Printer Friendly

Brum's building society origins.

Byline: Carl Chinn

In the midst of a global economic crisis fuelled by short-term profit, executive bonuses, and unrealistic mortgages, it is worth remembering another financial model that offers both fiscal stability and long-term investment in people and local communities.

That model is that of mutuality, the practice whereby a group of people cooperate towards a common goal and for the common good.

Infused with the ideal of cooperation rather than with the concept of individuality, the very idea of mutuality arose in Birmingham in the exciting years of the late eighteenth century when our city was at the forefront of the transformation of the world.

Through its manufacturing skills, Birmingham was crucial in powering the Industrial Revolution but what is less well known is that it was as vital in two other revolutions that turned the world around.

The first was the transport revolution, energised through the building of canals. The second was the financial revolution, activated through the founding of banks like Lloyd's and the provision of coinage by MatthewBoulton and others.

Birmingham's groundbreaking approach in monetary matters is further emphasised by its role in the beginning of the building society movement which was founded on the ideal of mutuality.

In or before 1775 the first known building society in the world was founded at the 'Golden Cross' inn at 60, Snow Hill.

The proprietor was Richard Ketley, after whom the innovative society was called. Publicans like him were keen to gain trade by attracting meetings and organisations to their premises.

As a result public houses featured prominently in the emergence of both trade unions and friendly societies, such as the Manchester Order of Oddfellows and the Ancient Order of Foresters.

Aimed at providing for the social welfare of working-class people at a time when there was no notion of state help, such societies charged weekly subscriptions so that they could build up a fund from which they could provide members with cash help in times of sickness, illness and death.

These friendly societies were founded by working men who were intent upon helping not only themselves but also others through combining for their mutual benefit.

They shared the same ethos with trade unions, which sought to improve wages and conditions in the workplace through workers banding together, and they also had much in common with the building societies which followed the example of Ketley's.

One of the first to operate on a large scale was started in 1781 to build houses on the land of William Jennings in Deritend. Eventually this development led to the continuation of Bradford Street, Alcester Street, Lombard Street, Moseley Street, Birchall Street, and Cheapside.

The Society was run by a committee of seven men elected annually and it had several rules.

Importantly the subscribers had to meet monthly at the 'Fountain' public house in Cheapside where they would pay the treasurer half a guinea on every share they took. These subscriptions went towards a building fund.

For three shares each subscriber would have a house or houses built to the value of 200 guineas; whilst two shares provided for a house worth pounds 140, and one share for a house costing pounds 70. Another rule stated that the building land would be split into lots which would be balloted for amongst the subscribers.

There were two other societies locally, The Amicable Society of Birmingham and Northwood's Society. They were soon followed by a society in Dudley, another in Rowley Regis and then in 1785 by one in Leeds. By the early nineteenth century there were numerous similar societies throughout the Midlands, the North, London and Scotland.

All of them were terminating societies. Most of them set their shares at either pounds 60 or pounds 120, with respective dues of five shillings (25p) or ten shillings (50p) a month. These sums were based on an assumption that when they were invested monthly at 5 per cent compound interest the contributions would grow to the share price after fourteen years.

When the amount of one share was raised it was allocated to a member either through a ballot or by auction. This procedure continued until each subscriber had a house, after which the society was terminated.

To ensure that dues continued to be paid until that time, each society empowered itself to levy fines upon those in arrears and to take other actions. William Hutton, Birmingham's first historian, explained that 'as a house is a weighty concern, every member is obliged to produce two bondsmen for the performance of the covenants'.

He added that often these building clubs of Birmingham were generally headed by a bricklayer, someone who would benefit from building houses; and certainly in 1781 Northwood's Building Society had a brickmaker as an articled servant.

This particular society is a re-markable one, for it took its name from a woman who is recalled today in Northwood Street, running from Constitution Hill towards Victoria Street.

Sarah Northwood was a publican like Richard Ketley. Her house was the 'Lamp' in Edmund Street and the building soci ety that met there took over land in what had been a field called Foul Lake Leasow, bounded to the east by Constitution Hill.

Perhaps it took its name from the stream, remembered in nearby Water Street, which presumably flooded the meadow to make it 'foul' - muddy or miry.

By the early 1790s Foul Lake Leasow had broken up into three leaseholds for building estates.

Two of them were leased to a builder called William Burt or Burtt, in trust for the Northwoods Building Society of which he was a member. The original leases specified that subscribers to the Society would spend at least pounds 500 in building ten houses in a straight line, fronting to Livery Street.

Thereafter some smaller plots were leased to tradesman such as William Burdett a wheelwright and Thomas Smith, a refiner.

These and others built or had built for them new premises and houses. In so doing they continued Livery Street north from the Colmore Estate, signified by streets named after family members such as Mary Ann and Henrietta, and laid out a new road, Northwood Street.

In 1846 many of these properties were compulsorily purchased for the laying of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Dudley Railway which was to run from Snow Hill Station and parallel with Livery Street until it crossed Northwood Street.

The remainder of the original leases fell in 1890, by which time the freehold was owned by the bishop of Hereford and his wife.

Two years before this Henry Fowler reported on these properties to the bishop. He was concerned that there might be problems in any sale because 'I do not know but I think it highly probable that there are houses now on the property which are the resort of loose women, and these must be cleared out at all costs when the houses come into your lordship's hands'.

Today Northwood Street appears undistinguished but its name shouts out to us of the origins of the building society movement in Birmingham - and in 1826 it was one of the first seven streets in the city be lit by gas. A remarkable street indeed.


Birmingham plaque which marks the world's first building society; Looking down Livery Street from Great Charles Street in 1962; Northwood Street in 1956
COPYRIGHT 2008 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Nov 15, 2008
Previous Article:Stay healthy - get on your bike.
Next Article:Join our celebrations; Faiths IN OUR CITY.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |