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Saturday 17 January 2015

Britain’s first railway? Business and Beaumont

Two lines originally thought to have been built around one year apart fight it out for the claim to be the ‘first’ British railway - this post explores the history of one of them. Huntingdon Beaumont was born at Coleorton in Leicestershire in around 1560, the youngest son of Sir Nicholas and Ann Beaumont. They exploited the rich supplies of coal within their estate and it is here that the young Huntingdon learned the business of mining. Driven by his insatiable energy, clear vision, but a reckless streak, in 1601 he moved to Nottinghamshire, and using what he had learnt at his parents’ mining business leased and worked coal pits at Wollaton, Strelley and Bilborough...

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Thursday 13 November 2014

Don't Confuse Your Bradshaws

One of the questions I frequently get asked as a railway historian is “do you ever watch the Michael Portillo show? You know, the one where he goes around with a Bradshaw’s Guide?” Usually, I respond that I don’t very often. This is not because I dislike the show, I just lack the time to watch it. I nonetheless think the BBC produced an excellent program that has re-awakened national interest in the Victorian railways and their legacy; this is to be celebrated. Where previously railway history books were relegated to a bottom, lonely shelf in bookshops, now they can lay claim to whole bays.
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Tuesday 15 July 2014

From nothing to everything: the development of the career railway worker

It has been proclaimed in many places, at many times that before 1914 a job on the railway was a job for life.  Railway workers' careers apparently followed a set course: starting out in their teenage years, employees would undergo some form of apprenticeship, gradually move up through the ranks of their department, and would eventually retire at the age of 60 or 65. Throughout, in return for diligent and obedient service – a form of supplication to the law of the railway - employees received a high degree of job security, the opportunity to rise into positions of authority and, at the end of their careers, that rarity of the Victorian world: a pension.[1]

But these patterns of employment had to have been instituted by company managers and directors at some point. The idea of a career railway worker would have been an alien concept to all railway staff in 1840, perhaps even as late as the 1850s. Yet by the 1890s, if you wanted it, obeyed the rules and did not find better employment (or for that matter were killed when doing your duties – a sadly not uncommon occurrence), the railway could easily be your home for life.
Pinpointing when the ‘career’ railway employee came into existence is not easy. Amongst a multitude of small railway companies, by the 1860s Victorian Britain was the possessor twelve large ones, each of which instituted different employment policies at different points. To add to the melee of confusion, railway workers were divided amongst themselves with regard to pay, working conditions and status. The status and pay of a platelayer, fixing and maintaining the track day in day out, was far lower that the engineman driving the train past him. The clerical staff – who were the only staff  in Traffic Departments who had any realistic chance of entering management if they had the talent and ambition – likely looked down on the porters, pushing suitcases and boxes around station all day. This staff separatism, which management frequently encouraged to keep the staff divided, lest they undertake some collective action over wages or working conditions, meant that industry decision-makers usually determined recruitment and employment policies on a grade-by-grade basis. Standardisation within a company was definitely not the norm.

Nonetheless, despite these issues, general conclusions about when the career railway worker emerged onto the industrial landscape are possible. As early as the 1850s the career railway clerk started appearing. Before then clerical work on the railways was not acknowledged as being particularly unique – the industry being very young – and so the companies recruited the talented, of any age, from wherever they could. For example, on joining the London and South Western Railway[2] as a clerk at the age of thirty-five in 1835, no doubt after being in some other clerical position, William Mears would likely never have entertained the idea that he would retire in 1881.

