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Saturday, 24 December 2011

"An EXTRA TRAIN will leave Shoreditch" - Trains on Christmas Day before 1900

Last year around this time, I showed how Christmas was celebrated on the London and South Western Railway before 1900 (HERE). However, one thing stuck in my mind, namely, that the railways still operated on Christmas Day. Therefore, this year I conducted a bit of research to discover more about these services. Unsurprisingly, I found that the increasing importance of Christmas throughout the nineteenth century affected how many trains were run on Christmas Day.

In the 1830s and early 1840s it seems that the railway companies did not make any special arrangements for Christmas Day and ran regular weekday services. An advert printed on 22 December 1837 for the Grand Junction Railway’s forthcoming services between Birmingham and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway contained not one word about the coming festivities.[1] Indeed, adverts printed in the week before Christmas for trains on the London and Greenwich Railway[2] and  the Great Western Railway (GWR) in 1838,[3], as well as on the Birmingham and Derby Railway in 1839[4], also mention no special passenger train arrangements on Christmas Day. Furthermore, an Eastern Counties Railway advert from the 22 December 1843 clearly announced that ‘On Christmas day the trains will run the same as on week days.’[5] Lastly, shown on the left is an example a Great Western Railway advert published on 19 December 1840 which has no mention of Christmas.[6]

The reason that trains continued to run as normal on Christmas Day in this period was, I presume, because it was only significantly observed by the upper and middle classes and for many people it simply a normal day. Nevertheless, 1843 was a year when the increasing popularity of Christmas amongst all the population was becoming evident. In that year the first Christmas card appeared [7] and on the 17 December Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published, a text which helped to revive interest in forgotten Christmas traditions [8].

Therefore, around this time railway companies began offering special rates to passengers in the festive period. In 1844 the Preston and Wyre Railway offered, in bold capital letters, ‘CHRISTMAS CHEAP TRAINS’. Between Christmas Day and New Year passengers travelling by the 8.30 am train from Preston to any station on the company’s network could return with the same ticket by any train. Furthermore, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day anyone booking to Preston on either of the two morning trains, could also return the same day on the same ticket.[9] In 1845 the GWR reduced the cost of all return tickets by a third on Christmas Day.[10] Lastly, the Midland Railway allowed passengers who purchased first or second class day tickets between the 24th and 26th December to return on any of those days or on the 27th and 28th.[11] Consequently, throughout the Victorian period offers of this nature were provided by most companies in the festive season.

However, the GWR’s 1845 advert included words which indicated that further changes in Christmas services were afoot. The reduced fares were allowed, ‘reckoning Christmas Day as a Sunday.’ [12] Indeed, while in the GWR’s case they offered the special Sunday fares on Christmas day, seemingly it wasn’t long until many companies began running Sunday timetables on that day also. Evidence has been found of this being advertised by the London and South Western Railway in 1846,[13] the GWR in 1849,[14] the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1854[15] and the Chester and Birkenhead Railway in 1857. Indeed, by the 1860s the running of Sunday services on Christmas Day seemed to be the norm across the railway industry.

However, unlike at present, Sunday timetables were not simply a slightly reduced version of the weekday one and the number of trains running was small compared with the rest of the week. The Chester and Birkenhead’s December 1857 timetable shows ten up and eleven down trains between Liverpool and Chester on a weekday. However, only four up and three down were provided on a Sunday. The GWR’s timetable for services between London and Chester shows five up and six down on a weekday, but only one each way on a Sunday.[16] Furthermore, as Sunday trains were not greatly profitable, railway managers gradually reduced the number of lines that had them as the nineteenth century progressed. Thus, in 1847 only 2.6% of Britain’s railway network had no Sunday services, yet by 1861 the figure was 5.7%, in 1871 it was 18.9% and by 1887 it was 20.1%.[17] Only in Scotland did religious feeling play a role in stopping Sunday services, and by 1914 over 60% of the network had no trains.[18]

Therefore, because the Sunday timetables operating on Christmas Day would have been unable to convey all who wanted to travel in the festive season, especially given its increasing popularity, from the 1850s the railways ran extra services in the three or four days before the 25 December. Indeed, this seems to have become an industry norm. An issue of The Standard from 22 December 1863 shows the following railways were advertising additional services in this period:

Crystal Palace
Great Eastern
Great Western
London and North Western
London and South Western
London, Brighton and South Coast
London, Chatham and Dover
North London
South Eastern[19]

Special trains on Christmas Day have been hard to find before the 1860s, and thereafter they were few in number in each year. An Eastern Counties’ Railway advert from 1844 stated that on Christmas day ‘an EXTRA TRAIN will leave Shoreditch Station to Brentwood at a Quarter before Ten o’clock A.M. calling at all the intermediate stations.’[20] However, this seems an anomaly for the period.

After 1860, special Christmas Day services provided were seemingly operating on long-distance routes only. In 1860 the South Eastern Railway put on a special train between London and Canterbury at 8.30am, returning in the evening. The Eastern Counties Railway ran a special train to Norwich leaving at 9.50 am. [21] In 1890 the London and South Western Railway put on a special train at 8.50am for Basingstoke, Salisbury and Exeter, as well as another for Southampton, Portsmouth, Salisbury Bournemouth and Lymington. Both trains called at principal intermediate stations along the way. In the same year the ‘London and North Western Railway’s timetable had ‘several important additions’[22] and in 1895 the company ran a special train from Euston at 6.15 am stopping at all major stations between there and Glasgow.[23] Lastly, In 1899 the South Eastern Railway offered ‘several extra trains.’[24] Ultimately, the total number special Christmas Day trains each year is unknown, however, it is clear they were not numerous.

