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Memories of Pay Clerk Duties

By Bob Barnard

Vic Kefford’s piece ‘Paddy’s Pay Parade’ brought back memories of my own experiences of Pay Clerk duties. I was first involved in this Friday ritual at Shepherdess Walk and for a 17 year old Clerical Officer, it was a daunting ordeal.  I had never seen so much money; more than £1,000 in new one pound and ten shillings notes, plus coins. It seemed a fortune especially as I was earning £150 a year, or about £3 per week. The money was to make up the pay envelopes for about 200 weekly paid staff — an average of £5 each — in Duplicating and Distribution Division.

In those days, four Pay Clerks assembled at 9am in the Rest Room at the rear of the building, facing a cigarette factory from which we could catch the sounds of ‘Music While You Work’. The Cashier, Joe Currell, would issue the allotted money and a bundle of pay envelopes to each Pay Clerk who duly checked the amount to confirm it agreed with his schedule.

When all the wage packets were filled with the appropriate notes and coins we totalled up the cash that was left over. If the amount agreed with the figure the Cashier had previously calculated, it was assumed the correct amount had been put in each envelope. If it didn’t, then of course, we had to go through each envelope until we found the discrepancy. Once the amount had been agreed, the wage packets were sealed using a flat felt brush (Code 70 51, if this means something to readers). 

Then the envelopes were put into a special leather case and handed over to the Cashier for safe keeping. After lunch the Pay Clerk collected the case and started to pay the staff. Accompanied by my ‘witness’, a Clerical Assistant, I would go the appropriate ‘circuit’ which might be the Typing Pool, the Reading Section, the Rotary Section, the Litho Section, the Photographic Section, the Addressing Sections or the Warehouse. One of the pay circuits included Forms Distribution at Gee Street, Orsman Road and Mount Pleasant. The Pay Clerk and his witness would be taken in an HMSO brown van. Both had to be men for this circuit and I was often allocated to this route. It meant climbing into the back of the van, sitting on the wheel hub and holding one of the roof ribs to avoid being thrown about particularly when some drivers went round corners. I think they were oblivious to the well-being of their passengers in the back. So much for Health and Safety! At the end of each pay session, the Pay Clerk, the ‘witness’ and a second ‘witness’, the local supervisor, would all sign the pay sheets.

In those days Paddy Epstein and I worked in the Costings Section at Shep Walk and we undertook pay duties quite regularly. Making up pay was regarded as Clerical Officer work. There were not very many COs in the Division and if one failed to turn up, our HEO, Bert Cutting, who was also in charge of the Cashier, would instruct Paddy or me to fill in for the absentee.

Sometimes I acted as ‘escort/assistant’ to the Cashier when collecting the cash for pay from the Paymaster General’s Office in Russell Square. We would be taken by van, Joe Currell in the front, me in the back. We would walk out of the PMG’s Office, completely unprotected and cross the pavement and climb into the van carrying £5,000 or even more during holiday times. I don’t think anyone even considered we were at risk of attack.

When I was transferred to Atlantic House in 1957, I undertook pay duties again but less often because there were more COs in that building. The procedures were exactly the same as at Shep Walk.  The Atlantic House Cashier, Mr Turner, had his office on E Floor, (Room E20) adjacent to the old Contracts Division Offices. He was responsible for paying staff at the British Museum Bindery and the Newspaper Copyright Library at Colindale and HMSO Photographic staff at the House of Lords as well as Atlantic House staff.

I enjoyed being a pay clerk and preferred the pay circuits which involved visiting out stations so that I could see some of their work first hand. My greatest fear was that I would make a ‘compensating error’ in making up the pay, putting an extra one pound note or ten shilling note in one pay packet and one less in someone else’s envelope. Fortunately it never happened to me. In later years Security Companies with helmeted Couriers were employed to carry the cash and in the early 1980s the Department encouraged all staff by giving them some financial reward to have their pay paid into a bank account. The unprotected COs, the rattling brown HMSO vans and the shouts of ‘Pay’ calling staff to form a queue to collect their money had become history.
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