Yet, very gradually, from the 1840s onwards, the railways established regulations for the recruitment and employment of clerks. In 1846 the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) laid down regulations for incremental pay and promotion amongst clerks, a preference for filling vacancies internally and a set age range for new apprentice clerks – fourteen to sixteen. [4] Other railways did the same around this time; the LSWR brought in some rules around 1843;[5] although rigid formalisation of its promotional and pay procedures was not deemed necessary until the early-1850s.[6]

For the rest of the staff – known as the ‘wages grades’ - the structured railway career started much later. The 1870s saw the Great Western Railway (GWR) progressively specify the route careers should take, when staff should be promoted and their pay each step of the way.[7] Similar rules for new police and porters on the LNWR, as well as a minimum height of 5ft 7in (although this likely came into force earlier), were formalised in 1860. Such regulations, which governed recruitment and the notion of career on the railways into the twentieth century, had become the norm throughout the industry by the 1870s. [8]

Despite the institution of these rules, they did not immediately give birth to a culture where railway employment was automatically considered a lifelong vocation. Did the teenager joining the railway as a junior clerk, lad porter or engine cleaner in the 1870s think they would be with the company until retirement? It is improbable they could be sure of this. Surrounding new recruits were old hands. These older men may have believed in the security railway work provided, they may even have realised the jobs they were doing were their last, but they would have understood that not everyone stayed with the railway until the end of their working lives. They had been losing colleagues to pastures new (or destitution) for decades – a fact they would undoubtedly have imparted this fact to newcomers. In the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway’s case, sixteen per cent of all employees resigned or were dismissed in 1865-69.[9]

The understanding that working on the railways was a lifelong vocation only emerged around 1880s and 1890s, when almost all staff had been with the industry from their teens. Within the Great Eastern Railway, for example, the recognisable facets of railway employment – recruitment at an early age, clearly defined career paths and vacancies being filled by individuals on a lower rung of a promotional ladder – became embedded between 1875 and 1905, with the decisive years being between 1885 and 1895.

The developing idea that railway staff were in a lifelong career manifest itself in other ways in this period. The first railway staff magazines, the South Western Gazette and Great Western Railway Magazine (and Temperance Union Record), appeared in 1881 and 1888 respectively. The magazines’ content of news, reports and informative articles about the railways’ activities reflected employees’ deep connection with the railway and its family of staff, which in part were bound together by their common state: a railway employee for life. Railway employment as a lifelong pursuit was also a factor in the rise of the railway labour movement after 1870. The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants started in 1871, the General Railway Workers Railway Union established itself in 1889 and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen came into existence in 1880. [10] Railway workers took pride in their work, looked out for each other and, thus, fought hard as a group for the improved pay and working conditions they deserved. Had railway workers believed their time on the railway was limited, fleeting even, the establishment of such movements would have been unlikely: the fight would have been a redundant enterprise.

There was no such thing as a lifelong railway worker in 1840. This idea, which constitutes a fundamental part of the popular conception of the railway history, developed slowly over many decades, at different speeds in different places. There was an evolution; in the early years of the industry men (and some women) just happened to work on the railway, by the 1890s they proudly called themselves ‘railwaymen’ (and railwaywomen).


[1] Peter Howlett, ‘The Internal Labour Dynamics of the Great Eastern Railway Company, 1870-1913', Economic History Review, 57, 2 (2004): 404
[2] Then named the London and Southampton Railway.
[3] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/492, Clerical staff character book No. 2, 414
[4] TNA, RAIL 410/1876, London and North Western Railway Company: Records. STAFF RECORDS. Salaries alteration book, 1-3
[5] TNA, RAIL 411/1, Court of Directors Minute Book, 11 August 1843
[6] TNA, RAIL 411/216, Special Committee Minute Book, ? January 1859
[7] Mike Savage, ‘Discipline, Surveillance and the “Career”: employment on the Great Western Railway 1833-1914’, in Foucault, Management and Organisational Theory, ed. Alan McKinlay and Ken Starkey, (London: Sage, 1998), 81-82
[8] TNA, RAIL 410/1829, Conditions of service; retiring allowances; scales of pay and other general staff matters: papers, Regulations as to Appointments, Extracts from the Minutes of the Board of Directors, 10 March 1860
[9] P.W. Kingsford, Victorian Railwaymen, (Frank Cass & Co., 1970), 42
[10] David Howell, Respectable Radicals: Studies in the politics of railway trade unionism, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), 6

