telegraphic codes and message practice, 1870-1945

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The Telegraph Clearing House

Chambers's Journal (October 11, 1873) : 646-647

The branch, which is known in the Postal Telegraph Service as the 'Clearing House,' was first established in the beginning of 1871, experimentally for the purpose of examining at least one day's messages in every month of each Postal and Railway Telegraph Office in England and Wales, with the object of having a check upon the miscellaneous faults which are apt to occur in the transmission and delivery of telegrams. The necessity for establishing some such check was evident to the Post-office authorities, since every day's experience shewed them that less discredit accrued to the department through deficiencies or bad working of the plant, than through careless or wilfull inattention to matters unconnected with it; such as inattention to handwriting, orthography, and the sense of the message; to the sender's written instructions; to the prompt transmission of the message from the counter to the instrument, or from the instrument to the messenger; and to various other matters of detail which ought to be cared for if the work is to be properly done.
    A branch for similar purposes was instituted by the late Electric and International Telegraph Company, and it was the knowledge of the valuable aid which it had rendered in furthering the efficiency of that Company, which no doubt induced Mr Scudamore to consider the question of establishing one in the postal service. It is pleasing to know that Mr Scudamore's efforts for this object, by the establishment of the 'Clearing-house check,' were replete with success, which he testifies to in these words: 'We have the satisfaction of knowing that the operation of the "Clearing-house check" has been very salutary. It has led the clerks throughout the country to pay attention to the rules which have been laid down with regard to the signalling of messages, to use their utmost exertions to get messages off promptly, to write out the received messages carefully, and to expedite the delivery of these messages to the best of their ability.'
    The formation of the branch was intrusted to the care of Mr Chetwynd, the Receiver and Accountant General of the Post-office, to whose office it was attached. He secured the services of Mrs Arundel-Colliver as superintendent, a lady whose successful management of this great experiment has proved that she is in every way competent to fulfill the responsible duties of such a post; and he also obtained the services of Miss Green and Miss Boulton as assistants of the superintendent. The rest of the staff comprises forty well qualified ladies; and it is but due to the department to state that it has been most particular in the selection which it has made from the numerous candidates for appointment to this branch. The hours of the office are from ten until five o'clock each working day, with the exception of Saturdays, when the duties terminate at two o'clock.
    Since its establishment, the 'Clearing-house' has greatly increased, and is now divided into two sections: the one being designated the 'message section;' while the other is termed the 'account section.' The former is occuped in the examination of messages, the work for which the branch was primarily intended, and which is done in the following manner. The messages, numbering sixty thousand a day, are first received at the Telegraph Message Branch of the Receiver and and Accountant General's Office, from the various telegraph offices in England and Wales, where they undergo examination as to correct charges having been accounted for; they are next 'traced,' a duty which consists in bringing together the original form of the telegram (that is, the one upon which the sender has written his message) and the duplicate copy made out at the destination of the same, and attaching them to one another. Having undergone this operation, the messages are tied up in the alphabetical order of the offices or origin, and in order of date, and sent to the 'Clearing-house' for inspection. Each lady employed in examining in the 'message section' has a certain number of messages given to her daily, each one of which she has to in spect very carefully, comparing the forwarded copy with the received copy of the message; and every discrepancy which she discovers, and every isntance of delay in transmission, of bad handwriting, inaccuracy, or erroneous signalling, is at once brought under the special notice of the postmaster of the office with whom the fault has lain. These errors and the explanations of them are duly recorded ina regester; and at the end of every month a statement, shewing the errors and irregularities discovered during the preceding month, is forwarded to the local surveyor of the post-office in fault, for his information. The utility of this section is very apparent, since it is the means of preventing the repetition of faults which frequently occur in the transmission and receipt of telegrams, and which must, in many instances, be very annoying to the public, although, perhaps, uncomplained of by them; 'and it is by shewing the postmasters and clerks,' says Mr Scudamore, 'that their shortcomings would be discovered even though the public did not complain, that we gradually increase and perfect the efficiency of our working.' Again, regarding the usefulness of this section of the 'Clearing-house,' in a business point of view, it will at once be seen how essential it is to the department, for, to use Mr Scudamore's words once more, 'People who receive messages which are promptly transmitted and delivered, which are accurately rendered, and which are written out clearly and distinctly, are insensibly tempted to send telegraph messages. People who find that telegraph messages are long in reaching them, and are inaccurately rendered, or are unintelligible, either from bad writing, or bad transmitting, do not feel at all inclined to trouble their friends with similar annoyances.'
    We now come to the 'account section' of the branch, which is occupied principally in making out a monthly abstract of the number of messages dealt with at each of the four thousand Postal Telegraph Offices in England and Wales, the items being extracted from the daily telegraph accounts of these offices. The object in view in doing this is, to enable the Post-office to check the entries in their ledgers, containing the cash accounts of the various postmasters. It will be perceived that this object is a very useful one to the department, as it is the means of discovering and eventually reducing the number of discrepancies which arise between the cash accounts and telegraph accounts of the different post-offices throughout the country; and this, we learn, has been completely successful.
    The residue of the staff of this office is engaged in doing the correspondence of the branch, the registration of the various papers and reports, and in miscellaneous work.
    The offices of the 'Clearing-house,' which are present at Albion Place, Blackfriars, are found too small for the increasing requirements of the branch; it is, however, expected that the rooms allotted to this staff in the new Post-office will shortly be in readiness to receive them, when they will no doubt be able to work with greater convenience than at present.
    Clearing-houses have also been established at the General Post-offices in Dublin and in Edinburgh, which keep a check upon the telegraphic work performed in Ireland and Scotland, in a manner similar to that which has been described at the London office.
    In concluding this paper, it is well to draw attention to the great success which has attended the experiment of the Post-office in employing females to do clerical work, for the manner in which the duties of the 'Clearing-house' have been performed seems to have given great satisfaction to both Mr Scudamore and Mr Chetwynd, the chief promoters of the experiment; referring to it, the former significantly remarks, that 'the work, which chiefly consists in fault-finding, is well within the capacity of the female staff, and has been performed in a very satisfactory manner.' The Postmaster-general also shews his approbation of the experiment, by the notice which he takes of it in his Report upon the Post-office for 1872, and which runs thus: 'It is with pleasure that I have given my approval to the measures that have been proposed for increasing the employment of women in the Post-office; the first great step in that direction having been taken by my predecessor, Lord Hartington, in relation to the telegraphs. How much remains to be done towards removing those artificial barriers which have hitherto shut out women from lucrative employment may be gathered with the fact, that, on a late occasion, when it was accounced, by advertisement, that there were twelve vacancies for junior counter-women, at wages from fourteen to seventeen shillings a week, more than twelve hundred candidates presented themselves; the very thoroughfare, as I am informed, in the neighborhood of the office of the Civil Service Commissioners having been for a time blocked up.' It is satisfactory to learn that the success of the 'Clearing-house' has been the means of inducing Mr Scudamore to consider the question of intrusting, at a future period, a great portion of the work belonging to other branches of the telegraph service to female clerks.

12 august 04