Overall, during the Victorian period the number of trains railway companies provided on Christmas Day diminished. Immediately after the industry’s birth companies ran full weekday timetables on 25 December. However, in the 1840s sparse Sunday timetables were adopted, which themselves provided a diminishing number of services as the decades passed.  Thus, this adoption of Sunday timetables began the long decline of the Christmas Day passenger train, the last of which was run in 1981.[25]


[1] Liverpool Mercury etc, Friday, December 22, 1837
[2] The Examiner, Sunday, December 23, 1838
[3] The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, December 22, 1838
[4] The Derby Mercury, Wednesday, December 18, 1839
[5] The Essex Standard, and General Advertiser for the Eastern Counties, Friday, December 22, 1843
[6] The Bristol Mercury, Saturday, December 19, 1840
[9] The Preston Chronicle etc, Saturday, December 21, 1844
[10] The Morning Chronicle, Monday, December 22, 1845
[11] The Derby Mercury, Wednesday, December 23, 1846
[12] The Morning Chronicle, Monday, December 22, 1845
[13] Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, Saturday, December 05, 1846, pg.1
[14] John Bull, Saturday, December 08, 1849, p. 765, Issue 1,513
[15] The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, December 12, 1854, Issue 27445
[16] Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser, and Cheshire, Shropshire, Flintshire, and North Wales Register, Saturday, December 12, 1857, Issue 202
[17] Simmons, Jack, The Victorian Railway, (London, 1991), p.286
[18] Simmons, Jack, ‘Sunday Services’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.486
[19] The Standard, Tuesday, December 22, 1863, pg. 1, Issue 12282
[20] The Essex Standard, and General Advertiser for the Eastern Counties, Friday, December 22, 1843
[21] The Standard, Saturday, December 22, 1860, p.1
[22] The County Gentleman- Sporting Gazette, Agricultural Journal, and The Man about Town, Saturday, December 13, 1890, pg. 1759
[23] Speaker, No.12 (1895, December 21), p.682
[24] Outlook, Vol. 4, No.98 (1899, December 16), p.633
[25] The Times, Thursday, Dec 16, 1982, pg. 26, Issue 61416

Monday, 19 December 2011

"Christmas fare from the provinces" - Euston Station and the Distribution of Festive Goods in the 1840s

Given that in the nineteenth century the railways were the main way of transporting anything long distances, it is unsurprising that the festive season was their busiest period of the year. Indeed, the railways carried everything the people of Britain needed for their Christmas festivities, not to mention the people themselves. For this reason some newspapers seemed obsessed with what traffic was carried, how it was carried and its volume, and their reports provide an insight into the level of activity occurring on Britain’s railways in the week before Christmas Day. Receiving particular attention in the late 1840s and early 1850s was the delivery arrangements at the Euston terminus of Britain’s largest railway company, the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR).

The Morning Post of Monday 26 December 1848 reported that ‘yesterday [Christmas Day] and during Sunday, the termini of the various metropolitan termini presented an unusual scene of bustle and activity in consequence of the extraordinary influx of Christmas fare from the provinces.’ The Post stated that the volume of incoming traffic at Euston was so large that on the arrival platform a temporary tarpaulin shed had been constructed in to which goods were unloaded before distribution. It was eighteen feet high and fifty foot long, and at one point before Christmas it had been full. Nevertheless, because the distribution system worked perfectly confusion was avoided.[1]

A year later, the Daily News printed a more detailed account of the distribution arrangements at Euston between the 22 December and the morning of the twenty-fifth. The General Manager of the company, Captain Mark Huish, and Mr Brooks, the company’s Traffic Superintendent,[2] had made special arrangements with the company’s delivery agents, Messrs Chaplain and Horne, to expedite the deliveries as quickly as possible. Once again, there was a tent on the arrival platform. However, in 1849 it was larger than a year before, being twenty foot high and sixty foot long. From the Daily News' article we also learn that it was lit by gas lamps to allow unloading operations to continue at night.

Trains arrived day and night alongside the tent and their contents of ‘barrels of oysters, baskets of fish, fruit game and other Christmas presents’  were unloaded into the tent by fifty or sixty porters. The loads were then handed to the Chaplain and Horne's agents who, with the help of ‘sorters’, arranged the parcels into large compartments on the station wall. These compartments were each labelled with the districts of London that the consignments were being sent to. Some of which were as follows: ‘the City, Strand, Squares over the water, Islington, East End, Finsbury, West-end, Kingsland, Clerkenwell.’

At each compartment two and three omnibuses stood being loaded with parcels and packages being checked by the L&NWR’s clerks. They were loaded carefully and securely, and that efficient loading was achieved not just by ‘laying the packages across,’ but also by ‘suspending turkeys and pigs outside.’ Some were estimated to hold 200 packages and were so piled up that they were as the second floors of houses. Thus, the paper commented that on leaving the station they ‘attracted no small attention.’ Overall, there were thirty or forty omnibuses and when all were filled to capacity they departed ‘without delay.’

