Saturday, 18 January 2014

Railways and 'the beautiful game' before 1914: football, fans and formalisation

Recently I have been doing some work on how the railways of Britain influence the development of organised sport  before 1914 and most of my investigations have focussed on the ‘beautiful game’: football. Early forms of football, which used rules that may have borne only a passing similarity to those in the current game, was being played in public schools from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.[1] However, by the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries going to a football match was on the nation’s favourite pastimes. The question I have therefore been asking is to what extent to were the railways a factor in transforming football (and while we are thinking about it rugby) from a ramshackle game into the popular spectator sport it is today? Were the railways a key factor because of the improved transportation they provided, or did other, non-railway factors play a role, for example urbanisation or increasing incomes and leisure time amongst working class individuals? This issue can be split into two parts. Firstly, to what degree did the railways augment the number of spectators going to matches? And, secondly, how did it change participation in the game? 

I’ll start by talking about how attendance at football matches was augmented by the railways. The traditional view was that the railways played a big role, and some have argued that the improved transport communications they brought widened the population’s access to sporting events generally. L. H. Curzon was a proponent of this idea. In 1892 he wrote ‘today the railways convey the masses in large numbers to the different seats of sport’.[2] Years later this view was echoed by scholars. Vamplew argued that that ‘railways revolutionised sport by widening the catchment area for spectators,’[3] while Simmons concurred, stating that they ‘contributed to the growth of spectator sports.’[4] While not directly mentioning football, these statements heavily imply that these academics believed that that the railways were a major factor in its development as a popular spectator sport after the 1870s.

Recently, however, this view fallen out of favour. Huggins and Tilson argue that the role of the railways in the growth of football spectatorship from the 1870s onwards has been overstated. Most supporters rarely ventured to away matches, except in the case of a local derby or an important cup tie. Indeed, the vast majority of fans travelled to local matches by foot and, from the 1890s, by electric tram.[5] David Goldblatt, a noted football historian, agreed, arguing that ‘apart from local derbies away fans were almost absent [from matches] during the’ whole of the period between 1880 and 1914.[6]  Exemplifying this, even when a special train accommodation was put on for away fans by the railway companies it was not well used. In 1886 Middlesbrough F.C. was to play Lincoln in an early round of the F.A. Cup. The railway provided a special saloon carriage for away fans, but only 200 excursionists travelled by it, which included the team and officials.[7] 

So why did football fans not travel to away matches that often? Primarily, it was because of economic and time constraints. Most did not have the money to travel to away matches, while in an era when many employed individuals worked on Saturday morning, they also lacked the time to traverse the hundreds of miles to an away fixture.[8] As such, there is a good case for saying that growth of football spectatorship after the 1870s, particularly amongst the working classes, was not because of the improved transportation the railways provided. Rather, other factors played a role, for example working individuals' increased disposable income. 

But what about participation in football? Here academics are broadly in agreement that the railways played a much bigger role in its development, mainly through allowing teams to play games outside their locality, as Mason has argued.[9] McDowell has suggested the growth of Cumnock in Scotland as a football centre has ‘as much to do with access to railways as to mere corporate acumen.’[10] Lastly, Golblatt similarly argued that by the 1880s trains allowed the bigger teams to conduct Easter and Christmas tours.[11] For example, in December 1902 Dundee United conducted its Christmas tour, visiting Derby and Newcastle. A journalist reported that ‘Whilst I write we are en route for Newcastle where the United are met on St James’ Park. It is a seven hours’ journey from Derby to Newcastle – 19 hours in a railway train out of 36 hours is not at all pleasant.’[12] 