Saturday 18 January 2014

Railways and 'the beautiful game' before 1914: football, fans and formalisation

Recently I have been doing some work on how the railways of Britain influence the development of organised sport  before 1914 and most of my investigations have focussed on the ‘beautiful game’: football. Early forms of football, which used rules that may have borne only a passing similarity to those in the current game, was being played in public schools from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.[1] However, by the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries going to a football match was on the nation’s favourite pastimes. The question I have therefore been asking is to what extent to were the railways a factor in transforming football (and while we are thinking about it rugby) from a ramshackle game into the popular spectator sport it is today? Were the railways a key factor because of the improved transportation they provided, or did other, non-railway factors play a role, for example urbanisation or increasing incomes and leisure time amongst working class individuals? This issue can be split into two parts. Firstly, to what degree did the railways augment the number of spectators going to matches? And, secondly, how did it change participation in the game? 

I’ll start by talking about how attendance at football matches was augmented by the railways. The traditional view was that the railways played a big role, and some have argued that the improved transport communications they brought widened the population’s access to sporting events generally. L. H. Curzon was a proponent of this idea. In 1892 he wrote ‘today the railways convey the masses in large numbers to the different seats of sport’.[2] Years later this view was echoed by scholars. Vamplew argued that that ‘railways revolutionised sport by widening the catchment area for spectators,’[3] while Simmons concurred, stating that they ‘contributed to the growth of spectator sports.’[4] While not directly mentioning football, these statements heavily imply that these academics believed that that the railways were a major factor in its development as a popular spectator sport after the 1870s.

Recently, however, this view fallen out of favour. Huggins and Tilson argue that the role of the railways in the growth of football spectatorship from the 1870s onwards has been overstated. Most supporters rarely ventured to away matches, except in the case of a local derby or an important cup tie. Indeed, the vast majority of fans travelled to local matches by foot and, from the 1890s, by electric tram.[5] David Goldblatt, a noted football historian, agreed, arguing that ‘apart from local derbies away fans were almost absent [from matches] during the’ whole of the period between 1880 and 1914.[6]  Exemplifying this, even when a special train accommodation was put on for away fans by the railway companies it was not well used. In 1886 Middlesbrough F.C. was to play Lincoln in an early round of the F.A. Cup. The railway provided a special saloon carriage for away fans, but only 200 excursionists travelled by it, which included the team and officials.[7] 

So why did football fans not travel to away matches that often? Primarily, it was because of economic and time constraints. Most did not have the money to travel to away matches, while in an era when many employed individuals worked on Saturday morning, they also lacked the time to traverse the hundreds of miles to an away fixture.[8] As such, there is a good case for saying that growth of football spectatorship after the 1870s, particularly amongst the working classes, was not because of the improved transportation the railways provided. Rather, other factors played a role, for example working individuals' increased disposable income. 

But what about participation in football? Here academics are broadly in agreement that the railways played a much bigger role in its development, mainly through allowing teams to play games outside their locality, as Mason has argued.[9] McDowell has suggested the growth of Cumnock in Scotland as a football centre has ‘as much to do with access to railways as to mere corporate acumen.’[10] Lastly, Golblatt similarly argued that by the 1880s trains allowed the bigger teams to conduct Easter and Christmas tours.[11] For example, in December 1902 Dundee United conducted its Christmas tour, visiting Derby and Newcastle. A journalist reported that ‘Whilst I write we are en route for Newcastle where the United are met on St James’ Park. It is a seven hours’ journey from Derby to Newcastle – 19 hours in a railway train out of 36 hours is not at all pleasant.’[12] 

