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Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Morals of Victorian Railway Company Staff Magazines

Very recently, I have become interested in railway company staff magazines from before 1923. Not only are they an excellent source of information on the late 19th and early 20th century railway companies, but they detail the business cultures that existed within them. Naturally, as part of my PhD I have heavily used the London and South Western Railway’s (L&SWR) staff magazine, the South Western Gazette (SWG). This was the first railway company staff magazine and was started in 1881. The second staff magazine to be published came from within the Great Western Railway (GWR) in 1888 and was called the Great Western Magazine and Temperance Union Record (GWM). At the point of establishment the magazines shared two important things in common. Both were established voluntarily by clerks for ‘moral’ reasons, and both had clerks as reporters. Yet, the morality that drove the establishment of these publications was different in each case. Thus, I believe this possibly reflected the fact that amongst the two companies’ clerical staffs, different cultures had evolved up to the 1880s.

The different purpose of the two publications was evidenced by their first editorials. The GWM was established by the GWR’s Temperance Union to bind the union’s branches together. But also, its aim was to reinforce temperance amongst the union’s members. Thus, the first editorial stated that:

‘We anticipate marked results from the Great Western Magazine, not only in animating and linking together the existing branches of the Great Western Temperance Union, but in pressing on men’s minds the special claims which the cause of Temperance has upon railway men for their support an sympathy…'[1]

Contrastingly, the SWG was the result of three clerks working together to support the company’s Widows’ and Orphans’ fund, and as such did not have within its content a stated agenda.[2] Its first editorial stated that the SWG was:

‘Written by South Western men for South Western men, in the pecuniary interests of Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund, it deserves the support of all classes in the service, not on account of any literary merit –it has no pretention in that direction-but because it will assist a most deserving institution.'[3] [Italics in original]

From these statements it is evident that the individuals’ who started these publications had different moral purposes in mind. Subsequently, it potentially indicates differences in collective culture amongst the two companies' clerical staffs. The culture amongst the clerks of the GWR meant that the GWRM focussed on impressing on individuals the need for moral actions. Subsequently, they believed that these moral actions, invariably, would improve your life and lead to a better state of existence. Thus, the onus was on the individual to be moral and improve their own lives, but with guidance. Yet, the L&SWR clerks’ view of morality, as expressed through the Gazette, was one of altruism and of doing good deeds in the common interest. Thus, morality was not just a matter on individual action, although evidently individual morality was important, but collective morality was also necessary for the common good. In some sense, the GWRM was the conservative publication, whereas the Gazette was the socialist one.

To re-affirm my assessment, it is interesting to look at the coverage each publication gave to the other’s central focus. In 1881 the L&SWR employees already had a temperance society. While the Gazette gave it some coverage in its early years, overall they seemingly paid little heed to it compared their coverage of the work of the widows and orphans fund. Indeed, in December 1885 the Deputy Chairman of the L&SWR, Wyndam S. Portal, wrote to the Gazette complaining about the lack articles regarding the company’s temperance union.[4] Conversely, in 1888 a GWR widows’ and orphans’ fund did exist. Yet, it only received a small piece of coverage in early issues,[5] and the activities of the Temperance Union’s branches filled approximately half the publication's pages. Thus, while each publication did concern itself with the other’s central issue, it was not their top priority.

While the origin of this difference in culture would be hard to determine without further study, it is easy to see why they may have become established within the clerical staffs both companies given the nature of clerks’ employment conditions and their lives. By the 1880s clerks in all railway companies were selected by examinations. However, passing these would afford new clerks unique career prospects (up to management), good pay and high job security compared with other railway workers. Yet, what this did was insulate them from the other employees, and their view of what was important in railway work was naturally aligned with those of their managers. Further, once an individual had become a junior or apprentice clerk they would be trained by other clerks and ex-clerks, such as station masters, and would ordinarily socialise with them also (as evidenced by Sam Fay’s Diary).[6]Lastly, once an individual became a clerk on one Railway Company it was incredibly rare for him to move to another. Thus, by the 1880s clerical staffs within companies were isolated groups of employees, where ideas would not circulate far or interact with others from outside.

Subsequently, with clerical employment structures being developed up to the 1860, and having become fully established by the 1880s, it is highly likely that the different purposes of the SWG and the GWM were the result of two different employment cultures that had evolved separately within the two companies’ clerical staffs. Of course, this is open to further investigation, and I realise that I have made some sweeping assumptions, but overall it cannot be denied differences of culture must have existed to some extent. In my next post, I will take a different look at the two magazines to discover what L&SWR and GWR clerks had in common.


[1] TNA, ZPER 19/2, Great Western Railway Magazine and Temperance Union Record, November 1888, p.1

[2] TNA, ZPER 12/9, Southern Railway Magazine, June 1931, pp.202

[3] TNA, ZPER 11/1, South Western Gazette, June 1881, p.5

[4] TNA, ZPER 11/5, South Western Gazette, December 1885, p.3

[5] TNA, ZPER 19/2, Great Western Railway Magazine and Temperance Union Record, December 1888, p.17

[6] Bill Fay Collection, Sam Fay’s Diary 1878-1881

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone have any information on "The Railway Review and the Societies Record", which was a weekly publication devoted to the interests of Railway Servants. I know it was being published in 1881. It was published by Messrs Beveridge & Miller, of Fulwood Rents, Holborn, London.


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