-cultivated mind. He took a very active interest in all local matters connected with literature and art, and he was a very liberal patron of the drama. Those who had the pleasure of being present at the pleasant soirees at his house, to which he was accustomed to invite the literary and artistic notabilities of the neighbourhood, will not easily forget how pleasantly the evenings passed; how everyone enjoyed the charades and theatricals which were so excellently managed by the gifted Miss Keating, then a governess in the family; how, too, everyone was charmed with the original and convenient arrangement for supplying visitors with refreshments. Instead of the conventional "sit-down suppers" of those days, Captain Tindal had refreshment counters and occasional tables dotted here and there, so that his friends took what they pleased, at the time most convenient to themselves. One room was very popular. Within its hospitable portals, hungry bipeds of the male persuasion were supplied, to their intense satisfaction, with abundant oysters, and unlimited foaming Dublin stout. Oysters were then five shillings the barrel of ten dozens! Tempora mutantur; spero meliora!
It was a great loss to social and artistic Birmingham when Captain Tindal was removed to London, twenty-one years ago. The Bank of England opened a "West End" branch in Burlington Gardens, London, and the Captain was appointed its first manager. This new branch was opened October 1st, 1856. The resolution of the Board of Directors to appoint Mr. Tindal to this position seems to have been taken suddenly, for Mr. Chippindale, who had been sub-manager for some years, and was now placed at the head of the Birmingham branch, did not know of it until he was informed of his appointment by a customer of the bank. This gentleman, who was a merchant in the town, tells me that he "was the first to tell him of it. He said it was not true, and he must go out and contradict it. I told him I knew it was true, but even then he was incredulous." Mr. Chippindale has recently retired, and has been succeeded by Mr. F.F. Barham.
Soon after Mr. Chippindale's appointment, a friend of mine received from New York a large sum in four months' bills upon Glasgow, which he wished to discount. He was well known in Birmingham, but had no regular banking account. The bank rate in London was four per cent. He took the bills first to the National Provincial Bank, where Mr. Henry Rotton offered to "do" them at four-and-a-half. This he thought too high, and he next took them to the Bank of England. Mr. Chippindale told him that the rule of the bank was not to discount anything having more than ninety days to run; but, if he left the bills as security, he could draw against them for the cash he wanted, and, as soon as the bills came within the ninety days' limit, they could be discounted at the London rate of the day. This arrangement was entered into, but, unfortunately for my friend, a sudden turn in the market sent the rate up three per cent. within the month, so that, when the transaction was completed, he had to pay seven per cent. It made a difference to him of between L200 and L300.
From the time of Mr. Chippindale's appointment, the branch bank has gone quietly on in its useful course. It does not compete much with the other banks in general business; indeed, its office seems to be rather that of a bank for bankers. Now that none of the local banks issue their own notes, it is a great convenience to them to have on the spot a store of Bank of England paper, available at a moment's notice, to any required amount.
The ten years from 1826 were very fruitful of joint stock banks in Birmingham. Some have survived, but many are almost forgotten. I will mention the defunct ones first. The "Bank of Birmingham" was promoted by a Quaker gentleman, named Pearson. He had been, I believe, a merchant in the town, but was afterwards a partner in the firm of Moilliet Smith, and Pearson, from which he seems to have retired at, the same time as his partner, the well-known Mr. Timothy Smith. The Bank of Birmingham started with high aims and lofty expectations. The directors built for their offices the substantial edifice on Bennetts Hill, now occupied as the Branch Bank of England, and they prepared for a very large business. They, however, much as they may have been respected, and successful as most of them undoubtedly were in their private affairs, were not men of large capacity, and they had not the quick and sound judgment of character and circumstances necessary in banking. Nor were they very fortunate in their manager. Mr. Pearson, although he might have been taken as a model of honesty, truthfulness, and straightforwardness, was a phlegmatic, heavy man, and his manners were, to say the least, unprepossessing. The bank was not a success. Negotiations were, a few years after, entered into, and arrangements resulted, by which the Birmingham Banking Company took over the business, on the basis of giving every shareholder in the Bank of Birmingham a certain reduced amount of stock in their own bank, in exchange.
Some time before the transfer took place, a member of one of the most respected and influential mercantile families in the neighbourhood suspended payment, owing a large sum to the Bank of Birmingham, upon which he paid a composition. He afterwards prospered, and some twenty-five years afterwards, all those shareholders in the defunct bank who still held, in the Birmingham Banking Company, the shares they had been allotted in exchange at the time of the transfer, received cheques for the deficiency, with interest thereon for the whole period it had been unpaid. A relative of my own received, in this way, several hundred pounds. I am not aware that this circumstance has ever been made public, but it is due to the memory of the late Mr. Robert Lucas Chance that so praise-worthy an act should be on record.
Mr. Pearson, after the closing of the bank, commenced business as a sharebroker, which he continued until his death. He was one of the last to retain, in all its rigour, the peculiar dress of the Society of Friends. His stout, broad-set figure, with the wide-brimmed hat, collarless coat, drab "thoses" and gaiters, will be remembered by many readers.
The Commercial Bank had offices at the corner of Ann Street and Bennetts Hill. Mr. John Stubbs was an active promoter of this bank, and Mr. James Graham was manager. It had a short life. Mr. Graham went to America, and died somewhere on the banks of the Mississippi.
The Tamworth Banking Company opened a branch in High Street, opposite the bottom of Bull Street. It was open as late as 1838, but was eventually given up, and the premises were occupied by Mrs. Syson as a hosier's shop, until pulled down for the Great Western Railway tunnel.