Alongside this, the railways were also important in the growth of formal football associations and leagues. The Football League, for example, recruited teams to it on the basis of their distance from a station. The result was that Sunderland was not elected to it initially because the Midland clubs felt that transportation costs to play games in the city were excessive.[13] But it is important, as Huggins and Tolson suggest, not to see the railways as a ‘panacea’ for team sports, as many football clubs had to shorten postpone and cancel games in the 1880s and 1890s because of the railway network’s failures.[14] In 1874 (when presumably players could still handle the ball) a football match between Durham School and Stockton was shortened from four twenty-minute quarters to fifty minutes owing to the ‘usual unpunctuality of the North Eastern Railway, the train reaching Durham fully half an hour late.’[15]  

Overall, there is good evidence that the railways played a mixed role in the development of football as the nation’s most popular sport. On the one hand it was instrumental in establishing the organisational structures within the game. However, the growth in the popularity of the sport and the number of spectators that saw matches was down to other influences.


[1] Richard William Cox, Dave Russell and Wray Vamplew, Encyclopaedia of British Football, (London, 2002), p.234 
[2] L. H. Curzon, A Mirror of the Turf, (London 1892), p. 32 cited in Mike Huggins and John Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport in Victorian Britain: A critical reassessment’, Journal of Transport History, 22 (2001), p.100 
[3] W. Vamplew, Pay up and Play the Game, (Cambridge 1988), p.47  
[4] Jack Simmons, The Victorian Railway, (London, 1991), p.300  
[5] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108-109
[6] David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, (London, 2007), p.53
[7] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108
[8] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108-109 
[9] T. Mason, Association Football and English Society, 1863–1915, (Brighton, 1980), p. 146–7 
[10] Matthew Lynn McDowell, ‘,Football, Migration and Industrial Patronage in the West of Scotland, c.1870–1900’, Sport In History, 32 (2012), p.408 
[11] Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, p.53  
[12] Evening Telegraph, Friday 26 December 1902  
[13] Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, p.53  
[14] Huggins and Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.109-110  
[15] York Herald, Saturday 21 November 1874

Monday 23 December 2013

When Victorian railways conspired against Christmas

One of the features of the late Victorian British railway industry was competition, with railways in all parts of the nation trying to out-perform each other in order to win the patronage of passengers. From the 1880s the Great Western and London & South Western Railways accelerated their services as well as increased the luxury in which passengers were conveyed, to secure the business to West Country locations such as Exeter and Plymouth.[1] Competition between companies also existed on the routes between Nottingham and Leeds, Liverpool and Hull, and Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as between other major cities.[2]

Some historians have argued that these struggles between railways were a major factor in their declining profitability after 1870, as faster trains and more luxurious carriages cost more to build and operate. Cain, for example, stated his belief that ‘service competition alone would have been sufficient to promote levels of capital spending and methods of operation that continuously eroded profitability.’[3] Personally, I have always doubted the extent to which competitive trains services actually eroded companies’ profitability. I argued in my thesis, on the management of the London & South Western Railway after 1870, that service competition was on the margins of the railway’s activities. It and the GWR ran hundreds of services each day and only four or five express services to the West Country were truly ‘competitive.’[4]

One of the fiercest competitions between railway companies were the famed ‘Races to the North’ in 1888 and 1895. Two groups of companies that had control of the east and west coast main lines competed for the fastest trains between London and Scotland. On the east coast route the competitors were the Great Northern (London to York), North Eastern (York to Edinburgh) and North British Railways (Edinburgh to Aberdeen); while on the west coast route the contestants were the London and North Western (London to Carlisle) and Caledonian Railways (Carlisle to Edinburgh and Aberdeen). The race of 1895, which received the same attention in the press as the derby at Cheltenham, captured the public’s imagination, culminating in a west coast train on the night of 22 and 23 August making the journey between London and Aberdeen in 8 hours 42 minutes. This was eight minutes quicker than an east coast train the night before.[5]

Because of events like this, the press liked to paint these railway races as battles between warring powers. But how serious was the animosity between the companies? Did the east and west coast railways really treat their competitors as enemies? Or were the ‘races’ just an exuberant, but good-natured, expression of a rivalry between them? Perhaps an event that occurred before Christmas 1882 suggests an answer to these questions.