Alongside this, the railways were also important in the growth of formal football associations and leagues. The Football League, for example, recruited teams to it on the basis of their distance from a station. The result was that Sunderland was not elected to it initially because the Midland clubs felt that transportation costs to play games in the city were excessive.[13] But it is important, as Huggins and Tolson suggest, not to see the railways as a ‘panacea’ for team sports, as many football clubs had to shorten postpone and cancel games in the 1880s and 1890s because of the railway network’s failures.[14] In 1874 (when presumably players could still handle the ball) a football match between Durham School and Stockton was shortened from four twenty-minute quarters to fifty minutes owing to the ‘usual unpunctuality of the North Eastern Railway, the train reaching Durham fully half an hour late.’[15]  

Overall, there is good evidence that the railways played a mixed role in the development of football as the nation’s most popular sport. On the one hand it was instrumental in establishing the organisational structures within the game. However, the growth in the popularity of the sport and the number of spectators that saw matches was down to other influences.



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[1] Richard William Cox, Dave Russell and Wray Vamplew, Encyclopaedia of British Football, (London, 2002), p.234 
[2] L. H. Curzon, A Mirror of the Turf, (London 1892), p. 32 cited in Mike Huggins and John Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport in Victorian Britain: A critical reassessment’, Journal of Transport History, 22 (2001), p.100 
[3] W. Vamplew, Pay up and Play the Game, (Cambridge 1988), p.47  
[4] Jack Simmons, The Victorian Railway, (London, 1991), p.300  
[5] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108-109
[6] David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, (London, 2007), p.53
[7] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108
[8] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108-109 
[9] T. Mason, Association Football and English Society, 1863–1915, (Brighton, 1980), p. 146–7 
[10] Matthew Lynn McDowell, ‘,Football, Migration and Industrial Patronage in the West of Scotland, c.1870–1900’, Sport In History, 32 (2012), p.408 
[11] Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, p.53  
[12] Evening Telegraph, Friday 26 December 1902  
[13] Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, p.53  
[14] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.109-110  
[15] York Herald, Saturday 21 November 1874

Monday, 23 December 2013

When Victorian railways conspired against Christmas

One of the features of the late Victorian British railway industry was competition, with railways in all parts of the nation trying to out-perform each other in order to win the patronage of passengers. From the 1880s the Great Western and London & South Western Railways accelerated their services as well as increased the luxury in which passengers were conveyed, to secure the business to West Country locations such as Exeter and Plymouth.[1] Competition between companies also existed on the routes between Nottingham and Leeds, Liverpool and Hull, and Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as between other major cities.[2]

Some historians have argued that these struggles between railways were a major factor in their declining profitability after 1870, as faster trains and more luxurious carriages cost more to build and operate. Cain, for example, stated his belief that ‘service competition alone would have been sufficient to promote levels of capital spending and methods of operation that continuously eroded profitability.’[3] Personally, I have always doubted the extent to which competitive trains services actually eroded companies’ profitability. I argued in my thesis, on the management of the London & South Western Railway after 1870, that service competition was on the margins of the railway’s activities. It and the GWR ran hundreds of services each day and only four or five express services to the West Country were truly ‘competitive.’[4]

One of the fiercest competitions between railway companies were the famed ‘Races to the North’ in 1888 and 1895. Two groups of companies that had control of the east and west coast main lines competed for the fastest trains between London and Scotland. On the east coast route the competitors were the Great Northern (London to York), North Eastern (York to Edinburgh) and North British Railways (Edinburgh to Aberdeen); while on the west coast route the contestants were the London and North Western (London to Carlisle) and Caledonian Railways (Carlisle to Edinburgh and Aberdeen). The race of 1895, which received the same attention in the press as the derby at Cheltenham, captured the public’s imagination, culminating in a west coast train on the night of 22 and 23 August making the journey between London and Aberdeen in 8 hours 42 minutes. This was eight minutes quicker than an east coast train the night before.[5]

Because of events like this, the press liked to paint these railway races as battles between warring powers. But how serious was the animosity between the companies? Did the east and west coast railways really treat their competitors as enemies? Or were the ‘races’ just an exuberant, but good-natured, expression of a rivalry between them? Perhaps an event that occurred before Christmas 1882 suggests an answer to these questions.

