The industrial grades – labourers, night watchmen, mechanics, gardeners, cleaners and others

When in 1818, the Admiralty took on responsibility for the Ordnance’s share of funding for the Observatory; the established employees consisted of the Astronomer Royal, two assistants and a labourer. By the 1830s, (and perhaps long before), a gate porter and a night watchman were also on the books. The first systematic references to these three members of staff appeared for a few years in the Annual Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors in the 1850s where Airy also tells us, that a carpenter is ‘almost constantly employed’. Regular reporting began in the mid 1860s. By the 1880s, the Observatory was also employing a charwoman and by the 1890s a messenger. By the mid 1930s, the number of individuals employed to support the Observatory in these and similar roles had grown to 15. When the Observatory staff were assimilated in the 1940s into the Scientific Civil Service grades, this group of workers became known as the industrial staff. In 1945, they numbered 31 and included watch adjusters and repairs, mechanics and a laboratory boy. By 1955, 195 staff were on the books, of whom 82 were classed as industrial. They consisted of: 14 watchmakers, 1 watchmaker apprentice, 6 laboratory mechanics, 1 mechanic, 1 fitter, 2 storehouse assistants, 1 head gardener, 5 gardeners, 1 forester, 5 messengers, 2 packers, 3 boiler attendants, 3 drivers, 5 skilled labourers, 4 night-watchmen, 1 caretaker, 6 labourers, 2 switchboard attendants, 10 part-time cleaners and 9 Hostel domestic staff. Prior to 1945 the Astronomers Royal had always struggled to come up with a suitable collective noun to describe these types of post – in 1877 for example, Airy described them as ‘other attached servants’ and in 1880 as ‘practical officers’. In light of this the terms industrial grades or posts will be used in preference to the earlier descriptions.

At the start of the twentieth century, compared to the assistants and established computers, the industrial staff had relatively poor conditions of employment as did the supernumerary computers. In 1909, Leave and sick leave entitlement on ¾ pay was as follows: Foreman of Works and Forman Mechanic both 20 + 20 days; Leading Joiner, Joiner, Labourers, Mechanic and Boy Mechanic all 20 + 16 days; Charwoman 6 + 0 days.

The industrial posts were relatively poorly paid, and most were unestablished, meaning there was no right to a Civil Service pension. Things began to change on this front in 1920 when the posts of Foreman of Works and Leading Joiner both became established.

Unlike the supernumerary computers and other observatory staff, a good percentage, of the industrial workers, including the night watchman were expected to work a seven day week. Night watchman DR Weston must therefore have been delighted when in March 1914, he was granted one night off a fortnight.


Night watchmen

This post, whose date of origin is unknown, continued until 1932, when it was abolished and the number of messengers increased from two to three, two of whom performed in turn the duty of night watchmen. The grade appears to have been reinstated in 1946/7 (at about the time the Herstmonceux site was acquired) when there were four night watchmen on the books.

 c1823–1853       Joseph Gale* (died 26 Feb) (RGO6/3/80 & RGO6/25/81)
   1853–1873       Thomas Smallwood (died) , appointed March 1853, (RGO6/3, RGO6/7)
   1873–1884       W Freeman (resigned) (RGO6/7, RGO7/11)
   1884–1890       John Durrant (RGO7/11). Died 16 Feb 1890 (RGO7/29/105)
   1890– ?           Hopkins (previously the labourer) Temp from 16 Feb. perm from 24 Feb (RGO7/29/105)
   1892–1908       Thomas Minifee (RGO7/11)
   1908–1912       F Barnard (previously labourer, retired and awarded gratuity) (RGO7/11)
   1912–1912       D Weston (formerly night watchman, afterwards messenger) (RGO7/11)
   1912–1920       DR Weston (called up for war service 1914, resigned 19 Apr 1920) (RGO7/11, RGO8/31)
   1914–1920?     S Hancock (engaged temporarily on 9 Aug 1914 to cover DR Weston (RGO8/31)
   1920–1920       Fry (temporary engagement 19 Apr – 15 May) (RGO8/31)
   1920–1925       Alcock (engaged 17 May 1920, promoted to Gate Porter 4 May 1925) (RGO8/31)
   1925–1930       A Hellen (engaged 4 May 1925, resigned 4 Jan 1930) (RGO8/31)
   1930–1930       A Mckinlay (7 Jan – 14 Jun, switched to become messenger) (RGO8/31)
   1930–1932       AT Clarke (engaged 15 Jun 1930, promoted to Gate Porter 3 Jul 1932) (RGO8/31)
   1932                Post abolished until 1945/6

*Joseph Gale (this or another?) is mentioned in RGO6/72/9 as having been the labourer at some point prior to 1835.



The origins of this post date back to at least 1818. Until the departure of Stride in 1863, the post was an established one, entitling the holder to a Civil Service pension, provided they had served for ten years or more. The word labourer appears to have been a generic term used initially for the person whose duties included tending the gardens but later to cover additional individuals whose role was more that of a builder’s or carpenter’s labourer. Whilst the 1883 Annual Report of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors lists the Industrial staff as ‘A gate porter, watchman, and labourer, and a foreman of works, with two carpenters and a labourer’, in the 1884 report, the word gardener is substituted in place of the first labourer listed.

    pre c.1830        Joseph Gale  (RGO6/72/9)
?c1830–1840        Thomas Hall(e)y*, died 29 June 1840 (RGO6/72/9, RGO6/72/109, RGO6/24)
  ?1840–1842        John Griffiths, discharged incurably ill (RGO6/72/177-186)          
    1842–1863        James Stride*, started 22 Aug 1842 age 45, retired 1863 (RGO6/5, RGO6/72/185)
    1864–1879        Henry Liffen* (RGO6/5 & RGO7/11)
    1879– ?            A Currey (RGO7/11)
    ?     –1890        Hopkins. Transferred to night watchman duties 16 Feb 1890 (RGO7/29)
    1890– ?            Charles Hayes of 2 Grove Place, Blissett Street. From 1 Mar 1890 (RGO7/29)
    1899–1908        F Barnard (previously messenger, afterwards night watchman) (RGO7/11)
     ?    –1908        WB Breezer (dismissed) (RGO7/11)
    1908–1917+      WB Fisher (left on Naval Service 15 Nov 1915) (RGO7/11, RGO8/31
     ?    –1910        C Hayes (resigned) (RGO7/11)
1885–1920        JG Carter* (skilled) (7 Feb 1920, resignation & gratuity) (RGO8/31)
by 1913–1935        Lewer* (promoted16 Feb 1920 to skilled lab**, retired 11 May 1935) (RGO8/31)
     ?     –1915 (+?) Franklin (left on Naval Service 15 Nov 1915)(RGO8/31)
     1915–1928        (T?) Whiting (22 Nov 1915, died 7 Sep 1928) (RGO8/31)
     1919– ?            Richards (engaged 5 May) (RGO8/31)                
     1920– ?            Phillips (engaged 16 Feb to replace Lewer) (RGO8/31)
     1927–1936+      Carter LE (engaged 13 Jun 1927, promoted to skilled lab 23 Sep 1935) (RGO8/31)
     1928– ?            J Eldridge (promoted from boy mechanic 7 Sep) (RGO8/31)
     1934– ?            A J Johnson (skilled) (promoted from boy mechanic 1 Apr 1934) (RGO8/31)
     1935–1936        H Bass (engaged on temp appointment 2 Sep 1935, discharged 4 Jan 1936) (RGO8/31)
     1935–1945(+)    SE Bass (engaged 23 Sep 1935 to replace LE Carter) (RGO8/31, BofV)
     1937– ?            Phelps (RGO8/31)

*also known to have been referred to as gardener.
** to replace JG Carter

Hall(e)y’s name was spelt by Airy and others both with and without the letter ‘e’ in the middle. Hall(e)y was residing in Prior Street at the time of his death


Gate Porters

Apart from when war cover was required, there appears to have been just one Gate Porter on the books at any one time. The specific post of Gate Porter appears to have been abolished and replaced with an extra messenger in about 1944.

References in ( ) below: 1, RGO6/3. 2, RGO6/5. 3, RGO 6/6. 4, RGO6/72/130. 5, RGO7/11. 6, RGO8/31. RGO6/24 can be viewed online.

            –1837   Richards (resigned Sat 14 Jan) (RGO6/24/13).
     1837–          John Williams (appointed Sun 15 Jan) (RGO6/24/13). 17 Feb 1839,                                                  taken with an apoplectic fit and carried to the Hospital Infirmary (RGO6/24/33)
by 1841–1850    Edward Green (dismissed) (1,4)
     1850–1863   Michael Sheeky (1)
     1863–1864   Edward Wellman (stand in, resigned 1864) (2)
     1864            J Hobbs appointed (as extra gate porter??) (2)
1864–1872   Richard Tuddenham (dismissed) (2)
     1872–1887   Joseph Rainbow (started 28 July (RGO6/784), died 22 Mar (RGO7/29)) (2, 5)
     1887–1903   William McManus (engaged 28 Mar (RGO7/29) resigned and granted gratuity) (5)
     1903–1912   Charles J Symms (promoted from messenger 23 Jun 1903, left 2 Nov 1912) (5, 6)
     1912–1925   A Holbrook (war service in 1914, resigned 2 May 1925 with gratuity) (5, 6)
     1914–1918   Charles J Symms* (returned temporarily 14 Aug 1914, to cover Holbrook) (6)
     1925–1932   Alcock (nightwatchman until 4 May 1925, resigned 2 Jul 1932) (6)
     1932 – ?      AT Clarke (promoted from night watchman 3 Jul 1932) (6)

 * transferred briefly to messenger post 25 Aug 1918, before retiring on 26 Oct that year.