In early December 1882 a very thick letter arrived at King’s Cross headquarters of the Great Northern Railway. Before a list of 214 names was a letter addressed to those in authority within company:

   We the undersigned draw your attention to the fact that there are in London many Scotchmen who desire to avail themselves of the opportunity of visiting their friends in Scotland during the short vacation at Christmas but are deterred from doing so by the heavy railway fares.
We would therefore petition to you to give this subject your full consideration and endeavour to make some arrangement, whereby the result aimed at by your petitioners may be gained namely: a reasonable reduction in fares between London and Scotland equal to, if not quarter than that granted during the summer months.
   We are certain that should you see your way to meet us in this matter, it would not only confer a great boon, but from the large numbers availing themselves of the opportunity, prove equally to your advantage.
   We are yours respectfully… [6]

But this petition was not the only one to be sent, and a duplicate also landed on the desk of George Findlay, the London and North Western Railway’s General Manager. I suspect Findlay’s natural response was to reject the request. But he was an astute railway manager, and possibly because he wished to maintain good relations with his east coast rivals, he contacted to his opposite number within the GNR, Henry Oakley. ‘As I presume a similar application has been addressed to you’, wrote Findlay ‘I shall be glad to know if you will be prepared to join us in declining to accede to the request.’[7] Oakley’s response is not contained within the file, but the two companies decided to reject the petition. Findlay also communicated with the Midland Railway, who likewise operated a route between London and Scotland, and while they had not received a petition, they too were to going to keep fares at established levels. [8]

In 1882 three railway companies, all of which were theoretically competing with each other for traffic between London and Scotland, collectively agreed to deny travellers making this journey reduce-rate fares over the Christmas period. Of course, this case does not indicate the nature of the GNR and LNWR’s relationship five or ten years later when they were racing. Nevertheless, it may suggest that despite superficially appearing to be competing railways, as a matter of fact their relationship was actually quite close and they worked together when it was mutually beneficial for them to do so. ‘Market forces’, in this case at least, did not really work. One thing is for certain, the Great Northern, London & North Western and Midland Railways spoiled Christmas for a lot of London-based Scotsmen and their families in 1882.


[1] Jack Simmons, ‘South Western v. Great Western: railway competition in Devon and Cornwall’, The Journal of Transport History, 4 (1959), 27-34
[2] Jack Simmons, The Victorian Railway, (London, 1991), p.83; Jack Simmons, The Railway in England and Wales, 1830-1914, (Leicester, 1978), p.84-85
[3] P.J. Cain, ‘Railways 1870-1914: the maturity of the private system’, in, Michael J. Freeman and Derek H. Aldcroft, Transport in Victorian Britain, (Manchester, 1988), pp.115
[4] David Turner, ‘Managing the “Royal Road”: The London & South Western Railway 1870-1911’, (Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of York, 2013)
[5] Oswald S. Nock, The Railway Race to the North, (London, 1958), p.120-121
[6] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares to Scotland during Christmas vacation, Letter from organisation committee to Great Northern Railway, 4 December 1882
[7] TNA, RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares to Scotland during Christmas vacation, Letter from George Findlay to Henry Oakley, 11 December 1882
[8] TNA, RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares to Scotland during Christmas vacation, Letter from George Findlay to Henry Oakley, 13 December 1882

Tuesday 12 November 2013

How drunk were late-Victorian train drivers?