In early December 1882 a very thick letter arrived at King’s Cross headquarters of the Great Northern Railway. Before a list of 214 names was a letter addressed to those in authority within company:

Gentlemen
   We the undersigned draw your attention to the fact that there are in London many Scotchmen who desire to avail themselves of the opportunity of visiting their friends in Scotland during the short vacation at Christmas but are deterred from doing so by the heavy railway fares.
We would therefore petition to you to give this subject your full consideration and endeavour to make some arrangement, whereby the result aimed at by your petitioners may be gained namely: a reasonable reduction in fares between London and Scotland equal to, if not quarter than that granted during the summer months.
   We are certain that should you see your way to meet us in this matter, it would not only confer a great boon, but from the large numbers availing themselves of the opportunity, prove equally to your advantage.
   We are yours respectfully… [6]


But this petition was not the only one to be sent, and a duplicate also landed on the desk of George Findlay, the London and North Western Railway’s General Manager. I suspect Findlay’s natural response was to reject the request. But he was an astute railway manager, and possibly because he wished to maintain good relations with his east coast rivals, he contacted to his opposite number within the GNR, Henry Oakley. ‘As I presume a similar application has been addressed to you’, wrote Findlay ‘I shall be glad to know if you will be prepared to join us in declining to accede to the request.’[7] Oakley’s response is not contained within the file, but the two companies decided to reject the petition. Findlay also communicated with the Midland Railway, who likewise operated a route between London and Scotland, and while they had not received a petition, they too were to going to keep fares at established levels. [8]

In 1882 three railway companies, all of which were theoretically competing with each other for traffic between London and Scotland, collectively agreed to deny travellers making this journey reduce-rate fares over the Christmas period. Of course, this case does not indicate the nature of the GNR and LNWR’s relationship five or ten years later when they were racing. Nevertheless, it may suggest that despite superficially appearing to be competing railways, as a matter of fact their relationship was actually quite close and they worked together when it was mutually beneficial for them to do so. ‘Market forces’, in this case at least, did not really work. One thing is for certain, the Great Northern, London & North Western and Midland Railways spoiled Christmas for a lot of London-based Scotsmen and their families in 1882.

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[1] Jack Simmons, ‘South Western v. Great Western: railway competition in Devon and Cornwall’, The Journal of Transport History, 4 (1959), 27-34
[2] Jack Simmons, The Victorian Railway, (London, 1991), p.83; Jack Simmons, The Railway in England and Wales, 1830-1914, (Leicester, 1978), p.84-85
[3] P.J. Cain, ‘Railways 1870-1914: the maturity of the private system’, in, Michael J. Freeman and Derek H. Aldcroft, Transport in Victorian Britain, (Manchester, 1988), pp.115
[4] David Turner, ‘Managing the “Royal Road”: The London & South Western Railway 1870-1911’, (Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of York, 2013)
[5] Oswald S. Nock, The Railway Race to the North, (London, 1958), p.120-121
[6] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares to Scotland during Christmas vacation, Letter from organisation committee to Great Northern Railway, 4 December 1882
[7] TNA, RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares to Scotland during Christmas vacation, Letter from George Findlay to Henry Oakley, 11 December 1882
[8] TNA, RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares to Scotland during Christmas vacation, Letter from George Findlay to Henry Oakley, 13 December 1882

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

How drunk were late-Victorian train drivers?

Every now and again, when I go looking for such things, I find cases where Victorian engine drivers got drunk and then proceeded to operate their vehicles. A few days ago I discovered one case from 1891 of an express driver who, after leaving Liverpool Street Station, was found to be quite sozzled.  On his journey he had stopped the train at Broxbourne for five minutes, for no apparent reason, after which the Bury and Norwich Post recorded the ride to Bishop Stortford was ‘most uncomfortable.’ On arriving at the station the station master was alerted to the driver’s inebriated state and the latter was, after some wrangling, finally removed from the locomotive. The train continued its journey under the charge of a goods train driver (who likely relished the chance operate an express.)[1]

This and other cases made the newspapers because a train under the charge of an intoxicated individual was clearly an accident risk. But reviewing such reports cannot give me an accurate indication of how frequently late-Victorian engine drivers were found to be drunk. To determine this hard data was required.

