The Early Years of the Huddersfield Building Society (1974) - John Smith 1864-7

© Trevor Henry Hall
The following text is the copyright of Trevor Henry Hall and has been made available on this web site with the express permission of his estate. No further reproduction or distribution is permitted.

John Smith 1864-7

John Smith’s tenure of office as the first Secretary of the Society from 19 August 1864[1] to 29 March 1867, was clearly the first natural period of our history. It also roughly coincided with our occupation of our original office at 28 King Street, Huddersfield, for at the Board Meeting on 22 March 1867, a Sub-Committee was appointed to inspect the proposed new office at 19 John William Street. A week later, the Sub-Committee was invited to superintend the refitting of the Society’s recently acquired and more commodious premises.

On the face of it, Smith seems to have been a satisfactory and competent executive. When his resignation was formally accepted by the Board on 29 March 1867, the President was asked to write to Smith on behalf of the Directors ‘regretting the loss of his services but at the same time wishing him every success in his enlarged sphere of action’. From this it would appear that Smith, who was described as an Accountant in the Rules, had obtained a more lucrative appointment. It would seem, however, that he considerately gave the Directors four months’ notice of his intention to leave the Society’s service, for as early as the occasion of a Board Meeting held on 6 November 1866, it was resolved that a Sub-Committee be appointed ‘to examine into and report on the present state and future prospects of the Society, and also to take into consideration the Secretary’s resignation’. As will be seen, this notice was of sufficient length to enable the Directors conveniently to appoint Smith’s successor, Henry Kaye, on the same date, 29 March 1867, as the first Secretary’s resignation became effective.

During Smith’s period as Secretary, the operations of the Society from its single first-floor room in King Street were naturally limited in extent. We had started from nothing, and we faced competition both from the already established Huddersfield District Permanent Benefit Building Society and from the successful agency of the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society, run by the locally popular and influential Mr Frank Curzon. Our first trading year ended on 3 September 1865, and our first Report and Accounts, a single quarto sheet printed on both sides and folded in three, therefore makes interesting reading.

The first Annual Report showed that we had received £2,294.18.2d. in the Share Department, £2,143.34d. in Deposits, and £97.17.8d. on account of Entrance Fees, Pass-Books, Fines and other sundries, making a total gross intake of £4,535.19.2d. Withdrawals amounted to £565.18.2d., which was a very much more satisfactory ratio than that which Building Societies experience today. During the first year, £3,953.14.0d. was advanced to our six borrowing members, and £242 represented the total expenses of running the Society,[2] including the Secretary’s commission, fire insurance, printing of pass-books, Rules and stationery, and the purchase of office furniture.[3] At the end of our first year’s modest activities the remaining cash in hand and at the Bank was £54.7.0d. The assets of the Society at the end of its first year were declared by the Auditors to be £4,044.13.5d., being the total of the mortgage balances, the office furniture and fittings (less 15% depreciation), and the cash in hand and at the Bank.

The Minute Book showed that from the beginning the establishment of Agencies, mainly in the villages around Huddersfield, was under constant if cautious consideration by the Directors. As early as the Board meeting of 5 November 1864 the Secretary was instructed ‘to get information respecting the establishment of Agencies’. During the first year an Agency was opened at the National School at Meltham, launched by means of a public meeting in that village arranged by the Board on 20 May 1865. Out local representative was Mr T. H. Lawford. In the autumn of that year the Directors discussed (or appointed sub-committees to investigate) the possibility of opening Agencies at Stainland and Mirfield, and, more boldly, at Halifax, Dewsbury, and Batley. These further projects were, however, postponed as doubtless too ambitious at such an early stage in the development of the Society.

Richard Roberts had resigned from the Board on moving from the Huddersfield district. At the Board Meeting of 9 October 1865, James Scholefield was elected Vice-President of the Society in his place.

The first Report and Accounts were presented to an Annual General Meeting of Shareholders on 1 December 1865 held in the Assembly Rooms of the Philosophical Hall in Huddersfield. In the Report of the Directors it was declared by the President, Mr Joseph Hirst, that the first year’s operations had been very satisfactory:

They have every confidence that the principles upon which the Society is based will bring matters to a satisfactory issue year by year; but their expectations have been more than realized on finding, after a very careful examination of the books by the Auditors, that, in addition to the interest allowed, at the rate of 5 per cent, on share subscriptions, and per cent, on deposit subscriptions, there is still a surplus sufficient to allow a Bonus of 1 per cent., beside carrying, according to rule, a sum to a Reserve Fund. At the close of next year, your Directors confidently expect to be able to declare a good Bonus upon all shares then in force. The Directors ask for the hearty co-operation of their fellow-members in extending the influence and advantage of the Society.

By 2 September 1866, at the end of its second trading year, the Society had more than doubled its assets, which had risen to £9,070.13.10d., comprising mortgage balances of £8,701.14.4d., office fixtures and fittings of £129.9.9d. and cash £239.9.9d. During the year, 236 new members had joined the Society. The second Annual General Meeting was held in the Wellington Hall, Queen Street, Huddersfield, on 18 December 1866, with the President of the Society, Mr Joseph Hirst, again in the Chair. In presenting the Directors’ Report, Mr Hirst said that it was a pleasure ‘to congratulate the Shareholders upon the extension and increasing prosperity of the Society’. Commenting upon the large increase in the mortgage balances, the President emphasized that ‘the whole of this sum is secured by good and substantial mortgages, and a good margin between the amount advanced and the market value had been secured’. He remarked:

Your Directors rejoice to contemplate the benefits resulting from the establishment of this Society, and anticipate for it a yet larger extension and success, and hope that those who have reaped advantages from their connection with it, will seek to extend its benefits to all who come under its influence.

During the first two years of its existence, the affairs of the Huddersfield Equitable Permanent Benefit Building Society had gone well. There had, of course, been teething troubles, including the loss of some of the original Directors. On 16 June 1865, Richard Roberts resigned on leaving the district and was replaced on 8 September 1865, by G. Tindall.[4] J. Dodds, who from the beginning was not a very regular attender at Board meetings, appears to have been displaced at the first Annual General Meeting on 1 December 1865 by T. A. Brown, described as a Salesman. It is to be presumed that this gentleman did not feel entirely at ease on the Board, for he remained a Director only six months before resigning. The vacancy was filled by the election of Charles Vickerman.[5] One month later, on 13 July 1866, Robert Wood joined the Board following the resignation of Charles Denham. Leaving out of account the short stay of T. A. Brown, the loss of three of the founding fathers of the Society in the space of two years was a matter of regret. During the remaining six months of John Smith’s two-and-a-half years of office as Secretary, moreover, the Society suffered the further loss by resignation on 25 January 1867, of another of the original Directors, Charles Smeeton. On this occasion, however, there were compensations. First, John H. Stuttard, the Director appointed to fill the vacancy, was to give long and outstanding service to the Society, becoming its third President in 1897.[6] The other compensation which it is appropriate to mention here, although it actually occurred during Henry Kaye’s first year as Secretary, is that Charles Smeeton rejoined his colleagues on the Board on 2 November 1867, following the resignation of Robert Wood after some fourteen months as a Director.[7]

During the latter months of John Smith’s employment by the Society some minor amendments to the Rules were made. The only one of importance was a resolution on 6 November 1866, when it was agreed to hold the Annual General Meeting in October instead of December.

On 30 November 1866 the Directors encountered trouble with the Society’s Solicitor, Jonas Craven, on the matter of his charges, which it is appropriate to notice because the same difficulty was to arise a year later in a more acute form. The following resolution was recorded in the Board Minutes:

On the motion of Mr. Vickerman, seconded by Mr. Crosland, it was resolved that a letter be written to Mr. E. Brook in reply to his of the 24th Nov/66, expressing regret at the exorbitant charges made upon him by the Society’s Solicitor on his receiving an advance, and that the Solicitor be also written acquainting him with the complaints made by the Members respecting his extra charges; and that in future all Bills for extra charges be laid before the Board previous to being paid.

The Directors were entitled to be severe, for Rule 57 set out a scale of ‘Solicitor’s Charges for Mortgages’, by which Mr Craven had presumably agreed to abide. Evidently the Board was not severe enough, for the reprimand and the instruction were soon to be ignored, as will be seen.

I have tried to give some account of John Smith’s period as Secretary of the Society, brief though it was, partly because he was our first chief executive, and partly because it was during his term of office that a very young man entered our service who was to become an outstanding figure in our history. In the obituary of Henry Kaye in The Huddersfield Examiner of 5 March 1913, it was stated:

Mr. Kaye was practically the founder of the Huddersfield Building Society forty-eight years ago. After about eighteen months as clerk in the office he was appointed Secretary — a position he held for forty-five years.

Henry Kaye’s employment as a clerk is not specifically mentioned in the Board Minutes, but a close examination of the Minute Books reveal a very interesting fact. It was John Smith’s habit to take down the Minutes in rough longhand on separate sheets of lined blue paper (which we have preserved), and then copy them into the Minute Book for the signature of the President. Smith wrote in a good, legible, Victorian hand, but his writing is not to be compared with the beautiful and faultless copperplate in which the Minute Books were written up from 27 February 1865, continuing long after John Smith had resigned, and which may confidently be presumed to be the handwriting of Henry Kaye.


  1. The foundation of our Society is not mentioned in either D. F. E. Sykes’s The History of Huddersfield and its Vicinity (Huddersfield, 1898) or Taylor Dyson’s The History of Huddersfield and District (Huddersfield, 1932). The photograph entitled ‘St George’s Square’ on p. 473 of the latter book could well be called ‘The Huddersfield Building Society’, for it is as impressive a picture of Britannia Buildings and our splendid front elevation as I have seen. I think it a curious omission that Mr Roy Brook does not devote a few paragraphs to us in his The Story of Huddersfield (London, 1968). When Mr Brook wrote his book, the fact that from our undeniable early place in the social and commercial history of Huddersfield we had grown into a large and important Society with a nationwide presence, was not arguable.
  2. This seems a modest sum, and to put it into perspective it may be noticed that it was not until the Society’s second year and the Board meeting of 5 January 1866, that it was resolved that the two Auditors be paid £2.2.0d. each for their services. The Directors received no financial rewards whatever in the early years.
  3. For some reason the rent of the office was not mentioned among the list of expenses, which was evidently a clerical error since it was included in a similar bulk item in the second Report and Accounts for the year ending 2 September 1866.
  4. George Tindall was a Printer and Engraver in New Street, Huddersfield.
  5. Charles Vickerman was a Director of Benjamin Vickerman & Sons, Woollen Manufacturers of 53 New Street, Huddersfield and Taylor Hill, Almondbury. It is of interest that the 1871 directories show that by then the firm had moved to Britannia Buildings, which they occupied with Thomas Ramsden and George Crosland & Sons, also Woollen Manufacturers.
  6. John H. Stuttard was a Director of Carter and Stuttard, Painting Contractors, of King Street, Huddersfield.
  7. Robert Wood was a Shoemaker in Church Street, Huddersfield.