Pay 1871–1945

The subject of pay at the Observatory becomes increasingly complex from the nineteenth century onwards. Although there is information in the various archives about the amounts individuals were paid on certain specific dates, information about the overarching pay structures, pay ranges and dates when they were introduced are less well documented – particularly in the twentieth century. When it has been possible to work out the date ranges over which the various pay scales apply, they have been given, when not, spot values are given instead. Restructuring of the pay scales took place in 1871, 1896, 1912, the mid 1930s and 1946.  References to relevant archive files are given in brackets: RGO (Royal Greenwich Observatory Archive at Cambridge); ADM, WORK and T (former Admiralty and Treasury files at the Public Record Office Kew), MS (Royal Society).

This page should be read in conjunction with the pages pages listed below:

Background information
Pay of the Astronomers Royal & Directors, 1675–1998
Pay 1675–1811
Pay 1811–1835
Pay 1836–1871
Pay 1946–1998



Throughout the 1860’s, there was a general feeling of discontent amongst the assistants that they were underpaid compared to other parts of the Civil Service. A new staffing structure and pay scales were drawn up, only to be rejected by the Treasury – an action which provoked significant negative comment in the Nautical Magazine. Royal approval for a new structure and pay scales was eventually given on 29 June 1871. As part of the deal, the separate housing allowance was discontinued. Whilst many pay deals over the years were largely cost neutral, this deal came at significant cost to the Treasury. It gave the assistants not only an immediate increase of between 18 and 67% over their previous pay and housing allowance, but also guaranteed annual increments. 


Astronomer Royal

1856–1875 (Airy)

£1,300 + house (£1,300 = salary of £1,000 + pension of £300 paid to Mrs Airy)

1875–1881 (Airy)

£1,200 + house

1881–1920 (Christie/Dyson)

£1,000 + house


Astronomical Section
Chief Assistant 
£500–£600 (x £20)
First Class Assistant £320–£450 (x £15)
Second Class Assistant £200–£300 (x £10)


Magnetic section
£320–£450 (x £15)
Assistant £180–£250 (x £10)


The assistants were moved onto the new scales on 1 April 1871 at the following salaries:

First class assistants (Dunkin & Ellis)  


Second Class assistants (Criswick, Lynn & Carpenter)

Superintendent of Mag & Met (Glaisher) £400
Magnetic Assistant (Nash) £180


The computers were paid £3 per month, with an annual increment of 5 shillings per month. As in previous times, they were encouraged to qualify for observing certificates entitling them to participate in observing ‘duties’ at the telescopes. A certificate for a photographic instrument earned its holder an additional 5 shillings per month and a certificate for the Airy Transit Circle or Altazimuth 10 shillings per month. For a scheduled observing duty, a computer received nine pence ‘clear or cloudy’. If observations were actually made, the payment was a shilling for the first hour with an extra six pence for each additional hour, for the photographic telescopes. In the case of the Airy Transit Circle, the extra six pence was only awarded if 50 or more stars had been observed in RA and ZD. An observation of the occultation of a star by the Moon earned a shilling.

References: RGO6/76/218 & 212, Edney Obituary, Navy Estimates , Meadows,



Astronomer Royal

£1000 + house

Chief Assistant  

£500–£600 (x £20)


£200–£450 (x £15)
Established Computer Higher Grade £200–£300 (x £10)
Established Computer
£80–£190 (x £7)
Clerical Assistant
£250–£350 (x£10)

References: T1/11416, RGO8/31



During this period, wartime bonuses became payable to compensate for inflation. The rates below are the basic rates, excluding the bonus.

Astronomer Royal

£1000 + house

Chief Assistant  

£500–£600 (x £20)


£200–£450 (x £15)

Junior Assistant Higher Grade
£200–£300 (x £10)

Junior Assistant
£80–£250 (x £7 to £150 and then x £10 to £250)

Clerical Assistant

£250–£350 (x£10)
Foreman Mechanic £3 a week (about £156 a year)
Leading Joiner  
£2.5s. a week (about £117 a year)
£2 a week (about £104 a year)
Gate Porter    
28s. a week (£73 a year)
25s. a week (about £65 a year)
25s. a week (about £65 a year)
Watchman 25s. a week (about £65 a year)
Computers See below

In March 1920, the actual salaries without and with the wartime bonuses paid to the 10 boy computers were: £36 (£66), £36 (£66), £39 (£80), £42 (£84), £45 (£103), £45 (£103), £45 (£103), £51 (£110,), £66 (£148) & £66 (£148). In addition, there was one temporary full time lady member of staff (Mrs Maunder) who was paid £150 but no war bonus, and three ladies who worked mornings only whose salaries were £108, £60 & £60, again with no bonus.


