This article is based on research provided by Alastair Mackay.
Building societies first evolved in the late 18th century with the number expanding through the next century. Groups of mainly skilled trades people in a town or district would invest monthly to build a fund to purchase a house for each society member. The earliest type, known as terminating societies were wound up when each member had a home.
In around the 1840s, Permanent societies appeared. As the name suggests, they continue adding new members, collecting investments and making new loans. It is interesting to note that as late as 1945 there were still 89 Terminating Societies.
Unlike banks, there are no traded shares, the societies are “mutual,” owned by the members. Originally members investments were the only source of funds, now up to 50% can be raised on wholesale markets.
At their peak, almost every town had its own building society, through takeovers and mergers. Over 100 such takeovers have contributed to making The Nationwide, the worlds largest. Today there are 43 remaining, 16 less than in 2008.
The 1945 Building Societies year book lists 913 societies. For most of the twentieth century they dominated the home mortgage market.
Amersham & District Permanent Building Society
From an entry in the Building Society Association year book for 1945, the Amersham and District BS had assets of £15K which would have covered around 15- 20 mortgages. Possibly established in 1890, this would tie up with the development of Amersham-on-the-Hill and the arrival of the Metropolitan line.
It was was based at Challoner House, Longfield Drive presumably operating out of a solicitors offices which was quite normal for small BS of the day. The Amersham & District Permanent BS was not a member of the Building Societies Association – not an uncommon occurrence as most of the smaller societies were not.
The entry in 1945 reads as follows:
Head Office (only office) ‘Challoner House’, Longfield Drive. Secretary: S.E.A. Tunks. Established and Incorporated in 1889.
The 55th Annual Account and Statement for year ended 1944 shows:
Due to 81 Shareholders £13,280
Due to Depositors Nil
Bank Loans £4
Other Liabilities £514
Balances due on 14 mortgages (Advanced during year Nil) £4,806
Other Assets £65
Cash at Bank and in Hand £991
What is immediately apparent is how small the society is with only 14 live mortgages. The reference to Investments is probably in Government War Bonds. At the same time the Halifax had 216,613 mortgages, 246,243 shareholders and 225,811 depositors, with total assets of £132,812,792
The Amersham was clearly too small to continue trading for much longer and in 1957 was taken over by the Hastings & Thanet Building Society, which by a circuitous route eventually became the Nationwide Building Society with current total assets of £240 billion.
There was another building society in Amersham known as the Amersham Ballot and Sale BS believed to be a terminating society and relatively short lived, the only reference is an entry in the Kelly’s Directory.
Other Buckinghamshire Societies
There was not the same number of Building Societies in the home counties as in London, the Midlands or the North East for example. Other Bucks based societies we are aware of are:
Aylesbury Permanent Benefit – total assets of £118,896
Berks & Bucks Permanent Mutual Benefit – total assets of £26,354
Chalfont & District Permanent (now known as the Buckinghamshire and still trading) total assets of £356,748
Chesham – total assets of £141,991 – for many years claimed to be the oldest surviving building society established in 1845 – it was taken over by the Skipton in 2010 as a result of the financial crisis.
Chesham & District Mutual & Permanent – total assets of £177,843
High Wycombe & South Bucks Permanent Benefit- total assets of £139,718
Newport Pagnell, Olney & District (Bucks) Permanent Benefit – total assets of £15,506
Slough & Eton Benefit – total assets £25,833
Wolverton (Bucks) Permanent Benefit – total assets £153,773