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William Henri Colchester Mollett  Work 

The City of London

William Henri seems to have started his working life in the stockbroking business.  No doubt he began as a clerk - the apprenticeship of office workers everywhere, but by the age of twenty three, shortly before his marriage, and indeed when he was married just a few weeks later, he was calling himself a stockbroker.  Like many members of the extended Mollett family it is likely that he got his start in life in the family firm.  His father John, who had been the head of the firm was a merchant dealing with Russia, and a company director of various insurance companies.  When he died, I think the family business continued to be run by his son John William and his brother Robert.  Broking (f there is such a word) was part of the business - they were sometimes described as brokers.  So William Henri was lucky in that there was some hope of advancement, unlike most clerks who had no hope of ever rising from the drudgery.  I found this quotation from Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia on the Early Office Museum website - in it he describes his life in the counting house, as they were then known:

“Melancholy was the transition at fourteen from the abundant playtime, and the frequently-intervening vacations of school days, to the eight, nine, and sometimes ten hours' a-day attendance at the counting-house. ... It is true I had my Sundays to myself.... But besides Sundays I had a day at Easter, and a day at Christmas, with a full week in the summer.... Before I had a taste of it, it was vanished.  I was at the desk again, counting upon the fifty-one tedious weeks that must intervene before such another snatch would come. ... I was fifty years of age, and no prospect of emancipation presented itself. I had grown to my desk, as it were; and the wood had entered into my soul."

It appears that William Henri had no such bad luck - well in the sense that he was really low down the company ladder.  No doubt he worked similar hours though and I do so hope that the wood did not enter into his soul.  A stockbroker is not a clerk, and neither is a secretary - the next job description he gives, at the baptisms of two of his children.  Moreover, he and his family were, by then (1887), living in Camberwell Grove - a fairly posh road in a posh suburb - not the abode of clerks.  After his stint as a secretary though he becomes an accountant and remains one until his death.  Moreover he was a Chartered Accountant - a professional qualification and status that was first introduced in 1880.  Apparently he became a member on 5 January 1881, so an early adopter, but not a real mover and shaker as he is not listed in their list of obituaries (and it’s a long list).  In 1882 he was working as a clerk in the company of Frederick B. Smart and Co. - a firm of accountants, founded in 1865 and kept going in one form or another until 1965.  Later in 1894 he  was still working as a clerk, but this time for J. R. Ellerman and Co., which later became the Ellerman Shipping Lines.  So really he was just a cog in the wheel probably, like one of those clerks in the Bank of England in the picture above.  Nevertheless he must either have been paid very well, or he made money in investments, for the family lived very comfortably in suburban Camberwell with their household of servants.  

Accountancy was, like many other professions, a growth industry in the nineteenth century:

"Four aspects of the nineteenth century British economy were particularly important for the development of accountancy: the growth of large-scale organizations and, in particular, of the railways, company legislation, the high rate of insolvencies, and the introduction of income taxation." “The demand for auditing, bankruptcy, costing, and tax services rose due to these issues, and they were supplied by the accountancy profession.”


Then, as now, it is one of those basic, boring, professions that we all need and that keep the Western capitalist system going.  No doubt accountants don’t find their work boring - numbers are fascinating to some, but I must admit that I, along with the majority I suspect, find it all totally uninteresting - if essential.  Which might be why I find it hard to connect with William Henri in any real sense.  But we should not mock or be so dismissive.  These are the people who make sure that the world of commerce survives and it must be said, that he provided well for his wife and family.



Early Office Museum - yes it’s an American site and is about America, but I’m sure a lot of it is relevant to England.  A fund of information about office life in the nineteenth century

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