The Borough Bank was promoted by Mr. Goode, of the defunct firm of Gibbins, Smith, and Goode. It was connected with the Northern and Central Bank of England. The office was in Bull Street, in the premises now held by Messrs. J. and B. Smith, Carpet Factors. This bank was unsuccessful, and when it closed, Mr. Goode opened a discounting office in the Upper Priory, which proved to be successful. After a few years, Mr. Goode took as partner his son-in-law, Mr. Marr, a Scotchman, who had been engaged in an Indian bank for many years. The firm then became Goode, Marr, and Co., under which designation it is still carried on. The present proprietor is the son of the Mr. Marr just named, and is the gentleman upon whom a violent murderous attack was made in his office a few years ago. Mr. Goode, the courteous manager of the Birmingham and Midland Bank, is the son of the founder of this firm.
It will be remembered that in 1825 the firm of Gibbins, Smith, and Co. collapsed. As soon as their affairs were arranged, Mr. Gibbins and a nephew of his, named Lovell, opened a bank in New Street, on the spot where Mr. Whitehead now has his shop, at the corner of Bennetts Hill. Here for some two or three years they appear to have done very well; in fact the business became too large for their capabilities. Some of the leading men of the town, with the return of prosperity, began to see that there was ample room for greater banking facilities than the then existing private banks could provide. Negotiations were accordingly entered into for the purchase of this business, and for its conversion into a joint stock bank. Terms were very soon provisionally settled, and the prospectus of the Birmingham Banking Company was issued. The capital was fixed at L500,000, in 10,000 shares of L50 each, of which L5 per share was to be immediately called up. The list of directors contained, among others, the names of Charles Shaw, William Chance, Frederic Ledsam, Joseph Gibbins, and John Mabson. The shares were readily taken by the public, and on September 1st, 1829, the company commenced operations on the premises of Gibbins and Lovell. It was decided, however, to build a suitable banking house, and in a very short time the building standing at the corner of Waterloo Street was erected. Before removing to the new bank, the directors made overtures to Mr. Paul Moon James, of the firm of Galton and Co., which resulted in that bank being closed, and Mr. James becoming manager of the Banking Company. With such directors, and with so able and so popular a man for the manager, the progress of the bank was very rapid, and it soon had the largest banking business in the town. In a few years the reputation which Mr. James had obtained as a successful banker induced the directors of a new bank at Manchester to make him a very lucrative offer. Much to the regret of his Birmingham directors, and indeed to the whole public of the town, he accepted the offer, and shortly afterwards removed to Manchester. He retained the position of manager there until his death. Mr. James was something more than a mere man of business. He had a cultured mind, and took a very active part in educational questions. This very day, on looking over an old book, I found his name as the Birmingham representative of a leading literary association of my younger days, the "Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge"—a society which, with Lord Brougham for chairman and Charles Knight for its most active member, did much to create good, wholesome, cheap literature, and published, among many other works, the "Penny Magazine" and the "Penny Cyclopaedia."
After Mr. James left Birmingham, the directors of the Banking Company appointed Mr. William Beaumont to be his successor. A Yorkshireman by birth, he had resided for some time in Wolverhampton, filling a responsible position in one of the banks there. Mr. Beaumont remained manager of the Birmingham Banking Company until his death in 1863, having filled the office for more than a quarter of a century. During his life the bank had a very high reputation, and paid excellent dividends. It had squally weather occasionally, of coarse, but it weathered all storms. It was in great jeopardy in the great panic of 1837. It held at that time, drawn by one of its customers upon a Liverpool house, four bills for L20,000 each, and one for L10,000. It held besides heavy draughts upon the same firm by other houses, and the acceptors—failing remittances from America—were in great straits. Mr. Charles Shaw, the chairman of this bank, saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England, and averted the impending calamity. But for timely aid, the Liverpool firm must have stopped, to the ruin of half the country. The bank had another sharp turn of it from 1842 to 1844, when bar iron fell from L12 per ton to L6; but it overcame all its difficulties until the retirement of Mr. Shaw and the death of Mr. Beaumont.
From this time forward there seems to have been great want of a strong head and a steady eye amongst the directors. The plausibilities of Mr. W.H. Beaumont—who had succeeded his father as manager—seem to have put them off their guard, and they followed where he led until it ended in ruin. It is useless now to say all one knows, or a quarter of what has been said; but it has always been my opinion, and always will be, that if Charles Shaw, or a man with half his courage and ability, had been at the helm, the Bank would not have closed its doors. Had they only sought counsel of their larger shareholders, there was amongst them one man, still living, who not only could, but would, have saved the bank from shipwreck.
Few men in Birmingham are likely to forget "Black Saturday," the 14th of July, 1866. Had a French army suddenly opened a bombardment of the town from Highgate, it would possibly not have caused greater astonishment and dismay. That very week shares had been sold on the Stock Exchange at a high premium; and now, by the culpable weakness of a few unquestionably honest and well-intentioned gentlemen, the hard-earned life's savings of aged and infirm men, the sole dependence of scores of widows and hundreds of orphans, was utterly gone. No wonder that pious, God-fearing men ground their teeth and muttered curses, or that women, pale and trembling, tore their hair in wild terror, while some poor sorrowing creatures sought refuge in suicide. No wonder that even now, more than eleven years after, the memory of that day still rises, like a hideous dream, in the minds of thousands.
I have been shown a copy of a lithographed daily newspaper, printed on board the "Great Eastern" steamship, then engaged in laying the first successful Atlantic cable. In the number for July 14th, is an account of the stoppage of this bank, which had been telegraphed to the ship in mid-ocean by means of the cable then being submerged.