Of course, with so many goods passing through this may have offered an opportunity to criminals to pilfer, and to prevent such loss the company’s policemen were present the entire time.

The operation was highly efficient. On Sunday 23 December the majority of the trains carrying mail and goods for London began arriving at 4.30am, and by 9am all their contents had been despatched into the city. However, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mornings it took until 10am to clear the incoming traffic.[3] Further evidence of efficiency was recorded in 1853 when only two consignments out of 40,000 were found to have lost their labels.[4] But, additionally, the effectiveness of the operation is so impressive when considering the number of parcels and packages entering Euston Station in the three days up to and including the morning of Christmas Day. The estimates reported were as follows:-

1848 - 12,000 [5]
1849 - 15,000 [6]
1850 - 10,000 [7]
1851 - Inward and Outward: 40,000 (figures for the week before Christmas) [8]
1852 - 12,000
1853 - 12,500 [9]
1864 - 17,000 [10]

Clearly, with just the use of paper and ink, the L&NWR organised the unloading and delivery of consignments with a speed and efficiency that puts some modern delivery services to shame. Ultimately, this enabled London’s residents to have a very, merry Christmas.

Read last year's Christmas post HERE


[1] The Morning Post, Tuesday, December 26, 1848
[2] Interestingly, no trace of a ‘Mr Brooks’ can be found in Terry Gourvish’s book Mark Huish and the London and North Western Railway, (Leicester, 1972)
[3] Daily News, Wednesday, December 26, 1849, Issue 1119
[4] The Standard, Saturday, December 27, 1851, p.1
[5] The Morning Post, Tuesday, December 26, 1848
[6] Daily News, Wednesday, December 26, 1849, Issue 1119
[7] The Era, Sunday, December 29, 1850
[8] The Standard, Saturday, December 27, 1851, p.1
[9] The Essex Standard, and General Advertiser for the Eastern Counties, Wednesday, December 28, 1853
[10] Jackson's Oxford Journal, Saturday, January 9, 1864

Monday, 12 December 2011

The York Tap - A peice of railway heritage restored

As some of you may be aware, last week I went on a short holiday to York. I love York so much. It is a place where there is great things to do, plenty of pubs and, of course, the National Railway Museum. However, this visit was enhanced by a recent addition to this wonderful city, namely, the York Tap. For those of you unfamiliar with the Tap, this is a new pub which opened on the 16 November at the station. Situated next to the platform, this establishment boasts 32 taps on the bar and somewhere between 80 and 100 bottled beers. Indeed, possessing such a range of beer puts it solidly in my top three drinking establishments in York (and believe me, this is a constant battle in my head) and it will not surprise anyone that during my three day visit, I popped into the Tap twice.

For most of the last quarter of a century the building which houses the Tap was home to the ‘York Model Railway,’ a small, much overlooked, attraction. Yet, in early 2011 it decided to move to a site in Lincolnshire and it was at this point that Pivovar, owner of the Euston and Sheffield Taps, as well as Pivni in York city centre, moved in. The decision by East Coast, the Train Operating Company that manages York Station, to allow Pivovar to inhabit the building was important for railway heritage. The building is Grade II listed and as such special care had to be taken with it. Indeed, the process of renovating and revealing the neglected interior cost £250,000, including a contribution of £75,000 from the Railway Heritage Trust.[1]

This money was clearly worth it, and entering the building is a bit like going back in time. Never, in all my drinking days have I experience a pub which satisfies two of my loves: railway history and good ale. Thus, after my visits I began thinking about the history of the Tap building and was resolved to investigate. Much to my surprise, after only a short period of digging I found an article in The British Architect describing the building’s construction and interior.

The building that the Tap uses was originally opened in February 1907 by the North Eastern Railway (NER) as the station’s tea room. It seems that around the same time the NER may have been in the process of expanding tea rooms facilities at its large stations, as the article on the York establishment was accompanied by another describing a new tea room at Hull (now a Pumpkin CafĂ©). Indeed, the Hull and York tea rooms, as well as their interiors and furniture, were both designed in an art-nouveau style by Mr W. Bell F.R.I.B.A., the company’s architect.

The British Architect indicates that many of the features of the tea room have been restored in the Tap. The floor space was 2,500 square feet and, like at present, there were two doors, one facing the city and another opening onto the station platform. These two entrances were situated so that ‘the ordinary public, as well as passengers, may use the room.’ The only difference was that the room originally possessed ‘draught-proof’ revolving doors, whereas currently the Tap has regular ones.

The building's design was originally governed by the position of the pre-existing roof columns and spandrils. Indeed, these were incorporated into the tea room, with fretwork added to the columns to hide the fact that they were part of the station’s main structure. Furthermore, the joy with the current interior is that the colours are very similar to those adopted in 1907. The walls were ‘finished in crimson,’ the ceiling was cream and the woodwork was white. The furniture and counter were executed in ‘dark mahogany,’ and the floor, which remains to this day, was a mosaic with an ornamental border. The only significant departures in the Tap from the 1907 features is that the counter and furniture are in different positions and are of a different design, and there is an absence of floor rugs (as shown in the pictures). Nevertheless, what has been accomplished when sitting in the Tap today is a wonderful sense of history and nostalgia.
Lastly, a nod should go to those who created the structure in 1907. The contractors for its building were Messrs Blackett and Son of Greencroft East, Darlington, and the instillation of the mosaic's terrazzo paving was entrusted to Messrs Diespeker of 60 Holborn Viaduct, London.[2]

Overall, what has been restored at the York Tap is not just the fact that the building is again quenching the thirsts of passengers. By the early twentieth century, class distinctions in station waiting and refreshment rooms had been mostly abandoned across the railway industry and, thus, the NER created a facility worthy of both first and third class passengers. Therefore, what Pivovar have recreated within the York Tap is an example of the railway refreshment room’s last stage of development before the First World War, a period when passenger travel was at its most comfortable. Indeed, for this act of preserving railway history (combined with providing copious amounts of beer), I cannot heap on them enough praise.

