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Friday, 31 December 2010

The Riots and Brawls of the Victorian Railway Navvy

The railway navvies, the men who built the railways, were well known as being thieves, rioters and susceptible to the evils of drink. As railway building progressed, and the number of navvies grew, anti-navvy sentiments were aroused. The London Pioneer of December 1847 distinguished between the ‘open, kind-hearted, civil and hardworking’ navvies of the very early years of railway construction, and the influx of newcomers that they dubbed and ‘inferior race of men.’ A Mr Robinson wrote in an article that “they were so excessively drunken and dissolute, that a man would lend his wife to a neighbour for a gallon of beer, and that it was difficult to conceive a set of people more thoroughly depraved, degraded and reckless."[1]Of course, their demonic status was invariably overstated, however, navvies were in large part responsible for crimes and riots around the nation, and the fact that they moved with the construction of the line, from place to place, must have meant that for many they were a roving band to be feared. Indeed, Terry Coleman, in his seminal book on navvies, reported that communities in Scotland began to live in fear as ‘navvy riots were habitual.'[2]In this blog post I will look in brief at the disturbances that were caused by navvies between 1840 and 1850.

Of course much of the trouble that navvies caused was local and somewhat insignificant. On Thursday 19th March 1846 the The Bradford Observer; and Halifax, Huddersfield, and Keighley Reporter reported that on the Saturday before, in Castlegate, a navvy by the name of Christopher Brown had knocked over an unnamed girl, fracturing her jaw in two places. A William Walker came to her defence and he also was knocked down, receiving a kick to the face from which he suffered a bloodied lip. Both were admitted to the infirmary soon after. However, when on his way back home Walker saw Brown again and was floored a second time. This time Brown did get away with the crime. A police constable was in attendance and took him into custody and he was subsequently committed to two months hard labour.[3]

Yet, on occasion navvies banded together to terrorise local populations. On the 7th March, 1846, John Bull reported that at some point between Saturday the 28th February and the Sunday of the 1st of March a ‘breach of the peace of a most daring kind’ was committed, attended by a murder. Near the North British Railway’s line to Hawick, about 11 miles south of Edinburgh, two navvies were arrested at around midnight as they were suspected of stealing a watch. Soon 300 navvies had gathered, armed with ‘bludgeons, pickaxes, hedgebills &c’ and headed towards the police station to liberate the accused. On reaching it, one of the navvies held a pistol to the sergeant’s head and demanded their comrades’ release. He refused, and subsequently the mob broke open the cell and released their compatriots. In their march towards their workplace, the local Fushie Bridge, they encountered the district constable, Pace, who they savagely attacked leaving his skull smashed open. He died on the Sunday afternoon. Thus, in response to this attack, List, a local police officer, had a force of men put at his disposal and succeeded in apprehending 13 of the rioters in the course of the Monday.[4] Their fate was unknown.

Yet apart from terrorising the local residents, Navvies also had a pinache for antagonising each other. In Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle on June 7th, 1846, it reported under the heading of ‘Saving trouble,’ that two navvies on the construction of the Marley Tunnel in South Devon were ‘resolved to decide a quarrel by a stand-up fight.’ Once stripped and ready to fight, the quarrel was decided by virtue of the fact that one of the men ‘fell down dead before a blow was struck.'[5]

Yet, inter-navvy hostilities were much worse in many cases, with conflict arising from matters of religion, pay and antagonism between different groups of workers. After all, one third of railway navvies were Irish, another third were Scottish and the last third were English.[6] With many Irish Catholic navvies working in Scotland there was bound to be conflict with the Scottish, predominately Protestant and Non-conformist, navvies. As Terry Coleman stated, Irish labourers did not look for a fight, however two things vexed their Scottish compatriots. Firstly, they worked for less pay than local labourers. But in addition the devoted Catholic Irish regarded ‘the Sabbath as a day of recreation on which thy sand and lazed about,’ when the Scots still worked and only required some quiet prayer time and a drop of whisky. Thus, the Irish were attacked and beaten up by their Scottish co-workers. Railway contractors tried to keep Scottish and Irish navvies apart, but to no avail. All the while, British navvies, in Coleman’s opinion, assembled and fought with anyone, although they generally preferred to attack the Irish. These riots were widespread in the 1840s, and fights would sometimes include up to 2000 navvies.[7]

Of course, what was reported in the newspapers were the worst and most notable examples of navvy violence, and I suspect that in many cases the majority of navvies were law abiding, peaceful and hardworking. However, it is clear that on many occasions navvies did fight, did commit crimes, and were a menace where they worked. This said, to what extent this was the case has not been looked at quantitatively, and much research has to be done on the way that navvy communities, which included their families, interacted with their environment. Of course Terry Coleman’s book is a useful guide; however his book is rather anecdotal. Subsequently, this is an area of railway history into which I wish to look further in the future.


[1] London Pioneer ,Thursday, December 17, 1846; pg. 536; Issue 34

[2] Coleman, The Railway Navvies, p.93

[3] The Bradford Observer; and Halifax, Huddersfield, and Keighley Reporter, Thursday, March 19, 1846; pg. 5; Issue 611

[4] John Bull , Saturday, March 07, 1846; pg. 158; Issue 1,317

[5] Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, Sunday, June 07, 1846; pg. 8

[6] Coleman, Terry, The Railway Navvies, (London, 1976) p.93

[7] Coleman, The Railway Navvies, p.93-95

Monday, 27 December 2010

How to Become a Victorian Railway Clerk

Researchers are almost unanimous that within 19th century railway companies there existed two tiers of railway employment. In the top tier were the clerks who were involved with the primary or clerical labour market. It was hard to enter this labour market, but once in, clerks had good promotional prospects, job security, good pay and a monthly salary. In the second tier were the rest of the staff, including signalmen, porters, carriage cleaners and, to some extent, drivers. Paid weekly, and with limited advancement opportunities, these employees were highly susceptible to being dismissed at a weeks’ notice.