Carpenters, Joiners and Leading Joiners

The Annual Reports of the Astronomer Royal make reference to the employment of Carpenters from the 1850s onwards. Dyson however seems to have preferred the word Joiner, which he first started using in the reports in 1914. For administrative purposes, the use of the term joiner seems to have been use before 1900. The more senior of the joiners became referred to as the Leading Joiner, a title that disappeared when the Leading Joiner Westcott was promoted to Foreman of the Observatory in 1935. The post of Leading Joiner became an established one in 1920.


In Jan  1830     John Garlick* (John Eaglestone, Keeper of Greenwich Park inquest, newspaper reports)
In May 1872     Mr Simmons (RGO7/28)

* Possibly related to Thomas Garlick, who is said to have been ‘one of the chief officials at the Royal Observatory’ but in fact, may have also been a carpenter. (Link)


  ?   –1898        T Cross (died) (RGO7/11)
  ?   –1898        F Barnard (resigned) (RGO7/11)
1898–1901        James Porteous (engaged 19 Sep 1898, promoted 1 Apr 1901) (RGO8/31)
1898–1902        W Fassett (dismissed) (ROG7/11)
1902–1914        C Hole (promoted 8 Jun 1914) (RGO8/31)
1914– ?            ACS Westcott* (appointed 11 Jun, Naval Service 1915, promoted date unknown) (RGO8/31)
1935– ?            GH Pearce (engaged 9 Dec 1935 to replace Westcott (RGO8/31)

* The date of Westcott’s promotion is presently unknown, but is believed to have been before 1920.

Leading Joiners:

1901–1914        James Porteous resigned 28 May, died 2 June (paid £2.5s. a week in 1914)
1914–1917 (+)   C Hole (promoted from joiner 8 Jun) (RGO8/31)
  ?    –1935       ACS Westcott (promoted to Foreman of Observatory 27 Jul 1935) (RGO8/31)


Time ball Superintendent and Assistant (Deal)

When the Naval Yard at Deal was deemed surplus to requirements and sold off by the Admiralty in July 1864, the Time Ball Tower was excluded from the sale. There no longer being a competent resident authority for its superintendance, it was placed under the care of the Astronomer Royal. With the advent of reliable radio time signals the Deal Time Ball became obsolete and was closed down on 25 February 1927.


  1864–1892         W Newby
  1892–1904         JG Hayward (died)
  1904–1921(+?)   John Jermyn (RGO8/31)


?1864–1881          Newby jnr.
  1881–1892         JG Haywood
   ?    –1919+        T Haywood*** (military service 7 Nov 1915 to 31 Sep 1919) (RGO8/31)
  1915–1917         Miss Mabel Hunt* (appointed as cover for Hayward) (RGO8/31)
  1917–1919         Mrs Emma Bulbeck** (appointed as cover, for Hayward) (RGO8/31)

* Niece of Jermyn the Superintendent, appointed 7 Nov 1915, resigned 10 Nov 1917  for family reasons

** Of 3 South Street Deal (services terminated 31 Sep 1919)

*** Salary was £15 a year in 1915


Clerk & Accountant /Clerk for office work / Clerical Assistant

This post appears to have come into being in 1887. The post of Clerk (second division) was changed to that of Clerical Assistant at an increased salary scale with effect from 1 February 1897.

1887                      Mr Wikison (appointed 1 June) (RGO7/29), (sacked 6 May 1892)
1892                      vacant (from 6 May)
1893                      Mr. C.R.Sayers (temp)
1894                      Mr L. Le Brun
1894                      Mr. C Cass
1894–1919             Mr H. Outhwaite (retired 19 May)
1919                      Mr Burkett (resigned 9 Nov (went to Airy Ministry))
1920–1936             Mr Edney (appointed 20 Feb, retired 19 July)

Following Edney’s retirement, his work was taken on by H.G.Barker under the new job title of Secretary and Cashier.


