Background and early life
William Henry Inskip was born in Shefford, Bedfordshire, on 24 October 1862, the second son of William Inskip, a farmer, and his wife. He had one older brother (Alfred), a sister and two much younger brothers, Herbert and Frank.
The Inskip family were devout Methodists, and closely involved in the life of their village chapel. William Inskip later described his rural childhood as ‘a free, open-air, back-woods kind of life.’
When William was 11 and his brother Alfred was 12, both boys were sent to board at Mead House School, Biggleswade. After 5 years there, William’s parents decided that – prospects in agriculture at the time being precarious – he should be prepared for a career in commerce, and sent him for one further year’s schooling at the City of London School.
When William was 17 his family began to discuss what career he would go into. A cousin suggested banking. Inskip later reminisced that ‘I replied that I knew nothing about it but would not mind trying it.’
Despite advice from a local bank manager who declared that banking was ‘a monotonous and confined life, with little prospect of advancement except for very clever or fortunate men’, Inskip applied to London & County Bank. He was appointed, and began work at the bank’s Oxford branch on 18 February 1880, on a yearly salary of £50
He remained at Oxford branch for 14 years, and later recalled that a number of Oxford’s best-known characters of the period banked there, including the Reverend Spooner, after whom spoonerisms are named.
On two occasions in his early career he considered a drastic change of direction, spurred by the constrictions of office life and the limited prospects for advancement in an English bank. At one point he considered travelling to Australia to become a fruit grower in Northern Queensland. Later, he was offered a post in the Standard Bank of South Africa, which had a number of vacancies because so many employees had left to join the gold rush. In deference to his parents’ wishes he turned down the offer.
In 1894 the bank transferred Inskip to Bedford branch. 18 months later he was appointed chief clerk at Maldon branch. After 11 months there he was transferred again to Harrow branch. In 1900 he became chief clerk at the much larger and busier Hastings branch.
In 1903 he moved out of the branch network, taking a head office post as clerk to one of the branch inspectors. This role involved a great deal of travelling from branch to branch, which Inskip – unmarried, and by his own admission ‘somewhat of a wanderer’ – greatly enjoyed.
In 1905 the bank’s board appointed him manager of Dartford branch. As manager he was required to occupy the bank house over the branch. This was a significant change of lifestyle for a man who had always lived alone in furnished lodgings. The house was very large for a single occupant, and for the first time in his life he had to buy furniture for himself, and hire a housekeeper.
In 1907 he returned to head office as a branch inspector. To his disappointment, and in contrast with his earlier stint as an inspector’s clerk, he spent most of his time inspecting large London offices rather than little rural branches. By chance, however, the very last branch he inspected before moving to a new role was Oxford, the branch at which he had spent the first 14 years of his career.
In 1916 the death of the bank’s general manager prompted a head office reshuffle. Inskip became an assistant general manager, supporting the country manager in the control of all the bank’s branches.
In 1918, in the final weeks of the First World War, Inskip was asked to travel to Spain to inspect the bank’s branches in Madrid and Barcelona. He was in Madrid on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918. On his way home he also visited the bank’s branches in Paris and Marseilles, finally returning to England just before Christmas.
In 1919 Inskip became one of the bank’s three joint general managers, with special responsibility for controlling the bank’s London branches.
He retired on his 60th birthday, 24 October 1922, but this was not the end of his banking career. More than 20 years later, in 1943, he returned to the bank as a temporary member of staff at London Park Lane branch. By this date, all the banks were struggling to cope with staff shortages as more and more of their staff were called up for war service. Inskip was one of many retired bankers who returned to work, making their contribution to the war effort by keeping everyday life running as smoothly as possible. Westminster Bank's staff magazine noted that Inskip, by then 81 years old, 'attends at the usual time in the morning and leaves with the remainder of Staff at night after doing a full day's work, including working an adding machine.'
Personal life and death
William Henry Inskip enjoyed travelling. On holidays from the bank he saw much of Europe, often travelling with one or other of his brothers. In later years these holidays focussed on mountain climbing, with trips to climb the Matterhorn, Jungfrau and the Eiger. After his retirement he further indulged his passion for travel. He spent four months each winter travelling more widely than was ever possible in his working years, and visited India, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the United States, Canada and South America.
He enjoyed rowing, sailing, tennis and golf (‘I never proved a good player, but found considerable enjoyment in the game’).
He was always an active church member. He attended two church services each Sunday, and much of his free time was taken up with church-based activities and organisations. He sang in church choirs throughout his life, and served as choirmaster for some of them. As soon as his annual income exceeded £100, and for the rest of his life, he always donated at least 10 per cent of his total income to charity.
He died on 16 July 1957, at the age of 94.