The jobbing system of the London Stock Exchange: an oral history

View of the City of London

The jobbing system of the London Stock Exchange came to an end with the 'Big Bang' of October 1986. Jobbers left few written records. The purpose of the project was to compile a permanent record of the way of life of a group of market makers who embodied many of the distinctive qualities of London's historic culture as a trading centre.

Market-makers in London

At the heart of London lies the market. Since its beginnings the city has provided the physical, social, and regulatory setting for trading in the widest variety of commodities and financial interests. The daily lives of those who dwell or work in the city are moulded by the operations of its market. The behaviour and assumptions of the market-makers, in particular those whose primary occupation is to buy and sell on behalf of others, exemplify the ethos of the city. To understand them is essential to any study of London's history and current development.

Jobbers in the Stock Exchange

'Big Bang' in October 1986 signalled the end of single capacity among members of the Stock Exchange and thus the end of the historic jobbing system. This system had evolved in a recognizably modern form during the course of the nineteenth century, as the range of securities dealt in broadened. At least half the members of the Stock Exchange began to specialise in providing a continuous market in one of the leading types of these securities. The distinction between these market-makers, or jobbers, and the brokers who dealt with them on behalf of the public was a clear-cut one, but was based essentially on custom until 1909, when single capacity was formally embodied in the Stock Exchange rules. By 1914 there were over 600 jobbing firms in existence as well as many one-man jobbing operations. These numbers then steadily declined as the institutional investor supplanted the private one, and the scale of jobbing capital required increased dramatically. By the eve of 'Big Bang' there were only five major jobbing firms on the floor of the Stock Exchange, though this numerical decline did not necessarily denote a decline in the marketability provided by the system.

The need to make a record

Unlike many other city businesses, firms of jobbers seem to have left few, if any, records of their affairs. Neither journalists nor other observers have left much written comment on the business. Histories of banks, stockbroking firms, and other concerns have been, and will continue to be, compiled on the basis of their archives. With this in mind, the Centre for Metropolitan History compiled an archive of interviews with former jobbers which serves as a permanent record of the last half-century of a distinctive part of the financial life of the City. The interviews also formed the basis of two articles written by the project's Research Officer, Dr Bernard Attard on the history of the jobbers (see Publications, below).

The interviews

The archive consists of 42 interviews (a total of nearly 80 hours recording time), conducted by the project's Research Officer Dr Bernard Attard, mainly with jobbers (32 interviews), but supplemented by interviews with a selected group of brokers and financial journalists in order to obtain a different perspective on the jobbing system. Topics covered in the interviews include: the type of people who became jobbers; the qualities needed to practise successfully; jobbers' career patterns; the mechanics of the jobbing system; the rationale of the system; the opportunities and risks involved; the character of the difference markets; the character of the different firms; the contraction in the number of firms; relations between large and small firms; relations with brokers; jobbers as a source of market intelligence; and the background, from a jobbing point of view, to 'Big Bang' in 1986. The tapes and transcripts of the interviews have been deposited at the British Library Sound Archive, ref no. C463, where they may be consulted. Summaries of all 42 interviews, and full transcripts and audio recordings for 32 interviews have also now been made available via SAS-Space (the University of London's School of Advanced Study e-repository) - see individual links below. The ten interviews not available on SAS-Space may be consulted, by arrangement, at the Centre for Metropolitan History.

London Stock Exchange Oral History - SAS Space collection

Publications

Bernard Attard, 'The jobbers of the London Stock Exchange: an oral history', Oral History (Spring, 1994), 43-48; Bernard Attard, 'Making a market. The jobbers of the London Stock Exchange, 1800-1986', Financial History Review, 7 (2000), 5-24. 

Reports

CMH Annual Reports 1989-90, 1990-1, Tenth Anniversary Conference paper

Project details

Associate Supervisor: David Kynaston, B.A., Ph.D.
Researcher: Bernard Attard, B.A., M.A., D.Phil.
Funded by: International Stock Exchange, Barclays de Zoete Wedd, Warburg Securities (1989-1991)
Amount Awarded: £40,000