Upon full investigation it was ascertained that the total liabilities amounted to L1,805,469 10s. 5d. All the capital was lost. A call of L10 per share was made upon the unfortunate shareholders, and the debts were paid. Some time afterwards the new "limited" company which had been formed upon the ruins of the defunct bank took over some unrealised assets, and this resulted in a return of L1 per share, leaving a clear total loss, taking the shares at the market price, of L43 per share.
On Thursday, July 19th, a meeting of the shareholders was held in the large room at the Exchange, nearly 500 being present. Mr. Edwin Yates, the Mayor, presided, and in his opening remarks pointed out that the resuscitation of the bank was impossible, for various reasons which he mentioned. The discussion which followed was marked by great moderation. There was little excitement, and not much expression of angry feeling. Mr. William Holliday, in a very masterly speech of great length, showed the difficulties in the way of reviving the bank, and suggested that the only way of saving the property of the shareholders, was by the establishment of a new bank on the ruins of the old, the shareholders in which were to have priority in the allotment of shares. This, having, been discussed by several speakers, was eventually decided upon, and a committee was appointed to carry the resolutions into effect.
The new bank, under the name of the "Birmingham Banking Company Limited," was formed with all speed. Josiah Mason—then plain Mister—was the first chairman, and Mr. T.F. Shaw manager. The shares "came out" at a small premium, from which they gradually rose. From that time it has gone on steadily and surely. It has secured a good clientele, and is doing a large and profitable, business. It pays good dividends, and its shares stand well in the market. Mr. Shaw retired, from "continued ill health," in May, 1876. Mr. P.W. Walker was appointed manager pro tem., and at the end of the year, Mr. James Leigh, who had been manager of the Birmingham branch of the Worcester Bank, took the helm. May the bank under his guidance have, fortitudine et prudentia, a long career of prosperity and usefulness before it!
I shall now have to go back again to the year 1836. At this time trade was good and everything looked prosperous. Mr. Geach, who was still a clerk in the Bank of England, conceived the idea of starting a fresh bank, and having secured the adhesion of a few influential men, the prospectus was issued of the Town and District Bank, capital L500,000, in 25,000 shares of L20 each. The shares were taken up readily, and the branch commenced business in Colmore Row, on the 1st of July, 1836. The directors were Messrs. George Bacchus (chairman), Edward Armfield, George J. Green, George C. Lingham, John G. Reeves, Josiah Richards, and Philip Williams.
Although the bank had been started entirely through the exertions of Mr. Geach, who naturally expected to be appointed the manager, he was left out in the cold, and the appointment fell upon Mr. Bassett Smith. This gentleman had been a clerk to the firm of Gibbins, Smith, and Co., until their stoppage, and he afterwards was manager of a bank at Walsall, which appointment he threw up when he came to the District Bank. He held his position as manager here for many years, but was eventually induced to retire; He certainly was not a great banking genius. He was led more by impulse and feeling than by sound business judgment and coolness, and he often made mistakes in his estimate of the customers. Some—whom he liked—would "get on" easily enough, while others, equally worthy of attention, might ask in vain for slight accommodation. Nor was his manner judicious. I was in the bank one day, when a highly respectable man brought some bills to the counter to be placed to his account. The clerk took them to Mr. Smith, who was near the counter; he turned them over in his hand, and giving them back to the clerk, with a contemptuous gesture, said, loud enough to be heard by everyone there, "No!—a thousand times no!" Had the customer been a swindler he could not have been treated with greater insult and contumely. It was a fortunate thing for the bank when Mr. Barney became manager. From that time the bank has assumed its proper position. Under its new designation of the "Birmingham and Dudley District Banking Company" it has taken rapid strides. There is every reason now for thinking it is highly prosperous, and is likely to have a future of great use and profit. The new premises are an ornament to an ornamental part of the town, and are very conveniently arranged; but to people with weak eyes, the light from the windows, glaring in the face as one stands at the counter, is most unpleasant, and some steps to modify its effect might be judiciously taken.
Immediately after Mr. Bassett Smith had been appointed manager of the District Bank, some gentlemen, amongst whom Mr. Gammon, of Belmont Row, was very prominent, thinking that in all fairness Mr. Geach should have been elected, seeing that he was the originator of the scheme, and had done the greater part of the preliminary work, determined to form another bank. There was to be no mistake this time, for Mr. Geach's name was inserted in the prospectus as the future manager. He was at this time only 28 years of age. He had been resident but a very few years in the town, but had already the reputation of being one of the most able young men in the place. His manners, too, were singularly agreeable. On the faith of his name, the public readily took up the necessary number of shares. So great was the energy employed, that in seven weeks from the opening of the District Bank, its competitor, the Birmingham and Midland Bank, had commenced business.
Having been so long in the office of the Bank of England, in Union Street, the young manager naturally thought it the best locality for the new bank; and as there was a large shop vacant in that street, a few doors below Union Passage, on the right-hand side going down, it was taken, and in these temporary premises the bank commenced, on the 23rd of August, 1836, its prosperous and most useful career.
Mr. Robert Webb was the first Chairman of the Board of Directors; Mr. Thomas Bolton, merchant, of New Street, was one of the most active members. Mr. Samuel Beale, after a time, joined the board, and was very energetic. He soon formed a friendship for the manager which only terminated with life. Mr. Henry Edmunds, who so recently retired from the post of managing director, but who still holds a seat at the board, was sub-manager from the opening; and Mr. Goode, who now fills the manager's seat, went there as a clerk at the same time.
