AIM25 : Click here to go back to the AIM25 homepage
Archives in London and the M25 area

Staff: Establishment Books

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 59 Series
Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive
  Click here to find out how to view this collection at ›
Full title: Staff: Establishment Books
Date(s): 1691-1985
Level of description: Series
Extent: 525 volumes, 7 files
Name of creator(s):

No further information available


Administrative/Biographical history:

The word 'Establishment' has a number of meanings in the present context. In historical writing about the Post Office, the word is variously used to describe: the Post Office structure as a whole; all Post Office salaried staff; all staff employed in senior positions; and the various buildings and branches themselves, or 'establishments'. However, for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the word is predominantly used to distinguish between staff that were employed directly by the Post Office, enjoying a yearly salary, benefits and a pension, and those who, though working for the Post Office in some capacity, did not. Discussing this period, one postal historian argues that… 'a firm line was drawn between those who were part of the privileged and protected core 'on the establishment' and the part-time or temporary staff who were denied the benefits and security. Moreover, the established staff were located in a hierarchy which offered advancement and promotion; the Post Office offered not only a job but also the prospect of a career' (Martin Daunton Royal Mail: The Post Office since 1840 (London: Athlone Press, 1985), p. 248). Indeed the benefits of being 'on the establishment' would usually include a retirement age of 60, a pension (after the 1859 Superannuation Act), some paid holiday, and even limited healthcare. As Daunton has noted, in terms of the benefits enjoyed by established staff, the Post Office remained preferable to private employment until the establishment of the welfare state after 1945.

Unestablished staff, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, remained numerous for a number of reasons. Working for the Post Office has had a longstanding reputation for being 'unsocial work'; that is, the peaks of postal traffic have tended to be in the early morning and early evening. For this reason, there has always been a high demand for part-time workers and in the modern era the Post Office has consequently employed a large proportion of staff who did not find their way onto the Establishment books. Likewise, Sub-Postmasters have often run other businesses from the same premises as a local Post Office branch and were therefore not part of the established staff. It will already be clear that owing to the many changes that have occurred over the centuries and because of the different types of Establishment records that have been generated over this time, neatly defining 'Establishment staff' is problematic. The remaining discussion will illuminate the structure of this class of records by briefly considering the chronology of the emergence of the different sorts of Establishment books within the context of the broader developments of British postal history.

The first Establishment book was produced in 1691. King Charles I had inaugurated an embryonic state postal service in 1635, and having survived the upheavals of the English Civil War, it had gained more of an organisational capacity by the end of that century with the establishment of state control of the London Penny Post, although there are still just 20 established officers named in this record of the early Post Office staff. There were a similarly small number listed in Queen Anne's Establishment book of 1702, in which the Post Office Establishment was one of a number of state Offices and Departments detailed. By 1747, Establishment books began to look a little more like later publications, with staff details of office, title, name, and salary per annum, for the London, Dublin and Edinburgh Establishments, the London Penny Post and details of the Packet Boat service. As the composition of the Post Office structure gradually evolved, new information was recorded in the books. For instance, Branch Commissioners and Postmasters' salaries were included from 1760; the Secretary's Office, Receiver General's Office, Accountant General's Office, Inland Office, tradesmen, pensions, rents and taxes from 1769; and more significant reforms, such as those of 1783, warranted specific descriptive attention in the Establishment books (see POST 59/19, which records revision proposals for the Establishment, its staff and new pay proposals and comparisons).

From 1785, mail coaches were used to convey letters and parcels across Britain and over the next two decades Post Office net revenue increased from £150,000 to £700,000 per annum. The Establishment book for 1792 (POST 59/22) lists establishment developments since the introduction of mail coaches and thereafter an increased number of Deputy Postmasters of provincial towns are listed. Indeed, from 1800 on, a number of reforms and the steady growth of services precipitated the publishing of further types of Establishment books, such as those found in Sub-Series 3 of this class: 'Establishment books and lists of the London Postal Service'. Within these records, an evolution of the organisational structure of a city's postal operations can be traced, from the London Penny Post, which soon became the Twopenny Post, to the introduction of postal regions, to the twentieth century infrastructural advancements such as the Post Office (London) Railway, or 'Mail Rail'. Throughout, this Sub-series of Establishment books detail the various departments, salaries, positions and lists many of the established staff by name.