The two tier system of railway employment was not established because of the emergence of the railway industry. The reality was that it was a product of employment structures that existed before the railways came into existence. Anderson argued that generally before 1870 clerks were separated from the mass of labour as a result of their better education.[1] Attwell agreed with this, arguing that the early Victorian clerks had skills in ‘literacy, arithmetic up to vulgar and decimal fractions.' Both agreed that because their education, clerks 'stood above the manual worker' in the years before and after railway companies were established.[2] For early railway managers it was, therefore, logical to appoint clerks the early station masters. Indeed, many railway companies dubbed them with the title of ‘station clerk.’[3] As the railway industry developed, so did the clerical hierarchies. Subsequently the posts of junior (or apprentice) clerk and chief clerk soon evolved so that companies were able to cope with increasing business.

McKenna argued that railway clerks between 1830 and 1870 were required to have 'sharp intelligence.'[4] Kingsford supported this, arguing that Junior Clerks in the same period were to be respectable and possess 'adequate education.'[5] Yet, a good educational level was only a basic requirement to becoming a clerk, and in the first 30 years of the railway industry the application process became increasing difficult. The London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) was no different, and potential clerks had to pass over an increasing number of hurdles. In the early days of railway operation L&SWR directors personally appointed clerks of all ages.[6] All that was required was that the prospective clerk had a contact within the company. In September 1842, Mr Godson, a clerk in the booking office at Nine Elms, recommended through Mr Stovin, the Traffic Manager, that an unknown 'lad' be appointed as an apprentice clerk.[7]

But the process of becoming a clerk had drastically changed by 1860. In November 1849 the board established a recommendation book in which all candidates for employment (clerical and non-clerical) were to be entered by directors. From this book directors would then recommend individuals for vacancies. However, it was then for the heads of department to choose from these recommendations who would fill the vacancies within their departments.[8] Since the institution of the nomination system in 1840 heads of department had been responsible for monitoring the quality of the staff once employed.[9] However, this minute evidences that the directors were placing more the onus for quality of new staff on the heads of department.

Further to this, by the 1850s the L&SWR had introduced probationary periods of between two and six months for new clerks.[10] Probationary periods were also introduced on the Great Western Railway by 1864, as attested to by Ernest J. Simmons in his memoirs.[11] Yet, the biggest change in the application process came on the 2nd February 1860 when prospective clerks were to be tested in 'writing, spelling, copying and common arithmetic.'[12] Indeed, it seems in this respect that the L&SWR was ahead of other companies, and by 1864, Simmons does not note that on becoming a clerk he had to take an exam. [13]

The increased number of hurdles over which potential clerks had to jump were instituted in response to a number of factors. In the period railway workforces expanded because of the increasing size of the industry, and between 1847 and 1860 the numbers of clerks employed by the L&SWR rose from 135 to 268.[14] Subsequently, the twelve directors of the L&SWR could not monitor each application for clerical situations in the late 1840s and 1850s as closely as earlier in the company’s history. The result was that the board increasingly lessened their personal role in monitoring the quality of junior and apprentice clerks by formalising the nomination system, shifting the responsibility for quality control onto the heads of departments and instituting exams. Indeed, this change had occurred within most railways by the 1870s, and most railways had developed a similar clerical application process.

The described process mimics changes in power structures that were occurring generally across the railway industry at the time. With the growth in the size of railway companies, company directors’ control on operations lessened as they didn’t have the capacity to monitor everything that went on within them. The result was that more authority was delegated to the heads of department and increasingly formalised procedures were introduced as the industry matured.

[1] Anderson, Geoffrey, Victorian Clerks, (Manchester, 1976), p.129

[2] Attwell, Paul, 'The Clerk Deskilled: A Study in False Nostalgia,' Journal of Historical Sociology (1989) Vol.2 No.4 pp.370

[3] London School of Economics Library [LSE], Rules for Enginemen and Firemen, 1845, p.iii/19th Century British Library Newspapers [BLNN], The Standard, Friday, November 13, 1840; Issue 5118/ BLNN, The Hull Packet, Friday, March 11, 1842; Issue 2986

[4] McKenna, Frank, Victorian Railway Workers, (London, 1980), P.101

[5] Kingsford, P.W. Victorian Railwaymen, (London, 1970) p.61

[6] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 412/1, Court of Directors Minute Book, 11th November 1840

[7] TNA, RAIL 412/3, Traffic and General Purposes, and Traffic Police and Goods committees, Minute No. 166, 9th September 1842

[8] TNA, RAIL 411/2, Court of Directors Minute Book, Minute No. 1793, 16th November 1849

[9] TNA, RAIL 412/1, Court of Directors Minute Book, 11th November 1840

[10] TNA, RAIL 411/162, Commercial and Traffic Committee, Minute No.31, 24th October 1850

[11] Simmons, Ernest J., Memoirs of a Station Master, (London, 1879), p.11

[12] TNA, RAIL 411/4, Court of Directors Minute Book, Minute No. 1191, 2nd February 1860

[13] Simmons, Memoirs of a Station Master, p.11

[14] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (HCPP), 1847 (579) Railways. A return of the number and description of persons employed on all the railways in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, respectively, on 1 May 1847 and 1860 (443) Railways. A return of the number and description of persons employed on 30th June 1860, on each railway in England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, respectively,

Friday, 24 December 2010

A Victorian 'Railway' Christmas - Parcels, Pastimes, Profit and Poetry

Christmas on the late Victorian railway has not, to my knowledge, been covered at all in the literature. As the railways were the main way to move goods and supplies around in the period, naturally, the festive season was one of the busiest times of year for the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR). 

