A penchant for pensions past - March 2012

Posted: 1 April 2012

Malcolm Deering explains how he is combining his interest in one aspect of retirement benefit provision with the aims of The Pensions Archive Trust.

It was in the ‘early eighties’, when asked to give a talk to group of actuarial students about the ‘history of pensions’, that I began my interest in this aspect of retirement benefit provision. When – last year - I saw a request - through Professional Pensions - for a volunteer to work on identifying sources of pension history in London, I immediately offered my services. As a result, at the beginning of July, I found myself at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) meeting Katy Johnson – The Pensions Archive Trust’s Archivist based at LMA – and Alan Herbert – Chairman of the Trust.

I discovered that the Trust had been established to identify and to preserve the wide source of historical UK pension material that will otherwise be lost. The purpose is not only to establish a source of information about the past but also for the information to serve as a means of learning for the future. We might not always learn from the past but it is important that we maintain the ability so to do.

My role is to go through LMA’s computerised catalogues of archive collections from past and present organisations and individuals in Greater London and to identify records that are related to pension provision. This might seem to be a ‘boring task’ but the exercise is fascinating. Indeed, there is often a danger of being distracted by records connected and unconnected with pensions.

It is proposed to have articles published from time to time about the progress of this project and my findings. A second and important purpose of such articles will be to inform employers and other potential depositors of the type of material the Pensions Archive is interested in collecting, and encourage them to contribute their records and knowledge to the Trust.

In this first article, I will set out some of the interesting information – well I find it interesting! – that I have discovered during my weekly visit to LMA, over the last few months.

Off the Rails
One of the rich sources of information on pension provision at LMA is the records of the Metropolitan Railway Company’s Pension Fund. The Metropolitan Railway Company was one of a plethora of individual railway companies operating across the UK prior to nationalisation: in 1933 the company was taken over by the London Passenger Transport Board, which was nationalised as the London Transport Executive in 1948. These records had an added significance for me as I recall that in the ‘eighties’ I saw special rules preserving the pension basis of early railway workers when two company clients, which had each purchased British Rail operations, had to maintain the pre-nationalisation railway pension basis for employees transferring with the business for their ongoing service.

Another good source appears to be the breweries. The records relate to pension schemes of old small breweries that were subsequently bought up. Members of the Campaign for Real Ale might find the records an interesting source to identify many, long forgotten small breweries.

Livery (not because of the brewing)
LMA has a section of archives from the City of London’s Livery Companies - from the Worshipful Company of Coopers to the Worshipful Company of Weavers. Some of these Livery Companies provided charitable pensions in the 18th and 19th centuries to former workers. These do not constitute ‘occupational pensions’ but are an important part of our history of provision for old age. Interestingly, there were also employer funded pension schemes operated by the livery companies. Some Worshipful Companies – The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors is a well known example - established charity schools and included pensions for the school staff.

Another section in the LMA records relates to Local Authorities. I had anticipated that there would be little if anything in these records. However, the records include the records of Boards of Guardians of Poor Law Unions, which had the direct responsibility for administering the poor law after reforms to the system of poor relief in 1834. The records relate to poor relief, the poorhouse (workhouse might be more appropriate), asylums and supposed ‘lunatics’, Board schools, employment (including of children) and emigration. This is a rich vein of records about the operation of the poor laws in the 19th century.

As I investigate these records, I identify those, where it is necessary to clarify matters from the actual boxes of records. Looking through these actual records is both fascinating and surprising. I am so impressed and amazed by some of these old documents – including old handwritten records - that I feel that I should be wearing white gloves in order to touch them. I frequently feel tempted to suspend my investigation of the computer records and to apply to read through the actual records. Perhaps, I should increase the number of cases that I mark up as needing greater investigation!

Now, it is time for you to play your part. The Trust is keen to hear from potential depositors with material to add to its collections, and to gather information about historical pension provision by organisations in the UK. Remember that tomorrow will make today history. We are looking for recent history as well as that from longer ago. You can contact the Trust with queries or information through the website.

The earliest example of UK pension provision, discovered in my own research back in the ‘eighties’, was from 1375, when The Guild of St James decided to provide for ‘a brother who had fallen into mischief and had nought for his old age’. If anybody knows of an earlier UK reference to pension, please advise The Pensions Archive Trust.

Malcolm Deering is an independent pension adviser, dealing with technical and ‘pension history geek’ aspects and has been in the industry for forty two years.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Malcolm's plea to be contacted with details of pensions provision within the UK prior to 1375 produced a response from Chris Lewin, PAT Vice President and author of Pensions and Insurance before 1800: a Social History. A chapter of this book details the pensions, corrodies (benefits purchased from religious houses to be accessed in old age) and other retirement provision available in the medieval period in England. It gives a particularly early example of a pension from 1180, granted by the Exchequer Court to two clerics who held the church of Black Bourton in Oxfordshire, which predates the pension provided by Guild of St James in 1375 referred to by Malcolm in his article.