Table of Contents for The Early Years of the Huddersfield Building Society (1974):
The purpose of this preliminary chapter is to throw some light on three matters connected with the early years of the Huddersfield Building Society. When I first encountered them I found them perplexing, and without an assembly of the relevant facts they could be mildly controversial. The initial task of the historian attempting to write an account of the Huddersfield Building Society must surely be to record the date of our establishment, which at first sight would seem to present no problem. In the third issue of the Society’s published annual Report and Accounts, which was in respect of our financial year ending 2 September 1867, and in those that followed, the phrase ‘Established September 5th, 1864’ was printed after the name of the Society, which in those days was the Huddersfield Equitable Permanent Benefit Building Society. The two previous Reports had simply stated that the Society was established in 1864. Writing to me on 12 September 1973, the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies said that 5 September 1864 was ‘of course, the date that has been regarded by the Society, over the years, as the date of its establishment’. It is true that this date has lived on during the intervening period of more than a century, and has never previously been challenged. The antiquity of a mistake, however, should not deter the historian from correcting it if this is justified.
When I began my work by a preliminary examination of our first Minute Book, I began to entertain serious doubts about the date of 5 September 1864. Through the kindness of the Chief Registrar, Mr Keith Brading, I obtained a xerox of the actual copy of our first printed Rules in the possession of the Registry of Friendly Societies Central Office. This very informative document is a booklet of thirty-two pages, measuring approximately 7 in. x 4 in., the title-page of which reads:
These first Rules of our Society, which were quite detailed and comprised 138 numbered paragraphs, were undated but were certainly in print by April 1864. This is demonstrated by an endorsement written inside the rear cover:
Also at the rear of this copy of our Rules are two further endorsements, the first of which reads:
The other endorsement reads:
This endorsed copy of our Rules, which we now know to have existed as early as April 1864, proves that at that date the name of the Society had been chosen and its objects defined. It is clear that by that date we had secured the tenure of our original modest office, which was a single first-floor room at 28 King Street, Huddersfield, at its junction with Queen Street. We know (from Rule 8) that at that date it was already proposed that ‘The business and affairs of the Society shall be managed and conducted by a President, a Vice-President, a Board of Directors, a Secretary, and a Treasurer’. We know (from Rule 9) that as early as April 1864, it was intended that ‘The Board of Directors shall consist of nine members [as it still does today] including the President and the Vice-President; five to form a quorum’. It is a reasonable presumption that these important matters, and all the other detailed proposals for the formation of the Society contained in the Rules, had been agreed after deliberations by the nine gentlemen who were to become the first Board of Directors, and who were listed under Rule 13 as:
Rules 14 to 20 inclusive declared that ‘the West-Riding Banking Company shall be the Bankers of this Society’, that ‘Mr. Jonas Craven, Huddersfield, is hereby appointed to be the Solicitor to this Society’, that ‘Messrs. John Kirk and Sons are hereby appointed the Architects and Surveyors of this Society’, that ‘Mr. John Smith, Accountant, is hereby appointed the Secretary of this Society’, that ‘Mr. John G. Berry, Banker [of the West Riding Banking Company] is hereby appointed the first Treasurer of this Society’, that ‘Mr. W. E. Thomas and Mr. William Dawson are hereby appointed the Auditors of this Society for one year’, and that ‘Wright Mellor, Esq., J.P. and William Mallinson, Esq., shall be the Trustees of this Society’.
Other proposals contained in the Rules included the holding of an Annual General Meeting of members in the month of December in every year (Rule 2), the holding of monthly meetings for the receipt of subscriptions ‘at Seven o’clock in the evening, at the Offices of the Society’, every fourth Monday, the first such meeting to be held on 5 September 1864 (Rule 1), and the holding of Board Meetings ‘on the Friday after each Subscription Meeting (or oftener if required) at the Office of the Society, at such hour as shall be fixed, to transact the business of the Society’ (Rule 30). Rules 7 and 80, which amplified Rule 1, made it additionally clear that the Subscription Meetings were not Board Meetings, but were simply the opening of the office from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. once a month for the convenience of members (who presumably were mainly at work during the day) to pay money into the Society. Only one Director (in rotation) attended these Meetings ‘to preside over the same during the appointed time for the receipt of subscriptions and repayments’, accompanied by the Secretary.
