A few months ago, I mentioned the People's Building Society which has left this fine plaque in Lewisham. There was little information to add beyond that it was operating in the 1860s and in 1968 made an application to be merged into the Greenwich Building Society.
However, today I chanced across an advertisement for the organisation in Nathan Dews' History of Deptford of 1883. Like so many text-heavy Victorian adverts, it is full of information. The society's name at that time was the People's Co-operative Permanent Building Society, more informative than catchy. The chief office was in Greenwich Road, but there were branches both in Woolwich and in the Mechanics' Institute on Deptford High Street. None of these branches opened more than one evening a week.
The advertisement tells us that 'the Society was Established in the year 1847'. As a permanent building society, its members could join at any time and attracted no liability. (This was in contrast to earlier terminating societies, whose members all paid a regular subscription until every member had received an advance. Any new members had to pay arrears equivalent to subscriptions from the beginning of the club.) The first permanent society, the Metropolitan Equitable, had been established only two years earlier. Numbers quickly grew, and in the year the People's Co-operative Society was founded, Arthur Scratchley's Treatise on Benefit Building Societies was published as a guide for such bodies. Its subtitle was perhaps not tempting: 'remarks upon the erroneous tendency of many of the societies at present in existence, and an inquiry into the true causes of their defective operation, with a view to their amendment, or, the formation of new societies upon correct principles.'
The services offered by the People's Co-operative sound attractive. Money invested in £50 shares received 5% compound interest added yearly, with annual bonuses after two years; 4% was paid on smaller deposits, calculated monthly. According to the society, THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST AND MOST LIBERAL BUILDING SOCIETIES EXTANT FOR BORROWERS.
As for lenders, they could obtain money 'advanced immediately' to purchase freehold or leasehold property. 'Solicitor's and Surveyor's charges are moderate', and a loan of £100 would be repaid in a tempting 16 years. Why buy, though, in a city where most people rented? The answer was a combination of financial prudence and a promise akin to that of modern buy-to-let: while RENT PAYERS ... give away ONE SIXTH of their income, or ONE DAY'S LABOUR EVERY WEEK to their landlords, for the prudent homeowner, As soon as a member redeems his mortgage the Rent of the House will secure to him an ANNUITY FOR LIFE.
These financial services must have appealed to many south-east Londoners. The building society boasted an annual income of £60,000 and claimed to have lent over £450,000 in the thirty-five or so years since its formation.