Clearly, a lot of traffic carried by the company in the weeks before Christmas Day was of a ‘Christmassy’ nature. In January 1888 it was noted that between the 17th and 24th December 1887 the Nine Elms Goods depot handled 6,595 tons of ‘foreign poultry traffic,’ which exceeded over 500 tons in weight.[1] Not unsurprisingly, figures provided by the Gazette show that overall there was a massive growth in goods and passenger traffic on the network in the week before Christmas. In the week ending 16th December 1883 traffic earned the L&SWR £41,356. Yet, in the week ending 23rd December 1883 the company earned £55,979, a 35.6% increase. Lastly, Sam Fay, a clerk at Kingston Station between 1876 and 1882,[2] noted in his diary that in the week before Christmas Day 1880 the traffic was ‘very heavy.’[3]

Within this massive growth of traffic parcels formed a very large part of stations’ work. In the week before Christmas day in 1888, Richmond Station staff received and delivered a staggering 2010 parcels and an extra delivery man had to be employed. [4] Nine years earlier, on Christmas Day 1879, Sam Fay wrote in his diary, ‘Have had to work duced hard this week with the parcels work.’[5] Such was the volume of parcels work, that a clerk at Richmond, W. Morris, wrote a poem in honour of the service which was ‘cleverly reproduced on cut card board, and enframed with variegated holly.’ The poem was as follows:-

May every parcel sent from here
Contain a hearty Chris’mas cheer;
And my those parcels we deliver
Enclose a gift from a cheerful giver;
And lastly, those that we transfer
Contain a wish for a bright new year.[6]
Because of the increased traffic in the Christmas season, many extra trains were timetabled and advertisements in newspapers show that these ‘specials’ were run throughout the Christmas period.[7] Additionally, by the 1880s and 90s ‘going to the races’ was a key Bank Holiday activity for many. The L&SWR served many race courses such as Sandown Park, Hurst Park, Kempton Park and Ascot. Thus, the South Western Gazette, the company’s staff magazine, reported in January 1895 that on the Christmas Bank holiday 1894 (presumably Boxing Day) the company put on twelve special trains for the Kempton races.[8]

This growth of traffic meant that while most of the year L&SWR employees would have worked between eight and ten hour days, during the Christmas period many stayed later into the evening to cope with the rush of business. Many were also obliged to work on Christmas Day as many services still operated. A passenger timetable from 1868 states that on ‘Christmas Day the trains on all lines will run as on Sundays, with additional trains as shown on bills which will hereafter be issued.’[9] Furthermore, extra ‘special’ trains on Christmas Day were advertised in the 1880s.[10] Lastly, instructions sent to staff in December 1914 detailing ‘Special arrangements’ for the delivery of parcels traffic on Christmas Day, suggest that throughout the late Victorian period stations were still well staffed on the day.[11] 

What proportion of the staff actually had the whole day off is unclear. However, I suspect most had part off at least. Sam Fay recorded his Christmas Day activities between 1878 and 1881. On Christmas Day 1878 he wrote, ‘On Duty in the Morning, Skating in Bushy Park with Walter in the afternoon, had a convivial in the evening.’[12] A year later he ‘Dined at Mr Farebrother’s.’[13] Lastly, in 1880 Fay had all of Christmas Day off and spent it at his future wife's (Trottie) home.[14]

Presumably, because most L&SWR employees spent so much of the festive season in the workplace, much was done to celebrate there. Stations decorations ranged from what we would consider traditional fare, to the more unusual. The January 1884 edition of the SWG recorded that:-

‘The Christmas decorations of suburban stations are quite up to the standard of past years; Norbiton, as usual, being foremost with an almost endless supply of wreaths, &c., a novelty in the shape of many Chinese lanthorns being added this year. The effect at night is exceedingly pretty, and reflects great credit upon the designers. The Teddington staff have also expended much labour upon their station with capital result.’[15]

Further, the Gazette stated in January 1888 that at Richmond Station the parcels office staff had:
“…vied with their parcel brethren at other stations in the way in which they have recognised this season of the year by wreathing and other decorations on the walls and around the windows of their office; the result has been very successful…a considerable quantity of evergreen has been expended in all decorations of this Richmond parcels office. We hear it is as well as any in the vicinity.’[16]

Another way that the staff expressed the Christmas cheer was through competitions. In 1888 at Wimborne station ‘Messrs A.J. Webb, W. Perkins, A Webb and G.Brake’ ran a prize draw, presumably for local residents. The Gazette noted that ordinarily they were able to give out 100 prizes, but such was the success of the Christmas 1887 draw that they were able to give out 120 in 1888. The bounty they awarded would seem familiar to us, including ‘Turkeys and Geese, tobacco and cigars with various edibles and viands plentifully besprinkled.’[17]
It seems that poetry was another way railway employees expressed their feelings over the Christmas period. Charles Marshall, an author of poems that appeared frequently in the Gazette, wrote one which showed, firstly, the patriarchal nature of Victorian society, but also expressed some of the unhappiness that railway workers and their families felt about the fact that the railways were still operating on Christmas Day. It was called ‘The Railway Guard On Christmas Eve’:

She sat beside the cottage fire
Their only offspring in her knee:
He prattled as an infant should,
And seem’d quite full of childish glee.
Yet years stole down the mother’s cheeks –
Tears a wife devoted only feels:
Tears welling from the heart of hearts,
And deep affection firmly seals.

She praye’d for him who she had wed
On Christmas day two years before.
But now was on his engine track
A hundred miles away—or more
A night so fierce is seldom known;
The pelting storm grew still more wild;
While he, with true heroic breast,
Thought of his duty, wife and child.

O’er moss and brake, by glen and glade,
The train with swiftest speed was borne;
The engine driver long’d to be
At home before it was Christmas morn.
His breast with love and hope was fill’d
He heeded little of the storm;
But as he sped on his way
His thoughts were growing still more warm.

His wife at home still vigil kept,
The babe asleep upon her knee;
She listen’d as each foot-fall pass’d
And wish’d that each one might be he
Arriv’d at last, the journey done:
The storm subsided, stars shone bright,
And soon from ev’ry hallowed fane
There burst a merry peal that night.

