The End of an Era–The Savings Clubs

Today I record for the purpose of future generations the history of small savings clubs in Bermuda. I will relate more to the North Village Institute Savings club as that was the one I became most familiar  with for several years.

The small savings clubs , gifts clubs or Christmas clubs as they were earlier known came into existence in early 1900. Once the early lodge movement was introduced to Bermuda these clubs came into play in rapid succession. This was a means of teaching or better still helping the black persons in Bermuda to save money in turn they would be able to feed and educate their families, pool their resources to build their homes and other buildings and bury their dead. Having these clubs would give the average person of the black population some degree of independence. These clubs operated as a part of various Oddfellows Independent Orders from Somerset to St.Georges. It was the first idea of an insurance that formed for these organizations. Most were operated from the confines of church vestries this was almost a mandate by the lodges that most of their activities was of a positive influence to society. In the central parish of Pembroke we had St. Augustine Mission club which operated out of St. Augustine Church located on top of what many refered to as Smith’s hill. Later the establishment named the hill St. Augustine Hill. the other was at Grace Church on the main though fare at that time on the North Shore road bordering Devonshire and Pembroke. The next was the St. Monica’s Mission Club given the name by residents and because the mission itself was built by one of its’ operators William Francis Wilson the 2nd..better known to many of his colleagues as “Willie or W.F. There was the lough Memorial hall club operated by members of the Conyers family the Vernon Temple Church was also home of a savings club. They flourished and as they did, so did the financial lot of the Black Bermudian. In earlier times there was no adding machines or fancy computers almost all the work was done by hand and written in small note books with nib pen and ink. There was a large ledger book kept for proper accounting by the operators at that time their hours of operation had to be staggered as these persons were also family men and had regular jobs. W.F and Mr. A Brangman operated the St. Monica’s Mission club until William (Willie) passed in 1932. and William’s son William Francis Wilson 3rd. better known as (bussy ) to his friends took over the operation and it was operated nights only the other clubs continued to operate during the day. Then William encouraged his wife IsmayWinifred (Dill) Wilson and his sister Ethel (Wilson) Whitter (known as Effie) to go during the day to operate the club from 2-400.pm  while he continued to operate it during the night from 7-9.pm. William’s children and grand children were encouraged to go in after school and observe the operation.  As times changed so did some of the operations of the club have to be altered. For years the club charged a very minimal fee for joining and it remained for years to accommodate the members of the community. Time and age took its toll and Ismay and Ethel retired and in stepped William’s children ,grandchildren assisted by one of Ethel’s’ daughters. As large banking institutions came on the front in Bermuda island the savings clubs was seen as a risk an interference and they  gradually began to decline. More evident was the fact that one of the larger banks produced a mobile banking bus and it came into the central area and gradually the small savings clubs began to fade out. Grace Church was the first to go followed by St. Augustine. Somerset club soon followed. workmen’ clubs and hand clubs came on the scene but  Warwick, Vernon Temple and St. Monica’s hung in for the long haul.  Membership grew and operation changed as we started paying out by check instead of cash for our safety and that of our members but we still did our bookkeeping the old fashion way and members seemed to appreciate that. In 1980 the St. Mission  Club at St. Monica’s hall changed its’ name to the North Village Institute Savings Club. We established our own name stamps and because of the closure of several of the other clubs our membership grew and we included staff member and cousin Gloria (White) Richards. Needless to say we had our challenges with storms destroying the Mission in 2003 so for a few years we operated out of The North Village Band Room also a building closely associated with W.F who was its first band leader and where many of his sons and sons in law became a part of the band. It was there we were joined by William’s daughter Thelma Tucker.  The remaining  two savings clubs continue having on some occasions as many as 1000+ members and a small joining fee for all. In January 1987 we saw the passing of William (Bussy) Wilson and the operation of the club was left in the capable hands of his daughter Joy and son Edwin, sister Inez later came on board. As staff which was mostly family members retired because of age and ill heath another stepped in.  In 2012 the great granddaughter of William joined the ranks Cherie(Trott) Gray and it was here we started to really face the challenges of the banks with their financial increases paying out at year-end became the savings account operator’s nightmare. In 2014 special request came via the banking establishment requiring the names of every member and the following year 2015 son Edwin retired and the operation remained in the hands of Joy and Cherie. As more personal information was requested of the members a decision had to be made in order not to be too invasive of the members privacy and also to take into consideration the safety in these changing times of both staff and members  the decision was made after some 110 years  at the end of 2016 to close the savings club completely surprisingly little did we know that  Vernon Temple was facing some of the very same issues and so to closed their doors at the end of 2016. The death knell of the savings clubs had reach their demise. Do I miss it not really as a family I think we served our community well. I miss the fellowship but that to will pass.  The beauty was we saw little people who were babes in arm now grown and become members this added to the pride and pleasure of knowing we did our best and the knowledge that this family legacy will live on throughout history.

Submitted by Joy  Grand  daughter  of W.F and  daughter of William (Bussy) Wilson