London clerical workers 1880-1914 : the search for stability
The thesis is a study of male clerical workers in London between 1880 and 1914. It aims to examine the working conditions and experiences of clerks and to analyse organisational structures in the context of the changes that were taking place in the wider London office economy. Chief amongst these alterations was a growth in clerical numbers, an increase in the size of many offices, a more rational approach to office work with increased division of labour, and application of office machinery to clerical work, the rise of formal commercial education, and the introduction of women in large numbers into the office. Its chief aim is to measure the impact of these changes on clerical workers. Existing historiography has in the main argued that the effects of these changes were on the whole negative. This thesis argues that in the context of London these claims are unfounded. Incomes are shown to have increased rather than deteriorated. There is little sign of unemployment, lack of promotional opportunities, deskilling or a fundamental sense of disquiet amongst clerks. Female clerks and technology did not have a negative effect on male clerical workers. Indeed, the opposite appears to be the case. Rationalisation and an increased application of division of labour often led to specialisation. Technology often relieved clerks of performing repetitive and unskilled work and allowed them to concentrate on other, more demanding and rewarding areas. Women were chiefly employed in the lower tier of clerical work, and the near universal application of the marriage bar, which obliged female clerks to resign on marriage, meant that they posed no real competition to the future prospects of clerical worker. Although growth in companies did lead to more impersonal working relations, the introduction of company welfare such as pensions and paid holidays, and the establishment of sport and social clubs and staff magazines in many organisations did much to compensate for this. Overall, clerical work in London remained popular throughout the period and attracted recruits due to the economic stability it offered and the opportunities it gave for advancement.