Clerk of Works / Foreman of Works / Foreman of Observatory

The term 'Clerk of the Works' was first used by Airy in his correspondnece in 1848 when his joiner John Green was asked to oversee the large number of alterations being planned for the Observatory buildings (RGO6/721/245*). The first time that Airy  appears to have used the term in his annual report, was in 1872, where he wrote: ‘The principal carpenter is virtually Clerk of Works, almost in the position of an established officer.’ In 1877, this individual was described as ‘an unrecognised Clerk of Works. Quite when the post became properly recognised is currently unclear. What is known is that it became an established post in 1920. When Christie became Astronomer Royal in 1881, he used the expression Foreman of Works rather than Clerk of Works. The post of ‘Foreman of Works’ became ‘Foreman of Observatory’ on the retirement of WV Woodman on 27 July 1935. Although in Airy’s time the post was filled by a skilled carpenter, it was filled by a mechanic in 1919.

References: RGO6/721, RGO7/11, RGO8/31

1848–               Mr Green, referred to as Foreman of the Observatory in letter dated 15 Jan 1852 in
 ?    –1902        **J Simmons (resigned Nov on account of ill health, applied for gratuity, & died soon after)
1903–1919        GH Lifton (appointed 1 Feb 1903, died age 60 on 24 April with gratuity)
1919–1935        Woodman (appointed 5 May, previously foreman mechanic, retired 27 Jul 1935)
1935– ?            ACS Westcott (promoted from Leading Joiner) 27 July 1935)

*  Reference kindly supplied by Daniel Belteki.
** Recorded in Annual Report for 1903 as having been connected with the Observatory for nearly 40 years.


Gardner (skilled labourer)

Prior to 1884, the labourer was also sometimes refered to as the gardener. From 1884 until 1956, the Annual Reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors normally made reference to a gardener or gardeners (normally just one until the site at Herstmonceux was acquired in the 1940s, at which time the number rose to five plus a head gardener). The cessation of the reporting in the annual reports coincided with the first full reporting year of the new Astronomer Royal Woolley.

1883–1885      G Smith (RGO7/11)
1885–1920      Mr JG Carter, retired due to ill-health (RGO7/11 & BofV)
1920–1935      Mr Lewer, promoted from labourer 16 Feb, retired 11 May (BofV & RGO8/31)



The first mention in the annual reports of a skilled mechanic being employed on a full-time basis comes in 1887. A boy assistant seems to have been taken on in 1892, and a second mechanic in 1903, at which point the post of foreman mechanic was created. One or more mechanics seem to have been employed until at least 1955, when information about the industrial staff ceased being reported to the Board of Visitors.

1887–  ?           GE Nibblet
1892–1917        Woodman (Loaned to Woolwich Arsenal 1915, promoted 1917) (RGO8/31)
1919–1937+      SJ Medland (engaged 10 May 1919, established 1936) (RGO8/31)


Boy mechanic

The post of boy mechanic seems to have been created in 1892. It was abolished on 1 April 1934 and a skilled labourer employed instead. In 1915, the boy mechanic was paid just six shillings a week (15% of the mechanic’s wage). Many of the young lads stayed for just a few months before moving on.

1903–1912        W Bischlanger (RGO7/11)
1912–1913        G Hogben (left 12 Jul) (RGO7/11, RGO8/31)
1913–1913        Tharpe (16 Jul – 13 Dec) (RGO8/31)
1914–1914        Cadney (1 Jan – 19 Mar (discharged)) (RGO8/31)
1914– ?            Diplock (1 Apr – ?) (RGO8/31)
 ?    –1915        Thompson (resigned 16 Jan) (RGO8/31)
1915–1915        Auborn (18-22 Jan) (RGO8/31)
1915–1915        Russell (28 Jan – 14 Aug) (RGO8/31)
1915–1915        Anderson (16 Aug – 17 Dec) (RGO8/31)
1916–1916        Howe (5 – 22 Jan) (RGO8/31)
1916–1917        E Dench (engaged 31 Jan 1916, resigned 19 May 1917) (RGO8/31)
1917– ?            Ainsworth (engaged 29 May) (RGO8/31)
1919– ?            Witcher (engaged 10 May) (RGO8/31)
1921–1921        Markham (4 May – Sep 23) (RGO8/31)
1921–1928        Eldridge (engaged 1 Oct 1921, promoted to labourer 10 Sep 1928) (RGO8/31)
1928 – 1934      AJ Johnson (engaged 1 Oct 1928, promoted to skilled labourer 1 Apr 1934) (RGO8/31)
1934                 Post abolished


Foreman Mechanic

The post of Foreman Mechanic appears to have been created in 1903 and ceased to exist in 1919 when the holder Woodman was promoted to Foreman of Works

 ?    –1917         Niblett GE (retired with gratuity 10 Nov) (RGO8/31)
1917–1919         Woodman (promoted from mechanic 12 Nov) (RGO8/31)
1919                  Post ceased to exist



Although the first time that the employment of a Charwoman is mentioned in the Annual reports of the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors is in the year 1893. Originally just one appears to have been employed, but this was increased to two in about 1940. The title of charwoman  appears to have been dropped in favour of cleaner in around 1944.