Visit the York Tap’s website HERE

[2] The British Architect, 27 February 1907, p.127

Monday, 5 December 2011

Female clerk's pay in the 1910s on the London and South Western Railway (verses male clerk's)

There is no doubt that before 1914, on average, railwaywomen earned less than their male colleagues. However, the wage gap between the genders is difficult to determine accurately because there were only a few jobs that both women and men did and where direct comparisons can be made. One was clerical work, which by 1914 was increasingly being opened up to women. I have talked in three posts about the first sixteen female clerks that were employed at the London and North Western Railway’s Birmingham Goods Depot from 1874. One post looked at wages the women were paid, finding that until their eighth year they received the same amount as men (here), after which their pay rises stopped. Nevertheless, I have not looked at the amount female clerks were paid in the 1910s, when they were becoming commonplace in the offices Britain’s railways.

Between 1870 and 1900 the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) is known to have employed nineteen women as telegraph clerks across its network. However, these appointments were made in isolation from each other and were not part of an established policy. Indeed, the women usually received their positions because station masters requested that their daughters be found a job before they were married. It was only in March 1914, on the arrival of a new General Manager, Herbert Ashcombe Walker, that the company formalised the ‘conditions of service’ for new female clerks. This laid out what qualifications they were required to have, as well as their wages.[1] Therefore, because a formal policy was established, female and male clerks’ pay can be compared. Furthermore, it should also be noted that male clerks’ scales were revised in 1911.[2]

However, the comparison isn’t a direct one for a number of reasons. Firstly, it should be stressed that male and female clerks were paid differently, in that most men were paid monthly, while all women received their wages weekly (and, therefore, could be fired more easily). Furthermore, the document describing the female clerks wages does not specify exactly when increases should occur, nor by how much. Therefore, this information has had to be gleaned from staff records. All it does specify are that the maximum rate for London based clerks was 28 shillings per week (£72 16s/year), while for those in the country it was 26 shillings (£67 12s/year).[3] London wages covered stations including ‘Waterloo, Vauxhall, Nine Elms [goods depot], Queen's Road, Clapham Junction, Kensington and Receiving offices in London.’[4] For the purposes of this post I will only be looking at the wages of the women based in London.

In addition, male clerks’ salaries were increased automatically each year, whereas the records indicate that the female clerks’ wages were raised at different points and by different amounts, presumably based on their individual abilities. This said, most women were guaranteed increases each year. Thus, Florence Emily Elliott, who joined as a telephone operator at Waterloo in July 1914, earned ten shillings a week for a year before increasing to fourteen.[5] Whereas Lilian E Teuten, who joined the company in the same capacity in April 1915, only stayed on the lowest rate for three months before advancing to twelve shillings.[6] Consequently, because the female clerks’ wages were not strictly standardised, I averaged the wages that twenty clerks were on at different points in their employment to ascertain the rapidity of their wage increases. However, some of the twenty left the service in the seven years and, thus, the number of wages being averaged for the later years of service diminished (See the table on the left). Lastly, in early 1920 the L&SWR significantly revised the rates female clerks were paid, and consequently good data to make a comparison with male clerks’ salaries is only available for their first seven years of their employment.

The figures suggest that for much of the seven years female clerks on average earned more than the men, as indicated in the graph below. This shows the average yearly rates that female clerks were on at any given point, as well as the male scale. Indeed, while the women started on a yearly rate that was £4 less than the men, it was only after half a year that the women’s’ average surpassed it. Indeed, of the nineteen female clerks still employed after a year of service, fourteen were earning more than the men’s standard rate of £35 per year. In the third year of service the average rate the women were being paid slowed and male clerks began earning more than the women’s average per year, five years after appointment.

Furthermore, the difference between the wages male and female clerks were on at points across the period is shown better in the graph below. Indeed, the average wage that the women were on passed those of the men after half a years’ service. It reached its peak at two and three-quarter years’ service, when the average yearly rate that sixteen female clerks were on was £12 4s more than the men’s set rate of £40 per year. Thereafter, the difference fell and from the women’s’ fifth year onwards the average rate they were earning was less than the men’s standard salary of £70.  

Lastly, I want to look at the total earnings that male and female clerks earned over the first seven years of their employment. The table below shows the standard raise that male clerks received each year, as well as the average rate that female clerks were on at the same points. The table shows that over the seven year period, female clerks, on average, earned £8 4s more than their male counterparts.

