Forging Ahead: West Bromwich Building Society

We are looking for memories of the Cape Hill branch of the West Bromwich Building Society  in the 1940s-60s so that we can recreate it in our new  historic town.

What we need & how to contact us

West Bromwich Building Society

Do you have any personal stories about this branch which used to be at 31, Cape Hill, Smethwick (opposite the present-day branch)? Perhaps you held a savings account with them or got your first mortgage there? Or maybe your family or friends worked there?

We’re particularly keen to hear the memories of those who moved to Smethwick from outside the UK during this period. This was a time when housing was a political, economic and cultural issue and finding somewhere to live was often challenging. We are keen to hear how new arrivals found somewhere to live, how they saved to buy a home, and about the difficulties they faced. If you have a story to tell we would love to hear it.

We would also like to hear from anyone that may have old pass books, money boxes, photos, paperwork or any other equipment, furniture or stationery that was used in the branch.

If you, or anyone you know has anything you would like to share to help us shape the story of the West Bromwich Building Society, please get in touch:

  • Tel: 0121 557 9643
  • Email: [email protected] 
  • Post address: Collections Team, Black Country Living Museum, Tipton Road, Dudley, West Midlands DY1 4SQ 

‘The West Brom’ was formed as the West Bromwich Permanent Benefit Building Society in 1849, at Paradise Street Methodist schoolrooms in West Bromwich. Societies like this were formed to enable the working classes to afford home ownership and in turn receive a vote, whilst sharing the profits of the venture. The Society grew in strength between the wars, opening a new headquarters, the “Home Of Thrift” in West Bromwich High Street, and branches in Handsworth, Smethwick, Great Bridge and Oldbury. By its centenary year in 1949, ‘the West Brom’ had over 1.5 million depositors, still helping people to save to afford their own home.

The building we are recreating from 31, Cape Hill, was built in the late nineteenth-century as part of the Post Office on the corner of Windmill Lane, and was taken over by the Building Society in 1931. They moved their Smethwick Branch from Waterloo Road to this more prominent site and refaced the building with a new stone façade. It remained open until around 1970, when the branch moved across the road to its present position.

Telling the story of the Society in this period will enable us to show the importance of mutual help and savings to the ordinary residents of the Black Country, and how central to everyday life the idea of home was.

This safe has a clear stamp on the front identifying that it belongs to West Bromwich Building Society. It was made by the Automatic Recording Safe Co. of Birmingham and London, who mass produced these as promotional items for banks and building societies. 

The safe wallets have their origins in Victorian Britain as a way of encouraging thriftiness and saving, possibly with the working classes in mind, probably to try and convince people not to waste their money on gambling and drink. The key was held by the bank or building society, so that only they could open it.

This one is probably 1950s, so ideal for BCLM: Forging Ahead. 


This pass book was used by a Smethwick gentleman who has kindly donated it to BCLM: Forging Ahead. He worked for the MEB in Cape Hill, close by to the West Bromwich branch. When he took a new and higher-paid job at Birmingham Co-op, he was able to start a mortgage with Worcester & Redditch Building Society, and kept a savings account with the West Bromwich Building Society. He saved £12 a month from a salary of £11.10.0 per week, and has been a loyal customer to the building society ever since.