The tact and energy of the manager, and the shrewd business capacity of the directors, soon secured a very large business. In a very short time the building now held by the Conservative Club, which the bank had erected a little higher up the street, was occupied, and here the business was conducted for more than twenty-five years. The building included a very commodious residence for the manager, and here Mr. Geach took up his abode with his family.
During the preliminary disturbances in 1839, which culminated in the Bull Ring riots, Mr. Geach received private information one afternoon, which induced him to take extra precautions for the safety of the books, securities, and cash. While this was being done, the clerks had collected a number of men and some arms. They also obtained, and took to the roof, a great quantity of stones, bricks, and other missiles, which they stored behind the parapets. The men were so placed, that by mounting an inner stair they could ascend to the roof, from which spot, it was proposed, in case of attack, to hurl the missiles upon the mob below. News was soon brought that the mob was congregating in Dale End and that neighbourhood. At the request of some of the magistrates who were present, Mr. Geach started off for the barracks, galloping through the mob, who threw showers of stones, brick-ends, and other disagreeable missiles at him, and shouted, "Stop him," "Pull him off," "He's going for the soldiers," and so on. His horse was a spirited one, and took him safely through. He reached the barracks and secured assistance. He then came back by another route to the bank, and the expected attack was averted. There is no doubt that his energetic conduct that day saved the town from violence and spoliation.
It is not my intention in this paper to sketch the character of Mr. Geach. I have now only to deal with him in reference to the bank, which he so ably managed, and in which down to his death he felt the warmest interest. About 1839 or 1840 he began to engage in commercial transactions on his own account, and these growing upon him and requiring much of his personal attention, he, about 1846 or 1847, resigned his position as manager, and was succeeded by his old friend and colleague, Mr. Henry Edmunds. Mr. Geach, however, though no longer engaged in the active management, was appointed managing director, and in this capacity was generally consulted on all the more important matters.
Mr. Edmunds is a man of altogether different type to his predecessor. Mr. Geach had been bold in his management, to a degree which in less skilful hands might have been perilous to his employers. Mr. Edmunds's principal characteristic, as a manager, was excessive caution. But, although so utterly varying in character, both men were peculiarly fitted for their post at the time they were in power. Boldness and vigour gave the bank a large connection, and established an extensive business. Caution and carefulness were quite as essential in the times during which Mr. Edmunds guided the destinies of the bank. In that speculative period of twenty-five years, his prudence and cool judgment were valuable qualities, and they served good ends, for the "Midland," under Mr. Edmunds, was pre-eminently a "lucky" bank. He had no occasion for the more brilliant qualities of his predecessor; the bank was offered more business than it cared for; and his caution and hesitation saved his directors much trouble, and his shareholders considerable loss.
As in process of years the business increased, the old premises were found to be too small, and the directors contemplated enlargement. Some energetic spirits on the board advocated the erection of a new building. It was debated for some time, but it finally resulted in the erection of the present palatial banking house at the corner of Stephenson Place. It is no secret that Mr. Edmunds disapproved of the step, and, indeed, at the dinner given to celebrate the opening of the new premises, he expressed, in plain terms, his opinion that they had made a mistake, and that they had better have remained where they were.
Be that as it may, the business was removed to New Street in 1869, at which time, I believe, Mr. Samuel Buckley was Chairman of the Board of Directors. One can imagine the satisfactory feelings of his mind as he reflected that within a very few yards of the magnificent bank, of which he was then the head, he, comparatively unknown, took years before a situation in the warehouse of a merchant, Mr. Thomas Bolton, which then stood on the site of the Midland Hotel. In this business Mr. Buckley rapidly rose in the estimation of his employer, becoming, first his partner, and subsequently his successor. The business, when the old premises were required for other purposes, was removed first to Newhall Hill, and finally to Great Charles Street, where it is still carried on as Samuel Buckley and Co.
Shortly before the removal to New Street, Mr. Edmunds began to wish for a less laborious position. Following the precedent in Mr. Geach's case, he was made managing director, and Mr. Goode took the well-earned position of manager. This arrangement existed until about twelve months ago, when Mr. Edmunds retired altogether from the active administration of the business. He retained, however, a seat at the board as one of the ordinary directors. On this occasion, the board, with the sanction of the shareholders, to mark their sense, of his admirable judgment and unceasing industry, voted him a retiring pension of L1,000 a year. His portrait now hangs in the board-room at the bank, near that of his friend, Mr. Geach. May the walls of this room, in the future, be adorned by the "counterfeit presentment" of successive managers as good and true as these two, the pioneers, have proved themselves!
Mr. Goode's qualifications for the post he occupies are not only hereditary, but are supplemented by the experience of more than forty years in this bank, under the able guidance of the two colleagues who have preceded him. His acute perceptions and great financial skill qualify him admirably for the post, whilst his undeviating courtesy has made him very popular, and has gained for him "troops of friends."
Notwithstanding the enormous increase in the business of the town and neighbourhood, there was no other bank established in Birmingham for more than twenty-five years. One reason, probably, was that, by a clause in an Act of Parliament, it was made incumbent upon all banks established after it became law, to publish periodical statements of their affairs. This seemed to many shrewd men to be an obstacle to the success of any new bank, although it was felt that there was ample room for one. The passing of the Limited Liability Act opened the way. It was seen that by fixing the nominal capital very high, and calling up only a small portion of its amount, there would always be so large a margin of uncalled capital, that the periodical publication of assets and liabilities could alarm no one. Taking this view, and seeing the probability of a successful career for a new banking institution, a few far-seeing men—notably the late Messrs. John Graham and Henry Clive—soon attached to themselves a number of influential colleagues, and at the latter end of 1861 the prospectus of the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank was issued. Mr. G.F. Muntz was chairman, Mr. Thomas Short, vice-chairman, and Messrs. John Graham, H. Clive, R. Fletcher, J.S. Keep, W. Middlemore, C.H. Wagner, and W.A. Adams were directors. The capital, to the required extent, was eagerly subscribed. Mr. Joseph Beattie, of London, was appointed manager, and the bank opened its doors, in Temple Row West, on New Tear's Day, 1862.