Then homeward soon he made his way,
And gently tapp’d the window pane;
The bolt’d door was open’d wide,
His wife was in his arms again.
Their wedding day had once more dawn’d,
They kissed their little darling boy;
Then pray’d through coming years that they
Might health and happiness enjoy.[18]

Yet, it should be noted that in the poem the wife’s unhappiness primarily stems from the fact that it was her wedding anniversary the day after, and not that her husband may be working on Christmas Day. Thus, taking this fact into account, and looking back on what has been learnt about Christmas on the L&SWR, it is evident that Christmas Day was not as special for the late Victorians as it is for us. This said, the Victorian period is when much of Christmas as we know it evolved, and there is evidence here of how many of the yuletide traditions that we have today can be traced to that time. Furthermore, I have perhaps also shed some light on how the railways facilitated these traditions’ development, by taking them to all parts of the nation.

Lastly, all there is to say is a very Merry Christmas to all my readers!

[1] TNA, ZPER 11/7, The South Western Gazette, Jan 1888, p.8
[2] TNA, RAIL 411/492, Clerical staff character book No. 2, p.711
[3] Bill Fay Collection, Sam Fay Diary, 25th December 1880
[4] TNA, ZPER 11/7, The South Western Gazette, Jan 1888, p.11
[5] Bill Fay Collection, Sam Fay Diary, 25th December 1879
[6] TNA, ZPER 11/7, The South Western Gazette, Jan 1888, p.11
[7] ‘The Country Gent: A Sporting Gazette and Agricultural Journal.’ December 19th 1885, p.1616
[8] The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 11/11, The South Western Gazette, Jan 1895, p.8
[9] South Western Circle Collection [SWC], Passenger Timetable, December 1868, p2
[10] ‘The Country Gent: A Sporting Gazette and Agricultural Journal.’ December 19th 1885, p.1616
[11] SWC, Christmas Parcels Traffic: Special Notice
[12] Bill Fay Collection [BFC], Sam Fay Diary, 25th December 1878
[13] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 25th December 1879
[14] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 25th December 1880
[15] TNA, ZPER 11/3, The South Western Gazette, Jan 1884, p.2
[16] TNA, ZPER 11/7, The South Western Gazette, Jan 1888, p.11
[17] TNA, ZPER 11/7, The South Western Gazette, Feb 1888, p.2
[18] Marshall, Charles, South Western Gazette, January 1888, p.6

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Railway Company Staff Records - What Survives from the L&SWR

The staff record is an integral part of the railway historian’s arsenal of sources. While naturally providing information on railway workers’ careers, on their own or in a group, they can also provide useful information on how railway companies were managing their company, labour relations and attitudes to innovation. Subsequently, in my work on the London and South Western Railway I have completed an extensive review of that company’s staff records, and thus have discovered the lives of many individuals.

Staff records can be classified into three categories (well in the L&SWR’s case at least). Firstly, it is important to note that within all 19th Century railway companies there were two employment streams, the clerical and secondary labour markets. Those clerks in the clerical labour market had to go pass rigorous entrance requirements and tests, but once employed enjoyed good promotional prospects, salaries that were paid to them monthly and job security. Indeed, many clerks became senior managers. The secondary labour market encompassed all other staff. Most were paid weekly, had poorer wages than clerks and had low job security. Thus, it is only natural that the staff records of these two employee groups are different in character. While in both cases individuals’ details were either recorded on a full or half page of a book, the clerical staff’s details were usually recorded in a larger book, but, surprisingly, had fewer forms of information within. Lastly, in addition to these records, there were the ‘registers of workmen’ that recorded the details of many individuals over two pages.

Clerical staff registers, in the case of the L&SWR at least, have a separate index which is very handy when looking an individual up. Five pieces of information were recorded on the clerical staff registers held at the National Archives. These were the age of the individual when they started their employment, date of entry into the service, who nominated them for a clerical post, any ‘positions and removals or promotions’ and ‘reports and complains.’

A couple of things stand out about from these records that should be noted. The individual who nominated them for a clerical position was usually either a senior manager within the company or a director. However, ordinarily they would have been written to by a ‘respected’ individual who knew the prospective clerk, for example a school teacher, religious figure or a local dignitary. In the section recording ‘positions and removals or promotions’ was recorded all the details of an individuals’ pay at certain points and the length of time they spent at different locations. On many occasions, their post-employment details, such as their pension and date of death were also recorded. Lastly, the records detail any ‘reports and complaints.’ This encompassed any time a clerk did something exemplary in the line of duty, or did something which would warrant punishment. Punishments included fines, demotion or, in worst case scenarios, dismissal. For example, in February 1892 T.H. Jebbitt, the Agent at Basingstoke, was called upon to resign because of ‘irregularities in various cash matters.’ (shown below) What these irregularities were is not noted in his staff record, but it is at the point that the diligent researcher would seek out the Traffic Committee minute book to find out.

The staff records of those in the secondary labour market usually have more information contained within them. Unfortunately, despite this bonus, in the case of the L&SWR there is no index which means that finding an individual is a laborious task involving searching through every record. What’s more, in the case of the L&SWR many staff records are missing, and only some individual personnel files from the Traffic Department have survived. The information for which there spaces on the record are the staff member’s date of birth, height, the ‘number of the testimonial,’ address when appointed, who recommended them, their date and place of appointment, grade, starting wage, marital status, any remarks, whether they passed the eyesight test and their promotions or wage increases.

Clearly, the larger amount of information recorded was because many in the secondary labour market, such as cleaners, platelayers or porters, were doing more arduous and labour-intensive work. Thus, more details furnished as to their physical appearance and attributes so that their suitability for the job could be assessed. However, what has been noticed is that on many occasions not all the information was filled in, presumably because of the nature of individuals’ jobs. For example, Mrs Watkin (below) was appointed as a waiting room attendant and because the job was not that labour-intensive many of the details have not been filled in.

