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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Love, Leisure and Rowing - The Pleasures of a Railway Clerk in Kingston in 1878

As the last blog post that I wrote on the diary of Sam Fay generated so much interest, I thought I’d just do a general piece about it as it is not a something that could be published (at only 47 pages long). However, it is probably one of the few examples of a personal diary from the late Victorian period that is just a record of everyday events. Apart from one important set of entries pertaining to a major event in the history of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR), the contents to the author must have been quite mundane. Yet, for the social historian it is a fascinating insight into the lives of individuals who, like you and I, were just trying to go about their lives.

But first, a little bit about Sam Fay, one of Britain’s great railwaymen. He was born in Hamble-le-rice in Hampshire in 1856 to Joshua Fay, a farmer. He went to Blenheim House School in Fareham, and because his farther had contacts within the L&SWR’s Audit Office, joined the company as a junior clerk at Itchen Abbas station in 1872. After moving around various stations in 1876 he was posted to Kingston, and after some time there he was moved into the Traffic Superintendent’s office in 1884 as second clerk. Soon he was promoted to Chief Clerk and was eventually removed to the Storekeeper’s Department, becoming the Storekeepers Assistant in 1891.[2] He resigned a year later take up the post of General Manager on the ailing Midland and South Western Junction Railway. After turning the company around, was appointed the L&SWR’s Superintendent of the Line in 1899, staying only three years before becoming General Manager of the Great Central Railway (GCR) in 1901. He retired from the post in 1922. In his time at the GCR, he had also been deputy of the Railway Executive Committee (REC), that run Britain’s Railways in World War One, and in 1917 was appointed Director of Movements for the War Office.[3] For more information, read the Wikipedia page, however, for now, let us go back to 1878 when Fay was working at Kingston.

Fay was in love. Frances Ann Farbrother, or ‘Trottie’ as Fay called her, being the object of his affections. He wrote on the Sunday 10th January that ‘I seem to love her more and more, not so passionately perhaps, but with a purer, holier love than of yore.’[4] Evidently, by 1878, Frances was part of Fay’s fantasies about the future; ‘in sober moments,’ he commented ‘my thoughts plan out my future, they make me chief clerk at some good station with my darling Trottie, in charge of a small country station and eventually of a large one – “man proposes but God disposes.”’[5]

They had been courting for some time, and by May they were engaged. However, this was seemingly behind his family’s back. A diary entry about a potential visit to his family in Hampshire, states that he had sent a letter to his father asking whether he was allowed to bring Frances with him. He wrote, ‘he [father] does not know Trottie and I are engaged, the result will be a row.’[6] It is clear that there was something amiss in Victorian society against engagements occurring without the family being aware. His father wrote back that Trottie was welcome to visit and stay as long as she wished. Indeed, his mother ‘will also be delighted to meet my friend.’ Evidently, until it was official in the eyes of the family, a friend was all Frances would be.[7] Ultimately, Fay’s fears about the secrecy of his engagement seem to be unfounded, and it is clear that Frances was soon absorbed as part of the family. When the visit finally came in early June ‘Trottie got on first rate with all of them.’[8]

Sport was one of Fay’s great loves. I have written in this blog about football amongst railwaymen, however, it seems that Fay was a regular player of an early version Rugby Football. On the 16th January he played against the Clarendon Club at Kingston, who ‘got one try the best of us.’ Indeed, Fay was ‘ducedly knocked about, a good kick in the shins, a bloody nose and various knocks and ugly tumbles.’[9]On the 16th March he played against Kings College and ‘beat them by one goal and a try.’[10] Yet, ‘Football,’ as he called was not as important to Fay as rowing, a love affair that was started on 20th March when he was elected a member of Kingston rowing club.[11] Once elected, this seemingly consumed his free time, ‘Trottie doesn’t like this rowing business because it keeps me away from her rather late.’[12] However, rowing was seemingly done by most of the clerical staff at the station, including Osborne, a fellow Clerk,[13] and Mr Petit, the Station Agent.[14] Thus, it may have been a social norm that members of the salaried staff at Kingston joined the rowing club. Once rowing, Fay competed in regattas against his fellows at the club,[15] as well as against teams from others.[16] In the winter, when things were more sedate, ice skating was the order of the day. And on Christmas Day Fay and Walter, Frances’ brother, went skating in Bushy Park.[17]

