Group Archives

Group Archives


The work of the early private banks was conducted largely by the partners themselves. However, by 1800 banks such as Barclays and Gurneys had begun to employ a small number of clerks. One such clerk - ‘Mr Lawson’ – recorded the appearance of one of his fellow clerks around this time:
…the staff of Barclays consisted of three clerks, and on the appearance of the third as a new clerk coming to the office for the first time, he was dressed after the following fashion: he wore a long flapped coat with large pockets, the sleeves had broad cuffs with three large buttons, somewhat like the coat worn by the Greenwich pensioners of the present day, an embroidered waistcoat reaching nearly down to his knees, with an enormous bouquet in the button hole; a crocked hat, powdered hair with pigtail, a bag ring, and a golden-headed cane, similar to those subsequently carried by the footmen of ladies of rank. This gentleman, who cut so curious a figure, remained in the house many years, and died at a very advanced age, much respected by his employers.

The number of such ‘gentlemen’ clerks employed by the private banks increased with the volume of business, and these were supplemented, especially with the coming of the new joint stock banks from the 1830s onwards, by clerks employed on a more commercial basis. Strict paternalistic rules and regulations governing the conduct of Victorian bank staff were devised and became formalised. For example the Birmingham-based forerunner of the United Counties Bank (which amalgamated with Barclays in 1916), stipulated in 1847 that cashiers should live on the premises, and that no member of staff could withdraw money from his own account without producing a cheque countersigned by a manager. Well into the early 20th century, some banks required clerks to seek the directors’ approval to marry, which was given only if the bank was satisfied that their salary was sufficient to maintain a family.

In the period around 1900 many banks ran a form of apprenticeship scheme through which junior clerks were taken on, usually joining the bank from school aged between 15 and 18. By this time, the staff of the private banks, who had been regarded almost as family retainers, were outnumbered by a small army of clerks from the new suburbs. The industrialisation of banking meant that large numbers of reliable young men had to be found to staff the increasing number of branches and the offices of head office departments. ‘Guarantees’ of fidelity (an indemnity pledged usually by the father), were required of new recruits, and well into recent times many families could boast of fathers, sons and other relations succeeding each other in Barclays’ service. Indeed, personal recommendation was the method by which many boys started off at Barclays.

By the early 1900s, progression within the branch network was by long service, good conduct and proven ability, a system that enabled a man to progress all the way from junior clerk to branch manager (or within a department), over a typical career of 40-odd years. Normally such staff would move about within a district or even between districts (or departments), but the archives recently turned up the example of Mr C H Alexander, who passed his entire career of 50 years in the same building - Hall Quay branch at Great Yarmouth. He retired as manager in 1927 and would have been just 16 when he entered service as a junior. Men typically stayed loyal to one employer, and in return, banks such as Barclays developed a range of benefits for them, including small cash bonuses, staff loans, hardship payments, and a generous final salary pension scheme. Barclays also made up the salaries of staff serving in the world wars and guaranteed their jobs upon their return to civilian life.

Recruitment was, however, a two-tier business, as the average clerk or country branch manager rarely expected to make it to the higher echelons of management. Men seen as potential directors of the bank were taken on as ‘special list’ entrants, these usually being Oxbridge graduates and often with connections to the old banking families of the 1896 merger.

There were two decisive changes to the staffing of banks in the mid-20th century: the recruitment of women as an essential part of the workforce (albeit with a long struggle ahead to secure equal treatment by employers), and the introduction of formal training – both being brought about by the two world wars.

Formal training

In Barclays, formal training began in 1945, when ‘refresher’ courses were devised to rehabilitate men returning from the Forces, some of whom had been away from the bank for several years. These were so successful that the staff training centre, housed in buildings at Wimbledon that Barclays had acquired for wartime evacuation purposes, was put on a firm footing. By the late 1950s systematic training for male and female staff became a necessity. As the banking industry expanded, internal procedures became more complex and the idea of customer service became more important in a consumer society. Also, mechanisation was being implemented across the branch network, and staff were being encouraged to study for Institute of Bankers qualifications. In 1966, a second training centre was opened at Teddington. Two main courses were developed - a basic one covering routine branch work, and a more advanced one for senior staff. At the same time, a more structured on-the-job training programme was devised for the ‘special list’ men, with spells in branches and departments, and then usually an assistant local directorship in one or more of the local head offices.

