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Thursday, 25 August 2011

100 Disciplinary Actions - A Glimpse of Railway Discipline in the 1860s

Although there has been much commentary in the literature on the subject of railway discipline, there has been no quantitative work on the extent to which the railway companies actually employed the three main methods of punishment: fines, demotions and dismissals. Thus, I thought I would review a railway company’s ‘Black Book’ of disciplinary actions to see how frequently each method was used. While there are a number of Black Books have been digitised (by Ancestry.com), I chose one from the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) which covers some of 1862 and 1863. Naturally, I couldn’t analyse all the 90-odd pages of entries for a blog post and so I restricted myself to a hundred that were entered between 1st August and 7th November 1862.

Fines were clearly the most regularly imposed punishment. However, the amount of money that employees had taken off them for offences varied from six pence to five shillings depending on the seriousness of their infringements.

Clearly, the company imposed the lowest and highest fines infrequently. Only in one case was an employee fined six pence. In August J.H. Ainscough, a Telegraph Clerk at Victoria, was reported for the ‘wrong delivery of a telegraph message.’ At the higher end of the fine spectrum, only three individuals received the maximum fine of five shillings. In October two Porters at Victoria Station, Messrs Ireland and Conherr, were fined this amount for ‘getting drunk and fighting in a public house.’ Evidently, the company’s reputation was at stake and managers weren’t going to tolerate individuals damaging it while off the premises. The third five pound fine was given to W. Lebbage, a signalman at Brighton station. Possibly this was two fines rolled into one as he both ‘neglected his signals and points whereby an engine was thrown off the road’ and had ‘strangers in his box.’ Whether the two offences were related is unknown.

Most of the employees, fifty-nine out of the hundred, received a one shilling fine, possibly suggesting that this was a ‘standard’ rate. The most common offence to incur this, which was imposed in twenty-five cases, was the rather mundane transgression of ‘coming on duty late.’ The other one shilling fines were imposed for a range minor infringements of the rules or neglect of duties. In August at London Bridge Station four porters, named Gutsell, Peel, Pinter and Burns, were all fined for ‘running alongside of trains and catching hold of the doors while trains are running into station contrary to order.’ In September a C. Cartwright was fined for ‘putting a passenger in the wrong part of 10.50 am train on [the] 12th August.’ Later that month a Guard, J. Croft, was fined for ‘Causing detention of luggage that was put out at Forest Hill by mistake instead of at New Wandsworth’ Station.

Higher fines of 2 shillings (6 instances) and 2 shillings 6 pence (10 instances) were given regularly for more serious offences. Eight employees were fined for causing damage to property, whether it was the LB&SCR’s, other railway companies’ or private individuals’. G. Fulman, a Guard at Victoria, was fined 2 shillings 6 pence in October for ‘causing damage to a first class carriage by not seeing to the proper fastening of the door.’ In September T. Hawkings, a Van Foreman at Brighton, was fined 2 shillings for ‘Loading a van too high whereby roof of shed at Redhill was damaged.’ Other fines of these amounts were imposed for individuals, such as signalmen, delaying trains or for operational errors. T. Eldridge, a Guard based at London Bridge, was fined 2 shillings 6 pence in October for ‘shunting his train without signal from the underguard and leaving several passengers behind.’

Only for very serious offences were individuals dismissed and twenty examples were recorded. Two offences were guaranteed to end an employee’s career, being absent without leave (four instances) or being drunk (one instance). Indeed, in three cases, those of Baldstone, Graves and Baker, the two offences were committed at once. The other frequent cause of dismissal was serious neglect of one’s duty. In this period porters occasionally doubled-up as guards. Thus, two porters, W. Balley of Victoria and A. Allen of Balcome, were both dismissed for falling asleep while doing this duty. But not all individuals were asleep when committing transgressions, and J. Bailey, a signalman at Balham, was evidently fully awake when he was fired for playing cards on duty in August. Only in two cases was actual criminal activity involved, the most serious being that of J. Baker, a Porter at London Bridge, who was fired in September for ‘stealing a £5 note from a passenger.’ He was ‘sentenced to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour.’ While Baker was fired for trying to do something surreptitiously, T. Mead, a Porter at Carshalton, clearly wasn’t. In September he was fired for ‘use of filthy language to one of our customers.’

In the entire sample only one individual was demoted. S Brown was a Lampman at Victoria when he was found not to be up to the job. Consequently, in October he was reduced to being a porter and his wages dropped from twenty-six to eighteen shillings a week.

Naturally, this is only a small sample of the disciplinary actions the LB&SCR took during its existence. Indeed, I have only given some basic statistics and highlighted interesting cases. But the LB&SCR wasn’t unusual in punishing their their employee's transgressions of the rule book by these methods. Therefore, a more detailed quantitative study of Victorian railway discipline is required. Issues surrounding how much individuals were fined, the types of offences that employees faced dismissal for, and how these changed over the decades needs to be seriously addressed and analysed.

All taken from: The National Archives: RAIL 414/759, Names, offences, punishments etc, of various members of operating staff (black book), 1862-1863, p.1-11

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