The directors, at their preliminary meetings, had come to some very wise resolutions, having for their tendency the creation of public confidence in the good management and complete stability of the new venture. One of these was that no one of the directors could at any time, or under any circumstances, overdraw his account at the bank. Recollections of what had been done aforetime showed the public the wisdom of this step, and the shares became consequently in good demand, and soon reached a fair premium. The directors, with great judgment, had made a large reserve of unallotted shares, and now that they had become a popular investment, they offered them to large traders at par, on condition of their opening accounts at the new bank. Other inducements were held out to attract business, and in a very short time the bank was doing at least as large a business as some of its competitors.
The appointment of Mr. Beattie was a most judicious one. He is, unquestionably, a very able man of business; and his untiring energy and perseverance are very remarkable, even in these days of hard work. Under such management, and with so good a board of directors at his back, it is no wonder that the bank now occupies a foremost place amongst its fellows.
The Worcester City and County Bank is the last, but it bids fairly to become by no means the least, amongst the banks of the town. The parent bank was established in Worcester in 1840. It was a prosperous and successful local bank of no great celebrity until the failure of Messrs. Farley and Co., of Kidderminster, in 1856. The directors then opened a branch establishment in that town, which was successful beyond expectation. Encouraged by this, they afterwards opened branches at Atherstone, Bridgnorth, Bromsgrove, Cheltenham, Droitwich, Evesham, Ludlow, Leominster, Presteign, Malvern, and Tenbury, and in 1872 they resolved to establish a bank at Birmingham. Lloyds and Co. had just removed from Moilliet's old premises in Cherry Street, to their new bank, in Ann Street, and, rather unwisely, left the old place in Cherry Street to be let to the first comer. The Worcester company became the tenants, and opened their bank in 1872, under the management of Mr. J.H. Slaney. This gentleman retired in about twelve months, and was succeeded by Mr. James Leigh, the present manager of the Birmingham Banking Company. When he accepted his present post, Mr. F.W. Nash took the helm. The bank seems, in the short time it has been established, to have been very successful, for the premises, after having been twice enlarged, are, it is said, now too small; and it is understood that a plot of land in Ann Street, near the corner of Newhall Street, has been secured, and that Mr. F.B. Osborne is engaged upon plans for the erection, on this site, of a new banking house, which will be no mean rival to those already in existence, adding another fine architectural structure to the splendid line of edifices which will soon be complete from the Town Hall to Snow Hill.
There only remains one more bank to mention, and I cannot remember its name. It was opened some ten or twelve years ago in the tall building at the west corner of Warwick House Passage, now occupied by Mr. Hollingsworth. It was under the management of Mr. Edwin Wignall, who had been sub-manager at the District. It had but a short life. The careful manner in which the stone pavement of the vestibule and the steps leading from the street were cleaned and whitened every morning, and the few footmarks made by customers going in and coming out, gained for it the name of the "Clean Bank," by which title it will be remembered by many. The business that had been collected was transferred to the Midland, and the New Street bank was closed.
My sketch of the Birmingham Banks is now complete. It is very satisfactory to reflect that in the long space of sixty-three years over which it ranges, there have been only two cases in which the creditors of Birmingham banks have suffered loss; and really it is greatly to the credit of the good old town that these losses have been, comparatively, so insignificant. In the bankruptcy of Gibbins and Co., in 1825, the creditors received 19s. 8d. in the pound. In the more recent case—that of Attwood and Co.—they received a dividend of 11s. 3d. Both these cases compare favourably with others at a distance, where dividends of one or two shillings have not been infrequent. The banking business of the town is now in safe and prudent hands, and there is strong reason for hoping that the several institutions may go on, with increasing usefulness and prosperity, to a time long after the present generation of traders has ceased to draw cheques, or existing shareholders to calculate upon coming dividends.
As I stood, not long ago, within the splendid hall in which the Birmingham and Midland Bank carries on its business, my mind reverted to a visit I once paid, to the premises, in the City of Gloucester, of the first county bank established in England. Perhaps in all the differences between bygone and modern times, there could not be found a greater contrast. The old Gloucester Bank was established in the year 1716, by the grandfather of the celebrated "Jemmy Wood," who died in 1836, leaving personal property sworn under L900,000. Soon after his death, I saw the house and "Bank," where he had carried on his business of a "banker and merchant." The house was an old one, the gables fronting the street. The upper windows were long and low, and were glazed with the old lead-framed diamond-shaped panes of dark green glass. The ground-floor was lighted by two ancient shop windows, having heavy wooden sashes glazed with panes about nine inches high by six wide. To the sill of each window, hung upon hinges, were long deal shutters, which were lifted up at night, and fastened with "cotters." There were two or three well-worn steps to the entrance. The door was divided half-way up: the upper portion stood open during business hours, and the lower was fastened by a common thumb latch. To the ledge of the door inside, a bell was attached by a strip of iron hooping, which vibrated when the door was opened, and set the bell ringing to attract attention. The interior fittings were of the most simple fashion; common deal counters with thin oaken tops; shabby drawers and shelves all round; one or two antiquated brass sconces for candles; a railed-off desk, near the window; and that was all. In this place, almost alone and unassisted, the old man made his money. I copy the following from "Maunder's Biographical Dictionary:" "In conjunction with the bank, he kept a shop to the day of his death, and dealt in almost every article that could be asked for. Nothing was too trifling for 'Jemmy Wood' by which a penny could be turned. He spent the whole week in his banking-shop or shop-bank, and the whole of the business of the Old Gloucester Bank was carried on at one end of his chandlery store."