The last form of employee information was the staff registers that listed the details of many L&SWR employees consecutively (below). However, because so many individuals were listed on two pages the information furnished is not as detailed as in individual staff records. However, a positive thing about the staff registers is that they usually had an index at the front from which individual employees could be found within them. As far as the L&SWR is concerned, only staff registers from the Locomotive Department have survived at the National Archives and the Hampshire Record Office. They record, the employees’ ‘register no.’ (which presumably linked to an actual person’s record), their names, their occupation, where they were employed, the date they entered the service, their starting wage, any wage increases and lastly any remarks. Yet, what the registers do not record, as far as can be seen, are any promotions, rewards or disciplinary actions. Thus, these can be somewhat frustrating files for the historian because of the limited information contained within them

It should be recognised that what I have detailed here only applies only to the L&SWR, and the other railway companies may have set out and organised their staff records differently. Irrespective of this, the staff records of railway company employees are a really useful source for all historians, even if they can be frustrating a lot of the time.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Little Book of Treasures - A Discovery at the National Archives

It is strange that I have been all over the minute books and files of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) at the National Archives, yet had never looked at one record that I found on the catalogue. Once I had ordered the record, which was listed as a ‘Personal collection of details of a varying nature covering costs, and information of a general character,’ (RAIL 411/415) I was unsure what to expect. The nature of the surviving documents from Britain’s railways falls into three categories, the official documents (committee minute books, shareholder registers), operational documents (timetables, locomotive registers) and oddities.

On it arriving in my locker, I quickly realised this document fell into the latter category. At about 3 inches across, and 6 inches high, this unassuming book contains the weirdest and wonderful collection of information on the L&SWR that I have ever found. The content is all handwritten and there is no overriding theme. I am pretty certain that it comes from a member of the L&SWR’s Locomotive Department, as most of the information is of a ‘Locomotive Department’ nature, and the details cover the period 1903 to 1918. Because of this item’s odd nature, I thought I’d share some interesting snippets.

I thought I’d start on the first page which lists the ‘rates of pay of mechanics’ at the Eastleigh Locomotive Works in March 1918. Firstly, it is noted that mechanics on average worked for 50 hours a week. This wasn’t an unusual length of time to be working in 1918, but it would have been less than their predecessors who may have worked up to 70 hours a week. Of the 41 positions within the works listed the highest paid were the Foregemen, who earned 46 shillings and 6 pence per week or £120 18 shillings year. Lowest paid were the Hammer drivers, who earned 18 shillings a week or £46 16 shillings a year. At the bottom of the page is also found information on apprentices, who were supposed to receive ‘full journeyman’s rate’ (whatever that was) and were to receive half yearly increases until they had completed their apprenticeships.

Like all railway companies, the L&SWR had a considerable increase in traffic in the 1890s. On page 16, from around 1905, an effect of this traffic growth is shown, as the author noted the increase in the engine and train miles that the company ran between 1895 and 1905. In 1895 L&SWR trains ran 15,315,290 miles, whereas in 1905 they ran 18,549,609 miles. Yet, these figures did not include the distance that the locomotives individually travelled, as this was longer and included trips to engine sheds, running around trains and any maintenance work. Thus, in 1895 L&SWR locomotives moved 21,291,938 miles, but by 1905 this distance had increased to 27,769,668 miles. But, the increase pressure on the company’s services could only accommodated by expanding the locomotive stock, and between 1895 and 1905 the locomotive stock jumped from 664 to 736 locomotives. Further to this, the author made a note on the L&SWR’s future locomotive requirements, saying that the locomotives already built would be sufficient for, at most, 8 years. This shows that by this time forward planning was a part of railways’ decision making process. Yet, like all businesses, this was a guess. As such, the author stated that a worst case scenario, new locomotives may be needed after only 5 years.

From around 1908 or 1909, on page 24 is the quite odd note titled ‘the life of a tree.’ This indicates that it wasn’t just the type of wood that was interesting this individual or the locomotive department. Rather, woods' lifespan was also of interest. The author received this information from the Washington Forestry service, showing that Anglo-American communication was active. Therefore, Pines lived a maximum of 700 years, Silver Firs 425 years, Red Beaches 245 years, Aspens 210 years, Birches 200 years, Ashes 170 years, Elders 145 years and Elms 130 years. The reason for the author to collect this information is unknown, but I guess that it may be associated with what wood the Locomotive Department chose when undertaking different woodworking activities.

On page 87 there is a list of the different prices that the L&SWR paid for water at different locations in January 1912. Interestingly, it shows that local economic structures may have played an important, and probably unpredictable role in a company’s costs, as water was provided by local water companies whose prices varied hugely. So, for example, at Waterloo, the company paid 6 1/8 pence per 1000 gallons, while at Wadebridge in Cornwall they paid 4 ½ pence per 1000 gallons, and at Bishops Waltham, in Hampshire, their bill was a massive 1 shilling per 1000 gallons. In this period, there were no large water companies that could set national prices which would have enabled the L&SWR to predict each year what the cost of water would have been better.

On page 102 is probably my favourite entry in the book. It details at an unknown date terms of employment for engine cleaners. I think, instead of paraphrasing the text, I will just replicate it here. Boys ‘Must be between 16 + 18 years of age, of good physique + have been vaccinated. Must not be less than 5’ 4” at 16 years of age + 5’ 5” @ 18 years of age. Must pass eye exam + exams in arithmetic up to and including the rate of three. Must live within easy walking distance of their work, but engine cleaners appointed at Nine Elms are eligible for free residential tickets and must live within a radius of 12 miles.’

