The way we were…….
Updated: Jan 17
This article was written by Clem Danin. All views and opinions are strictly his own.
As we approach the 2020s let us go back six decades and follow a new clerk as he joins H J Enthoven and Sons Ltd on the LME in 1960. H J Enthoven operated two lead smelters; one in Darley Dale, Derbyshire (which is still going) and one then happily pouring out lead and other decidedly toxic fumes over the residents in highly populated Rotherhithe, some three miles south of London Bridge.
The Company had an LME department, headed by Jack Harrison, which confined its activity to hedging its lead and tin and dealing for its two clients, who occasionally were known to have traded up to 3 or 4 lots in a month.
As regards the company, the main worries arose from those moments when the metal balance was up or down 12½ tons of lead or 2½ tons of tin overnight. The General Manager would then have to make the critical decision as to whether the LME team should be given an order or not. A man of sturdy character.
The company itself had, by the time our hero joined, adopted a very modern approach to staff comforts. Staff were allowed to remove jackets as long as they were in their offices. Naturally jackets had to be worn in the corridors and elsewhere and certainly if one of the clients made one of his occasional visits. There was, however, the strict rule that the receptionist-cum–girl (matron?) Friday was not allowed to smoke her pipe if visitors arrived. This attitude would, of course, be very much frowned on today as the men had complete freedom to smoke their pipes when and wherever they liked. At that time there were cubicles in the gentlemen’s lavatories exclusively for the Directors, who were given individual keys as a badge of office.
As part of his training, our hero was sent to the Rotherhithe smelter in order to glean some perspective of the business. As an aside, when taking the underground from the City to Rotherhithe on his first visit, he was somewhat intrigued to see opposite a copy of the Financial Times, held by two immaculate white gloves, pinstriped trousers below and a bowler hat above. The apparition, a very distinguished black man, disembarked at Rotherhithe and our hero followed him to the Enthoven factory, where he was not seen again until he brought the tea trolley round for the staff during the morning.
On entering the factory floor his attention was drawn to two massive individuals, stripped to the waist, breaking the covers from the piles of vehicle batteries with pick-axes, so that the lead could then be taken for refining. The thought of their eight-hour shifts, even with tea and lunch breaks, suggested to our hero that LME trading seemed a better proposition.
Other material to be refined came from printing metal, discarded by the printers after use for the production of magazines and papers. It was observed that printing metal discarded from forming the photos found in the more cultural magazines, such as ‘Lilliput’ and ‘Health and Efficiency’ never seemed to get to the smelter.
Back in the City, our hero is now on the floor of the LME in Whittington Avenue which, in a way, had changed little since the Victorian times. Our hero was told by Mr Harrison that when he was a clerk he was obliged to take his boss’s top hat to be brushed and then to be presented to him when he came onto the LME floor. Alan Booth, a contemporary, was detailed daily to take a first class seat facing the engine, on a train at Waterloo and vacate it when his boss arrived.
The market contained 36 Ring Members, all British. It seemed to be run by five or six men – senior traders in their late fifties, with Walter Stern, a commanding man, assuming the role of the self-appointed mightiest of the mighty. Other mighty men included George Proctor, Freddie Wolff, Charles Vingo, Stanley Booth and Albert Cheek. All of them very demanding and some of them bullies. None of them would have won many prizes for political correctness. Between them they ensured that all trading in the Ring and all behaviour in the room was kept very much in order. The younger authorised clerks were in general despised by their seniors as they sat in the Ring at such an early age.*
The technology surrounding trading was provided by the Secretary, Mr Notley, clanging a bell at the end of each ring and the notebooks of the clerks who had to take down all trades. Naturally some were better at it than others so there was always a bit of conferring at the end of each session. Our hero, with most of the others, tended to rely on Timmy Roberts of Metal Traders and Harry from Reuters.
No women were allowed in the room; not even if they were clients.
Discipline was such that no smoking was permitted until the Kerb, when dealers moved to the centre of the Ring and concentrated their attention on exchanging a series of somewhat dubious jokes interspersed with the odd bit of trading.
Apart from the Victorian attitudes prevailing, there were no telephones and there was no air conditioning. In times of high temperature a large block of ice, of about 4 cubic feet, was imported from the Leadenhall Market butchers and placed in the middle of the Ring.
The LME offices, situated in the same building, consisted of the Secretary, two assistants and a typist lady. There was also the Sergeant guarding the ins and out, to and from the building. An imposing man, whose claim to fame was that, by polishing the brass tubes and everything in sight, he oversaw “the best kept lavatories in the City of London.”
Unlike today, the purpose of the LME staff was to serve the membership which it did extremely well.
The moment came for our hero to make his first trade in the Ring.
There was a ritual.
He sat there nervously, feeling every eye upon him. After a few moments Walter Stern would say “-and what do you want to do?”
“I would like to buy 25 tons of lead at £64/2/6”
“I will sell you 25 at £64/2/6”
Everyone smiled. The ordeal was over and the world could continue.
This had worked so well over many years until one Tuesday afternoon in 1964 at 3.23.
“-and what do you want to do?”
“I would like to buy 25 tons of lead at £65”
“I will sell you 25 at £65”
Then before anyone could think of smiling –
“Make it 50 tons! – 100! – I’ll give £65/2/6- £65/10 – £66!”
This was the moment when the LME (and probably the City of London) moved from the West End to the East End.
Nothing was ever the same again.
Here was a world with three shilling luncheon vouchers and a world without compliance and without regulation. A world where those who had cars could park them without restriction outside the LME. Before telex, photocopying, fax, the Clearing House, the Financial Service Act and of course before mobile phones, e-mails, IT and social media.
Maybe that world started to vanish with the arrival of Ron Adams.
*Sad to say, many years later our hero was still being despised for sitting in the Ring in his maturity. 25 or so years of being despised.