Every now and again, when I go looking for such things, I find cases where Victorian engine drivers got drunk and then proceeded to operate their vehicles. A few days ago I discovered one case from 1891 of an express driver who, after leaving Liverpool Street Station, was found to be quite sozzled.  On his journey he had stopped the train at Broxbourne for five minutes, for no apparent reason, after which the Bury and Norwich Post recorded the ride to Bishop Stortford was ‘most uncomfortable.’ On arriving at the station the station master was alerted to the driver’s inebriated state and the latter was, after some wrangling, finally removed from the locomotive. The train continued its journey under the charge of a goods train driver (who likely relished the chance operate an express.)[1]

This and other cases made the newspapers because a train under the charge of an intoxicated individual was clearly an accident risk. But reviewing such reports cannot give me an accurate indication of how frequently late-Victorian engine drivers were found to be drunk. To determine this hard data was required.

While Victorian railway companies kept staff registers which listed their employees’ positions, pay and promotions, most also kept ‘Black Books.’ These ominously titled volumes recorded every instance where an employee disobeyed the rules and was punished. They recorded small transgressions, such as when forms were incorrectly filed, to major offences, for example criminal activity, refusing to follow orders, or drunkenness – the subject of this post. Indeed, from the time of the earliest railways being intoxicated while on duty was a serious offence, and rule 12 of the London and South Western Railway’s (LSWR) 1897 rule book stated: ‘The company may at any time without notice dismiss or suspend from duty any servant of the company for intoxication.’[2]

So, it was to the Black Books (available through that I turned to find out about drunkenness amongst nineteenth century engine drivers. Despite a reluctance to again study the LSWR, it being the company I have done my thesis on, a Black Book dedicated to the misdemeanours of its footplate crew (drivers and firemen) between 1889 and 1896 was available on-line. This volume was the perfect choice for my research.

In total I surveyed the records of 584 LSWR firemen and drivers in the Black Book. Between 1889 and 1896 these individuals collectively transgressed the rules 1,728 times. However, amongst these punishments the number issued for intoxication was small, with only seventeen instances being recorded (0.98 percent of cases). Additionally, these seventeen offences were only committed by fourteen individuals (2.50 percent of the sample), three of the men being repeat offenders.

These findings clearly suggest that for the most part the LSWR’s drivers and firemen were, while at work at least, a temperate group of employees.[3] The supports the commonly held view at the time that railway employees stayed away from alcohol while at work. The South Western Gazette, the company’s staff magazine, reported in 1885 that at the inaugural meeting of the Exeter branch of the United Kingdom Railway Temperance Union, the Bishop of the city had commented that the organisation was ‘very peculiar and very striking’ as ‘it could not be said that railway men as a general rule were tempted to drunkenness.’ Generally they were ‘as a body were as temperate a body as could be found.’[4]

As for the fourteen drivers and firemen found to be under the influence while at work, it is probable that most never got as far as being in control of a train. Usually the ‘Black Book’ recorded that they came ‘to duty the worse for drink’ or they were ‘under the influence of drink whilst on duty’, and only in two cases was it explicitly stated that a driver had been ‘under the influence of drink whilst in charge of an engine’: J. Appleton of the Nine Elms Shed was caught in May 1896, while R. Reid., who was based at Twickenham, was found driving a passenger train while drunk in August 1889.[5]

From this evidence it can therefore be tentatively suggested that instances where drivers ‘under the influence’ actually got onto the footplate of their locomotives, such as the one cited at the start, were exceedingly rare on the late-Victorian railways.