While Victorian railway companies kept staff registers which listed their employees’ positions, pay and promotions, most also kept ‘Black Books.’ These ominously titled volumes recorded every instance where an employee disobeyed the rules and was punished. They recorded small transgressions, such as when forms were incorrectly filed, to major offences, for example criminal activity, refusing to follow orders, or drunkenness – the subject of this post. Indeed, from the time of the earliest railways being intoxicated while on duty was a serious offence, and rule 12 of the London and South Western Railway’s (LSWR) 1897 rule book stated: ‘The company may at any time without notice dismiss or suspend from duty any servant of the company for intoxication.’[2]

So, it was to the Black Books (available through Ancestry.com) that I turned to find out about drunkenness amongst nineteenth century engine drivers. Despite a reluctance to again study the LSWR, it being the company I have done my thesis on, a Black Book dedicated to the misdemeanours of its footplate crew (drivers and firemen) between 1889 and 1896 was available on-line. This volume was the perfect choice for my research.

In total I surveyed the records of 584 LSWR firemen and drivers in the Black Book. Between 1889 and 1896 these individuals collectively transgressed the rules 1,728 times. However, amongst these punishments the number issued for intoxication was small, with only seventeen instances being recorded (0.98 percent of cases). Additionally, these seventeen offences were only committed by fourteen individuals (2.50 percent of the sample), three of the men being repeat offenders.

These findings clearly suggest that for the most part the LSWR’s drivers and firemen were, while at work at least, a temperate group of employees.[3] The supports the commonly held view at the time that railway employees stayed away from alcohol while at work. The South Western Gazette, the company’s staff magazine, reported in 1885 that at the inaugural meeting of the Exeter branch of the United Kingdom Railway Temperance Union, the Bishop of the city had commented that the organisation was ‘very peculiar and very striking’ as ‘it could not be said that railway men as a general rule were tempted to drunkenness.’ Generally they were ‘as a body were as temperate a body as could be found.’[4]

As for the fourteen drivers and firemen found to be under the influence while at work, it is probable that most never got as far as being in control of a train. Usually the ‘Black Book’ recorded that they came ‘to duty the worse for drink’ or they were ‘under the influence of drink whilst on duty’, and only in two cases was it explicitly stated that a driver had been ‘under the influence of drink whilst in charge of an engine’: J. Appleton of the Nine Elms Shed was caught in May 1896, while R. Reid., who was based at Twickenham, was found driving a passenger train while drunk in August 1889.[5]

From this evidence it can therefore be tentatively suggested that instances where drivers ‘under the influence’ actually got onto the footplate of their locomotives, such as the one cited at the start, were exceedingly rare on the late-Victorian railways.

------------

[1] Bury and Norwich Post, 20 January 1891
[2] South Western Circle Collection [SWC], 1897 Rule Book, p.9
[3] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/521, London and South Western Railway Company. STAFF RECORDS. Black Book - fines to drivers and firemen, 01 January 1889 - 31 December 1896. Accessed through Ancestry.com.
[4] South Western Gazette, January 1885, p.6
[5] TNA, RAIL 411/521, London and South Western Railway Company. STAFF RECORDS. Black Book - fines to drivers and firemen, 01 January 1889 - 31 December 1896, p.11 and p.29. Accessed through Ancestry.com.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Working City to City: The LNWR's on-train typist service of 1910

I am sure from the very earliest days of the railways passengers must have done work on the train. It is, some might say, a tradition of the travelling businessperson. However, the declining cost and increasing hardiness of laptops has undoubtedly changed the nature of train-based work. Rather than simply reading policy documents and making notes, as was likely the case in the poorly lit Victorian railway carriages, those travelling to their place of work can now produce via their laptops formal documents that will go on to their colleagues, managers and companies’ directors. The train can be, for many, a second office that is possibly more pleasant than the one at their final destination.