Now-a-days we go to a palace to cash a cheque. We pass through a vestibule between polished granite monoliths, or adorned with choice marble sculpture in alto-relievo. We enter vast halls fit for the audience chambers of a monarch, and embellished with everything that the skill of the architect can devise. We stand at counters of the choicest polished mahogany, behind which we see scores of busy clerks, the whole thing having an appearance of absolute splendour. Prom Jemmy Wood's shop to the noble hall of the Midland, or the Joint Stock, is indeed a long step in advance.
It has often occurred to me that it would be a wise plan for bankers to divide their counters into distinct compartments, so that one customer could see nothing of his next neighbour, and hear nothing of his business. The transactions at a bank are often of as delicate a nature as the matters discussed in a solicitor's office; yet the one is secret and safe, and the other is open to the gaze and the ear of any one who happens to be at the bank at the same time.
In closing this subject, I wish to express my thanks to Mr. S.A. Goddard for his assistance. His great age, his acute powers of perception, and his marvellously retentive and accurate memory, combine to make him, probably, the only living competent witness of some of the circumstances I have been able to detail; while the ready manner in which he responded to my request for information merits my warmest and most grateful acknowledgments.
JOHN WALSH WALSH AND THE ASTON FETES.
No one possessing ordinary habits of observation can have lived in Birmingham for anything like forty years without being conscious of the extraordinary difference between the personal and social habits of the generation which is passing away, and of that which has arisen to succeed it. Now-a-days, as soon as business is over, Birmingham people—professional men, manufacturers, shopkeepers, and, indeed, all the well-to-do classes—hurry off by rail, by tramway, or by omnibus, to snug country homesteads, where their evenings are spent by their own firesides in quiet domestic intercourse. A generation ago, things in Birmingham were very different. Then, shopkeepers lived "on the premises," and manufacturers, as a rule, had their dwelling houses in close proximity to their factories. Business, compared with its present condition, was in a very primitive state. Manufacturers worked at their business with their men, beginning with them in the morning and leaving off at the same hour at night. The warehouse closed, and the work of the day being over, the "master" would doff his apron, roll down his turned-up shirt sleeves, put on his second-best coat, and sally forth to his usual smoking-room. Here, in company with a few old cronies, he solaced himself with a modest jug of ale, and, lighting his clay pipe, proceeded with great solemnity to enjoy himself. But, one by one, the habitues of the old smoking rooms have gone to "live in the country," and the drowsy, dreary rooms, becoming deserted, have, for the most part, been applied to other purposes; whilst in many of those that are left, the smoke-stained portrait of some bygone landlord looks down upon the serried ranks of empty chairs, as if bewailing the utter degeneracy of modern mankind.
The room at the "Woodman," in Easy Row, is an exception, for it still maintains its ground. It is a large, well-lighted, and well-ventilated apartment. Its walls are adorned with a number of good pictures, among which are well-executed life-size portraits of two eminent men—James Watt, the engineer, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, the father of the English school of painting. In this room, years ago, when the sunny, courteous, and humorous "Jem Onions" was the host, a number of notable men used to assemble. Here you might meet men who at that time, or since, have been known as mayors, alder-men, and councillors. Here, "Blue-brick Walker" first propounded his scheme for superseding the "petrified kidney" pavement. Here "Wedding-ring Edwards," in his quaint, sententious manner, growled out brief epigrammatic sentences, full of shrewdness and wisdom, most strangely seasoned with semi-contemptuous sarcasm. Here Isherwood Sutcliff, with his well-dressed, dapper figure, and his handsome Roman face, was wont to air his oratory; and here occasionally he, placing his right foot upon a spittoon, would deliver himself of set orations; most carefully prepared; most elegantly phrased; copiously garnished with Byronic quotations; and delivered with considerable grace and fervour. These orations, however, having no basis of thought or force of argument, and, indeed, having nothing but their sensuous beauty of expression to recommend them, fell flat upon the ears of an unsympathetic audience, composed mainly of men whose brains were larger and of tougher fibre. Here, too, came occasionally the mighty and the omniscient Joe Allday, and when he did, the discussion sometimes became a little more than animated, the self-assertive Joe making the room ring again, as he denounced the practices of those who ruled the destinies of the town. Here one night, lifting his right hand on high, as if to appeal to Heaven, he assured his audience that they "need not be afraid." He would "never betray the people of Birmingham!" Here, too, last, but certainly not least in any way, might almost nightly be seen the towering figure of John Walsh Walsh: his commanding stature; his massive head, with its surrounding abundant fringe of wavy hair, looking like a mane; his mobile face, his bright—almost fierce—eye; his curt, incisive, and confident style of speech, showing him to be, beyond all question, the most masterful and prominent member of the company.
He was born at Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire. His peculiar double patronymic was the result of a curious mistake made by one of the sponsors at his baptism. Being asked in the usual way to "name this child," the poor man, in his nervousness, gave, not only the intended name of John, but inadvertently, the surname also; and so the infant became John Walsh Walsh, a name which its owner used to say was worth hundreds a year to him in business. "Anybody could be 'John Walsh,' but 'John Walsh Walsh' was unique, and once heard would never be forgotten."
