FORMER bank vaults which have remained untouched for almost 40 years are to be brought back to life following the expansion of a private safe deposit business into Yorkshire.
St James Safe Deposit, which was founded in Manchester in 1912, is to open its second branch in the basement of the Greek Street Chambers building on Park Row in Leeds at the end of the year.
It is thought to be the city’s first private safe deposit business in 60 years following the closure of the Leeds Safe Deposit Company in 1954.
The company looks after valuables for jewellers, museums, stamp, watch and coin dealers as well as families moving elderly relatives into care homes.
A large proportion of its customers are Asian families whose homes are often targeted by thieves looking for high quality gold jewellery.
The company was acquired by managing director Nigel Kay MBE in 1991. He now runs the business with his daughter Amanda Williams.
Mrs Williams said: “We have 80 existing customers who travel to Manchester from Leeds and Bradford so we’ve been looking at opening another branch in Yorkshire but it’s a huge thing setting up a safety deposit business.”
Finding the right building was the main challenge.
No. 31-32 Park Row, designed by London’s Natural History Museum architect Alfred Waterhouse, was originally built as a private bank for William Williams Brown and Company in 1898.
The basement, which is over 3,000 sq ft, has remained empty since Lloyds Bank moved out of the building in 1976 and across the road into new premises.
“Disused banks are ideal because they are built with thick, well-constructed walls that modern buildings don’t have,” said Mrs Williams.
“We looked at a lot of ex-bank basements but a lot of them weren’t big enough. The vaults in this building are large, well-built with quality vault doors.”
She added: “I think we felt at home in the vaults at 31-32 Park Row because they are not dissimilar to the purpose-built facility that we occupy in Manchester.”
Work has already started on the renovation of the basement and St James, which is investing around £400,000 in the new branch, hopes to open in Leeds after Christmas.
The Manchester branch holds approximately 3,000 safe deposit boxes in 30 different sizes with prices starting from 35p a day. Leeds will have the capacity to store 4,500 boxes across its three vaults, although initially it will just use one of the rooms, which can hold 1,500 boxes. It will open with four different sizes of boxes, starting from £135 per year, and increase to eight in the future.
St James, along with other private safe deposit companies, has seen a huge rise in business in recent years following the decision by many high street banks to withdraw their safe deposit box services.
“We are right in the heart of the banking area. Many insurance companies reduce their premiums if you put something in a safe deposit box,” said Mrs Williams. “We have built up a good reputation over the last 102 years. However, there are a lot of new safe deposit businesses popping up at the moment and no certainty who is behind them.”
St James does not ask what is inside the boxes but it specifies that it must not be illegal.
“Some people come once a year and pay their renewal fee, others come and use the safes like a bank. Often people will come just to have a look at what’s inside their box,” said Mrs Williams.
The company, which has a £400,000 turnover, employs five staff in Manchester. The Leeds branch will create four new jobs.