Ultimately, these figures show that the L&SWR’s female clerical workers in the 1910s did not earn less in their first seven years employment than their male colleagues. Rather, they actually were paid a little more. Additionally, combined with research I have done on female clerks working for the London and North Western Railway in the 1870s, which also showed male and female clerks’ wages were comparable, it tentatively suggests that the railway industry’s female clerical workers before the inter-war years were in the first years of their employment paid just as well as the men. However, this clearly requires further investigation given I have only studied two companies.

However, more importantly, it should be remembered that this research does not alter the fact that the women’s wages were capped at 28 shillings (£72 16s) and they could not gain promotion beyond the position of supervisor. Furthermore, in the L&SWR’s case very few women stayed in employment long enough to earn the maximum rate, as even in the First World War they were barred from serving while married. Of the twenty women sampled, only three women ever received the 28 shillings a week stated in the 1914 ‘conditions of service’.

(NB: Some did go on to earn higher wages when the L&SWR revised the scales in 1920. Yet these were high in comparison with the earlier scales, given the inflation of wartime, and for this reason they have not been included in the sample.)


I will be doing two talks on 20 December and 17 January at 6.30 pm at Kew Public Library on Victorian Railwaywomen, looking at who they were, where they worked in the industry and their pay and status.  Refreshments will be provided, all for a mere £1. If you would like to attend, call the library to book a place on 020 8734 3352 (Opening Times: Tues - 10-1, 2-6; Wed 2-6; Fri 2-6; Sat 10-1, 2-6) or email  


[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/275, Traffic Officer’s Conference, 27 March 1918, p.113 and Appendix A, p.18
[2] Hampshire Record Office [HRO], 104A02/A3/13, London and South Western Railway minutes extracts: Carriage Department, marked number 13 on spine, Jul 1910-Jul 1914, circular Revised Scale of Salaries for Clerical Staff, 20 November 1911
[3] TNA, RAIL 411/275, Traffic Officer’s Conference, 27 March 1918, Appendix A, p.18
[4] HRO, 104A02/A3/13, London and South Western Railway minutes extracts: Carriage Department, marked number 13 on spine, Jul 1910-Jul 1914, circular Revised Scale of Salaries for Clerical Staff, 20 November 1911
[5] TNA, RAIL 411/506, Clerical register - Female staff 1915 – 1924, p.5
[6] TNA, RAIL 411/506, Clerical register - Female staff 1915 – 1924, p.7

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Second Class Passenger

 These days we only have one numbered class of travel, first class, and what was originally known as third is now designated ‘standard.’ Yet, I was recently asked by someone about what happened to second class, given that the mere fact that we had first and third must denote that at some point we had a second.

Before the railways arrived, the two main modes of transport were stagecoaches and steamships, and these only employed only two classes of travel. Apart from the mail coaches, which charged a premium for travel, most stagecoaches had two classes of passenger. Those paying the higher rate were carried inside, while those on the outside, who were forced to brave the elements, paid a lower rate. Similarly, those travelling on steamships either had ‘cabin’ or ‘deck’ accommodation.[1]

Yet, a glance at some shipping adverts from 1831 (left) shows more nuance in pricing. The steam packet service to the Channel Islands, while offering both ‘cabin’ and ‘deck’ accommodation, also offered ‘fore’ and ‘main’ cabins at different prices. Additionally, the ship to the United States offered steerage accommodation with or without ‘provisions.’ While these adverts would suggest there were three classes, in reality there were only two, and individuals could simply pay more for additional services while travelling. Indeed, there were not three distinct levels of service quality, each different from the other.[2]

Initially, the railways copied this two class system. In 1830 the first inter-city railway in the world, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, had first and second class accommodation. Indeed, like on the steamships and stagecoaches, first class travel would be enclosed, whereas second class would be open. The two-class system was quickly transferred to other early railways, and an advert for the Warrington and Newton Railway (shown), opened in 1831 and which connected with the Liverpool and Manchester, shows this.[3]  

However, by the late-1830s the three class system had become the norm for all new and existing railway companies, even though third class carriages were not necessarily attached to each train. The railways could do this because the speed at which trains conveyed passengers meant that they could offer a range of services which were of varied quality.

The three classes of travel would continue undisturbed until the 1870s. First class passengers always had the best accommodation, their compartments containing soft furnishings and window glazing. Initially, second class carriages had roofs and padded seats, but were usually still open to the elements on either side. However, this latter feature did become less common up to the 1860s. Lastly, third class passengers travelled in little more than open trucks with wooden seats. On the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway’s opening in 1838 a reporter suggested these carriages would be ‘preferred in fine weather.’[4] Nevertheless, by the 1860s most third class carriages had been covered. Ultimately, all that could be said about changes in carriage design before 1870 was that they had got longer.

It was in the 1870s that the decline of second class travel began. On the 1 January 1875, after adding third class accommodation to every train in 1872, the Midland Railway abolished second class travel completely, while lowering the price of third. Furthermore, they downgraded the quality of the second class carriages by removing the leather backs of the seats, while also improving the quality of the third class accommodation by covering the seats with the same material and padding.[5] In addition, the company introduced carriages on its new Settle to Carlisle route which were twice as long as contemporary designs, had improved ride comfort because of swivelling bogies and which combined first and third class compartments.

