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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

English Shareholders, Scottish Passengers and Stopping Trains for God in 1846

Interestingly, the running of trains on Sunday in England and Wales was more common in the industry’s formative years. Indeed, Simmons stated that in 1887 20.1% of the nation’s railways were closed to passengers on Sunday, yet in 1847 this figure had only been 2.6%.[1] In 1847, the Board of Trade requested that every railway company in Britain submit a return detailing the number of Sunday trains that they ran. The result was that the 55 British railway companies (not including Irish companies) ran 530 scheduled services on ‘the Sabbath.’

However, within this sample there was a very distinct difference in practice between Scottish railway companies and those located south of the border. Of the 55 railway companies in the sample 38 were based in England and Wales (69%). However, these companies ran 514 of the Sunday trains listed (97%), leaving only 16 trains operating in Scotland. It could be argued that this was because many of the Scottish railway companies were smaller in size. Indeed, the Scottish companies that did run Sunday trains were amongst the largest in the country. For example, the North British railway company ran 6 trains. Yet, with such a small number of trains running, comparative to the size of the network, it can only be concluded that there was some unique reason for the difference in operating levels on Sundays in Scotland.[2]

The case of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway (E&GR), listed on parliamentary papers as running 4 mail trains only on Sunday, is an interesting case that perhaps reveals why in many cases trains were not run. When the line was opened in February 1842 the company immediately put on morning and evening trains on Sunday. These conveyed 1000s of passengers each day but were scheduled to avoid the hours when worship was undertaken.[3]

Yet, this policy, which was seemingly an unusual occurrence amongst the Scottish railway companies, soon displeased the shareholders of the company. Indeed, at the first shareholder’s meeting of the company after the line had opened on the 24th February 1842, much of it was consumed by debate over the Sunday trains. Indeed, the chairman, Mr Leadbetter, stated that he had received 203 memorials against the running of trains on that day from reverends, church groups and private individuals.[4] Yet, for all their campaigning, the memorialists failed to change company policy on this occasion. Subsequently, at every meeting of the proprietors of the E&GR thereafter, those against Sunday trains proposed motions to stop them.

All of these motions failed. However, in 1846 the shareholders of the company took a different approach. The English shareholders forced out the directors of the company and replaced them with some of their number who approved of shutting the railway on Sundays.[5] As had become usual, at the January 1846 meeting one of the shareholders, Sir Andrew Agnew, proposed a motion: “That no work be done on this railway on the Lord’s Day according to the Fourth Commandment of the moral law.” This was supported after memorials were presented by many individuals, including a Mr Blackadder who presented two from the Scottish Observance Committee and the Free Church of Scotland.[6] Once again the vote failed.

However, between then and August E&GR shareholders opposed to Sabbath running mobilised. At a meeting at a company’s headquarters on August 24th, the holders of 2000 shares met to discuss the management and direction of the company. While there were many issues to deal with, such as failed amalgamation attempts with other companies and the profitability of the company, Sunday running was a key issue. The events of the meeting were summed up in the words of the Daily News after the event. The English shareholders had ‘crossed the border in person [having previously voted by proxy], attacked the directors in their city of Glasgow, overthrown the old dynasty and installed themselves on the vacant throne.’

To the dismay of the Daily News the first act of the new directors was not to improve the company’s operation, but to stop Sunday trains.[7] This, clearly had a detrimental effect on the company’s profits. In Parliament in 1849 Joseph Locke, the noted railway engineer and at that point M.P. for Honiton, stated that the ‘New directors came in… [and] closed the railway on Sunday. And thus the Sabbath party, though a small fraction of the entire proprietary, succeeded in their object, and those who obtained power had managed to reduce the dividends below what they were before.’[8]

Furthermore, the stopping of Sunday trains was against the wishes of the travelling public. The Liverpool Mercury reported that many of the people who used them ‘consider it the “unkindest cut of all” and that the public were ‘resolved to resist the resolution’ that ordered the trains to be abandoned. Indeed, it was stated by the paper that the Sunday running was of worth, in that it brought many individuals to church and that the trains’ use was not for recreation but the promotion of religious activity.[9] Indeed, in February 1847, the Earl of Lincoln presented a petition to the House of Commons from the people of Linlithgow against the ceasing of Sunday running.[10]But, this did not succeed, and the E&G had train-free Sundays for decades after.

The interesting thing about this case is that it was the English proprietors, who could use Sunday trains in their own country, who stopped them in Scotland. The reason for this hypocrisy was alluded to in the Railway Chronicle of January 1847. Discussing the E&GR case it stated that ‘the English public demands Sunday trains, the Scotch rejects them.’ Indeed, it suggested that the halting of Sunday trains was because of the fact that Scotland was ‘pre-eminently a religious nation.’[11] Indeed, the fact that this was a factor in the English delegation of E&GR shareholder’s decision was reinforced by a letter from them to the rest of the proprietors in March 1847.[12]

Therefore, this was a case of stereotyping combined with religious fervour, which had almost universally negative effect. A few very vocal and religiously active English shareholders forced on the Scottish travelling public a change which they thought they wanted. Yet, clearly the shareholders held a view of the Scottish passenger’s religiosity that wasn’t in line with reality, as the stoppage of Sunday trains was against the actual wishes of the E&GR customers. Furthermore, these shareholders allowed their religious fervour to override any considerations about the profitability and performance of the company, stopping the Sunday trains which were profitable. Indeed, it is quite possible that the English shareholders’ actions may even been borne of some frustration amongst the shareholders at not being able to change the state of Sunday trains in England and Wales.


[1] Simmons, Jack, The Victorian Railway, (London, 1991), p.286

[2] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers [HCCP] 1847 (167) Railways. Copy of all regulations of every railway company on the subject to travelling on Sunday.

[3] Hansard, HC Deb 25 April 1849 vol 104 cc831-48,

[4] Caledonian Mercury, Thursday, February 24, 1842; Issue 19053

[5] Liverpool Mercury, Friday, October 30, 1846; Issue 1852

[6] Caledonian Mercury, Thursday, February 26, 1846; Issue 19549

[7] Daily News, Wednesday, October 28, 1846; Issue 129

[8] Hansard, HC Deb 25 April 1849 vol 104 cc831-48,

[9] Liverpool Mercury, Friday, October 30, 1846; Issue 1852

[10] Dundee Courier, Tuesday, February 23, 1847; pg.1

[11]The Railway Chronicle, reprinted in, The Bury and Norwich Post, and East Anglian , Wednesday, January 13, 1847; Issue 3368

[12] Glasgow Herald, Monday, March 1, 1847; Issue 4600.

[13] Simmons, The Victorian Railway, p.287

1 comment:

  1. A very curious tale. Given that there are still enclaves in the western isles where trading and the use of playgrounds etc. is forbidden on Sundays, I would have expected Scottish railways to have a more conservative attitude to Sunday trains. The fact that the 'Wee Free' is thrown into the mix only three years after the 'disruption' makes me wonder if the 'English' directors here were actually 'non-conformist' presbyterians who sympathised with the 'Wee Free' element. Possibly this was a way to hit out at elements of society that were seen to be damaging the spiritual side of the church.


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