[1] Bury and Norwich Post, 20 January 1891
[2] South Western Circle Collection [SWC], 1897 Rule Book, p.9
[3] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/521, London and South Western Railway Company. STAFF RECORDS. Black Book - fines to drivers and firemen, 01 January 1889 - 31 December 1896. Accessed through
[4] South Western Gazette, January 1885, p.6
[5] TNA, RAIL 411/521, London and South Western Railway Company. STAFF RECORDS. Black Book - fines to drivers and firemen, 01 January 1889 - 31 December 1896, p.11 and p.29. Accessed through

Thursday 10 October 2013

Working City to City: The LNWR's on-train typist service of 1910

I am sure from the very earliest days of the railways passengers must have done work on the train. It is, some might say, a tradition of the travelling businessperson. However, the declining cost and increasing hardiness of laptops has undoubtedly changed the nature of train-based work. Rather than simply reading policy documents and making notes, as was likely the case in the poorly lit Victorian railway carriages, those travelling to their place of work can now produce via their laptops formal documents that will go on to their colleagues, managers and companies’ directors. The train can be, for many, a second office that is possibly more pleasant than the one at their final destination.

But the ability to produce formal document on the train is nothing new. Long before the laptop was invented, from February 1910 businessmen on the London and North Western Railway’s (LNWR) “City-to-City” express had facility to have their important and urgent documents typed.[1]

The typist's compartment on the "City-to-City".
The “City-to-City” express was inaugurated by the LNWR between Birmingham and London Broad Street Station to compete with the Great Western Railway’s express services between the same places (the GWR’s services ran into Paddington). Starting from Birmingham at 8.20 am and arriving at 10.35 am, the morning “City-to-City”, which also had a breakfast car attached, took two and a quarter hours to make the journey, whereas the GWR’s service took fifteen minutes less. Although, if you made the journey by the GWR it possibly would have taken you longer overall reach your place of work, Paddington being some distance away from the commercial centres of London. Broad Street Station on the other hand was only a short walk away from the city.[2] The return run of the “City-to-City” started from Broad Street at 5.25pm and arrived at 7.40pm.[3]

Presumably in an attempt to entice to their services businessmen who were eager to save time at work, the LNWR took the innovative step of providing Britain’s first ever on-train typist service on the “City-to-City”. Situated in a compartment specially fitted up with a desk and chairs, the shorthand typist was available to take dictation of letters at any time on the journey.[4] On the inaugural run of the express the work was supervised by Miss Tarrant of the Euston typing room; while on subsequent journeys a Miss Boswell took over.[5] It would, however, seem that there was some initial objection to this service in the press . In the ‘Woman’s Gossip’ section of the Cheltenham Looker-On it was stated that while 5 or 6 hour journeys for passengers was ‘tiring in itself’, the ‘girl’ doing the typing was expected to be at her post five days a week to ‘do office work all the time.’ In its estimation this would be too much work for the ‘girl and exclaimed that ‘the doctors talk of the growth and spread of nervous habits among the people, but who can wonder at it?’[6]

The first letter from the "City-to-City" express.
Initially, it would seem the typing service was successful. “I have been kept busy all the way up,” Tarrant said in an interview shortly after the “City-to-City’s” inaugural return run, “twelve passengers dictated letters to me and only once, when we were passing through the Kilsby Tunnel,  was the dictation interrupted…I had no difficulty whatever in using the typewriter, and all my clients appeared to be highly satisfied. The experiment was quite a success.”[7] Yet, after two months the Tamworth Herald would report the typewriting services had ‘not been so well patronised as was expected would be the case.’ It would seem that travellers using the service were unable to overcome the fear that any business they conducted through the train’s typist would not be confidential. Yet, irrespective of customers’ trepidation, the LNWR decided to extend the service to other trains.[8] Whether the typist service was successful in the long-run is unclear, only a closer examination of the company’s files may reveal this.


[1] Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 2 February 1910, p.4
[2] Wolmar, Christian, Fire and Steam: A new history of the Railways in Britain, (London, 2007), p.188
[3] The Railway Times, 22 January 1910, p.122
[4] The Railway Times, 22 January 1910, p.122
[5] Aberdeen Journal, Thursday 03 February 1910, p.6
[6] Cheltenham Looker-On, Saturday 29 January 1910, p.16
[7] Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 2 February 1910, p.4
[8] Tamworth Herald, Saturday 16 April 1910, p.6
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