We recently came across these snippets about early clocking in systems and thought we’d share them.

 “Others have been so foolish to think bare attendance without being imployed in business is sufficient.”

So says Crowleys Ironworks in its workbook of 1710. Timesheets were filled in for each employee by a monitor who was also in charge of starting and ending the working day and calling the breaks. Not so much absence management, more if you’re not there you don’t get paid.

Modern industrialisation brought with it a requirement to work in a different way. Artisans, craftsmen and their families pulled to the growing towns and cities would once have been task oriented rather than working to set times. They could start and finish work when they liked as long as the work got done, or as country rhythms like milking cows and harvesting dictated.

Where are the wedgers and spout makers when you need them?

Pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood was the next recorded employer to enforce rules for timekeeping and is credited with introducing an early form of clocking in.

Saint Monday was a well-known ad hoc day off,  people were often paid on a Saturday and required Monday to recover from the weekend, (sounds familiar!). It also wasn’t unknown for workers to down tools for days for wakes and fairs especially in the summer.

For Wedgwood this way of working wasn’t good enough, he needed employees on-site working, and able to meet his exacting standards – those with raging hangovers certainly couldn’t be relied on!  Of the 278 men, women and children employed by Wedgwood in 1790, only 5 weren’t specialists in a particular part of the pottery production process. You couldn’t afford to have your spout makers absent, off carousing somewhere, if you had a big order for teapots to fulfil!

The beginning of clocking in as we know it

Wedgwood took workforce management very seriously. To monitor absence and instill general discipline he introduced a clocking in system. All employees were issued with tickets with their names printed on them. Each person took two tickets with them when they left work. In the morning one ticket was posted in a box in the entry lodge, and the other posted when they went off for dinner. If the tickets didn’t tally, the employee was tracked down, admonished or fined. Workers were fined for absence and forfeits imposed for drunkenness, immorality and graffiti amongst other things.

Being punctual must have been a challenge in the early days of manufacturing, standard time wasn’t generally adopted across the UK until 1862, and then only because the different railway companies needed to work to a common timetable. It wasn’t until 1888 that UK time was finally completely standardised, just in time for the arrival of the first mechanical time clocks!


Wedgwood Museum

The Temporal Order of Work edited by Andy Crabtree, Mark Rouncefield and Peter Tolmie

Creating modern capitalism edited by Thomas K McGraw

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