By the 1800s, the yearly Establishment books recorded a greater volume and variety of information of this sort, in keeping with the concomitant enlargement of Britain's postal processes that occurred in the years and decades that followed the introduction of the mail coach system at the end of the eighteenth century. For instance, the Establishment book for 1832 (POST 59/37) provides details of when an individual was appointed, their name, how much they were paid on the Establishment, the total amount paid, and a narrative account of duties undertaken. Details cover the Board, Secretary's Office, Mail Coach Office, Surveyors' Office, Solicitor's Office, Receiver General's Office, Accountant General's Office, Dead Letter Office, Foreign Office, Inland Office, mail guards, packet agents, post towns in England, and the ships, captains, tons, engines, staff and rate of passage of packet stations. Also included is a report on the way in which mail coaches were supplied and repaired, rules and regulations of horse post contracts, copies of circulars to surveyors, marine mail guard instructions, statements of regulations in operation respecting the whole process of the collection of Post Office revenue, and an abstract of comparative statements of gross revenue at post towns in England 1833-1834.

In many ways, the organisational unfurling of a modern Post Office came after the major reforms initiated by Rowland Hill in the 1840s. The changes brought in by Hill included the introduction of a national Penny Post in which the recipient of a letter or parcel no longer paid for the service. Rather, the sender affixed a pre-paid adhesive stamp, the Penny Black. The subsequent growth in postal services was tremendous and this caused many changes to the quantity and character of Establishment books and Establishment records. POST 59/177 'Report Upon The Post Office' describes the structure of the organisation as it stood in 1854, commenting that 'The Establishment of the Post Office necessarily extends over the kingdom, and indeed all over the British possessions [abroad]…Its Head-quarters are in London; there are Metropolitan Offices in Edinburgh and Dublin; and there are District Offices in every town and almost every village, throughout the country' (p.3). Between 1860 and 1880, the number of full-time (Established) staff rose from 25,192 to 46,956 and whilst in 1890 the total number of full-time and part-time staff stood at 113,541, this had risen to 234,008 in 1920 (Daunton, pp. 195-196).

Naturally, accompanying this growth in staff was a growth in the numbers of physical Post Office Establishments. There were 4,028 in 1840 and 24,354 in 1913 (Daunton, p. 276). The Establishment books in Sub-series 3 'Provincial Establishment books' furnish details for many of the provincial districts within which such branches were located. For instance, POST 59/412-424 offers the particulars for offices in Worcester for the years 1874-1964, providing a wide assortment of details regarding postmen, assistant postmen, messengers and telegraphists, as well as basic information on sub-offices and the pay, pensions and other details of their personnel. The information that can be gathered from these records varies from establishment to establishment and over time, but these are useful resources for garnering facts and figures for many provincial postal areas, particularly for the first half of the twentieth century.

A number of further developments occurred from the late nineteenth century into the mid-twentieth century that affected the way these records were kept and consequently what one can expect to find. These include the acquisition of telegraph and telephone systems, the expansion of the work of the Post Office Engineering Department, the introduction of insurance and banking services and much more. Indeed, in the main Establishment book for 1931 (POST 59/163), the details contained are divided across 17 categories:

Postmaster General and Secretaries; Accountant General's Department; Central Telegraph Office; Engineering Department; London Postal Service; London Telephone Service; Medical Department (London); Money Order Department; Solicitor's Office (London); Stores Department; Surveyor's Department; Postmaster Surveys; Provincial Telephone Staff; Head Postmasters; Assistant Postmasters and Chief Superintendents; and Sub-office Postmasters.

To give some idea of the kind of information held in Establishment books by this time, consider the front page to the section entitled 'Savings Bank Department' in the above-mentioned 1931 Establishment book (p.156). Here, a summary of all male staff in the department can be found (at this time, the information for each department was split into male and female categories) and it can be learnt what wages were being paid to doorkeepers, liftmen, boy messengers, cleaners, foremen and even department firemen (between 30-45 shillings per week), as well as how many of each were employed. It is also stated that the department contained 600 clerks who were paid between £60-£250 per annum. At the top of the page, the numbers and wages of senior staff - from higher-grade clerks right up to the department controller - are listed and on the pages that follow this summary, all of these 306 senior staff members are listed individually. For each of these entries, the details given are date of birth, dates of appointments (listing previous positions held), name and salary. This format of presenting information is roughly followed for the other departments represented in the 1931 Establishment book, with some exceptions. For instance, the passage detailing provincial Establishments lists postal districts in alphabetical order, and provides the numbers of staff for each. This information is presented in table format and is divided into indoor / outdoor staff; male / female staff; and finally into job types such as sorting clerks, telegraphists, postmen and superintendents. For example, on p. 277 it states that there were 529 sorting clerks and 1430 postmen in the Liverpool postal district, amongst a range of other staff figures.

