Some time towards the end of the 1860s, my distant cousin, Thomas George, moved from Llanwnda near Strumble Head in North Pembrokeshire to South West London, where he worked as a carpenter, married and brought up his large family. Had he remained in West Wales his boys would have probably worked as farm labourers or gone to sea and I’m not sure what the girls would have done. In London, however, there was such a demand for schooled young people to administer the expansion of businesses and globalisation of trade that 1 in 10 of employed males worked as a clerk.*
In London the George boys found office jobs as soon as they left school at 14 and the girls started work as dressmakers’ apprentices. They worked hard as Llewelyn, aged 17, makes clear in this letter addressed to his younger sister’s employer and copied into his little notebook.
At 17 Llewelyn was a warehouse clerk, continuing his education at night school. He attended courses in shorthand, drawing freehand, reading, arithmetic, modelling in clay, wood carving, English grammar, botany and musical drills. At 27 Llewelyn was a solicitor’s clerk and ten years later, according to the census, ‘a lawyer’s clerk’, while his brothers clerked in banks, customs houses, estate agents and insurance offices. As clerks they were part of the largest single working group in the capital; there were plenty of opportunities for promotion and they did well for themselves.
*Work, income and stability: The late Victorian and Edwardian London male clerk revisited by Michael Heller