It seems conceivable that a mis-reading of Rule 1 in isolation might have led the second Secretary of the Society, Henry Kaye, who was only twenty-three when he was appointed on 29 March 1867 in succession to John Smith, erroneously to conclude that the first Subscription Meeting arranged for 5 September 1864 (the only precise date mentioned in the Rules) was the date of our establishment. We are also entitled to wonder whether Henry Kaye, drafting his first Report and Accounts in September 1867, was additionally misled by something else. It will be recalled in this connexion that it was in this third issue of our Annual Report that 5 September 1864 was first declared in print to be the date of our foundation, following the name of the Society. The young Secretary obviously and naturally used the two previous Reports prepared by his predecessor as a guide, for the format was identical. In the first of these, for which the Auditors, W. Dawson of the West Riding Union Bank and W. E. Thomas, Schoolmaster, gave a date of 16 October 1865, the only other dates printed are those for the cash account, which was stated to be ‘from September 5th, 1864 to September 3rd, 1865’. Thus the date mentioned in Rule 1 appeared again in a different context, and may have been accepted by Henry Kaye, who was not employed by the Society in 1864, as the date of our establishment. Be that as it may, the fact remains, as I hope to show, that the Society was very much in existence in all essentials before 5 September 1864.
Our first Minute Book entry was headed ‘Special Meeting, Friday, August 19th, 1864’. Mr Joseph Hirst took the Chair. He was to be elected the first President of the Society on 30 August 1864, not 19 August, as stated in the Minutes of the meeting of 27 May 1881, following his death in office on 1 May 1881. He was supported by Frederick Crosland (who was to succeed Joseph Hirst as the second President of the Society in 1881) and by Henry Shaw, William Henry Woodcock and Charles Denham. At this meeting of 19 August the Society’s Solicitor, Jonas Craven, and the Surveyors, John Kirk & Sons, were formally appointed ‘according to the Rules’. The latter phrase was appended to all the offices confirmed on this day, which also included that of the Treasurer, Mr Berry of the West Riding Union Banking Company (who were the Society’s bankers), the two Auditors, and the Secretary, John Smith.
On 30 August 1864, a second Directors’ Meeting was held, again under the chairmanship of Joseph Hirst. The Board was strengthened by the attendance of three other Directors, Charles Smeeton, Richard Roberts, and James Scholefield. At this second meeting a number of further important matters were settled. Joseph Hirst and Richard Roberts were elected President and Vice-President by ballot. It was agreed that members of other Building Societies could take an equivalent number of shares in the Huddersfield Equitable Permanent Benefit Building Society ‘without being subject to entrance fees and conditionally that the monies withdrawn be deposited on entry’. The important decisions were taken that ‘the Investing and Borrowing members be charged two pence in the pound for Office Expenses, the amount to be deducted on withdrawal or on the repayment of sums borrowed’ and that ‘the expenses for the first year shall not exceed 30/- per cent upon the total receipts for the year’. It was resolved that ‘the Secretary shall be paid by Commission and at the rate of 20/- per cent upon the total receipts for the first year’. Other matters agreed at this Directors’ meeting of 30 August 1864 included the decision that ‘the Office Hours be from ten to four, Saturday ten to one, and on the monthly subscription nights from seven to nine’. An important resolution that was carried was that sums of £25 and under could be withdrawn on fourteen days’ notice.
The next Board meeting was held on 9 September 1864, and it may be thought conclusive that 5 September, the alleged date of the founding of the Society, was mentioned nowhere in the early Minutes, which would have been a startling omission if the Society were really founded on that day. I must say now that on the evidence of the first Minute Book and the endorsed copy of the Rules, which must surely be regarded as the primary sources, I do not think that it can be doubted that the Society was established on 19 August 1864, complete with a Board of Directors, a Solicitor, Auditors, Surveyors, Bankers, and a Secretary. It is noteworthy, moreover, that all these appointments were made precisely ‘according to the Rules’ formally adopted on that day and so endorsed, and which stated in the opening sentence of the preamble, ‘This Society is established [my italics] by the name of “THE HUDDERSFIELD EQUITABLE PERMANENT BENEFIT BUILDING SOCIETY”’. I sent a copy of my notes on these matters to the Chief Registrar, who in his letter to me of 5 October 1973, was kind enough to say that the case I had made for 19 August 1864 as the date of our establishment was as conclusive as could be hoped for on the basis of the available evidence.
Any preliminary study of the early years of the Huddersfield Building Society must, in my view, include the laying of two other ghosts from the past. The first is an assertion in 1953 by the historian of the Halifax Building Society:
This suggestion that the Halifax Building Society had a branch in Huddersfield in 1862 is in my opinion an overstatement, presumably arising from a failure on the part of the historian to distinguish between the accepted meaning in 1953 of a branch (or District Office) as opposed to a part-time agency. I need not present the argument in detail, since I thought it proper to invite the comments of the Chief Administration of the Halifax Building Society upon my notes before publishing my conclusion. In a most agreeable and interesting correspondence Mr John Hainsworth, the General Secretary of the Society, conceded that on the basis of the facts I had assembled it was true to say that until 1871, when George Milner Fisher was appointed the first manager of the Huddersfield branch of the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society in Gladstone Chambers, 23 King Street, Huddersfield, the Society had been represented by part-time agents.