Entertainment beyond sport did not seem to be a great part of Fay’s life, probably because of the lack of theatres or music halls in Kingston at the time. On the 12th February did Fay and Frances go to the ‘Drill Hall,’[18] whatever that was. However, London seemed to be where Fay went to be entertained. In August he went with someone called John for some ‘music’ in London, after which he had some ‘lager beer and a glass of good wine at a House on the Strand where they keep it on draught.’[19] Two days later, he visited the Criterion Theatre, with John and Walter, and saw ‘Pink Dominos,’ which he ‘enjoyed very much.’[20] This was followed by a tip with Frances to the Alhambra Theatre which he did not find so agreeable.[21] In mid-November the fair came to Kingston and on the evening of the 13th Fay strolled around with his fellow clerk, Osborne. It seems this caused a disagreement with Frances who wished to go. In his diary Fay commented that he did not take her because ‘I do not consider it a proper place for females to go.’[22] What it was about the fair that led Fay to this conclusion is unknown. However, what this entry does reflect is the trend that shines through in the diary, that Frances’ social life was very much tied to that of Fay’s and that she had little say in her social activities. Thus, the diary reveals the patriarchal nature of Victorian society and the social positions that men and women were expected to take at the time.

Socialising with others, whether it was with Frances, Fay’s friends, fellow club-members or relatives, was a big part of his life. It is clear that he did a lot of walking with people, ‘went for a walk round Surbiton with Trottie in the afternoon to Ham Church.’[23] Indeed, it seems a lot of this ‘walking’ took place in the local area and included Ham, Surbiton, and the local tourist attraction of Hampton Court. ‘For a walk with Trottie to Hampton Court in the afternoon, got caught in a snow storm, it also blew a hurricane and as we came over Bushy Park it nearly blew us off our legs.’[24] In October Fay ‘went up to Uncles in the evening sung a few hymns, smoked a cigar or two done a glass of whisky and home to bed.’[25]

However, aside from these leisurely activities there were parties to attend. In May Mrs Gardiner of the Adelaide Inn in Teddington (a pub I have frequented many a time) got married to Mr Craddock, a grocer from Kingston market place. Fay rather annoyed Frances by having several dances at the reception with ‘Miss Tilbury, Miss Hall, Miss Louie Gardiner and Miss Dawn.’ Indeed, it seems that she was most annoyed by Fay ‘doing a step with young Gardiner.’ However, things were soon smoothed over as they ‘had a stroll around the garden with the Old Lady [Frances] about midnight.’[26] In late October it was the rowing club dinner hosted by the Mayor of Kingston and the menu was quite special; ‘turbot and oyster sauce, then stewed eels, turkey and sausages, a leg of fowl, a half a partridge, then some hare, jelly, cheese and celery, finishing with desert; a bottle of Hock, 2 quart bottles of pale ale, 2 bottles of champagne between the four of us.’ Indeed this was accompanied by some ‘speeches and songs’ to what Fay called a very ‘select party.’[27] Celebration, of major events or just parties, was clearly a part of the social life of a railway clerk.

I think sometimes we are quick to see the Victorians, especially what would be termed ‘respectable individuals,’ as being very stoic and boring. While from the diary it is clear that Sam Fay worked very hard at his job, it is also evident that he had a very rich life in Kingston engaging in sport, entertainment, tourism, leisure and love. Indeed, I have not included everything that Fay did in 1878 as this would double the length of this post. Overall, Fay never seemed to complain about his life and remained positive about what was in his future. In many ways, Sam Fay was just like you or I, trying to get on in the world, trying to be happy and having a good time as he went.


[2] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/492, Clerical staff character book No. 2, 1838 – 1919, p.711


[4] Bill Fay Collection [BFC], Sam Fay Diary, 10th January 1878

[5] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 11th March 1878

[6] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 16th May 1878

[7] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 22nd May 1878

[8] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 7th June 1878

[9] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 16th January 1878

[10] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 16th March 1878

[11] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 20th March 1878

[12] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 7th May 1878

[13] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 12th June 1878

[14] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 4th April 1879

[15] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 3rd July 1878

[16] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 1st August 1878

[17] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 25th December 1878

[18] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 12th March 1878

[19] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 27th August 1878

[20] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 29th August 1878

[21] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 28th October 1878

[22] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 13th November 1878

[23] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 10th January 1878

[24] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 24th March 1878

[25] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 6th October 1878

[26] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 13th May 1878

[27] BFC, Sam Fay Diary, 30th October 1878

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting - more from a social aspect rather than just a Railway one.


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