From the 1970s onwards banks began to develop a range of financial services beyond the basic current and savings accounts and bank loans, and knowledge became increasingly segmented. Staff began to specialise – they could choose to be Personal Bankers, or small business or home mortgage advisers, or learn marketing techniques, with the aim of persuading retailers to sign up to Barclaycard. In addition, specialist externally-trained staff such as computer programmers had to be hired with the coming of automation. Decimalisation of Britain’s currency in 1971, and other subsequent special projects, demanded bespoke training.

From the late 1950s onwards Barclays began to recruit in a more open way - visiting schools and universities, and publishing adverts with application forms that stipulated minimum numbers of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. Glossy recruitment brochures were produced by the advertising agencies, as banks were finding it increasingly difficult to catch the best school-leavers in a booming economy with full employment. Likewise from the late 1960s onwards the ‘special list’ gave way to more open and systematic graduate recruitment. Formalised management training was introduced, with many potential high-fliers going on to take MBAs at external colleges. In 1975 Barclays opened its own management training centre at Ashdown Park, a country estate in Sussex acquired for the purpose.

Today, training is of paramount importance to Barclays, but the inevitable move towards more specialist roles, the availability of local training centres and materials (now mainly online), and the coming of automation, rendered the central training schools obsolete by the 1990s. Their legacy is important in the history of the bank, and memories of time spent there are still vivid for retired colleagues.


The big five clearing banks developed as employers on an industrial scale in the 20th century. Barclays’ staff numbers grew from 1,200 in 1900 to 11,500 by 1920 and 55,000 by 1970, not counting staff in the overseas subsidiaries. With such numbers of people, an esprit de corps had to be encouraged and maintained across the company. As a director commented in the mid 1950s, ‘a good employer will provide amenities as will unobtrusively form the individuals who work for him into a large family with pride in the name’.

The encouragement of sporting clubs and arts and hobbies societies, some of which had their origins in the pre-1914 era was an important element in this. Cricket seems to have been a favourite with the partners at Lombard Street, the bank’s cricket club dating from 1860. ‘HJA’, who joined the bank in the early 1900s, recalled how:

On each August bank holiday the whole staff [of Regent Street branch], with their families, was invited to spend the day at his [the late Mr. Herbert Gosling’s] residence – Botleys Park, Chertsey - a magnificent old place though somewhat lacking in the amenities to which we are accustomed today. The branch played a cricket match against the local team, and after lunch and tea in a marquee, we all went up to the house where we were entertained to dinner.

The Sports Club was established formally in 1919, in the wake of the hardships and sacrifices of the staff and their families during World War One, and at the end of the dizzying period of takeovers by Barclays since 1896 which had made it one of the ‘big five’ banks. Sport came to be regarded seriously by the bank. Already owning a third-share in the old private banks’ grounds at Catford, Barclays laid out £12,500 in 1921 to acquire a new site at Ealing, and a further £17,500 to build the first pavilion there and lay out pitches. Competition was keen - within Barclays, between the banks, and in the wider field of amateur sport. Indeed, for many members of staff, the Sports Club was an integral part of their working lives. It is also clear, from the pages of the international staff magazines, that sport was significant in the careers of overseas staff.

The activities of the arts societies were equally important and standards were high. Notable examples include the Musical Society which won international prizes, performed at venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and was even offered the use of the board room for rehearsals. Directors and chairmen took a personal interest in these activities. When head office was rebuilt in the 1960s the new building included a state-of-the art theatre complete with revolving stage. Many performances and events were staged to raise funds for charity. On the sporting side, at one stage both summer and winter sports days were held and in 1966 some 4,000 people attended. Teams even competed in international arenas. Excellent facilities were also provided at the newly-established satellite head office sites at Poole and Radbroke Hall, but long before these sites opened in the 1970s many sporting activities were being organized at district level through the local head office network, with team fixtures between districts and even between branches.

The number and the diversity of the clubs and societies grew over the decades, a high water mark being reached in the 1970s. The Sports Club, one of the largest company clubs in Britain with over 5,000 members, had no fewer than 32 sections at one point. Just about every sport was catered for – football, rugby, cricket, tennis, hockey, swimming, shooting, athletics, archery, boxing, netball….there was even a rowing club with its own boathouse at Putney, and a sailing club with its own yacht - The Spread Eagle of Lombard Street.

Other groups were formed for photography, film, chess, climbing and rambling (with hostels in Wales and the Lake District), and there was a flourishing gramophone society. As late as 1981, Barclays Brass Band was formed.

Changes to working practices and lifestyles mean that many of the sport and social clubs have declined in recent years, but for those staff who participated in them, they formed an important and happy element of their career with Barclays.