But the ability to produce formal document on the train is nothing new. Long before the laptop was invented, from February 1910 businessmen on the London and North Western Railway’s (LNWR) “City-to-City” express had facility to have their important and urgent documents typed.[1]

The typist's compartment on the "City-to-City".
The “City-to-City” express was inaugurated by the LNWR between Birmingham and London Broad Street Station to compete with the Great Western Railway’s express services between the same places (the GWR’s services ran into Paddington). Starting from Birmingham at 8.20 am and arriving at 10.35 am, the morning “City-to-City”, which also had a breakfast car attached, took two and a quarter hours to make the journey, whereas the GWR’s service took fifteen minutes less. Although, if you made the journey by the GWR it possibly would have taken you longer overall reach your place of work, Paddington being some distance away from the commercial centres of London. Broad Street Station on the other hand was only a short walk away from the city.[2] The return run of the “City-to-City” started from Broad Street at 5.25pm and arrived at 7.40pm.[3]

Presumably in an attempt to entice to their services businessmen who were eager to save time at work, the LNWR took the innovative step of providing Britain’s first ever on-train typist service on the “City-to-City”. Situated in a compartment specially fitted up with a desk and chairs, the shorthand typist was available to take dictation of letters at any time on the journey.[4] On the inaugural run of the express the work was supervised by Miss Tarrant of the Euston typing room; while on subsequent journeys a Miss Boswell took over.[5] It would, however, seem that there was some initial objection to this service in the press . In the ‘Woman’s Gossip’ section of the Cheltenham Looker-On it was stated that while 5 or 6 hour journeys for passengers was ‘tiring in itself’, the ‘girl’ doing the typing was expected to be at her post five days a week to ‘do office work all the time.’ In its estimation this would be too much work for the ‘girl and exclaimed that ‘the doctors talk of the growth and spread of nervous habits among the people, but who can wonder at it?’[6]

The first letter from the "City-to-City" express.
Initially, it would seem the typing service was successful. “I have been kept busy all the way up,” Tarrant said in an interview shortly after the “City-to-City’s” inaugural return run, “twelve passengers dictated letters to me and only once, when we were passing through the Kilsby Tunnel,  was the dictation interrupted…I had no difficulty whatever in using the typewriter, and all my clients appeared to be highly satisfied. The experiment was quite a success.”[7] Yet, after two months the Tamworth Herald would report the typewriting services had ‘not been so well patronised as was expected would be the case.’ It would seem that travellers using the service were unable to overcome the fear that any business they conducted through the train’s typist would not be confidential. Yet, irrespective of customers’ trepidation, the LNWR decided to extend the service to other trains.[8] Whether the typist service was successful in the long-run is unclear, only a closer examination of the company’s files may reveal this.

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[1] Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 2 February 1910, p.4
[2] Wolmar, Christian, Fire and Steam: A new history of the Railways in Britain, (London, 2007), p.188
[3] The Railway Times, 22 January 1910, p.122
[4] The Railway Times, 22 January 1910, p.122
[5] Aberdeen Journal, Thursday 03 February 1910, p.6
[6] Cheltenham Looker-On, Saturday 29 January 1910, p.16
[7] Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 2 February 1910, p.4
[8] Tamworth Herald, Saturday 16 April 1910, p.6

Sunday, 29 September 2013

"One broad principal of economy"; One female booking clerk in 1903

Whenever a railway company decided to employ a woman as a clerk before 1914, the newspapers always described the event as an ‘experiment’ or an ‘innovation.’ The Caledonian Railway took such a step 1903 when it decided to hire an unnamed woman as booking clerk at Perth Station. ‘RAILWAY INNOVATION AT PERTH’ was the title of The Evening Post’s report.[1]

