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The History of Payroll (and the History of Payme)

The History of Payroll (and the History of Payme)

by on September 8, 2022

The Collins Dictionary defines Payroll as:


The people on the payroll of a company or an organisation are the people who work for it and are paid by it.

e.g. They had 87,000 employees on the payroll. 


  1. a list of employees, specifying the salary or wage of each.
  2. the total of these amounts or the actual money equivalent.

September 6 – 9 2022 is National Payroll week and celebrates the importance payroll plays in the UK economy, not only helping to get workers paid and contributing over £4.46 billion annually through income tax and national insurance but also honouring the people involved in this collective and always-welcome effort. We take a look at its history and also how payme got started.  

The History of Payroll

The word ‘payroll’ originated in the mid-18th century as a compound noun describing the amount of money employees were paid over a period of time. ‘Pay’ is derived from the French ‘paier’ (to pay) and ‘roll’ from the Old French ‘rolle’, a rolled-up piece of parchment. A paymaster, which is a profession that was first referenced in mid-16th century Europe, was someone who was employed to pay the salaries or wages of government or military employees. Today, the equivalent role would be a payroll manager. 

However, the concept of payroll goes back much further than the 18th century. The first examples we have of written documentation of a record of payment for work are from Mesopotamia, around 3,200 BCE, when details of beer rations being given to workers in return for their labour were recorded in cuneiform, an early form of writing. 

Throughout early history the bartering system was employed – people would swap goods or services for other goods and services. However, when the Industrial Revolution arrived in the 18th century, the system of payment for food, shelter and clothing changed to a monetary-based one. As increasing numbers of the population of the UK were employed in factories, rather than in agrarian work, workers were paid in hard cash, and records were needed to account for expenditure. 

The 19th and 20th centuries saw the rise of the commercial bank which eventually enabled people of whatever profession to open their own bank accounts, and the latter part of the 20th century, with its increase in office-based employment, saw a decline in cash-in-hand payment and a growth of direct transfer of funds to nominated accounts. 

Now in the early part of the 21st century where a cashless society is becoming a realistic possibility rather than a futuristic ambition, payroll plays more of an important function than ever. Income Tax was introduced in 1799 by William Pitt the Younger to pay for Britain’s wars with France, and National Insurance was first seen in 1911 to offer a safety net to people in case of unemployment or illness. Today’s payroll function deals not only with paying salaries to people but also collecting workers’ contribution to society for the benefit of all. These days, while it is still used to denote the total amount of money needed by a company to pay its employees, payroll has expanded to include a list of all the employees of a company and how much each of them should be paid. It also defines how people are paid – i.e. calculating both salary (or wages) as well as what deductions for Tax and National Insurance should be made. 

Following a proud tradition

Payroll has changed dramatically since the days of brown envelopes taken home at the end of the week. 

Today’s professional payroll providers blend a combination of experience and technology to deliver high-tech, efficient payroll solutions to a wide range of self-employed people and the people who employ them.

payme’s experience in payroll solutions is based on over 50 years’ combined experience in recruitment within a rapidly-changing and increasingly-complex market. 

From its early days as a start up in West Yorkshire twelve years ago, payme has grown to become a highly-respected and trusted payroll provider for contractors in a wide variety of professions, as well as a business partner with over 250 of the largest staffing agencies and employer organisations in the UK. 

Now dealing with a £100 million turnover annually and paying over 4,000 contractors per week, payme prides itself on its values, built and honed in Yorkshire – honesty, straightforwardness, and reliability. 

And because the world of payroll changes rapidly, payme ensures that it’s up-to-date with the latest legislation and is proud to be FCSA accredited and a member of the largest independent assessor of payment intermediary compliance, Professional Passport. 

So whether you’re a contractor who’s looking for the best, most cost-effective payroll services, or an agency that’s keen to ensure that your contractors are happy in their work, contact payme to find out more about our compliant, efficient payroll solutions.