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Friday, 2 September 2011

"Scale of Advances for Junior Clerks" - The Pay of Midland Railway Junior Clerks in the 1880s

Sometimes as a historian you come across single documents that shed light on a whole subject, and this happened to me today. When browsing some railway company staff records online, something that I am apt to do at the moment, a Midland Railway clerical staff record book had pasted in the front a number of documents on clerks’ pay scales before and after the 31st of December 1885. Indeed, it seems that the Midland Railway’s board modified significantly the pay scales for all new clerks at this date and the document these changes.

Before commenting on the pay scales, it is interesting to note that the ages at which new clerks were employed changed. The first document, listing employment practices before the 31st December 1885, showed the wages for clerks beginning their careers ‘over 14 or 15.’ However, in the document specifying employment procedures thereafter, the word ‘over’ was lost and it merely stated individuals started at ’14 or 15.’ It may be tentatively suggested that the Midland, in line with procedure from most railway companies at the time, began to restrict entrance ages of its new clerical staff to younger and younger individuals. However, without more data this is uncertain.

Before 1885, in a practice that has not been observed at railway the London and South Western Railway which I am studying, the department that individuals went into determined their initial wages. Thus, new clerks who entered into the Locomotive, Carriage, Secretary’s, Accountant’s and Stores departments started on the measly sum of £15 per annum or 5s 9d per week. However, those going into the Way and Works Department received £24 per annum (9s 3d per week), those entering the General Managers, Goods and Coaching Offices received yearly £20 (7s 8d per week) and ne clerks in the Telegraph department received £30 per annum (11s 6d per week).

Possibly, the prestige of the different departments and the skill involved in the job of hand may have affected the starting salaries. While the telegraphists would have required far more skills to undertake their work and consequently received more pay, the higher salaries of the ‘General Managers, Goods and Coaching Offices’ may have reflected that these posts had more potential to lead to managerial careers (clerks being the only ones being able to realistically ascend to such heights).

Thereafter, the junior clerks’ wages increased at varying rates of between £5 and £10 per year. While it would be dull to detail all the wage increases the clerks in the different departments received, I will look at how quickly they reached the point at which they became full clerks and began to be promoted ‘on merit only’. The wages they were receiving in the year before their promotion to being full clerks, as well as the number of years it took, are listed below:
  • Locomotive: £65 in eight years
  • Carriage: £60 in seven years
  • Way and Works: £66 in seven years
  • General Managers, Goods and Coaching Offices: £65 in five years (£5 extra at each stage for each clerk working in the London goods Offices)
  • Secretary’s, Accountants and Stores: (uncertain) Possibly £60 in eight years (4th to 6th years - £5 bonus at Christmas, 7th and 8th years £7 10/- bonus)
  • Telegraph: £80 in eleven years
Thus, once again there was variance depending on the prestige of the department and the skill involved in the work. Those employed in the prestige General Managers, Goods and Coaching Offices became full clerks quicker than those in other departments. Whereas, those employed in the Secretary’s, Accountants and Stores departments also received regular bonuses after their fourth year. Furthermore, the skill that was required by telegraph clerks is shown by the longer period individuals spent as a junior and the high wages they received at the end of this period.

However, in 1885 the company changed this system and established to two employment streams for junior clerks (thereafter known as ‘third class’ clerks), splitting them into those employed at the head offices in Derby, and those stationed at other locations. This made wage patterns fairer so that most new clerks received the same incomes at the same points in their careers. However, it also would have brought down the company’s costs by slowing the rate at which new clerks in some departments advanced, and would allow the company to anticipate increases in wage costs better than previously, in an era when wage costs were rising.

Clerks appointed to ‘stations’ beyond Derby started on £20 per annum (with £5 extra in their first three years if living away from home), and reached £60 in their sixth year. Thereafter, they became second class clerks. Those living in London, like clerks in other companies, received London-weighting of £5 extra per year. Yet, Clerks who began their careers at the Derby Headquarters began on only £15 per year and remained ‘third class’ until their eighth year when they were receiving £60. However, between their fourth and sixth year they did receive a £5 bonus at Christmas, and in their seventh and eighth year received £7 10/-.

Possibly, the reason that headquarters clerks stayed in the ‘third class’ for so long was due to their  potential to ascend to the ranks of management. Thus, they were given more training. It would, therefore, imply that from a very young age the Midland Railway assessed whether their new clerical intake were ‘management material,’ and posted those competent individuals to the headquarters to become well versed in all aspects of railway operation. Therefore, this change, combined with the reorganised pay scales, suggests an increasing professionalization and standardisation within the Midland Railway in the period.


All information taken from: The National Archives, RAIL 491/1086, Midland Railway Company: Records, Locomotive Department, 1872-1892,

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