The Midland undertook this pioneering action because of the forces acting on its business. Whereas in 1859 32.23 per cent of all railway passengers in the British Isles were travelling by second class, by 1874 the proportion was only 15.12 per cent. Furthermore, over the same period, the proportion of individuals travelling by third class rose from 49.92 per cent to 76.66 per cent. Indeed in the Midland’s case, the proportion of passengers travelling second class dropped from 23.37 per cent to 11.24 per cent, lowering the profitability of carrying them. [6] Therefore, eliminating second class accommodation reduced the cost of carriage construction and marshalling for the Midland. Furthermore, the improved third class accommodation would entice customers who would normally travel third class from competing railways. Indeed, to try and capture more of the quickly growing third class market was a shrewd business move.

It is unsurprising that many other railway managers protested at the Midland’s changes, presumably because of the precedent they set. Furthermore, those passengers that were not wealthy enough to purchase first class tickets, but purchased second to avoid the ‘rowdiness’ of the third class environment, also reacted with dismay.

Nevertheless, the Midland’s actions naturally meant that the other companies started examining the viability of their own second class accommodation, as well as increasing the size of their rolling stock. Indeed, the larger carriages constructed after the 1870s included higher quality third class compartments which attracted increasing numbers of people to this class of transport. Consequently, this helped second class travellers to diminish in number from 22.2 per cent of all passengers in 1870 to only 6.0 per cent in 1899.[8]

Therefore, for many companies offering second class accommodation was increasingly less profitable and more companies abandoned it. The Great Northern Railway, Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire and Cheshire Lines Railways only offered second class travel on long distance services in the 1880s, and in the early 1890s the North Eastern, Great Eastern Railways and all Scottish Railways abandoned it completely. [9] The Great Western Railway abandoned second class in 1910.[10]

However, those companies who derived a higher proportion of their revenue from passenger traffic held on to second class for longer, given that they made healthier profits from this traffic. Indeed, in 1881 a report to the London and South Western Railway’s board by the General Manager, Archibald Scott, stated that he felt the reductions in second class accommodation on the northern railways were a mistake. Indeed, given that second class traffic remained an important source of the company’s income, constituting 25 per cent of passengers and one sixth of all travellers, he recommended that it should remain, which it did.[11] Indeed, his successor, Charles Scotter, also argued in 1894 that second class should be kept on the London and South Western given that it still ‘paid.’ However, he did recognise that the company’s case was ‘exceptional’ given that on other companies it did not so.

Ultimately, however, the even the companies dominated by passenger traffic also stopped offering second class accommodation as the proportion they carried fell. Thus, the London and South Western and South Eastern and Chatham Railways preserved it on main line services until 1918 and 1923 respectively.[13] Indeed, the latter was the last company to provide it on a British trunk line.[14] The last vestiges of second class were to be found on London and North Eastern Railway suburban services until 1938 and Southern Railway boat trains until 1948.[15]

Overall, second class had been killed by the higher quality of third class accommodation and ever-increasing numbers of third class passengers. With fewer and fewer people using it, the railways, driven by profit, no longer felt the need to provide it.


I will be doing a talk on 20 December at 6.30 pm at Kew Public Library on Victorian Railwaywomen, looking at who they were, where they worked in the industry and their pay and status. Mince pies and refreshments a provided, all for a mere £1. If you would like to attend, call the library to book a place on 020 8734 3352 (Opening Times: Tues - 10-1, 2-6; Wed 2-6; Fri 2-6; Sat 10-1, 2-6) or email 

[1] Simmons, Jack, ‘class distinctions,’ The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.84
[2] Hampshire Advertiser: Royal Yacht Club Gazette, Southampton Town & County Herald, Isle of Wight Journal , Winchester Chronicle, & General Reporter, Saturday, June 25, 1831, p.1
[3] Liverpool Mercury, Friday, August 5, 1831
[4] The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser, Saturday, November 03, 1838, p.2
[5] Birmingham Daily Post, Friday, January 1, 1875
[6] Board of Trade, Railway Returns, 1860 and 1874
[7] Simmons, ‘class distinctions’, p.85
[8] Unknown Author, ‘second class’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 110 (1910, Aug. 27) p.259
[9] Simmons, ‘class distinctions’, p.85
[10] ‘second class’, Saturday Review of Politics,p.259
[11] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/283, Report to the Directors as to Second and Third Class and generally upon passenger traffic, Archibald Scott to Board of Directors, 1 December 1881, p.4
[12] Charles Scotter interview with Commerce magazine, reprinted in The South Western Gazette, 1 December 1894, p.5-6
[13] Simmons, ‘class distinctions’, p.86
[14] Great Eastern Railway Magazine, 8 (1918), p.178
[15] Simmons, ‘class distinctions’, p.85

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Opening of the Rebuilt Waterloo Station - 1922 (200th Post)

This, believe it or not, is my 200th post on the TurnipRail Blog (Note: All images are clickable). So, to commemorate such a momentous occasion, I thought that I would look at the opening of the rebuilt Waterloo Station in 1922. This is aided by a copy of the London and South Western Railway’s (L&SWR) staff magazine, the South Western Railway Magazine (SWRM), which I acquired on ebay and which commemorated the event. Purchasing this item is big occasion for me because the station is important in my life and I have grown fond of it. Not only do I pass through Waterloo once or twice a week, but its rebuilding is featured in the last chapter of my PhD.