In reality this was not an innovation. The Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway, which later became part of the North British Railway, had employed a woman as a booking clerk a Perth Station in 1858.[2] Other British railway companies were also employing large numbers of women in similar positions on their networks by 1903. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that ‘the female booking clerk is no new thing in Glasgow; there have been girl booking clerks in the West of Scotland for ten years.’[3] The Evening Post itself acknowledged how the Caledonian’s new policy was not unique, ‘In the ticket office she may be something of a novelty in the North, but not so further South. The London and North-Western was already ahead in its employment of ladies on the ticket staffs.’[4]

In fact, the Caledonian’s appointment of 1903 was only a unique because it was the first time it had dabbled with such an ‘experiment.’ The plan was, it seems, to expand the number of female booking clerks on the company’s network. In one officials’ view the ‘lady clerk was here to stay,’ with ‘female labour in the service of the pen…rapidly widening.[5]

As with all instances of women being employed as clerks there was a large degree of doubt as to whether they had the skills or aptitude to perform their roles adequately. A Caledonian official thought that ‘it was not imperative that she should run up columns of figures or juggle with statistical puzzles of periodical survey. Her usefulness could be exploited without any apprehension of accounting difficulties.’[6] The Yorkshire Evening Post went one further affirming that there were just some things that female booking clerks were incapable of doing; ‘her sex unfits her for the country station, where the booking clerk adds to his duties those of ticket collector.’[7] Whether this was the view of railway companies’ managements is unclear.

If there was doubt amongst Caledonian officials that women could perform the role of booking clerk adequately, why then did they proceed with the 'experiment'? Let us not presume it was because a railway manager had a particularly progressive or feminist outlook and wished to promote equal opportunities in the workplace. Between 1897 and 1901 the Caledonian’s operating ratio – its operating expenditure expressed as a proportion of revenue – rose from 50.4% to 56.4%.[8] Such an increase in operating costs, principally because of higher coal prices, affected most British railways in this period and, like most companies, it is presumed that the Caledonian enacted an immediate economy drive in response.

The employment of female booking clerks was therefore likely part of this quest to reduce costs. The ‘official’ highlighted that they were paid less than their male counterparts: ‘the salary for mere ticket-selling would be somewhat under that of the regular male ticket clerk. She was a commodity of cheapness and so long as she went into the clerical market so long would she prove a mercantile rival on the railway as on any other railway.’ He foresaw that the female booking clerk was a permanent fixture ‘so long as one broad principal of economy rules the railway organisations of today.’[9] Another benefit for the railway of employing female booking clerks was that they were never moved from their position or were promoted. ‘The male booking clerk,’ The Yorkshire Evening Post contended, ‘is a restless animal with a keen eye on promotion, and the only way to keep him in the service is to change him from station to station…the girl clerk does not leave her post until she marries.’ Because the women were never given the opportunity to move from the position in which they were initially employed, this reduced the cost for the railway company of finding and training a constant stream of new male booking clerks.[10]

Overall, the Caledonian’s example has shown how important it is to place the growing number of women employed on Britain’s railways after 1900 in context. In 1901 1,633 were working on Britain’s railways; by 1914 this number had risen to 13,046.[10] I would say that to a large extent this growth was driven by British railway companies’ desire to cut costs, and not principally because individuals in authoritative positions in the industry that had progressive outlooks.

--------------------------
[1] Evening Post, 6 October 1903, p.2
[2] Wojtczak, Helena, Railwaywomen, (Hastings, 2006), p.27
[3] Yorkshire Evening Post , 12 October 1903, p.4
[4] Evening Post, 6 October 1903, p.2
[5] Evening Post, 6 October 1903, p.2
[6] Evening Post, 6 October 1903, p.2
[7] Yorkshire Evening Post , 12 October 1903, p.4
[8] Board of Trade, Railway Returns, 1897 and 1901
[9] Evening Post, 6 October 1903, p.2
[10] Wojtczak, Railwaywomen, p.4 – The first figure is from the 1901 census returns and could be open to change. I feel personally that it is a little low.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Note on the Dugald Drummond post

I have today deleted one post from Turnip Rail because, well, I don't agree with it. The post, written in 2010, was on the topic of the London and South Western Railway's Locomotive Superintendent between 1895 and 1911, Dugald Drummond. In the post I criticised him for his poor management of the company's Locomotive Department. As is the way with historical study, in mid-2012 I changed my views based on evidence. Since that time I have  modified and refined them considerably as research progressed and have ended up both praising and criticising Drummond in my thesis.

