This site is only being updated in part now. Existing full posts will still remain, but for new blogs and more information on me, please see my new website HERE

Saturday, 15 October 2011

What Did You Do Before Becoming A Railwayman in the Early Industry? - Part 1

The topic of the next few posts is new to British railway history and has never, ever, been researched in detail before beyond statements like ‘I think,’ which isn’t really useful. What I will be looking at are the occupations of early railway workers before they came to the industry. Most study of railway labour focuses the employee’s working environments, such of their hours of work, wages and promotional prospects, or their union activity. However, these issues principally affected the railway industry from the 1870s onwards and before then these topics were not as important as the formal patterns of labour management were still developing. Indeed, the repeated idea of railway work is that it ran in families, with sons following fathers into the industry. Yet, at the start of each ‘railway family’ was an individual who was not a railway employee, but decided to be one. Thus, my aim is to reveal, through research on one document, what early railwaymen did before coming to the railway.

The document I used is held in The National Archives under RAIL 410/1805 and is a staff record book listing London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) employees from the Operating, Traffic and Coaching Departments (to be hereon known as the Traffic Department) between 1837 and 1871. The information I have used were the individuals’ ‘last employment previous to entering the company’s service,’ the date they joined the company, their age on joining and the position they received. For speed of data collection other pieces of information, such as their names, locations, or who recommended them, have been left out of my research.

Before anything else is said, it is important to note how the results are spread across the decades.

Clearly, more data is available from 1850 onwards, reflecting the fact that as the company expanded its workforce grew. Across the entire period the railway employees had between them 120 different professional occupations, however, I have sorted these into twelve categories based on the economic sectors these were in. Only four individuals (1%) had professions that I could not categorise as I had no clue what they were (such is the nature of the 19th century occupational descriptions).  The distribution is shown below of their

It should be remembered that the data relates to Traffic Department employees and does not include railway workers from other departments, for example the Engineering or Locomotive Departments. Indeed, it seems that a large numbers of individuals worked for railways before entering the Traffic Department. However, analysis reveals some interesting things about how the department sourced labour. Sixty-eight department employees, or 17.25% of the entire sample, had come from railways’ secondary labour market and had undertaken jobs that had low job security, pay and poor promotional prospects. However, of these, forty-nine (72.06%) had come from the ‘Permanent Way Department’ (4) or had been a platelayers (45).

What this was suggests is that the L&NWR’s Traffic Department drew heavily on its own Permanent Way staff for employees in the period. Nevertheless, the proportion of staff moving from the Permanent Way Department to Traffic changed with time. Between 1837 and 1839 4.55% workers made the move, however, this osmosis reached its height between 1850 and 1854, when 25 of the 112 in the sample transferred (22.32%). Nevertheless, the proportion dropped thereafter, and in 1860 only one person (1.96%), John Lycett, a Police Constable at Rugeley Station, had been employed in the Permanent Way Department before starting with Traffic. The proportions are shown below.

Thus, the L&NWR’s Traffic Department increasingly drew on staff previously employed the Permanent Way Department in the 1840s and early 1850s. Presumably, this was driven by two factors. Firstly, the core of the L&NWR’s network began to be completed in the late 1840s, meaning that the number of staff the engineering establishment required diminished. However, concurrently, the business of the line was increasing, meaning that the Traffic Department required staff.  Therefore, they were happy to employ those ex-Permanent Way men who were put out of the job.  

Furthermore, from the late-1850s the number of transfers declined. Given what is known about employment in the later railway industry, it seems that by this period the department which individuals joined were usually the ones they stayed with throughout their career. Thus, the low number of transfers from Permanent Way Department to the Traffic in the late-1850s and 1860 reflects that these employment patterns were becoming established. Indeed, on the L&NWR at least, it would suggest that the idea of sons following fathers into the industry began in the late 1850s.

However, while transference out of the Permanent Way Department would have been a step-up for some railway workers, in the majority of cases their new posts were still manual one. The distribution of the posts Permanent Way staff went into after their transfers is shown below.

Indeed, given that ex-platelayers constituted forty-five of the forty-nine individuals transferred from the Permanent Way Department, and what they had been doing what was effectively the lowest ranked job in railway companies’, it is unsurprising that many took up the lowest jobs in the Traffic Department. Indeed, thirty-four (the Gatekeepers, Porters and, particularly, the Pointsmen) were all manual jobs that were the lowest rank on the promotional ladder. Also, Police Constables, that worked for the companies’ private police forces, were basically hired muscle, and were also low-ranked jobs. Only two individuals, the two ‘[Station] Agents,’ were part of the L&NWR’s ‘primary labour market,’ which had high job security, steady pay and promotional prospects. These were John Robinson, who had transferred in August 1846 from being a Permanent Way Inspector, and George Turner, who had transferred in November 1851 from being a platelayer.

Thus, what has been learned is that the L&NWR’s traffic department employed large numbers of ex-Permanent Way Department employees, that these individuals usually transferred from low-paid manual jobs into low-paid manual positions in the Traffic Department, and that by the late 1850s, because employment patterns were becoming more established, these moves became less common. Indeed, this would suggest that as the railway industry became more mature, the opportunity for upward mobility declined as people were tied to the department with which they started.

In the next post I will look at the other individuals in the sample who came to the L&NWR’s Traffic Department from outside the railway.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...