sleeping at the bank -- 9/8/20

Today's selection -- from Prometheus Shackled by Peter Temin & Hans-Joachim Voth. In the 18th century, employees of financial firms in Britain often had to sleep on the premises of the business to provide security. One such firm was Hoare's Bank, one of the oldest banks in Britain:

"How did the Hoare family run its business? We know that the firm employed a number of clerks. Clerks were typically hired for their character, which was assessed based on whether they came from families known to the Hoares. ... The partners paid their clerks well to give them an incentive to value their jobs at Hoare's Bank, instead of slacking off, cheating, or believing that Hoare's was no different from anywhere else. ...

"Security was a major concern. The earliest example of shop rules was circulated as a memo from Richard, Henry, and Henry Hugh Hoare in 1786. It laid down eight articles in writing since 'Messrs Hoare having observed with regret that the Directions formerly given by them to the Gentlemen of the Shop have not been so strictly attended to by some as Messrs Hoare do desire & expect, and as possibly those directions may not have been properly represented to those Gentlemen who were not with Messrs Hoare at the time they were given' (HB/2/E 1 ,memo dated September 29, 1786). During the lunch hour, two clerks always had to be present in the shop; after the bank closed, one had to be inside at all times:

'After that the business of the day be over, it is expected that the House be on no account left without one Clerk in it, which attendance is to be taken by Rotation by the Gentlemen concerned in the Business; With respect to those Gentlemen who do not sleep in the House, it is their Care to prevail on some one of those who do to return in a reasonable time for their Relief -- Any Difficulty that may arise from the Distance of their Dwelling from the House at Fleet Street, As it is occasioned solely by their own Choice, so it is not to be supposed that Messrs Hoare can provide against it.'

"We learn that three bank clerks had to sleep on the bank's premises on Fleet Street and 'that they shall be within by 12 o'clock at Night at the latest.' Even on Christmas Day, the partners made no exception to the rule that the house must be guarded at all times. Just as on Sundays, the clerks took turns to be on the premises, as the memo informs us. The large cash holdings described earlier had to be guarded. Although the demands of bank security imposed a considerable burden on the clerks, their working hours were civilized. The first rule of the memo stipulates that 'it is expected that every Gentleman belonging to the House be dressed & ready to attend in his particular department, by 9 o'clock in the Morning, for which purpose, Breakfast will be on the Table by 1/2 past 8 o'clock.' Compared to the starting hours in many other professions, clerks at Hoare's started reasonably late. Nor did the working day extend into late hours -- at least much of the time. On post days, however, clerks were expected to work 'till the balance is right'; on the intervening days, the workday ended at 5 p.m."



Peter Temin & Hans-Joachim Voth


Prometheus Shackled: Goldsmith Banks and England's Financial Revolution after 1700


Oxford University Press


Oxford University Press 2013


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