Coming to Birmingham in pre-railway times, he found his first employment in the office of Pickford and Co., the great carrying firm. Here his marvellous energy, his quickness of apprehension, his mastery of detail, his accuracy of calculation, and his rapidity as a correspondent, soon raised him to a good position. He had, however, higher aims, and having the sagacity to foresee that the use of aerated beverages, which had just been introduced, must soon become general, he left the office and commenced the manufacture of soda water, a business which he successfully carried on as long as he lived, and which is still continued in his name by his successors. This business fairly afloat, his energies sought further outlet, and he soon, in conjunction with his partner, Mr. Nelson, commenced at Leamington the manufacture, by a patent process, of artificial isinglass and gelatine. This business, too, was successful and is still in operation, Nelson's gelatine being known all over the world. Besides these, he had a mustard mill, was an extensive dealer in cigars, and for many years was associated with the late Mr. Jefferies in the manufacture of marine glue. About 1851 he took over an unsuccessful co-operative glass manufactory in Hill Street, which his vigorous management soon converted into a great success. The business growing beyond the capabilities of the premises, he removed it to the extensive works at Lodge Road, where he continued to conduct it until his death, and where it is still carried on by his executors for the benefit of his family.
He was for some years a member of the Birmingham Town Council, and was one of its hardest workers. Much might be said of the energetic manner in which he opposed all weakness in action, and of the manly vigour of his advocacy of all schemes for the benefit of the town of his adoption. It will be especially remembered how hard he worked to induce the Council to buy Aston Park for the town, when its price was low, and how he used to chafe at the thought that double the present area of the park might have been purchased, for less money than was ultimately paid for the portion now held. In the Council, as everywhere else, the strange influence he could bring to bear upon other men, and the power he possessed of infusing a portion of his own superabundant energy into the minds of others, was continually manifested; and he will long be remembered in the Council Chamber as one of the most original thinkers, and one of the shrewdest observers, that ever sat upon its benches.
But his name will, probably, be longer held in remembrance in connection with the colossal fetes at Aston Park, in 1856, of which he was the originator, and to the success of which he devoted himself with untiring energy and unwearied industry. The idea of the fetes originated at the "Woodman" on an evening in the spring of 1856. The room, on this occasion, was nearly full; Walsh occupied the principal seat. Not far from him was the versatile, erudite, somewhat dogmatic, but always courteous and polite, John Cornforth. There too, was Ambrose Biggs, who since, as Mayor, so fully justified the choice the Corporation made when they elected him to be their head. Nearly opposite was seen the gentlemanlike figure of poor Joseph Collins, whose untimely death, a few years later, created an intense feeling of sorrow in the minds of all who knew him. The worthy host, Jem Onions, occupied his usual seat. At a short distance was seen the upright figure and full round face of genial, but somewhat fussy, George Tye, his countenance beaming with good nature, and his eye bright with the light of poetic and artistic intelligence; and there also were many others, whose names I cannot at this moment recall.
The conversation that night was more than usually animated, and was carried on with much propriety and intelligence. Walsh led a discussion on the folly of the Corporation in refusing to buy a portion of Aston Park, including the Hall, which had been offered to them, as he said, "dirt cheap." Biggs, a little way off, took up a subject with which he was more intimately connected—the Queen's Hospital, whose financial affairs, just then, were in a lamentable state of collapse. One set of talkers in the room were intent upon the one topic; at the other end, the other subject was uppermost. Thus the two matters became somewhat "mixed up" in the ear of a listener, and thus they suddenly jostled together in the mind of Walsh. All in a moment the thought arose—"Why not borrow the park and give a pic-nic for the hospital?" With him, such a matter required little consideration; with him, to conceive was to act. In a few minutes he was on his legs, and at some length, with considerable eloquence and characteristic energy, he, amid the rapt attention of the company, propounded the scheme which had suggested itself. He was followed by other speakers; the scheme was rapturously received by the audience; it was unanimously resolved that if the use of the park could be obtained, the fete should be held; a deputation was appointed to wait upon the proprietors of the park; and a provisional committee, with Mr. Walsh as chairman, was elected to carry out the preliminaries.
No time was lost. In a few days the desired permission to hold a fete in the park was obtained. Other gentlemen joined in the movement, and a large and influential permanent committee was formed. Walsh took up the matter with his usual energy and with most sanguine views. This was to be no mere pic-nic now! It was to be such a fete as Birmingham had never witnessed, and would not readily forget. The attractions were to be such as would draw people, from all quarters. The preparations were to be on the most gigantic scale, and the result was estimated by Walsh at a clear gain of L250 or L300 to the hospital. Some of the more cautious thought the scheme a little wild, and on far too extensive a scale for success; but the indomitable chairman, who had fully considered the pros and cons, threw into the movement the whole force of his almost superhuman energy, and carried conviction to the minds of the most timid of his colleagues. The scheme was enthusiastically resolved upon, although, as Walsh said, after the fetes were over, "Some of us were actually frightened at what we had undertaken."
The fete was to be held on the 28th of July. It fell on a Monday. By common consent business was to be suspended. As the day approached, it became obvious, from the enormous demand for the tickets, that the attendance would far exceed the expectations of the most sanguine. Another 25,000 tickets were ordered from the printer, by telegraph. The refreshment contractors were advised of the vastly increased number of hungry customers they might expect. Bakers were set to work to provide hundreds of additional loaves. Orders were given for an extra ton or two of sandwiches. Scores more barrels of ale and porter came slowly into the park, where, within fenced enclosures, they were piled, two or three high, in double lines. Crates upon crates of tumblers, earthenware mugs, and plates arrived. Soda water, lemonade, and ginger beer were provided in countless grosses, and in fact everything for the comfort and convenience of visitors that the most careful forethought could suggest, was provided in the most lavish profusion.