The joy of this book is that it does have little snippets on many forms of railway history, whether they be technological, scientific, social or managerial. It could, therefore, add much to the PhD and I look forward to getting stuck into it. However, the downside is that the document will take a lot of time to truly get through and understand. Whoever the author was, I accept his challenge.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Stealing from the Early Victorian Railway

In September this year, The Guardian reported that the theft of copper from the line-side and railway property had led to the delay of 11,000 trains across the network. This was because thieves took advantage of copper’s soaring value in China and India to make profit.[1] Indeed, this problem has got worse since 2005. In 2006, the Evening Standard reported that passengers had been delayed by approximately 240,000 minutes the year before because of theft. However, in 2010 this number had risen to 500,000 minutes.[2]In response to the £35 million worth of losses since 2006, Network Rail set up a taskforce to prevent the estimated £20 million worth of losses that could occur by 2014.[3]

Unsurprisingly, theft from the railway companies is not a new thing, and was something that Victorian railway managers had to deal with regularly. A brief survey of the Old Bailey site, which gives the proceedings of many court cases in full, furnishes the reader with many interesting incidents in the very early railway where the companies lost their property; well, briefly anyway, as these were the individuals that got caught.

On the 21st April 1837 James Fisher, a police constable, found William Groves (aged 23) under a stack of hay in the yard of the Great Western Railway (GWR), presumably at Paddington. Fearing he had been found out in his thieving, Groves passed 8 of the bolts he had stolen from under his jacket to his ‘left side.’ The Policeman immediately realised what had occurred. “You have been robbing the Company, I saw you pass [the bolts]…from under your jacket.” Groves denied it, yet the Policeman marched him to the railway station. On removing his hat five more bolts and an iron bracket fell out, at which point he was arrested. In court, Charles Thirkettle, an obviously busy man given he stated he was a foreman, carpenter, and superintendent for the GWR, confirmed that the property was theirs. For the crime of attempting to steal 6 shillings worth of materials Groves was sentenced to transportation for seven years. His stated, ‘I am very sorry—I had got no friends, and no where to lie.’ It was quite possible that he was homeless and trying to steal to pay for something to eat.[4]

It wasn’t always outsiders that committed crimes against railway companies, and on many occasions it was company employees themselves. On the 2nd January 1840, Thomas Emmerson, a policeman in the employ of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR), was on duty at the gates to the company’s Nine Elms yard. Between 6 and 7 pm noticed John Kelly, a 30 year old employee in the workshops, pass him with something very heavy on his shoulder. Following the man to the Vauxhall Road, he challenged him, asking him what was it was. “A piece of wood,” came the response. Emmerson demanded to look at it, at which point Kelly shouted “no for God’s sake don’t look” and tried to flee. Unsuccessfully it appears, and as iron was found in the basket he was carrying. He was then asked whether it belonged to the company. The response was that it was, and he was marched to the magistrate, to which he stated that the iron “does belong to the Company; I am very sorry for what I have done.” Such was the inconsistency of the Victorian legal system, that for attempting to steal 1 connecting-chain, 1 shackle and 1 iron bolt, the total value of which was 13s 6d, double what Groves had attempted to steal, he received the far lesser sentence than Groves of only 3 months confinement.[5]

Crime was on quite a few occasions committed by multiple persons. On the 3rd November 1838, at twenty past seven in the evening, Stephen Walter, a policeman, came across George Lincoln (aged 17), James Smith (aged 16) and Robert William Lock (aged 16) in Albany Road next to Regents Park. With his jacket on Lincoln appeared ‘very stout,’ and Walter proceeded to feel his pockets. On finding something heavy, Lincoln immediately gave up his accomplices saying "Stop them, they have something as well as me." On hearing this, Smith and Lock fled, discarding their spoils as they went. Lincoln was taken to the station house, and another police officer was sent to the scene. Lying on the floor he found some brass bearings and a saw. Combined with the brass and jacket found on Lincoln, the total value of the property recovered was £1 6s 6d. It was later discovered that all had been stolen from the Chalk Farm workshops of the London and Birmingham Railway Company. Smith defended himself in court stating that he and Lock had met Lincoln at Chalk Farm Bridge where he had given them the property. The defence was a failure, and all three were sentenced to seven years transportation.[6]

These are just a couple of the many cases that can be found on the Old Bailey website, I really recommend that you take a look. Many are much longer and more detailed (and more interesting) than these. What these, and others, show is that even though railway companies possessed their own police forces and guarded their own yards, they were still highly susceptible to thievery.








Monday, 13 December 2010

My PhD...What I Have Found So Far

As a PhD student I have had to get used to being continually asked what my topic of study is. I don’t mind this, as I have always felt that there is no point writing a 90,000 word thesis if I don’t tell anyone what the contents is, or, at the end, put the manuscript in a cupboard to gather dust. After four years (out of six) I have come to some interesting conclusions regarding the management of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) which I thought I would share with all here.

The first chapter of the thesis basically covers the background, describing what has been said previously in the literature. It is in the second chapter that will start to discuss my findings. As the basis for the rest of the work, this chapter is on the financial health of the L&SWR. I have concluded that while suffering from increased costs after 1870 as a result of laws on the implementation of safety devices, employees working conditions and the rates that they charged, the L&SWR’s financial results (for example their return on capital employed and operating ratio) were above the industry’s average, but not to a significant extent.

In chapter 3 I will show that the L&SWR’s management structure, where each department had a specific function, such as Way and Works, Locomotive and Traffic, emerged because when the line was initially being built the different functions of company operation were initiated at different points. As departments grew in size because of company expansion, they became institutions in their own right. This meant that within the organisation the departments became increasingly isolated and focussed on their own operations to the detriment of internal operational cohesion. Furthermore, as the departments grew in scale underneath the management of the company, decision-making and inter-departmental communications became increasingly centralised at the head of the organisation. Lastly, the management structures that were created early in the company’s history tenaciously held on until 1914.

Chapter 4 will demonstrate that within the company there developed early on two employment streams, these being the primary (or clerical) and secondary labour markets. It was from amongst the clerks in the primary labour market that almost all senior Traffic Department managers were chosen in the later nineteenth century. This meant that almost all managers had similar, if not identical, career paths, which could have potentially led to a lack of innovation within the company. The company try to improve the quality of management in the early 20th century through London-based L&SWR clerks attending the railway department of the London School of Economics, however, this would have had limited effect on the management of the L&SWR, coming too late before 1914 to make a difference.

