Welcome toThe Rothschild Archive'swebsite

Sources for business history: catalogues of bank files

Sources for art history: Catalogue of the pictures of Alfred de Rothschild 1901

Sources for yachting history: Plans for Nathaniel von Rothschild's yacht Veglia 1905

Sources for natural history: Walter 2nd Lord Rothschild and his zebra carriage: c.1910

Sources for global financial history: Map of lines of the Brazil Railway Company: c.1920

Sources for business history: index cards to bank files

Sources for social history: Rothschild Hospital Paris: 1920s

Sources for business history: detail of a Rothschild bond coupon

Sources for architectural history: Halton House: 1890s

Sources for the history of travel: Lionel de Rothschild's tours of Spain: 1909

Sources for local history: Tring Park: c.1900

Sources for Royal history: shooting party with Edward Prince of Wales: 1893

Sources for political history: Lionel de Rothschild: first Jewish MP: 1858

Sources for sporting history: St Amant winner of the Derby: 1904

Sources for local history: gardeners at Aston Clinton: 1899

Sources for Rothschild family history: Lionel de Rothschild's yacht Rhodora: 1927

Sources for London history: entrance to New Court: 1965

Sources for design history: plans for Lionel de Rothschild's Rolls-Royce: 1930

Sources for business history: Rothschild gold bars produced by the Royal Mint Refinery: 1930s

Sources for business history: letters of August Belmont Rothschild Agent in New York: 1860s

October 2016: Staff wages file, 1874-1915

Treasure of the Month: The collections of The Rothschild Archive London contain over two million pieces of paper, volumes, files, photographs, artefacts and art works. Each month the archivists will highlight a particular treasure from the collections.

This month's ‘treasure’ is a file from the Staff Department of N M Rothschild & Sons, concerning staff matters 1874-1915. It contains lists of employees, dates of service, positions held, salaries, wages, allowances and bonuses paid to staff, details of pension payments and income tax payments, and details of terms and conditions of employment.

A New Court clerk

The term clerk is  derived from the Latin ‘clericus’ meaning ‘cleric’, an association derived from medieval courts, where writing was mainly entrusted to clergy because most laymen couldn't read. Clerks performed a number of important roles in the smooth running of the business at New Court.

Within the Victorian and Edwardian social class, the bank clerk held a particularly privileged position. Recruitment into the Bank was invariably based on personal recommendation. Clerks had to demonstrate technical competence in arithmetic and bookkeeping, and good handwriting was viewed as an essential tool for a successful career. Careful penmanship served both legibility and minimised the correction of errors, as the erasing errors in the Bank’s books was a practice generally frowned on due to its potential use for concealing fraud. When Mr Leo Kelly arrived as a clerk in 1915, he found only one typewriter in the whole office. For N M Rothschild & Sons, the bank’s influential role extended far beyond the immediate confines of the business, and employees hired by the bank had to beyond reproach, since financial stability could be equated with good reputation and character.

However, if the moral expectations of employment with the Bank were demanding, the potential rewards provided generous compensation. There were good opportunities for career advancement, and once a clerk had achieved a position of seniority within the Bank, he could retain this situation into old age. Bank clerks were among the highest paid clerical workers and had the potential to earn significant salaries with advancing seniority. Rothschild clerks were paid quarterly. In 1874, clerks were paid an annual salary of £200, approximately £16,000 today. By 1911, a senior clerk could earn around £800-£1,000, £73,000-£100,000 today. Ronald Palin, a clerk in the 1920s recalls annual bonuses, tips and other presents given out at Christmas and for summer holidays.

There were other non-monetary advantages to the position; clerks generally worked shorter hours than most other clerical staff, (although the clerks at Hoare’s bank humorously referred to themselves as the ‘Association of the Sons of Toil’), and, in the early 1860s, the staff of N M Rothschild & Sons moved into the newly rebuilt New Court. In the style of an Italian palazzo, the new building offered large windows providing good natural light and spacious wood panelled offices. Until just after the First World War, the whole staff, numbering well under a hundred, was given lunch on the premises in the Clerk’s Dining Room. 

Women clerks

Women did not enter the ranks of clerks in the City in great numbers until the 1920s and 1930s with the advent of typewriters, telephones and other office equipment. However, in the employment of women, N M Rothschild & Sons led the way, employing 'lady clerks' well before this date. Female clerks were particularly skilled at counting bond coupons rapidly and accurately. Most female employees were unmarried, and strictly segregated from their male colleagues; they were housed in offices at the top of the building, and a plan of New Court from the 1920s shows a dividing wall between the 'Male Clerks’' and 'Women Clerks’' Dining Rooms. 

A job at New Court was a highly sought after position, offering security in a very insecure world. For many clerks in Victorian and Edwardian London, a city which was gaining from the growth in international trade, domestic consumption, the spoils of empire and the seat of government, the period was one of modest progress; a clerk could afford to rent or buy one of the new elegant terraced villas in the suburbs of Brixton and Clapham, or the expanding ‘Metroland’ of north-west London, easily reached by fast electric trains. A clerk could afford a daily maid or an evening cook. If a man had enough initiative and energy after the working day, he could attend evening courses on scientific subjects or Latin or shorthand at one of the many London colleges and institutes. At New Court, staff could join the St Swithin's Amateur Dramatic Club, and the St Swithin's Musical Society.

The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith, published in 1892, humorously records the daily events in the lives of a London financial clerk, Charles Pooter, and his wife and son. Ronald Palin, who joined N M Rothschild & Sons in 1925, eventually rising to the position of Secretary of the Bank, recalls his time with the firm in Rothschild Relish (Cassell: London, 1970), an affectionate portrait of the unique world of New Court.

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A clerk's eye view through a window in the second New Court building

A clerk's eye view through a window in the second New Court building

Silver ink stand presented to Lionel de Rothschild by the staff of New Court on the occasion of his marriage to Miss Marie-Louise Beer in 1912

Silver ink stand presented to Lionel de Rothschild by the staff of New Court on the occasion of his marriage to Miss Marie-Louise Beer in 1912