lunch at work -- 10/06/20

Today's selection -- from Till Time's Last Sand: A History of the Bank of England 1694-2013 by David Kynaston. In the Victorian era, the venerable Bank of England took a number of steps to relieve the drudgery of work for its employees and to improve their lives:

"In broader terms, it is fair to depict the Victorian Bank as an increasingly paternalistic organisation, seeking to create for its staff a secure, stable and morally improving environment in which to spend their working lives. Take three emblematic developments, the first of them described by the Illustrated London News in May 1850:

On Wednesday afternoon, a handsome reading-room, which has just been formed for the Bank of England Library and Literary Association, instituted by the directors for the use of the clerks, was opened by Thomson Hankey, junior Esq., Deputy-Governor of the Bank. There was a very numerous meeting of the members; when the Chief Cashier, as President, and the Chief Accountant, the Treasurer of the Institution, moved and seconded a vote of thanks to the Court of Directors for the handsome manner in which they had fitted up the Library, and for the liberal support which had been accorded the Association.

"Several hundred of the staff were soon members of the library, paying an annual subscription of 10 shillings, at a time when the concept of the public library was still only slowly taking hold; and members were allowed to borrow two books, with an especially strict time limit (eight days) for novels. The second development followed shortly, with the founding in 1854 of the Bank Provident Society -- essentially a savings society that also undertook life assurance business, and whose 4 per cent interest on premiums paid was guaranteed by the directors. Finally, there was the whole stomach-rumbling question of the inner man. In 1881 a detailed memo (probably written by Chubb) on lunch arrangements found that, of the 650 clerks in the Bank, some 110 to 130 managed to knock up a scratch meal within the building, about 100 stayed in their offices and got porters to fetch something from outside, and the rest went out for lunch. The memo continued:

That the present arrangements are unsatisfactory in every way is admitted on all sides. They are unsatisfactory to the Clerks, many of whom earnestly desire some means by which their wants can be simply but decently met. The underground Drawing Office kitchen is a most uninviting room -- it is close to the cooking place, lavatories, etc; the food may be good, but it is roughly served, and the surroundings are so disagreeable that it is repugnant to men of any refinement. In the case of those who remain in the Offices, the meal furtively eaten behind a desk cover cannot be desirable; and though many no doubt will always desire to go outside The Bank during the 1/z hour, it-is known that the places where a cheap good meal can be obtained are becoming fewer each year and it is felt, especially as regards the younger clerks, that the alternative of obtaining what they require within the walls would be better for their health and keep them from the temptations of the Bars and Wine rooms.

As regards the Porters, the present practice is equally unsatisfactory. During much of the morning they are engaged on duties,
which though, in a measure, recognised, are wholly undefined and cannot be supervised: it leads them to go out of The Bank to buy what is required, and it gives rise to the very objectionable practice of their making money out of the Clerks, with whom it begets a certain undue familiarity. The time occupied by the porters in this way cannot be estimated, but it is undoubtedly very great: and indeed it is a question whether if these duties were taken from them, the number might not be reduced.

"Altogether, concluded the memo, if 'a General Luncheon Room' were introduced, and 'if the room were bright and the service well conducted', this 'might lead, in many cases, to a higher tone amongst the Clerks'. Chubb then circulated a notice, eliciting strong support for the concept of 'fitting up Dining Rooms within the Bank, in which, at a cost to cover actual expenses only, gentlemen could have lunch or light dinner'; and by 1884 a fully fledged staff canteen was in existence, though known by the more dignified title of the Luncheon Club."



David Kynaston


Till Time's Last Sand: A History of the Bank of England 1694-2013


Bloomsbury Publishing


David Kynaston 2017


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