Finally, although this became the dominant format for the main Establishment books that continued to be published annually throughout much of the remaining century, a number of changes occurred after 1969, when the Post Office ceased to be a department of state and became a nationalised industry. From this time, including the subsequent part-privatisation of the business in later decades, the books became known as 'Lists of the Principal Officers in the Post Office'. These publications ceased to provide details of pay, but continued to list senior staff, their dates of birth and their various appointments within the Post Office, by department and also in an alphabetical index at the back of each book.


Scope and content/abstract:

Within this class are volumes and files that contain basic information about established Post Office staff and about the principal Post Office branches in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. This class also contains details of Post Office establishments abroad, packet boat services, deceased officers, vacancies and committee reports regarding the Post Office Establishment, amongst much else. There are 24 volumes (POST 59/1-24) covering the period 1691-1798, but the majority of the material consists of lists of salaried officers at various British Establishments for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The class is divided into eight Sub-series, a few of which should be mentioned at the outset. Sub-series 1 is the largest of these and contains the main Establishment books and lists of officers from 1691-1983, published annually from the late eighteenth century (bound copies for this series for the period 1869-1980 can be found in the BPMA search room). Sub-series 3 contains the Establishment books for provincial postal regions across Britain and so is naturally considerable in size, although the period covered for these books tends to be late nineteenth and early twentieth century only. By contrast, Sub-series 4 and 5 contain major and minor Establishment books for the London Postal Region, spanning nearly a 200-year period from 1800. The only series that does not contain lists of basic information (which is the essence of most of the Establishment books) is Sub-series 6, which contains 20 papers and committee reports for the period 1793-1923 that describe changes that have occurred and have been proposed to the Establishment system; a useful starting point for understanding the organisational development of the Establishment structure.

The sort of information included has changed over this 300-year period, but a large proportion of the information found in any particular Establishment book is likely to include an employee's name, their department or location, date of appointment, and yearly salary (or weekly wage). Similarly, the type of employee that has been included in the yearly establishment books has changed over time (and some consideration of the difference between 'established' and 'unestablished' staff will follow), but as a rule of thumb, in the main Establishment books that were published annually (which can be found in Sub-Series 1), it is staff who have been occupied in more senior positions within the Post Office hierarchy who are likely to be found. As a consequence, most of the yearly establishment books within this class will only ever list by name a modest proportion of the entire Post Office workforce for any given year. (It may be helpful for prospective researchers to note that the best starting point in searching for records relating to 'rank and file' employees are the appointments indexes and pensions indexes. A guide to these sources can be downloaded from the BPMA website and a printed version can be found in the BPMA search room, entitled 'Guide to Family History Research'.) POST 59/ 26, 28, 32, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40, 42 and 91 include brief summaries of duties performed by officers. POST 59/ 7, 11, 18 and 20 give complements of Packet Boats.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

This material is arranged in chronological order within series, except where stated otherwise.

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 Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Please contact the Archive for further information

Allied Materials

Related material:

Post 57 consists of records about staff recruitment, including methods of recruitment, examinations, types of posts and methods of admission.

Post 58 consists of records relating to nomination and appointment of staff, including specific individuals, and bonds paid.

Post 60 comprises records relating to conditions of service and pay allowances.

Establishment information prior to 1742 can be found in Post 1, Treasury Letters. See also financial information in Post 2 monthly cashbooks and Post 6 incident bills.

Publication note:

Description Notes

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 by Barbara Ball

Related Subject Search

* To search for other records with similar subjects, tick any subjects above then click "Run New Search"

Related Corporate Name Search

* To search for other records with similar names, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"

Related Placename Search

* To search for other records with similar placenames, tick any names above then click "Run New Search"