By Contributing Writer John Handel
The voluminous records of the London Stock Exchange are filled with complaints. Pages upon pages in minutes books record the day-in and day-out troubles of managing a nineteenth-century financial market. Stockbrokers complained about not receiving stock certificates on time or squabbled about the price at which a deal was agreed upon, while neighbors grumbled about the excessive noise and crowds that flooded the area. The managers who were responsible for overseeing the institution’s operations gave reports on property acquisitions or the conduct of the Stock Exchange’s various waiters and clerks. But on August 30th of 1844 a complaint shockingly removed from the normal rhythms of financial life appeared in front of the Stock Exchange’s managers. As the Railway Mania, the first of the infamous Victorian financial bubbles, consumed the attention of the British populace and sent the workings of the Stock Exchange into a speculative frenzy, for the next two months the attention of the managers would be elsewhere, namely, on an investigation into whether or not one of the Stock Exchange’s waiters had an incestuous relationship with his daughter.
The investigation began with a rumor. An infant had recently “made its appearance” within the apartments of Daniel Maynard, a waiter in the Stock Exchange and one of the servants given rooms on the institution’s premises. The child was “said to be that of Maynard’s daughter,” and the “supposed paternity” of Maynard had been made known by a policeman to a fellow waiter named John South. Another family, purportedly close to the Maynard’s, confirmed this rumor. The Eustaces’ claimed that, “Maynard was in the habit of sleeping with his daughter, locking the door to prevent his wife coming into the room,” and that Maynard was “in the custom of ill treating his wife, who exhibited marks thereof.” After questioning, the Eustaces’ admitted that they themselves had gathered this information from an anonymous “woman who sells fruit,” near the Stock Exchange.
Maynard, his wife, and his daughter, Sarah Ann, were all called before the managers to testify separately. “Mrs. Maynard,” as she is referred to, claimed that her daughter had been married six months ago in Shoreditch to a man named Richard Williams, but she could not produce the marriage certificate. Maynard, called upon after his wife, denied that his daughter had ever married Williams. Maynard asserted that his wife’s statements could not be trusted because she was often “not in her right mind.” And, he emphasized that he had repeatedly “chastised” his daughter for her connection to Williams. Finally, Maynard’s daughter, Sarah Ann, claimed that Williams was the father, but that she had never married him. Instead she claimed that, their “intercourse had been confined to the apartment occupied by her father…carried on after her parents were in bed.” The managers resolved that the only way the case could be settled in Maynard’s favor was if he could produce Williams before the committee. In the interim the Maynard’s were expelled from their rooms in the Stock Exchange and Maynard was suspended from work.
As the weeks of the investigation wore on, Williams was nowhere to be found. Maynard, to avoid possible criminal accusation, needed another strategy for self-preservation. After failing to find Williams, he came before the committee and told them that he planned to force his daughter to “immediately surrender the child to the proper father,” once he could be found, and that in the meantime he had expelled his daughter from the family and remanded her to a workhouse.
These punitive actions on behalf of Maynard towards his daughter came alongside unexpected testimony that eventually vindicated him from charges of incest. R.J. Wells, who was the clerk in charge of superintending the waiters and supplies of the Stock Exchange brought a letter from one of his friends, “an influential inhabitant,” and member of the vestry in Shoreditch, testifying that Sarah Ann had “been made the dupe of a designing fellow named Williams who is the father of the child, and who after seducing her has left her to chance.” Wells also produced the testimony of one “Doctor Read,” who “had spoken in high terms of Maynard himself but did not think the word of his wife was to be taken.” Finally, Wells presented Mr. Quick, the Stock Exchange’s carpenter and one of its longest tenured servants. Quick’s rooms were across the hall from Maynard’s in the Exchange, and he claimed that “he had repeatedly seen not only the daughter but the wife of Maynard romping with men in their apartments.” And, Quick added, he had heard Mrs. Maynard “say such things to him as she could not have uttered had she been in her right mind.”
The evidence marshaled by Wells on behalf of Maynard proved decisive. The managers reprimanded Maynard for “the very disorderly manner in which he had permitted his wife and daughter to conduct themselves,” but otherwise, allowed him to continue his position as a waiter. They also promptly resolved that “a watchman shall be employed during the whole year…in the Stock Exchange,” in a direct response to revelations that Maynard’s wife and daughter had both “romped” with strange men within the premises of the Exchange.
Though the managers felt that they had adequately solved the case, their investigation of incest raised a host of questions to this bewildered financial historian. Most salient: why, in the midst of the most frenzied and notorious speculative bubble in Victorian financial history, did the managers of the London Stock Exchange spend so much time and effort conducting an invasive investigation into the sexual life of one of the institution’s lowliest servants?
