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Sunday, 9 January 2011

Did the Great Central Railway Indoctrinate Children?

Probably the weirdest thing I have come across in any railway company staff magazine was ‘Auntie Agnes,’ who wrote for the staff magazine of the Great Central Railway, the Great Central Railway Journal (GCRJ). This wasn’t an agony aunt column for railway workers, nor was it an article on gardening tips. Rather, her column was for railway employees’ children and, to my knowledge, was an anomaly amongst the pages of railway company staff magazines more generally.

The GCRJ started in June 1905, and was, in some sense, child of the London and South Western Railway’s (L&SWR) own staff magazine the South Western Gazette (SWG). Both had been created by Sam Fay, who had been an L&SWR Clerk in 1881, when he had started the former, but by 1905 was General Manager of the GCR, taking the staff magazine concept with him.[1] Yet, while the SWG was set up for the benefit of the L&SWR’s ‘Widows and Orphans Fund,’ there was seemingly no similar justification for setting up the GCR.[2]

By 1905, staff magazines were no longer simply being published by the employees, for the employees, as the SWG and Great Western Railway Magazine had been. Amongst all the sports, entertainment and staff news, staff magazines were used by railway company managers to inform their employees of their priorities and agendas, and to educate them. This clearly evident in the first issue of the GCRJ, where there were articles under the headings of ‘Control of Engine Working,’ ‘The Washington Railway Congress,’ ‘Death of an Old G.C. employee,’ ‘Locomotive Notes’ and ‘American Methods of Railway Inspection.'[3] Yet, the ‘Auntie Agnes’ articles also show that the world of the railway worker was not something that ended when he clocked off. Rather, his family were ‘railway families,’ and the home and workplace were intrinsically bound up together. However, it is surprising that while the kournal had something for the children of railway workers, there was nothing for their wives.

The first edition of the GCRJ carried under the heading ‘Children’s Page,’ the first letter from Auntie Agnes. In the corner was the note, ‘for three months we will try the experiment of a children’s page, and if appreciated will make it a permanent feature.’ Yet, its continuation throughout the first year, indicates that it was deemed a success.

In the first letter to the children, Aunt Agnes, whose real identity is unknown, asked that the children tell her about themselves. Information was requested on their ‘pets, what you like to do best of all, your favourite games, how you spend your holidays or anything you think will be of interest to other little boys or girls.’ They might, as a result, have their letter printed, space permitted. All letters were to be sent to ‘Auntie Agnes, c/o the Editor, Great Central Railway Journal, Central Station Leicester.’ There had already been one letter though, and the first contribution (shown), was from a girl by the name of ‘bubs’ who was aged 5.
Agnes finished her column by talking about how they must have enjoyed Whitsuntide and were looking forward to the upcoming holidays.[4]

However, Agnes did not miss the opportunity for a little promotion of the railway company. In the July edition one of her new ‘nephews,’ as she called them, had won a scholarship and was about to go on holiday to Yorkshire. ‘Of course,’ she said, ‘he will travel by our railway, the GCR, which you all know is the quickest and best in the North.'[5] It strikes me that that this statement chimed very well with the overall educational nature of the journal.

In later entries Aunt Agnes described the letters that she had received, and in the July edition she was inundated with stories of the children’s holidays[6] In August, she received poems from one girl who had taken them from a new book she had received called Alice in Motorland. This book was apparently much like Alice in Wonderland. From September onwards, Aunt Agnes also described parts of her trip to America and Canada.[7] She wrote a number of letters described her train journey from Boston to California[8]and what she did while she was there[9] She also answered many questions from her ‘nieces and nephews’ as to what the United States was like[10] True to form, she also never missed an opportunity to compare North American railways with the Great Central, consistently referring to the latter as ‘our railway.’ Indeed, at the current time I have not got images of the GCRJ beyond June 1906, and it is unknown as to when Aunt Agnes returned.

So what can we make of the ‘Children’s Page’ (admittedly with limited information). I will speculate that the ‘Children’s Page’ was possibly established by the GCR’s management in an attempt to indoctrinate its employees’ children. It is known in the period that being the child of a railway worker guaranteed employment with the railway company. Therefore, isn’t it plausible, given the constant references to 'our railway,' that the GCRJ was trying to breed loyalty to the company amongst their future servants? I admit that I may be on shaky ground here without more evidence. However, this explanation would tie up nicely with the educational nature of the GCRJ more generally. Whatever the answer, the ‘Children’s Page’ shows that the railway company’s management was, at very least, trying to reach into their employee’s homes to blur the lines between that space and the workplace.
[2] The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, June 1905
[3] The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, June 1905
[4] TNA, ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, June 1905, p.15
[5] The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, July 1905, p.38
[6] TNA, ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, July 1905, p.38
[7] TNA, ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, August 1905, p.58
[8] TNA, ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, September 1905, p.78
[9] TNA, ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, February 1906, p.196
[10] TNA, ZPER 18/1, Great Central Railway Journal, March 1906, p.216

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - perhaps the GC, as a comparative latecomer felt under more pressure to build company loyalty? After all, in this period it had just 're-branded' itself from the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln. Everything about the GC is unusual and interesting, although that sense might be heightened by the fact that most of its lines are now closed, giving a 'legendary' status.


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