Wartime Bonuses for (male?) Civil Servants with pay of less than £500 a year (and aged 21 or over?) were paid at the following rates (some of the industrial staff were paid at a different rate):

Basic Pay

? Mar 1915

1 Jul 1916

1 Jan 1917

17 Dec 1917

1 July 1918

1 Nov 1918

1 Apr 1918

17 Nov 1919

< 30s









20% plus 24s

a) % rate payable to those aged 16 & upwards increased to 30%


b) flat rates of bonus continue unchanged


c) max total rate of bonus increased to £500 a year for men and £300 for women

30s to 40s





40s to 60s






£156.10s to £250












15% (with minimum of £34)

15% + £15 (with minimum of £50)

15% + £25 (with minimum of £60






20% plus £60


£250 to £420







12% (with minimum of £37.10s

12% + £15 (with minimum of £52.10s

12% + £25 (with minimum of £62.10s


£420 to £500



10% (with minimum of £42)

10% + £15 (with minimum of £57)

10% + £25 (with minimum of £67)

References: T1/11416, ADM1/8696/48, RGO 8/31 & RGO8/73



Different grades of staff were assimilated to the new structure at different times in and around 1936. The rates are exclusive of the war bonus. This website does not have any information about how or when these bonuses were assimilated into the salaried rate. 

The Junior Assistant (both grades) were placed on the equivalent grades in the clerical class of the Civil Service. The scheme for grading and salary scales for staff of Government Scientific Establishments recommended by the Carpenter Committee in 1929 was never applied to the staff of the Royal Observatory.

Astronomer Royal

£1000–£1200 (x£50) + house

Chief Assistant  

£500–£700 (x £25)


£200–£600 (x £20 to £240 then x £25 to £600), promotion beyond £400 being subject to receiving a direct recommendation as to special merit from the Astronomer Royal

Junior Assistant Higher Grade (until 25 Nov 1934)
£300–£400 (x £15), plus an allowance of £30 a year for night observing

Junior Assistant (Lower Grade) 

£60–£250 (these are the increments that were proposed, £60 to age of 18, then £80 x5 to £100 then x £10 to £120, then x £15 to £150, then x£10 to £250, but not necessarily sanctioned as it was said to take 20 years to reach the maximum if appointed age 23), plus an allowance for night observing of £10 for salaries under £150 and £20 for salaries over £150

Clerical Assistant

£350–£400 (x £15) plus up to £30 for night observing for the specific post holder at that time (Edney)

See below

In July 1934, the computers were paid between £4.10s and £6.15s a month apart from two ladies who had been employed for a number of years and were paid £10 a month. (RGO 8/31)

References: T1/12554 & RGO8/31 & RGO8/5



The scheme for grading and salary scales for staff of Government Scientific Establishments recommended by the Carpenter Committee in 1929 was never applied to the staff of the Royal Observatory. In the mid 1930s, a new structure was introduced. Different grades came into effect at different times. Dates (where known) are included below. A Civil Service War bonus which in 1945 varied from 13s 6d a week at age 19 to £60 a year at age 21 and over (£48 for women) was also paid to those on salaries of less than £1500 in later years. On 1 February 1940 (when the bonus was first introduced?), the rate for non-industrial staff paid less that 95s a week was: 3s a week for those on less than 40s, 4s a week for those on between 40s and 50s a week and 5 s a week for those on over 50s a week. The rate was 1s 6d for those under 18 and 2s 6d a week for those over 18 but under 21.

Astronomer Royal (17 Dec 1936)
£1200–£1500 (x £50) + house

Chief Assistant  

£600–£950 (x £30)

Assistant (1 Jul 1935)

£277–£738 (x £25 to £325 then x £30. In 1938 or later, adjusted to £275-£750 (x£25 to £375, then x£30). Efficiency bar at £505 for direct entrants and £625 for promotees
Assistant (Temporary)

Junior Assistant (Higher Grade)

£396–£515 (x £18) 1 Jul 1935 to 31 Aug 1937, then £400-£525 (x£18) + night observing allowance of £36 p.a.

Junior Assistant (11 Dec 1936)
£85–£350 (£95 at 18 x £20 to £115, then x £15 to £160, then x£12 to £196, then x£18 to £214 then x £12 to £350) + night observing allowance £12 if salary below £214 and £25 if above

Secretary & Cashier

£396–£515 (x£18) until 31 Aug 1937, then £400-£525 (x £18). The title was changed from Clerical Assistant on 12 Sept 1936.

Clerical Officer 

£85–£350 (former computer grade)
Shorthand typist
£104–£188 (Treasury Scales)
£78–£150 (Treasury Scales)
Head of Repair Shop £590 inclusive
Lab Assistants Grade 2B 45 shillings (at 19) to 74 shillings a week
Clerical Assistant Grade 1
28 shillings to 72 shillings a week (£73–£187.71) (former computer grade)
Watch Adjuster

Note: The Assistant Grade was partly filled by direct entry and partly by promotion

References: T213/286, RGO8/5, Hansard


Pay 1836–1871 Pay 1946–1998