My information was ascertained by an examination of the earliest available commercial and street directories of the period, including William White’s Directory of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, etc. (Sheffield, 1866), The Huddersfield Directory and Year Book (Huddersfield, 1867) and Kelly’s Post Office Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire (London, 1871). These works of reference showed that the representative of the Halifax Society in Huddersfield during the first years of our establishment was Mr Frank Curzon, of 21 King Street, Huddersfield. Mr Curzon was described as an artist, a commission agent, the Secretary to the Huddersfield Art Union, a house and estate agent, the Secretary of the Huddersfield Warehousemen and Clerks’ Provident Association, and the Secretary of the Huddersfield Establishment of the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society.
In 1871 Frank Curzon disappeared from the scene represented by the directories of Huddersfield, and the Halifax Society established its District Office. The reason for the departure from Huddersfield of this gentleman of many parts is fortunately available to us from Curzon’s short autobiography. In his little paper-backed Reminiscences of My Life Work published in Leeds in 1904, Frank Curzon recorded his long connexion with the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institute, which led to his appointment as agent to the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes in August 1871, when a farewell dinner was given to him at Huddersfield. This somewhat flamboyant autobiography was concentrated upon Curzon’s work as an artist and his devotion to the Mechanics’ Institute movement, together with details of many celebrated people with whom he stated he came in contact as a result. He said (p. 36) that in Huddersfield from 1860 to 1870 he painted a large number of pictures which sold very well. In a comment upon the famous people he had known, he remarked (p. 56) that Lord Randolph Churchill ‘was thoroughly familiar with all the details connected with Building Societies and other bodies bearing on the social condition of the people’.
During the correspondence Mr Hainsworth provided a piece of information that was new to me. He said that Frank Curzon was appointed as the local agent of the Halifax Society in 1863, and that he had replaced the original agent, a Mr John Smith, appointed in 1862. It will be recalled that as early as April 1864 our printed Rules recorded (Rule 17) that ‘Mr. John Smith, Accountant, is hereby appointed the Secretary of this Society’, and that he occupied this position from August 1864 until the early months of 1867, when his resignation was followed by the appointment of Henry Kaye. Mr Hainsworth wrote:
This attractive speculation is of great interest from the point of view of both Societies. It is therefore unfortunate that despite efforts by both Mr Hainsworth and myself, we have been unable to carry the matter further. In the old records of both Societies, our respective John Smiths are no more than names, and Mr Hainsworth and I have agreed that it is impossible to determine today with certainty that they were the same man.
The other ghost that needs to be laid for the benefit of future students of the early history of the Huddersfield Building Society is its possible confusion with another very similarly named organization, the comparatively short-lived Huddersfield District Permanent Benefit Building Society. In our collection of information preserved in Britannia Buildings we have discovered one of the Minute Books (apparently the last) of the proceedings of the Huddersfield District Permanent from 1880 to 1887, and a set of the Rules of the Society. Why these two documents should have come into our hands I have been unable to discover, for it can be demonstrated that the Society did not specifically transfer its engagements to us when it ceased to operate. Be that as it may, these sources of information tell us, among other interesting matters, that the Huddersfield District Permanent Benefit Building Society was formed on 14 October 1863, at a meeting held at the Wool Pack Inn, Buxton Road, Huddersfield, thus preceding our own establishment by rather less than a year. The Society boasted no less than fifteen impressive ‘Patrons’, of whom four were clergymen, and seven were Justices of the Peace. Among these Patrons were Wright Mellor, J.P., who was to become one of our Trustees in 1864, and Joseph Hirst, who was to become our first President.
These Rules and the commercial and street Directories of the period show that the first Secretary of the Huddersfield District Permanent Benefit Building Society was Charles Kershaw Hare, and that its original office was at 1 New Street, Huddersfield. Between the foundation of the Society and the year 1887, when the Minutes recorded that a committee was appointed to wind up the affairs of the Society, many changes of Secretary were made. Mr Hare was succeeded in turn by James Taylor, Ramsden Ainley, Crossley Cockroft, Joah Jessop, J. L. Barraclough, and William Rippon. During the incumbencies of these seven different Secretaries, the Huddersfield District Permanent Benefit Building Society moved its office first from New Street to 19 Market Place, then back to New Street and finally to 17 Queen Street. During the time of the final location at 17 Queen Street and the employment of the last Secretary, William Rippon, the Society even changed its name to the Huddersfield and District Self Help Permanent Building Society. Such a succession of changes of address and chief executives demonstrated a state of affairs that could only have one result, it may be thought. In 1887, on the recommendation of the Committee appointed to wind up the affairs of this unfortunate Society, borrowers who could not afford to repay their loans were asked to transfer their business either to the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society or to the Huddersfield Equitable Permanent Benefit Building Society. The Huddersfield District Society terminated in July 1888, and by 1889 the new street directories showed that 17 Queen Street, Huddersfield was occupied only by Sam Chambers, veterinary surgeon, and Joseph Sowden, cart owner.