In chapter 5 I will investigate the external business activities of the L&SWR directors, and look at how these could have affected the management of the L&SWR. Before 1880 the company’s board was dominated by directors who were involved in land and agriculture. However, between 1880 and 1900 the L&SWR directors started to attempt to gain control over companies associated with the company’s business by taking directorships on their boards. Yet, the majority of the directors appointed after 1880 had no directorships on joining the L&SWR, and as such cannot be considered to have been appointed to it because of their business links. Lastly, directors were chosen for seats because of their political activities throughout the L&SWR’s history. However, they were more likely to be chosen because of this factor when the L&SWR and the railway industry were under threat politically.

Therefore, this is the state of play in my PhD, and I am currently working on my last, highly important, chapter. The challenge of the last chapter is to link all of these conclusions together, and combined with new information provide a picture of how exactly the L&SWR made decisions between 1852 and 1914.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Female Railway Clerks at the LSE, 1914-1920

In the mid-1890s at the London School of Economics (LSE), William Acworth, a noted commentator on railway issues, gave a series of lectures to Great Western (GWR) and Great Eastern Railway (GER) clerks on railway management. After this, the idea of a department being established there to teach railway employees on aspects of railway management began to develop. Subsequently, in 1903 seven major railway companies (GWR, GER, London and South Western Railway, Great Central Railway, Great Northern Railway and London and North Western Railway) paid for more detailed courses to be established at the university. The clerks of these companies were not forced to attend the courses, as they took place on their own time, yet they were encouraged to do so as it would help their careers.

In the first term (1903-04) the courses available were 'The Economics of Rapid Transport,' 'The Law Relating to Railway Companies,' 'Economic Factors in Railway Administration,' 'Railway Statistics in England and Foreign Countries' and 'The Law of Carriage by Railway.' All initially ran for 3 to 12 lectures, and a student’s performance was measured by either an essay or exam. The number of courses made available by the Railway Department soon expanded, and by the First World War topics included railway engineering and locomotive operation. Further, courses were also offered on subjects not directly related to railway management or more general topics, such as economics, business and accountancy skills. Ultimately, students who attended over many years could obtain a degree with honours in transportation.

Over this period, the number of female clerks working within British railway companies had grown significantly. By July 1914, out of 13,046 female railway workers across the network, 2,341 were working in clerical grades. With the coming of the war this number increased. Thus, by 1918 Britain’s railways employed 13,655 women as clerks.

Throughout the war the Railway Department at the LSE continued to teach London-based clerks and many female clerks took the opportunity to attend. In total, over the period 1914 to 1920, there were 126 occasions of female clerks attending the Railway Department for a term. In contrast there were 1419 occasions of male clerks attending for a term, meaning that over the period women made up 8.16% of the student body.

The evidence shows that the attendance of female clerks was shaped by women’s wartime employment patterns. Thus, in the 1914-15 term there were no female students (out of 267), as the proportion of women within the railways’ clerical workforce was still insignificant. It was in the 1915-16 that the first female clerks attended the LSE, one coming from the Metropolitan Railway and four from the Great Western Railway. From this small start, and with the massive increase in the female clerical staff generally, the number attending the LSE grew after 1916. This growth is tabulated below:-

What is also interesting is that female clerks working on the different railway companies attended the classes in different proportions relative to the number of overall attendees that their company sent. The table below shows the number of clerks that attended according to the railway company with which they were employed between 1914 and 1920:-

Evidence suggests that the enthusiasm with which female clerks from the different companies attended the LSE may have been influenced by the companies’ pre-war enthusiasm for employing women in clerical positions generally. Therefore, the Great Western Railway, who supplied the greatest number of female clerks relative to their entire contribution to the student body, was one of the first companies to employ women as clerks in 1906. Yet, one of the railways from which the fewest numbers of female clerks went to the LSE, the London and South Western Railway, only began to employ female clerks in March 1914. A caveat should be stated, in that these figures will be affected by the fact that the LSE classes were only attended by clerks that worked in the London area. So, for example, the worst performer in the table, the Great Northern Railway, served mainly areas in the north of the country and may have had few London-based female clerical staff, which would have affected their returns.

Yet, despite this consideration, the evidence suggests that the different companies’ pre-war mind-sets towards female labour and employment may have affected the encouragement that they gave to their female clerks to attend. Indeed, if senior managers within some companies had only begrudgingly allowed women to become clerks in the first place, it is quite possible that they did not make them aware of the courses at the LSE or put up barriers to them attendening. Indeed, the L&SWR employed over 400 female clerks during wartime, yet only 2 attended the Railway Department, suggesting that something restricted their attendance.

Clearly, this story shows that the attitudes of higher education institutions to the education and admission of women was changing. But more importantly, it indicates that once given the opportunity to attend these institutions, women did so with enthusiasm.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Is the Future Brightening for Britain's Railways?

I’m not a fan of privatisation, never have been, never will be. The idea of it for any vital service, for example hospitals, schools, or social services, having private business involved actually makes my skin crawl. Once there is profit involved, many companies try to minimise costs and maximise profit by stripping bare their services, to the detriment of the quality of service.

Indeed, this was what happened in 1997 when Railtrack took over the maintenance of the infrastructure of Britain’s railways. They stripped back the service, lost many of the knowledgeable staff they inherited from British Rail and sold off large parts of its assets to maintenance and renewal companies. As such, this resulted in an shortfall of engineering knowledge within the organisation, and as a result people sadly died. Thus, Railtrack was doomed after the Hatfield accident in 2000, in which there were 4 fatalities, as it couldn't tell anyone out exactly how many more accidents were waiting to happen. Subsequently, the state-owned, not-for-profit and largely unaccountable Network Rail took over the maintenance of Britain's railway infrastructure.

