'The office boy’s triumph': deceit and display in early twentieth-century Wolverhampton
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AbstractInsofar as the ‘Varley affair’ of 1917 is remembered today, it is the preserve of local historians and those interested in the development of local government. There is only one extended study. In the edited volume Corruption in Urban Politics and Society, Britain 1780-1950, that John Smith and James Moore published in 2007, Smith contributed a chapter on the affair which he entitled ‘”Ingenious and Daring”: The Wolverhampton Council Fraud 1905-17’. He begins by setting out the key points of what happened. The case in question concerned Jesse Varley, accountant clerk to Wolverhampton education committee who between 1905 and 1917 defrauded the Corporation of a total of £84,335 (about £5 million in today’s values). His crime eventually came to light when an office boy reported his suspicions to the town clerk. Varley was arrested, tried and found guilty of larceny, falsification of accounts and forgery: he was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude. There was an element of serendipity, it must be said, in Varley’s downfall. Although those working in his office had harboured their suspicions about him for some years, it was apparently only when one of them, Osmond Richards, decided to check how much teachers at his old school were taking home that he discovered payments (supposedly) being made to members of staff whom he knew had never existed. The uncovering of the ‘Varley affair’, trumpeted the Wolverhampton Chronicle, was ‘The Office Boy’s Triumph’. In fact, as we shall see, Richards worked as a ‘Junior Clerk’ (or ‘Junior Assistant’) rather than as an ‘Office Boy’. The misunderstanding presumably arose either because local journalists knew a good headline when they saw one or because junior staff in the Education Department were sometimes referred to collectively – and dismissively – as ‘the office boys’.
CitationBenson, J., (2017) 'The office boy’s triumph': deceit and display in early twentieth-century Wolverhampton, Midland History, 42(1), pp. 58-71.
PublisherTaylor & Francis
DescriptionThis is an accepted manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Midland History on 25/04/2017, available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/0047729X.2017.1311518 The accepted version of the publication may differ from the final published version.
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Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/