Over the years I have had numerous communications on the post with interested individuals and each time I have had to explain how my views have changed. Today, when I received another message, I just decided to delete the post (and I apologise to the individual who posted the comment). It was becoming very repetitive to keep communicating on this topic when the post did not reflect my views.

In due course I will write a post on what I actually think of Dugald Drummond.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Teacher, Tram Manager and Entrepreneur: The Remarkable Life of Euphemia Penman

Euphemia Penman was a remarkable woman who rose to become one of the most respected managers in the emergent tram systems of late-Victorian London. In the period, given the social conventions of the time, this was without a doubt a significant achievment.

For those of you that have followed TurnipRail for some time I can happily report that my thesis on the management of the London and South Western Railway is nearly at an end. What I have not divulged before is that after it is dispensed with I am hoping to start exciting new work on the management history of trams and trolleybuses. It was while doing some preliminary work for this new project that I came across ‘Miss Penman.’

But first, I feel a bit of background is required. In the 1870s numerous tram systems had been established in London under the Tramways Act 1870. One part of this legislation specified that local authorities were able to acquire these companies, much to their annoyance, after they had been operating for twenty-one years. In 1898 the London County Council (LCC), who always seemed to work in the interest of those it served, decided to take advantage of this clause and started the processes of acquiring the London Tramways Company (LTC).  

It was on a list of senior LTC officials the LCC was going to re-engage after the take-over that I first found Euphemia. Within the new organisational structure she was to take up the important position of ‘Superintendent of conductors and of checking staff at chief and cash offices,’ and her proposed salary was an impressive £350 per annum with ‘house, coal and light.’[1] (this later increased to £400).[2] Given this level of seniority and pay was very unusual for a woman in late-Victorian businesses, I resolved to find out more about Penman’s life and career.

She was born to David and Rachel Penman in Breath, Scotland, in 1852 and in that year she had three older brothers, James, William and Harry. Beyond this very little has been found about her early life. By 1870 she was teaching a ‘Sabbath evening class’ in Dysart (near Kirkcaldy) and in March that year, because of the high esteem in which she was held by her students, they presented her with pew bible in which was inscribed the following: ‘Presented to Miss Euphemia Penman as a token of respect, by her Sunday Scholars. – Dysart March 28 1870.’ She would never be aware of it, but this was not the last ‘token of respect’ Euphemia would receive in Dysart.

Euphemia’s first position in the tramway industry was as a simple checker of tickets on the Glasgow Tramway and Omnibus Company (GTOC). [3] She seemingly rose through the ranks quickly and by 1879 she was forewoman of the female staff employed at the company’s central offices. Clearly she made an impression on the GTOC’s senior management. When Mr Smart, its most senior official, gained the same post within the LTC in 1879 [4] she followed him south, becoming head of its women checkers’ department.

At the same time many other GTOC staff followed Smart to the LTC.[5]  This is very interesting, as the movement of so many officials from an established tram system (the GTOC being formed in 1871) to a newer one evidences that within the early tram industry there was a dearth of knowledge on how to administer and operate these new transportation systems. The LTS was therefore astute in recruiting officials that at that point would have been considered experts in tram management.