1887                 Mrs Green, appointed, (RGO7/11) (date needs checking)
1898                 Mrs Cross, dismissed, (RGO7/11)
1898                 Mrs Sullivan, appointed, (RGO7/11)
1899                 Mrs Packham, appointed, (RGO7/11)
1899                 Mrs Chochrane,  appointed, (RGO7/11)
1900–1927        Mrs Annie Cochrane* (appointed 12 Feb 1900, resigned 31 Dec 27 with gratuity) (RGO8/31)
1927 – ?           Mrs Dignum (engaged 9 Jan) (RGO8/31)


* Aged 66 when she resigned. Possibly the mother of Alfred Cochrane, who was appointed as a boy computer in 1887



In 1895, provision was made in the navy estimates for the employment of a messenger pensioner (Report to the Board of Visitors 1895). The first mention that one had actually been employed comes in the report for 1896. However, RGO7/11 indicates a person was in post in 1892. When night watchman AT Clarke was promoted to Gate Porter on 3 Jul 1932, the grade of night watchman was abolished and a new grade of Night Watchman / Messenger created. (RGO8/31). The messengers continued to have a night watchman role until 1946/7 (at about the time the Herstmonceux site was acquired) when the messengers were relieved of this duty with the appointment of a team of individuals whose sole role was that of night watchmen.

1892–1898        J Sullivan (retired) (RGO7/11)
1898–1899        W Sullivan (died) (RGO7/11)
1898–1899        F Barnard (became labourer) (RGO7/11)
1899–1903        JH Harding (resigned) (RGO7/11)
1899–1903        Charles J Symms (became gate porter) (RGO7/11)
1903–1908        J Dix (resigned following misconduct) (RGO7/11)
1903–  ?            J Vickery (RGO7/11)
1908–1912        A Holbrook (became gate porter) (RGO7/11)
1912–1918+      D Weston (previously night watchman, called up for war service 1914/15) (RGO7/11 & BofV)
1899–1903        Charles J Symms (appointed 31 Jul 1899, promoted to Gate Porter 22 Jun 1903) (RGO8/31)
In 1915              J Vickery (RGO8/31)
1918–1918        Charles J Symms (25 Aug to 26 Oct, previously covering for Gate Porter, retired age 71 with gratuity) (RGO8/31)
pre 1913?–1930 A Howick (resigned 14 Jun, definitely employed by 1917) (RGO8/31)
1930–1932        A Mckinlay (formerly night watchman engaged 16 Jun 1930, resigned 9 Jul 1932) (RGO8/31)
1932–1946         Post ceased to exist


Night Watchmen / Messengers

When night watchman AT Clarke was promoted to Gate Porter on 3 Jul 1932, a new grade of Night Watchman / Messenger was created. (RGO8/31). The joint role ceased in 1946/7 (at about the time the Herstmonceux site was acquired).

1932 – ?            F Fry (engaged 3 Jul 1932 (RGO8/31)
1932 – ?            J Hogan (engaged 11 Jul 1932 on resignation of A Mckinlay (messenger) (RGO8/31)


Caretaker at Abinger

The site at Abinger was operational from 1924 until 1957. To start with at least, the post holder was a mechanic and also had charge of the site’s generators.

1924 – 1930      W Whitfield (appointed 28 Jul 1924, resigned 11 Oct 1930) (RGO8/31)
1930 – 1931      LA Dalton (appointed 4 Nov 1930, discharged 3 July 1931) (RGO8/31)
1931 – ?            AJ Kent (appointed 7 Sep 1931) (RGO8/31)


Watch Makers / Repairers

In 1937, at the suggestion of Humphry Smith, a workshop was set up for the repair and adjustment of watches and chronometers. A team of watch makers was employed until 1964, when they were transfered to the Ministry of Defence. A document in the Observatory archives (RGO8/31) appears to indicate that a watch repairer was also on the books in 1918. The circumstances surrounding the post's creation are not clear. It was not reported with the other Industrial Posts by the Astronomer Royal to the Board of Visitors in his annual report. Further research is required to establish if this was a war-time measure or some other type of appoinment.

1918     Willis RH (engaged in 1918?) (RGO8/31)