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Sunday, 15 January 2012

From Railway Clerk to Railway Manager - Changes in the Route to Management 1840-1910

One of the questions that I ask in my PhD is how exactly did people get promoted into managerial positions within the London and South Western Railway’s (L&SWR) Traffic Department? This is important, as understanding who was making policy within the company allows me to better appreciate the factors behind the decisions the company made.
The vast majority of the company’s senior Traffic Department managers, which included Superintendents of the Line, Traffic Managers, District Superintendents, District Goods Superintendents and Wagon Masters, originated from the company’s primary labour market (PLM). This labour market consisted of the clerical staff and included office lads, junior clerks, telegraph clerks, clerks, station masters, chief clerks, inspectors, goods canvassers and goods agents. A ‘rough’ promotional tree in the department is shown. Furthermore, only a few of the department’s managers came from external sources or the secondary labour market (which encompassed all non-clerical posts).

Therefore, future manager’s careers was largely determined by the position they started in. Research on the position in which L&SWR’s Traffic Department managers started their railway careers is shown in the table below and the data is presented by the decade in which they joined the company.

Overall, only three of the seventy railway managers sampled started their careers on the secondary labour market (4.28%), two beginning as porters and one as a ticket inspector. Indeed, those who began their employment in clerical positions dominated.

However, one feature of the table that should be noted is that the proportion of future managers who started their L&SWR careers in positions higher in the hierarchy, for example clerk or chief clerk, diminished over the period. The proportion in the 1830s and 40s was 57.1%, while in the 1850s it was 83.3%. However, as the criteria to become a clerk became stricter, being increasingly restricted to school-leavers, these proportions declined, and only 40% of future managers joined the company in senior clerical positions in the 1860s. Therefore, by the1870s no future managers started in any position in the hierarchy above ‘Junior Clerk’, ‘Lad’ or ‘Messenger.’

The result of the policy of increasing restricting entrance into the PLM to school leavers was that as the railway industry matured the age most managers joined the company also declined through the decades. The table below shows the ages that seventy-one Traffic Department managers started their careers between 1850 and 1900. The data is sorted by the decade in which they joined the company.  

The future managers who had begun their L&SWR careers in the 1830s and 40s had a wide range of ages, with 46.7% joining the company when they were beyond their teenage years. But, because of the changes outlined above, the proportion joining above twenty years old diminished. In the 1850s it was 38.4% and in the 1860s 21.0%. Thereafter, all those who became middle or senior traffic managers on the L&SWR were in their teens when they joined the company.

The effect of these changes was that as the decades progressed, the length of time it took individuals to become middle or senior managers grew longer. The table below shows the average number of years that it took the managers to reach their first middle or senior management post. The data is collated according to the decade in which they reached that point.

While in some decades the sample sizes are small, and this would have affected the figures, there was a clear change in the 1880s. In the very early years of the L&SWR new middle or senior managers had on average only served the company for a short time.  While in the 1850s, 60s and 70s, individuals who were appointed to managerial posts had been employed for an average of between twelve and sixteen years. However, thereafter, all new middle or senior managers had been with the company above an average of twenty-five years.

Therefore, what the three sets of suggest is that there is a change in the starting position, starting age and length of career of new middle and senior managers around 1880. Before then managers could have begun their careers in fairly senior positions, above the age of twenty and would have gone into management after a short space of time. However, thereafter, new middle and senior managers had started their railway careers in their teens, usually in the position of junior clerk or lad, and had worked their way through the ranks of the company.

Therefore, the evidence shows that in the company’s early years, large numbers of people were appointed to more senior posts in the PLM, such as Clerk, Station Agent or Chief Clerk. This reflected the emergent nature of the industry and the fact that trained railway professionals were in short supply. Yet, as the company matured there were increasingly enough people being promoted up the hierarchy from below to fill any vacancies that appeared. Consequently, fewer people were appointed directly into higher positions. Consequently, after the 1870s the, only way to enter the company’s PLM, and have the chance of rising into management, was to join it out of school at the lowest point on the promotional ladder.

All data from company staff records, and the L&SWR’s Staff Magazine, ‘The South Western Gazette.’

1 comment:

  1. Sam Fay is an interesting case. Having worked his way up from Junior Clerk on the L&SWR (starting in 1872 aged 15), he gradually climbed the hierarchy until he became Assistant Storekeeper in 1891. He left the L&SWR in 1892 to become General Manager of the much smaller Midland & South Western Junction Railway. Returned to the L&SWR in 1899 as Superintendant of the Line (details from the Railway Year Book). I guess he might not have achieved that position had he stayed at the L&SWR.
    After your period, Gilbert Szlumper is another interesting case - began his career as a civil engineer with the L&SWR and eventually succeeded Sir Herbert Walker as General Manager of the Southern Railway.


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