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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I was a Schoolboy, a Soldier, a Labourer. Recruitment in the Early Railway Industry - Part 2

In my last post I discussed research I have been doing on  professions that the earliest railway workers had before they joined the London and North Western Railway’s (L&NWR) Operating, Traffic and Coaching Department (to be hereon known as the Traffic Department) between 1837 and 1871. Previously, I looked at sixty-eight individuals (out of 400) who had been employed in the company’s Engineering Department before to coming to the Traffic Department. In this post I will start to focus on the remaining 332 men who, before coming to the L&NWR, were employed in jobs outside the company.

As stated, for ease of interpretation I have categorised the 400 workers into the following fourteen categories (Note, there is one slight modification from the table presented in the last post because an error was found.)
Firstly, only a very small proportion of the individuals, twenty-three out of the 400 (5.75%), had no prior employment before coming to the railway. This was reflected in their ages. The youngest of them were three boys of thirteen, two of which were appointed as Booking Clerks and another of which became an ‘assistant agent.’ The oldest individual in the sample was James Nicholson, the [Station] Agent at Bulkington, who was listed as being thirty-six.  Yet, because of his age and his position of responsibility it is highly implausible that he had done nothing before coming to the railway. Overall, apart from Nicholson and two other individuals, the rest were all under the age of eighteen.

However, more interesting conclusions can be made about changes in the L&NWR's recruitment processes. Only four of the individuals who had had no prior profession were recruited in the 1830s and 1840s (3.57% of the 121 individuals recruited in these years). Furthermore, only three of these men were engaged in the early 1850s (2.67% of 112 new employees). Thus, this leaves sixteen that were appointed between 1855 and 1860 (12.80% of 125 individuals). Clearly, in the railway's emergent years it was principally recruiting individuals who had experience of other industries. However, in the late-1850s did it start to recruit people straight out of school, and this is presumably when families’ decades-long associations with the railways began.

The positions that these individuals went into are also of interest. In this period only two went into the secondary labour market (with low weekly pay, low job security and few promotional prospects), becoming a policeman and pointsman. Indeed, the twenty remaining took up positions as agents, clerks and assistant agents (all clerical positions), and, thus, were in the primary labour market (with high job security, promotional prospects and good pay). Consequently, because only sixty-six of the individuals in the overall sample of 400 went into the primary labour market, the L&NWR’s Traffic Department evidently was recruiting a large number of school-leavers into clerical positions before 1860, possibly because of a skills shortage in the economy. But, importantly, this data also signals that by 1860 the distinction between the two labour markets, the jobs they encompassed and what sort of individuals went into them, were well-defined.

One of the most repeated stories about early railway managers was that their ranks were dominated by senior military men, as they were the only ones that had experience of administering large organisations. However, in four previous blogs (starting here) I have clearly showed the error of this assertion. Nevertheless, my interest in the transference of skills from the military to the early railways meant that I was on the look-out for soldiers and sailors when doing this study.

Of the 400 railway workers in my sample only twenty-eight (7.00%) had been in the military before being employed by the L&NWR. Six had been in the royal navy (two as Royal Marines), with twenty-two being ex-soldiers. All bar three of the individuals went into the secondary labour market. Indeed, it is no surprise that fourteen joined the railway police as presumably the discipline of military training made them suitable for this position. Additionally, eight others received manual positions where strength was required, three becoming porters and five taking up posts as pointsmen.

As for when the individuals were appointed, it seems that there was a consistent stream of soldiers and sailors moving from the military to the railway between 1837 and 1860. Indeed, of those employees who joined in the late-1830s, ex-military men made up 9.09% of these. This increased to 11.1% in the early-1840s, but decreased to 7.14% in the early 1850s. However, thereafter the proportion rose again to 9.80% in 1860. In the early-1840s there was seemingly an anomalous result as only 1.59% of the sixty-three new railway workers appointed in the period had been in the army or navy. The reason for this anomaly is unknown.

The profession that most of those in the sample were engaged in before coming to the Traffic Department was that of ‘labourer’ (apart from those who had worked in the Engineering Department). Anyone who has used the census’ will testify how ambiguous this job description is. Indeed, only in six cases out of the sixty-two ex-labourers was more information available (one carter, one collier, two quarraymen and two warehousemen). Unsurprisingly, all the ex-labourers went into the secondary labour market and the positions that they were appointed to in the greatest numbers were as porters (17), pointsmen (19) and policemen (8). Additionally, they also obtained positions as foremen, gatemen, greaser and shaklers (whatever they were) or signalmen. Therefore, the majority of ex-labourers went from strenuous positions to strenuous positions. However, it is quite possible that the railways paid better than their previous employers.

Of more interest is that the proportion of new Traffic Department staff that had been labourers declined over the period. Between 1837 and 1839 they constituted 27.2% of all those appointed. Yet, in the early-1840s this dropped to 18.5%, in the late-1840s the proportion was 15.8%, in the early 1850s it rose slightly to 16.1%, but declined again in the late-1850s to 14.4%. Lastly, in 1860 they constituted only 9.8% of all new staff.

This suggests that changes occurred in the national economy, as well as within the railway companies. Firstly, it would appear that the simple description of ‘labourer’ was becoming less common as time progressed, possibly as new trades were started, new inventions were created and the economy diversified in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Furthermore, and as will be shown in the next post, the reducing number of ex-labourers, who would have had only poor education at best, suggests that the L&NWR was increasing looking to recruit into secondary labour market men with better schooling or even better backgrounds. Only an investigation of the company's files have the potential to prove this.

Overall, this post has revealed that between 1837 and 1860 the L&NWR’s Traffic Department refined who it wished to recruit into its ranks. In the 1830s the new company was recruiting a far higher proportion of poorly educated individuals whose experiences were limited to labouring work. Indeed, school leavers did not feature highly.  Yet, by 1860 most positions that new railway workers were appointed to were highly dependent on their prior experiences and education, as well as being defined by the strict parameters of the company’s primary and secondary labour markets. Thus, it is clear that between 1837 and 1860 the norms of railway employment of the later nineteenth century were developed. In the last post of this series this will be demonstrated further.

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