Table of Contents for The Early Years of the Huddersfield Building Society (1974):
The Buxton affair was an important ingredient in the bringing to an end in 1928 of an era in the history of the Huddersfield Building Society, a conclusion that was finally marked by the death of William Henry Kaye. In the nineteen-twenties, not many Building Societies had expanded their activities as rapidly as we had done by the vigorous establishment of Agencies operating over large areas of the country. For W. H. Kaye’s vision and immense industry in this connexion one can have nothing but praise. Totally honest himself and a member of a deeply religious family, he confidently expected the same virtues in others, and in every Agency appointment he made except that of Victor Hayes his faith in his fellow-men seems to have been justified.
On the other hand, it must be conceded that the permitting of Agents to be also Valuers (the hazards of which Kaye himself recognized at Blackpool a year before the Buxton imbroglio) and the evident lack of regular and adequate Agency inspection before 1928 were defects in our administration in those years of early expansion that made it possible for Hayes to defraud the Society. It can properly be urged that it is greatly to the credit of the Secretary and his staff that Hayes’s misappropriations were discovered so quickly and such prompt and effective action taken, and that the Society did not suffer one penny of loss. On the other hand, over £14,000 was stolen by an appointed Agent. It was a traumatic experience that greatly disturbed the Board.
As a direct consequence, 1928 marked the end of the exclusive employment by our Society of men who had grown up with us, and who relied for their skill wholly upon long experience in building society work. It is significant in this connexion that the Board appointed as W. H. Kaye’s successor Andrew Stewart, who was not a building society man but was, at the age of 34, a highly qualified and experienced chartered accountant. In the account of our Annual Meeting on 1 March 1929 in The Building Societies Gazette of 1 April, E. J. Bruce was reported as saying ‘that in appointing a successor to Mr. Kaye, they felt it necessary to engage a gentleman who had been engaged in large financial affairs’. When I joined the staff in 1934, the new General Manager had already appointed five chartered accountants to the Head Office staff. The late Thomas Duncan was the Head Office Manager, assisted by Stanley Smith and Frank Tetley. The late T. Douglas Bisiker was the Internal Auditor, and the late Sydney M. Cartmel was the Mortgage Manager. As early as 17 May 1929, moreover, David Somers, a young chartered surveyor, had been appointed as Head Office Surveyor to advise the Board on the appointment of panel surveyors and upon new proposals of magnitude or complexity throughout the country. It can be said, therefore, that after 1928 the recruitment to our staff of professionally trained and qualified persons, generally without previous building society experience, was purposeful and by no means uncommon. The position is somewhat different today, in that employees joining our staff from school are encouraged to study and qualify by examination for professional membership of the Building Societies Institute. That organization, however, was not established until 1934.
In parenthesis, it is interesting to notice that over the years the same process of change has gradually taken place in the composition of the Board of Directors. In the early years of the Society the Board consisted exclusively of Huddersfield businessmen, many of whom were Aldermen, Councillors, and Justices of the Peace. The first Director to be drawn from the professional classes was a valuer, John J. Booth, forty years after the establishment of the Society. When I joined the staff in 1934, however, the Board already included a solicitor, the late J. D. Eaton Smith (who became President in 1934 and retained that position for 23 years), a valuer, the late E. G. R. Sykes, F.A.I., and Andrew Stewart, a chartered accountant. Today, whilst we still take pride in the fact that we boast five distinguished Huddersfield businessmen among our number (one of whom is a chartered accountant), the Board is completed by two solicitors, our General Manager (who is a chartered accountant), and a chartered surveyor. It may be thought that in modern conditions this makes an admirably balanced group of Directors.
When W. H. Kaye died, our Society already had two fully-manned District Offices in Blackpool and Halifax, so that it cannot be said that the move towards solid expansion in this way, as opposed to the comparative simplicity, rapidity and cheapness of Agency development, had not started in 1928. Blackpool and Halifax were successful, and had demonstrated that despite the fact that even in those days it took time and money to establish a District Office, the effort was justified. In 1929 we opened our first London Office, with sub-offices at Chingford and Leigh-on-Sea, and converted our sub-office at St Annes-on-Sea into a full Branch. This impetus continued in the following year, when six new District Offices were opened in Bristol, Doncaster, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, and Stockport, with sub-offices at Elland, Gillingham, and Wallasey. It is, in my view (admittedly with the advantage of hindsight) a great pity that the depression of the nineteen-thirties, followed by the paralysis of the Second World War, seemed unduly to slow down the branch expansion programme for which we seemed so admirably poised in 1930, when central properties in large towns could still be bought at modest prices, and the planners were not yet so completely our heavy-handed masters. We have, however, made up in recent years for some of that slackening of momentum in the years of caution and economy, as our 39 excellent District Offices and 2 sub-branches demonstrate today to the visitor to many important towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom.