2016-0521 Birmingham – Seek A Safe Place

Wandering round central Birmingham shooting street I passed a rather ornate building with four massive columns  standing guard in front of a heavy black door. The building, Grade II listed, was built in 1933 as the first municipal bank in the country; The Birmingham Municipal Bank.

I heard a voice behind me ask if I’d like to see the vaults! It would be a last chance for a while….

Me? Oh, yep!!!!

http://www.hidden-spaces.co.uk – “Stepping through the large bronze doors you are led into the lavishly finished triple height volume of the banking hall. Its walls of polished marble and its ornate coffered ceiling speak of prosperity and civic pride, instilling confidence in would-be depositors. Inscriptions such as “Thrift radiates happiness” take you back to a time when banks promoted thrift, not credit.

In the basement, along a mirrored corridor, a door of 12 inch thick steel leads you through the two-feet-thick concrete walls into the safety deposit strongroom, where depositors could store their personal effects.DSCF8021

Altogether the room houses a total of 10,528 shimmering silver deposit boxes, which are all still intact.DSCF8002

The room is surprisingly luxuriant, with intricate brasswork in a geometric, almost art deco style. Ambient lighting is neatly integrated into the central columns and around the perimeter within the cornice.

Beneath the cornice inscriptions such as “Prudent people seek a safe place wherein to lodge their securities” conjure visions of a time when banks were considered careful paragons and guardians. Although old and abandoned, the safety deposit room, has a lingering air of grandeur and importance.DSCF8019

It was not necessary to disclose the nature of articles stored within the deposit boxes and were, on occasion, subject to police raids. Upon closure of the bank a mass clean out of deposit boxes lead to the discovery of all manner of objects from jewellery and documents to weapons and even a single lock of hair.”

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Wow, exploring a vault that had been in service from 1933, all through the Second World War, the 50s, 60s, and 70s. What stories, what secrets what hopes and dreams were once held here.

At the far corner of the vault was a jail type steel door leading to a storeroom and racking for items too large to be contained within the storage boxes of the vault. In the wall of the room I could see through the gloom a wall safe. Strange – a safe within a strongroom, within a vault.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

Ah, that is the escape hatch, said the man. Should something go wrong the staff carried keys that opened the door and they could scramble out into the main bank building.

What a great find!

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