Between 1879 and 1898 Euphemia’s status rose within the company and indicative of this by 1890 she was living in a house provided by the LTC at its headquarters on the Camberwell New Road.[6] The organisation grew, and in 1894[7]  she was given the huge responsibility of overseeing the company’s 560 conductors.[8] Her duties were to receive reports daily as to their work, engage and, if necessary, dismiss any, and she also oversaw the distribution of tickets.[9]

In the 1890s for a woman to possess such authority within business was exceptional. The Sunderland Daily Echo stated she was the ‘only woman in England who occupies the very unique position of superintendent of tramway conductors.’ Like in her days as a Sunday school teacher she was respected by those beneath her, the paper reporting ‘that she has won the respect and confidence of the men is shown by the fact that there is not one who has a word to say against her encroachment into what one would ordinarily regard as the special preserve of man.’ The men apparently spoke highly of her fairness, her strict regard for discipline and business abilities.[10]

Indeed, it was Euphemia’s business abilities that make the last part of her story even more fascinating than it already is. She was not only a woman with decision-making responsibility within a major company, but she was also a businessperson outside it. In late-May 1899 she and her partner Robert Lindsay, who was changing professions, dissolved their business as cab proprietors operating out of Oak Tree-place St. John’s Road, London.[11] Little is known about this concern, although it was not small. As a result of it shutting down in early-May Lindsay was advertising the sale of twenty-five horses, twelve ‘hansom cabs’, twelve cab harnesses, a chaff machine, a platform weighing machine and ‘usual sundries.’[12]

The extent of Euphemia’s involvement in this firm has not been determined; yet, given the cabs traded under R. Lindsay’s name, and taking into account her responsibilities within the LTS, it is more likely she was a silent partner. Irrespective of this, this activity demonstrates that she actively sought commercial opportunities for herself beyond her employment.

In March 1899, only months after transferring to the LCC’s employ, Euphemia fell ill; another likely reason by the cab business was dissolved. No reports detail what she was suffering from, however, she underwent an operation that unfortunately did not rectify the problem and on Tuesday 9 July she died suddenly while recovering in Margate. [13] She was buried two days later in Glasgow.[14] Reflecting her successful life, her will left the considerable sum of £624 14s 2d to three individuals; Thomas Gibson, a watchmaker, Joshua Kidd Bruce, a veterinary surgeon, and Thomas Davies.[15]

Euphemia was greatly mourned after her death and, as a testament to the high regard in which she was held, the LTC’ directors and employees raised funds for a memorial to commemorate her life. Designed by D Carnegie and Son of Dundee, in January 1900 a granite monument was erected in Dysart; the same place where her Sunday school students had presented her with a bible thirty years before.[16]

I have only briefly touched on the life of Euphemia Penman in this short biography, yet there is clearly much more to be discovered about her. What has however been demonstrated is that she was a remarkable individual within the late-Victorian period; not simply because she defied social conventions that said that only men were to rise high in business, but because of the clear talent she brought to her work, the entrepreneurial spirit she had and the high esteem in which she was held by those employed under her.

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[1] London Metropolitan Archives [LMA], LCC Min 6719, Highways Committee Minute Book, 10 November 1898, p.70
[2] LMA, LCC Min 6720, Highways Committee Minute Book, 23 March 1899, p.346
[3] Hull Daily Mail, Thursday, 18 August 1898
[4] Evening Telegraph, Thursday, 13 July 1899
[5] Hull Daily Mail, Thursday, 18 August 1898
[6] Retrieved from Ancestry – Electoral register, Camberwell, 1890, p.188
[7] Evening Telegraph, Thursday, 13 July 1899
[8] Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, Saturday 26 November 1898, p.5
[9] Evening Telegraph, Thursday, 13 July 1899
[10] Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, Saturday 26 November 1898, p.5
[11] The London Gazette, 16 June 1899
[12] The Standard, Monday, 1 May 1899, p. 12
[13] Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, Saturday 22 July 1899
[14] North Wales Chronicle, Saturday, 15 July 15 1899
[15] Recovered from Ancestry.
[16] The Courier and Argus, Tuesday, 16 January 16, 1900, p. 6
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