Clock-watching: work and working time at the late-eighteenth-century Bank of England

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In 1783 the Bank of England appointed a Committee of Inspection to examine the working practices of its departments and identify any failings in procedures. The Committee spent a year interviewing a wide range of servants about the nature of their work and the working environment in which they operated. One striking factor that emerges from these interviews is the extent to which the Bank’s clerks were governed by the clock. A time was appointed for their arrival and departure from work and attendance books were kept to ensure compliance. Breaks taken during the day were strictly regulated by time and required coordination with the other members of each office. Deadlines for the achievement of certain tasks were appointed within the working day, week and year and note was frequently taken of the problems that resulted when clerks could not complete tasks by the allotted time.

Historians have long debated the significance of the clock in the lives of early modern workers with E. P Thompson’s famous argument that industrialisation resulted in work becoming increasingly regulated by the clock being challenged on a number of counts. Yet, for the most part debate has focused on the lives of industrial workers or other manual labourers. Working time in Britain’s growing financial and service sector has been considered only incidentally. This article uses the Committee of Inspection’s report to explore working time at the Bank of England. It explores uses of the concept of time and time-discipline in the Inspectors’ reports, considers how time was used in the control of the Bank’s functions and its interactions with the public, and provides evidence to suggest that time discipline was internalised by the Bank’s clerks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-132
Number of pages34
JournalPast and Present
Issue number1
Early online date16 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


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