At length the day arrived. The weather was delightfully fine. The village of Aston was gaily decorated; the Royal Standard floated from the steeple, and the bells chimed out in joyous melody. The quaint Elizabethan gateway to the park was gay with unaccustomed bunting. The sober old Hall had a sudden eruption of colour, such as it had probably never known before. Flags of all colours, and with strange devices, met the eye at every turn. Waggon after waggon, laden with comestibles, filed slowly into the park. The rushing to and fro of waiters and other attendants showed that they expected a busy day of it. As noon approached, train after train deposited at the Aston station hundreds and thousands of gaily-attired Black Country people. Special trains ran from New Street as fast as they could be got in order; all the approaches to the park were crammed with serried lines—three or four abreast—of omnibuses, waggons, cabs, carts, and every other imaginable vehicle; whilst thousands upon thousands of dusty pedestrians jostled each other in the crowded roads. Fast as the ticket and money collectors could pass them through the gates, continuous streams poured on for hours, until at length the number of persons within the grounds exceeded the enormous total of fifty thousands!
The old Hall was thrown open, and hundreds of people strolled through its quaint rooms and noble galleries. The formal gardens were noisy with unaccustomed merriment. From the terrace one looked upon preparations for amusements, and old English games of all descriptions. Platforms for dancing, and pavilions for musicians, stood here and there. Beyond, in the valley, a long range of poles and skeleton forms showed where the fireworks were in preparation. Down in a corner stood a large stack of firewood through which, when lighted, the "Fire-King" was to pass uninjured. Swings, merry-go-rounds, and Punch and Judy shows were rare attractions for the young; and soon the whole of that enormous assemblage of people, in the sunlight of a glorious July day, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Suddenly, in one corner, there arose a deep-toned murmur, like the sound of the roaring of the waves upon a broken shore. It deepened in tone and increased in volume, until the whole area of the park was filled with this strange sound. It was the noise of laughter proceeding simultaneously from fifty thousand throats! From a mysterious-looking shed in the valley opposite the terrace, Mr. John Inshaw and some of his friends had just launched a balloon, shaped like an enormous pig! Piggy rose majestically over that vast sea of upturned faces, which he seemed to regard with much attention. But at length, apparently disgusted at being so much laughed at, he started off in the direction of Coleshill, and, to the intense amusement of everybody, persisted in travelling tail foremost.
All classes were represented at the fete. Here you might see a group of well-dressed folks from Edgbaston, next some pale-faced miners from the Black Country, and then the nut-brown faces of some agricultural people. All seemed intent upon fun and pleasure, and so, throughout that long summer day, the crowd increased, and every one seemed to be in a state of absolute enjoyment.
As evening wore on, other sources of interest arose. The famous Sycamore Avenue—now, alas, going fast to decay—was lighted up by innumerable coloured lamps. I am old enough to remember the illuminations of the famous Vauxhall Gardens in London, but I never saw there so fairylike a scene as that glorious old avenue at Aston presented that evening.
Then came the fireworks! No such display had ever before been seen in the Midland Counties. The nights of rockets, the marvellously-ingenious set pieces, and the wonderful blue lights, gave intense delight; and the grand chorus of "Oh! Oh! Oh!" when any specially brilliant effect was produced, was something not to be easily forgotten; but the climax was reached when, as a finale, the words
SAVE ASTON HALL
came out in glowing fire. Then the people shouted and applauded as if they were frantic. And so, amid the gratulations of everybody, the first of the Aston Fetes came to an end.
No sooner was the fete over, than a clamour arose as to the disposal of the profit. It was argued that as the money raised had so far exceeded expectation, it ought, in fairness, to be divided between the two hospitals. Correspondence in the newspapers became warm, and almost angry. Walsh was pestered with all sorts of suggestions, and a deputation waited upon him, urging the "claims" of the General Hospital. Walsh received them with politeness, but with reticence, and they left dissatisfied. It was a difficulty, but Walsh was equal to it. Summoning his committee, he urged that the fete having been given for a specific purpose, that purpose must be fulfilled, and the whole sum must go to the Queen's. "But," said he, "I'll tell you what we can do: we can give a good round sum on account to the Queen's, and we can get up another fete for the General." A bomb-shell could hardly have created greater astonishment, and the project, at first, was met with disfavour. It was thought that it would not "do" a second time; that the novelty of the affair was over; that people would not go twice; and that the result would be a failure. Walsh urged that what had been done had only "whetted the appetite" of the public; that thousands regretted not having been present; and that the result would be certain success. His energetic advocacy carried the point, and before the committee separated, a second fete, to be held on September 15th, was resolved upon.
Meanwhile, it was resolved to hand over a cheque for L1,500, on account, to the Queen's Hospital, which was accordingly done; and on the 22nd of August, at a meeting of the Council of the Hospital, at which Alderman Ratcliff presided, it was resolved (inter alia) that Walsh should be elected a Life Governor; that a marble tablet recording the event should be erected in the vestibule of the hospital; and that a dinner should be given to the chairman, officers, and committee of the fete, such dinner to take place at the "Woodman," where the fete originated. The dinner subsequently took place, under the presidency of the late Mr. Thomas Upfill. It was stated incidentally that the total receipts amounted to L2,222 12s. 5d.; that donations had been received by the Fete Committee amounting to L93 13s.; and that they had secured annual subscriptions amounting to L26 14s. 6d.