Waterloo station was rebuilt between 1899 and 1922 because it was reaching capacity. The original station, constructed in 1848, had been extended in 1860, 1878 and 1885 because of the same problem (As I related here). However, realistically, these extensions created three stations at the same location that were a mess. Indeed, between 1885 and 1899 Waterloo had 18 platforms with only 10 platform numbers[1] and the SWRM of April 1922 called it ‘a source of bewilderment to the travelling public and a heavy responsibility for the railway officials’[2] Thus, in 1889 Jerome K. Jerome wrote in Three Men in His Boat that:

“We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from. Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it.”[3]

With the massive passenger traffic growth of the late 1890s Waterloo again became unsuited to requirements. Thus, the company obtained an act from parliament in 1899 for a complete rebuilding of it and an expansion of the space it occupied. This expansion eventually meant that the company had to rehouse the 1,750 people whose houses were demolished.[4] Up until 1910 the work was slow due to company suffering a capital shortage. However, because of the appointment a new company chairman in 1911, Hugh W. Drummond, and a new General Manager in 1912, Herbert A. Walker, the speed of the work increased. The war had some affect, but generally progress was good.

In the course of construction one major alteration was made to the original designs drawn up in 1899. On 20 February 1919 the L&SWR’s Engineering Committee ordered that the archway opposite platforms 19 and 20 be turned into the company’s war memorial, called the “Victory Arch”. [5] Different sections of the rebuilt station were opened between 1910 and 1922 as they were completed. Yet, the official opening by Queen Mary came on the 21st March 1922. The SWRM covered the event in full and issued a picture supplement with an account of the ceremony being written by a clerk in the General Manager’s office, Frank Gilbert.[6]

Gilbert described the day as being dull, there being ‘a few fleeting snow squalls, and a…tang in the air.’ The crowds thronged round Waterloo as George V and Queen Mary were both expected to be present to open the station. A royal opening was only fitting in Gilbert’s opinion and he described Waterloo as a ‘national possession.’ Furthermore, ‘it would be hard to express,’ he explained, ‘just what Waterloo means, not only to London, but to England…All over the country the very name of Waterloo Station conjures up a wealth of recollections – of romance, pathos, sport, sorrow and happiness. ’ Yet, the crowd were slightly disappointed, as, due to the ‘indisposition’ of the King, only Queen Mary was able to attend.

Outside the station waiting for the Queen were the company’s ‘Chairman, Directors, General Manager and Chief Officers,’ in addition to as many staff as the space permitted. The Queen’s car swung through the gates, which were decorated with evergreens and bunting, and came to a halt in front of the “Victory Arch.” On alighting from the vehicle the Queen was immediately greeted by the L&SWR’s chairman, Brigadier-General Hugh W. Drummond, and the Deputy-Chairman, Sir William Portal Bart. The Queen too had people with her, including Lady Ampthill, Viscount Valentia and Colonel Clive Wigram. Then, after pleasantries had been exchanged, Miss Marion Drummond, the chairman’s daughter, approached and presented the Queen with a bouquet of red roses.

She then turned to enter the station, passing on her way a Guard of Honour composed of ex-soldiers employed by the L&SWR and who had been decorated for valour in the First World War. After exchanging a few words with some of the officers in the guard, positioned in its front row, she progressed through the seven long ranks of men drawn up before her. As she reached the last, a cheer rose from hundreds of the L&SWR’s staff watching in an enclosure behind.

On reaching the top of the entrance’s stairs, the Queen broke the Royal Blue Ribbon stretched across it and the station was officially open. Yet, before entering, she stopped for some while to read many of the names of the 585 L&SWR employees killed in the war that are listed on bronze panels set into the “Victory Arch.” Then, followed by ‘directors, officers and ladies’, she continued into the station and was greeted by cheers from the crowds waiting on the concourse. The station was lined with bunting and flags, and on glancing upwards, toward the extensive glass roof, she exclaimed “What a splendid piece of architecture.”

The Chairman and Deputy Chairman then guided her to the new buffet, over which a Union Jack was draped and in one corner was a beautifully carved and engraved Roll of Honour that commemorated the L&SWR’s war dead. The Queen then returned to the concourse to be greeted by more cheers from passengers and staff. On reaching the middle, where the carriage way was, she expressed her appreciation to the Directors and Chief Officers present and boarded the royal car which was waiting. It then sped away down the slope, passing the guard of honour which lined the route, and returned to the palace to the sound of cheers.

‘And so,’ wrote Gilbert, ‘another chapter is written in the history of the great station.’[7]


[1] Faulkner, J.N. and Williams, R.A., The LSWR in the Twentieth Century, (Newton Abbot, 1988), p7
[2] Author’s Collection, ‘New Waterloo Station’, South Western Railway Magazine, 8 (1922), pp.69
[3] Jerome, Jerome K. Three Men in a Boat, (London, 1889)
[4] Author’s Collection, ‘New Waterloo Station’, pp.69
[5] Faulkner and Williams, The LSWR in the Twentieth Century, p.10-24
[6] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/495, Clerical staff character book No. 5, p.603
[7] Author’s Collection, Gilbert, F., ‘The Opening Ceremony’, South Western Railway Magazine, 8 (1922), pp.70-71

Friday, 18 November 2011

Passengers, Praise and Poetry - Britain's First Restaurant Car

The age of the restaurant car has now passed on Britain’s railways. While full meals can still be eaten on the east and west coast routes, presumably with the help of a microwave or re-heating, no cooking is done from scratch anymore. The last train to provide such a service was the 19.33 from King’s Cross on 20 May this year. Passengers were served a meal of ‘Smoked Haddock Arnold, Bennett crepe’, rib-eye steak, leg of lamb or fillets of trout, followed by blue cheese, apple and walnut strudel or ginger and rhubarb pavlova.’[1] Consequently, this train ended a 130 year tradition in British rail travel. Yet, it is interesting to note that the first and last restaurant services in Britain started at the same place, London's King’s Cross Station.

