Charles Silk: Post Office Sorter

As part of this project to show newcomers to family history how you can start tracing your family tree, I discovered that my paternal great-great-grandfather Charles Silk worked as a Sorter at the General Post Office (GPO).

A few weeks ago, I decided to visit The British Postal Museum and Archive to see what records they might hold about my ancestor. I thought it was best to be fully prepared about Charles’ life before I went, so I made a list of what I knew about his life and his work as a Sorter.


Charles Silk’s profile

1871/2 – Born in Islington.

1881 – Census. Occupation: Scholar, address: 60 Havelock Street, Islington.

1893 – Marriage certificate. Occupation: Sorter, address: 40 Arlington Street, Islington.

1895– Daughter’s birth certificate. Occupation: Sorter for the General Post Office, address:  40 Arlington Street, Islington.

1901 – Census. Occupation: Post Office Sorter, address: 40 Arlington Street, Islington.

1911 – Census. Occupation: Sorter for the General Post Office, address:  29 Wyatt Road, Highbury.

The information on The British Postal Museum Archive’s website told me that people tended to start working for the GPO at the age of 16 and retired at 60. Based on all of this, I was able to estimate that:

Charles joined the GPO between 1887 and 1893

Charles left the GPO or retired between 1911 and 1932.

I arrived with this information in hand, not really knowing what to expect as this was my first trip to an archive. The staff were lovely and got me signed up for a user card, explained the different sorts of information they held and advised me that I should start by looking for Charles’ pension or gratuity record as this would be the easiest to find and would provide me with the most detail about him.

I was shown how to use a microfiche reader – a completely new experience for me as I’ve done all my research online so far. Although the machines look a bit bizarre, they’re actually really simple to use. They reminded me a bit of a sewing machine as you have to thread a bit of the microfiche tape into the machine before you can start scanning through the pages to find the record you’re after.

I was advised to start searching the index to the pension and gratuities records when Charles would have been 60 years old (in 1931/1932). Sure enough, after a few minutes of scanning through names, I spotted Charles Silk’s and a note that he received a pension in 1931. Using the reference the index provided, the Archive’s staff were able to find me the treasury book containing my great-great-grandfather’s pension record. This is what the record looked like:

© Royal Mail Group Ltd, courtesy of The British Postal Museum & Archive.

© Royal Mail Group Ltd, courtesy of The British Postal Museum & Archive.


The record tells me that

– Charles was born on 27 April 1871 and was indeed 60 years old when he retired.

– He was a Sorter for the London Postal Service and had worked there for 41 years and a month.

– He started on 17 March 1890, when he would have been 18 years old.

– His wage was 68/6 a week at the time he retired. According to The National Archives, this equates to £114.46 a week today. While this seems low by today’s standards, the cost of living was much cheaper in 1931.

– During his service, Charles had also received Sunday pay of £18.7.5 (between £500 and £600 today), showing that he sometimes worked extra days.

– In the four years prior to his retirement, Charles was absent from work because of illness for 17 days. Over half of this happened in 1927 when he was off work for 9 days – I wonder why?

2 Responses to “Charles Silk: Post Office Sorter”

  1. pete Says:

    I DID ENJOY YOUR STORY I LEFT FORDS AT DAGENHAM IN !(^6 and went to work on the post offivce as a sorter in ILFORD we were expected to start work on SUNDAY EVENINGsorting out the post all night after a few weeks you done a test to see if you could sort out so,e many letters per shift that started at 12 midnight and finished after the first deliivery of post in the morning around 9.30 am it was then a three shift job the following week we started at 4am in the morning and worked s orting the mail ready for the second deivery that the 3 rd shift who started at 4.30 am delivered I lasted i month then went back to fords at dfagenham that was only two shifts days and nights not many people know is that while fords were weell paid they were in fact the lowest cpaid car workers in this country they claimed that fords was the cheapest car so by keeping on nlow pay we had a job for life or untill they closed down and moved into germany like they did once the women went on strike for equal pay

  2. The black sheep of the Silk family | Amy: Finding My Past Says:

    […] Silk was the older brother of my great-great-grandfather Charles Silk, who I know also worked for the Post Office. Charles was employed as a Sorter from when he started work in 1890 to when he retired in 1931, but […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: