Monday, April 11, 2011

Wage Slaves at the 18th Century Bank of England

From the WSJ Europe's The Source blog:
The Bank of England has stood on more or less the same spot on Threadneedle Street in the City of London since 1734, about 40 years after its founders set up shop on nearby Cheapside with a £1.2 million IOU from a cash-strapped and grateful government.

A paper by Anne Murphy of the University of Hertfordshire, presented over the weekend at a meeting of the Economic History Society, sheds light on the daily activities of the bank’s clerks at the end of the eighteenth century. Their routine will be depressingly familiar to many City workers today. The clerks got in early, rarely had time for lunch and were still there when the place shut down at night.

In 1783 the bank appointed a Committee of Inspection to examine its working practices and recommend improvements, Ms. Murphy writes. Unlike the layabouts at the Treasury or the East India Company, for junior Bank of England clerks “the working day was long and left little time for idleness or large breakfasts.”
The bank was unlocked at 6.00am (7.00am in winter) and its gates closed at 11.00pm. Clocks were everywhere, marking time for staff and customers alike....MORE

Dr. Murphy has apparently been working on this subject for a while. According to VoxEU the instant paper will be part of a larger work, ‘The Grand Palladium of Public Credit: the Bank of England during the later eighteenth century’.
Here are her comments on the paper presented to the Society:

When the clock started to dominate the working day 
The eighteenth century counterparts of today’s bankers worked similarly long hours and neglected their home and personal lives in favour of their careers. That is one of the findings of new research by Anne Murphy, based on a report commissioned by the Bank of England in 1783 into its own working practices and conditions, which is preserved in the Bank’s archives.

The study, presented at the Economic History Society’s 2011 annual conference, gives a comprehensive insight into all aspects of the Bank’s business at that time. It reveals a hard-working culture among men who were proud of their positions and conscious of the superior social status that work at the Bank afforded them. Biographical information reveals that some of these men came from quite humble backgrounds....
More at: 

Here is the abstract of the paper, page 225 of the 288 page EHS PDF (page 207 of the booklet)