However, the private system remained in place above the tracks. This wasn’t a totally terrible situation, as the privatised railway companies cannot act as other industries do because of the nature of the industry. If you were to buy a car, companies would compete to produce the best products and use marketing to entice you to buy their model. Yet, ultimately, you’d be the one choosing which car to buy. Yet, the railway industry cannot really work in that way. For example, I’m live near Hampton Court station, thus, I am forced to use South West Trains and have no option about who I travel with as they are the franchise holder. Thus, because of this situation, the Department for Transport has to ensure that the services are put on by SWT to suit the needs of the passengers, so that they don’t just run the profitable peak-time services. Thus, private companies cannot act as they do elsewhere as they correctly forced by government to provide a certain level of service, which means I am guaranteed the ability to travel.

However, under the system that emerged after 2002 unnecessary things happened to both Network Rail (NR) and the Train Operating Companies (TOC). Firstly, Network Rail’s costs have skyrocketed because of bad management, institutionalised mind-sets and a lack of accountability to anyone. The best estimate is that currently NR is 30 to 50% more expensive per mile than the best European operators. This is because NR, in light of the accidents its predecessor caused, became overly focussed on safety as being its primary role. Indeed, money is spent on works whatever, even if the risk of a failure of a piece of railway infrastructure is less than 5%.

This sounds like I am advocating lax safety, I’m not, and there some elements of railway infrastructure that should receive these levels of investment. But think about it; if you attempted to make every workplace in the world 100% risk free it would be impractical, costly and time consuming. Further, on the roads there are 100s of deaths a year. But if we spent money on fitting them out with every device imaginable to stop accidents, the costs would be horrendous. Yet, on the railways that is what is done and it is simply unsustainable.

In addition, the added cost of this absolute focus on safety, is that NR has forgotten that part of its remit is to cooperate with the TOCs to deliver the best service to customers. Of course, many of the problems of cooperation between the organisations is the result of the Conservative government of 1992 separating the maintenance of the track from the operation of trains when privatising the industry. Some of the arrangements are pure lunacy. For example, if NR closes a line to make improvements that will benefit the TOC who operates it, it still has to pay compensation to the TOC. In addition there are a myriad of contracts between NR and the TOCs that foster contractual, rather than operational working relationships. Lastly, where in the days of British Rail the train drivers and station staff would know the the signalmen and track crews, now they do not cooperate. Thus, NR, while working in the same industry as the TOCs, very rarely acts like it has an interest in providing the best service to customers because their organisational mind-sets have separated.

The second thing that happened was that the DfT has increasingly micromanaged the Train Operating Companies to the point where literally nothing that they do is of their own making. The DfT’s control over the franchises, which was originally in place to ensure that passengers would receive a good service, has gone over the top. The effect has been that the innovation that private companies can bring to the table, and which is sometimes lacking in nationalised companies, has withered and almost died. Therefore, instead of the DfT specifying how many trains a company should run per hour, it now specifies how many there should be and when they should run. It also tells the TOCs how long their trains should be and what types of rolling stock they should use, diminishing their incentive to buy new carriages themselves. Thus, the DfT have effectively stifled any innovation that the private companies had.

Thus, because of these and other problems, that I simply do not have the space and time to go into, organisations that should have been dynamic and innovative simply stagnated. The result was that costs soared, and whereas in the early 1990s Britain’s taxpayers contributed around 40% to the running of the railways, currently the contribution is around 50%. As such, in February 2010 the former Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Adonis, appointed Roy McNulty to head a review of the structure and costs of Britain’s railways. Yesterday, McNulty published his interim findings. Firstly, they explained the current problems with the industry. However, they also spelled out proposals that might actually make the railways more cost-effective, innovative and provide better services to customers.

Firstly, and this is something that I have banged on about before, he suggested that there should be a more focussed definition of what the railways are actually for, with ‘greater clarity and better alignment of objectives.’ The long-term goals should be to facilitate the efficient movement of goods and passengers, while ensuring the industry’s long term value for money for both the taxpayer and the passenger. While naturally people will scream and shout about fares, and I will shout with them too, reducing the cost of NR is absolutely necessary and in the long-term may actually help to bring fare prices down. But, crucially, it will also bring the contribution of the taxpayer down.

Secondly, he wants the ‘Government [to be] involved in less detail, and the rail industry accepting greater responsibility for delivering the broad objectives set by Government.’ The report also recommends longer franchises of 15 years or upwards. These are excellent recommendations. Of course, the DfT has to ensure that passengers have a minimum level of service, but if the TOCs have more freedom to innovate, buy their own rolling stock and have longer franchises, they may invest in a better service to tempt you away from other forms of transport, as this will increase their long-term revenue generation.

Third, he suggests more cooperation, coordination and goal-alignment between NR and the TOCs that will focus both on both cost reduction and the provision of good services. Indeed, while he recognised that some technical functions have to be managed nationally and can only be done by a single organisation, he argued that regional alliances should be formed and closer working initiated between local NR mangers and the TOCs. This will allow both the organisations to operate more harmoniously, plan future operations better, have improved leadership and focus on the needs of the service in a local area. Ultimately, with such an approach, costs can be driven down. This will be accompanied by a reorganisation of NR, which is sorely needed and better overall leadership of the industry from the DfT.

I will always support renationalisation, but I accept that this reality won’t come soon. As such, my philosophy is that we should try and make the private system work as well as it can. There will always be issues, and I feel that the imminent fare hikes are a mistake. Yet, this said, I am very pleased with the initial findings of the McNulty report as he has echoed what many in the railway press and industry have been saying for years. Hopefully his recommendations, the implementation of which will be overseen by a high level group chaired by the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond (a man I am begrudgingly starting to not dislike), will usher in an era when the private system finally starts to work as efficiently as it can. We still have a government which I dislike intensely and I will always remain cautious about any proposals that emanate from it, but I always try and remain positive, and as such I think that the future is brightening for Britain’s railways.

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