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British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive

Post Office: Staff Recruitment


Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 57 Series

Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive

Title: Post Office: Staff Recruitment

Date(s): 1861-1988

Level of description: Series

Extent: 52 files and volumes

Name of creator(s):

No further information available


Administrative/Biographical history:

Until 1969 The Post Office was a department of the Civil Service. The Civil Service consequently had a role to play in recruitment matters. Established staff had job security and enjoyed many benefits, such as pensions. Non-Established workers had no such benefits, they tended to be full-time boy messengers and part-time auxiliary postmen and women. In 1849 it was decided that promotion to Establishment should not be expected to result from higher social status. Auxiliaries signed a form which excluded any right to fill a permanent post, however, promotion continued to be an incentive to recruitment and a reward for competent work.

In the first half of the nineteenth century appointments were generally made by patronage, possible recruits were put forward by high ranking employees, although in theory a test still had to be passed. This method of recruitment was severely criticised in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, and in the 'Report upon The Post Office' in 1854, it was suggested that 'The Postmaster General should lay down strict rules for the examination of all candidates for admission, either in the class of Clerks, or into that of Sorters and Letter Carriers, in order to test their capacity, and should take care also to satisfy himself as to their characters, before making any appointment'.

The year 1870 saw the implementation of the open competitive examinations in the Civil Service, and the Post Office was obliged to appoint the clerks in the Secretary's Office from the successful candidates. The open examinations were for the Civil Service as a whole, but there were closed competitive examinations through which existing employees could try for promotion. The examinations were not just used for ensuring that recruits were competent to perform the job. When women joined the Post Office, particularly as clerks, the examination included a foreign language paper. There was no requirement at all for knowledge of a foreign language, however, the examination acted as a guarantee that the women that passed were of the 'proper' social standing.

In 1870 the telegraph services transferred to the Post Office. Initially the staff retained their separate duties but in 1876 the smaller provincial offices amalgamated, and this arrangement extended to larger towns in 1882. It was decided that there should not be a distinction between telegraphists and post office clerks in order to permit a more flexible adjustment of the 'indoor staff' to variations in traffic, and to reduce the threat of disruption from any telegraphist's strike. However, in practice, dual training only worked in the small provincial offices. In larger offices the training was often wasted, as the staff always specialised.

As the Post Office was a Civil Service Department, it was obliged to follow orders. One of these was the order in 1897 to employ ex-servicemen. Prior to that, boy messengers, although being Non-Establishment, usually moved into an Established post within the Post Office at the age of sixteen. The order to employ ex-servicemen meant that these vacancies for boy messengers dried up, and many who would otherwise have stayed in the Post Office were left jobless, and without skills. The Post Office was therefore heavily criticised by the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and the Relief of Distress. The dilemma of how to keep all parties satisfied continued until the inter-war period, when the Post Office was forced to abandon its traditional practice of utilising part-time labour.


Scope and content/abstract:

This series contains material on the recruitment of Post Office staff. It covers methods of recruitment, the examinations involved, the various types of posts, the different methods of admission, and the problems encountered regarding recruitment, such as shortage of labour and the employment of disabled persons.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

The material is arranged in chronological order in subseries.

Conditions governing access:

Public Record

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Please contact the Archive for further information


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Please contact the Archive for further information.



Archivist's note: Entry checked by Barbara Ball

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Entry checked June 2011

Personnel | People by occupation | People
Postal services | Communication industry
Recruitment | Personnel management | Organization and administration | Health services administration | Public administration | Government

Personal names

Corporate names
Post Office