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Monday, 17 January 2011

The Values of Victorian Railway Company Staff Magazines

In my last blog post I talked about how the Great Western (GWR) and London and South Western Railway’s (L&SWR) staff magazines’ had different establishing agendas and how this may have reflected different cultures amongst the companies’ clerks who started and wrote them. In this post I will show where the content of the two company’s staff magazines’, the South Western Gazette (SWG) and the Great Western Railway Magazine and Temperance Union Record (GWRM), converged in one important respect. This will reveal that clerks within both companies had very similar, if not identical, perspectives on railway work that were the result of their career prospects.

One of the most important benefits of being a clerk within any Victorian railway company was the unique promotional opportunities. In the case of the L&SWR I have identified that of 70 Traffic Department senior managers appointed between 1850 and 1922, only 3 (4.3%) had started their careers in non-clerical grades (two porters and a ticket inspector). The remaining 67 all had started with the L&SWR as either junior (or apprentice) clerks or senior clerks.[1] Additionally, Goruvish has shown that of 88 Railway Company Chief Executive Managers appointed between 1850 and 1922, only 10% came from ‘Engineering’ departments.[2] The rest came from Administrative (30%) or Traffic Departments (60%). The only failing of this research, for my purposes, is that it doesn’t identify from what positions that CEMs from Traffic Departments came from. However, we can be almost certain that all those Chief Executive Managers from administrative departments were originally clerks. Overall, however, the evidence suggests that clerks could become managers and other employees rarely received such chances.

Therefore, the fact that the majority of senior L&SWR and GWR managers came from the ranks of the clerical staff, means that their employment outlooks were highly likely be aligned with the goals for the company that senior management had. These goals included profit maximisation, loyalty and efficiency. As a result, the clerk edited staff magazines from both companies reflected this informal association.

Firstly, in both magazines criticism of the policies of the companies was prohibited. In the first issue of the SWG the editorial warned potential contributors that they did not 'think it wise' to include articles which were 'tending to a criticism of the South Western Company's policy, or the action of the company's officials.'[3] [italics in original] Subsequently, in August 1881, a contributor named 'Uno' was reminded in print that his unspecified grievances against the management would not be published.[4] While the same sort of explicit statements were not found in the GWRM, in the first issue the editorial stated that the magazine would ‘not meddle with politics, or with subjects leading to excited controversy, for those can be found ad libitum elsewhere.’[5] Thus, while it did’ not explicitly that reporters could not send in criticism of the company, it implied that ‘controversy’ which this form of correspondence would come under, was not welcome. Therefore, by excluding from these magazines’ pages competing narratives of the companies’ performance and management, the alignment of the views of the clerks and senior management is plain to see.

Secondly, both publications prominently featured financial and traffic information within their pages. From the first issue of the SWG in June 1881, up to the January 1886 number, it printed monthly details of the company's revenue, any increases or decreases compared with the corresponding month of the previous year, and the amount of revenue earned per mile of track opened. Furthermore, these statistics were usually to be found in a position of prominence on page one of each edition.[6] Similarly, the GWRM published throughout its first year (and possibly beyond) information on the GWR’s Stock and Share capital and the traffic receipts of the company in the previous month compared with the corresponding month in the previous two years. While not on the first page of the publication, these figures were in a prominent position in the magazine taking up half of a page.[7] Further, both publications published details of their companies’ half-yearly reports and of the proprietors’ meetings. Thus, the inclusion and prominent position of the traffic and financial information betrayed the fact that both editorial teams, like management, saw the success of the company in financial terms and wished to express to the readership of the centrality of profit in company activities.

The last indicator that the clerks identified with the views of management can only be found in the SWG. In June 1882 the Gazette commented on the fact that the salaried (and predominately clerical) staff had been 'left out in the cold' with regard to pay rises, while the waged grades had received increases. Responding to this, the author stated that 'it is another incontestable proof of the vital importance to the staff of good traffic returns...we trust that for the future all will do their utmost to make the line popular so the present prosperity may long continue.' This implied that employees’ wages were dependent on individual productivity and efficient working. Additionally, it held up as an example the self-sacrificing clerical staff, positioning them within the as understanding the importance of the company's financial success to their employment.[8]As such, the article was projecting the views held by the clerical staff and, by default, the management, that profit was the key consideration of company operations. It is unknown whether a similar expression was made in the GWRM (I only have one year’s worth), but hopefully further research will reveal if this was so.

While I still have a lot to do on railway company magazines, from the evidence above I can tentatively say that the clerks of both the L&SWR and GWR expressed views in their publications which were aligned with their respective companies’ managements. However, the degree to which these were held by all the companies’ clerks is unknown and to determine this is also the aim of further research.

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[1] Data collected from: The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/491 to RAIL 411/497 and RAIL 411/499 to RAIL 411/502

[2] Gourvish, Terence .R., ‘A British Business Elite: The Chief Executive Managers of the Railway Industry, 1850-1922,’ Business History, Vol. XLVII, No.3 (Autumn, 1973), p.305

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

[4] TNA, ZPER 11/1, South Western Gazette, August 1881, pp.8

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

[6] TNA, ZPER 11/1, South Western Gazette, June 1881, pp.1

[7] TNA, ZPER 19/2, Great Western Railway Magazine and Temperance Union Record, November 1888, p.7

[8] TNA, ZPER 11/1, South Western Gazette, June 1882, pp.2

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