I initially thought that this investigation was a one off–an archival unicorn that might make for an interesting footnote (or blog post) but whose analytical stakes would ultimately be inconsequential to the larger history of financial markets in nineteenth-century Britain. But the more I looked, I increasingly found that the disciplining and policing of the family lives of the waiters and clerks of the London Stock Exchange was the rule, not the exception. In fact, it was precisely because they were the poorest and most lowly of the people who were employed in the everyday functioning of the Stock Exchange that their intimate lives took on such importance.
Take the case of another of the Stock Exchange’s waiters, William Whitfield. Whitfield began his tenure at the Stock Exchange as the watchman appointed in the wake of the investigation into Maynard but was quickly promoted to the position of waiter and, like Maynard, given rooms on the premises. Whitfield had proven himself a highly capable waiter and was put in charge of the critical duty of picking up and delivering the Stock Exchange’s letters every morning and evening, a duty which the managers felt him “so peculiarly adapted to,” that he began receiving a yearly bonus of five guineas for its discharge. In February of 1857, however, Whitfield was brought in front of the managers to answer questions about the fact that he had recently appeared in the post-office with a black eye. Whitfield admitted that “his wife had done it,” and that “he had been married only a month or six weeks and found her most violent.” The managers sternly reprimanded Whitfield, informing him that, they “could not allow one of their waiters to be going to the post office several times a day in the state in which he was.”
What, then, are the human costs to telling a financial history that looks only at capital movement? No waiters or clerks (and certainly no women) appear at all in the standard history of the London Stock Exchange. The cases of Maynard and Whitfield point to two related characteristics of the history of the largely unseen and ignored social history of labor that underpinned nineteenth-century financial markets. The first is that, throughout the nineteenth-century, the London Stock Exchange was heavily reliant on various forms of women’s work. When it came to hiring what they called “resident officials” who lived on the premises–like waiters, watchman, and storekeepers–, the Stock Exchange intentionally hired married men under the age of 45 with the assumption that their wives and daughters would contribute to other duties, like the cleaning of the Stock Exchange every night, preparing lunch for the managers, or keeping track of stock brokers’ cloaks and umbrellas during business hours. Women were, in fact, everywhere in nineteenth-century financial markets if you know where to look.
If the labor of women was an integral part of the day-to-day operations of an institution like the Stock Exchange, so too was the ability to discipline them. The power to discipline the intimate aspects of servants’ lives took on special importance because women seemed to introduce disorder into the social and operational hierarchies of financial markets, whether it was through their oft-alleged mental-illness, their sexual promiscuity, or their capacity for violence. These behaviors were particularly threatening to the lower-class servants who were perceived to be more susceptible to moral corruption and who had public-facing work to do, like Maynard and Whitfield. As Katie Hindmarch-Watson has argued in relation to Victorian telegraph boys, their “duty (was) to cross boundaries and be party to secrets, to deliver confidences and desires of their wealthy customers,” which “made them strangely transgressive symbols of modern order.” The lowly waiters of the Stock Exchange were in much the same position. Whether it was Whitfield delivering letters, or Maynard calling out the names of stock brokers on the Exchange’s trading floor, the servants of the Stock Exchange had to perform respectability and mediate between upper class men and institutions. Thus, regulating the potentially disorderly and unrespectable aspects of these servant’s family and sexual lives was of critical importance to the Stock Exchange’s ability to maintain its own public reputation and respectability.
Through the policing of women and intimacy, power reproduced itself in financial markets. This was not power in a strictly economic sense, but in a much broader cultural one. Since women seemed to pose a threat to the most vulnerable of the Stock Exchange’s servants (who were also critical communicative links with the outside world) the disciplinary remit of the upper-class managers grew in response. The managers’ business expanded from the mere maintenance of the Stock Exchange’s property and conduct among brokers, into the regulation of the most intimate aspects of their servants’ lives. Power over the intimate lives of servants also allowed the managers to regulate labor and space within the Stock Exchange more broadly. The punishment of Maynard’s wife and daughter was used not only to justify Maynard’s innocence, but also allowed the managers to hire more watchmen for the Stock Exchange to police its boundaries even more strictly than they had been policed before. Creating a well-ordered and highly regulated stock exchange rested directly on disciplining the women whose labor at the same time helped operate it.
John Handel is a Ph.D Candidate at UC Berkeley. You can read and listen to his commentaries on theory and historical training and the historical of quantification.