The restaurant car first appeared in Britain on the 1 November 1879 on Great Northern Railway’s (GNR) route between King’s Cross and Leeds. Railways in the United States had had restaurant cars since 1869 and because of this the GNR’s were built by the Pullman Company, based in Detroit.[2] The Ludgate in 1897 described this advancement as one of the ‘greatest comforts for travellers that had been thought of since the Rocket made its trial trip from Manchester to Liverpool.’[3]

The first journey of the new restaurant car was actually a trial run on Monday 27 October 1879. The York Herald and The Graphic both described the layout of the carriages.  Firstly, as shown in the image, the two carriages that made up the service had platforms at each end which were linked together, rather precariously, by a wooden bridge.[4]  The cook’s galley was at one end of the carriage where a dedicated chef prepared ‘all sorts of good things for the delectation of hungry travellers.’[5] Passing through a short corridor, a door opened into the pantry in which cupboards were neatly arranged to hold ‘stores, plates, glasses, decanters &c’. There was also a sliding hatch, so that meals could be passed from the kitchen to the pantry for arrangement on plates.[6]

The other carriage contained the restaurant area which had six ‘snug little tables, each adapted to accommodate two guests.’ The seats were stuffed and covered in velvet and were mounted on a conical pivot for steadiness. Indeed, the whole train was praised for its smoothness, The Graphic stating that ‘the oscillation of the carriage was scarcely noticeable.’[7] Beyond the restaurant area through a corridor was a ladies’ dressing room, a smoking room with nine seats and a male lavatory. Indeed, a swing door prevented any smoke from the smoking room entering the dining area. There was also hot water heating and electric bells next to each table to alert the steward when a passenger required something.[8]

The menu on that first train consisted of six courses [9] and nineteen passengers could be accommodated by the carriage at any one time. The staff and waiters were provided by the company’s ‘Great Northern Railway Hotel’ at Leeds, and consisted of a cook, a steward who doubled as a waiter, and a boy to serve in the smoking room.[10] Given the opulence of the service it is unsurprising that its guests were first class passengers. However, unlike in later decades, when passengers moved to the restaurant car from their seats through inter-connecting corridors between the carriages, in 1879 they stayed in the carriage for their entire journey.

In the press the restaurant cars’ arrival received much coverage and they were fitted into prevailing narratives surrounding the quality of British railway food. Invoked in good measure was the refreshment room described in Dickens’ 1866 story Mugby Junction, where the food was poor and the service rude. The Standard stated that while not every station refreshment room was as bad as this fictional example, ‘we are still far behind all civilised countries’ in the matter of railway catering.[11] Indeed, Punch published a poem (shown) that including the lines ‘no more Mugby Junction Bar; no more tough ham and chicken; Nor passenger pickin’; For the minxes behind the bar.’[12] The Graphic echoed these thoughts, stating that ‘most travellers have had sad experience of the station refreshment bar…to obtain possession of a basin of scolding-hot soup or cup of coffee.’ Yet ‘this condition of things is no longer to prevail on the Great Northern Railway.’[13]

Ultimately, the introduction of restaurant cars did nothing to change the standard of British railway food. While the GNR was pioneered their use, and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway purchased some in 1881[14], it was not until the late 1890s when companies’ were competing ruthlessly for traffic that they became more widespread. By 1897 the GNR, London and North Western, Midland and Great Western Railways had them.[15]

The reasons for their slow introduction were two-fold. The York Herald in 1879 stated that they cost £3000 to buy (and presumably they were expensive to build later), and for many companies at the time the expense was seen as unnecessary.[16] Furthermore, they were also incredibly heavy and this made them uneconomical to run in the 1870s.[17] Thus, it wasn’t until the 1890s, when companies introduced them as a unique selling point and more powerful locomotives were available, that they became a common feature of long-distance rail services in Britain.


[2] Harris, Michael, ‘dining car’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.420
[3] Du Plat, E.A., ‘Meals on Trains’, The Ludgate, 4 (1897), pp.148
[4] The York Herald, Tuesday, 28 October 1879, p. 5
[5] The Graphic, Saturday, 1 November 1879
[6] The York Herald, Tuesday, 28 October 1879, p. 5
[7] The Graphic, Saturday, 1 November 1879
[8] The York Herald, Tuesday, 28 October 1879, p. 5
[9] The Graphic, Saturday, 1 November 1879
[10] The York Herald, Tuesday, 28 October 1879, p. 5
[11] The Standard, Monday, 20 October 20 1879, p. 3
[12] Punch, reprinted in The Blackburn Standard, Darwen Observer, and North-East Lancashire Advertiser, Saturday, 8 November 1879 p. 2
[13] The Graphic, Saturday, 1 November 1879
[14] The Standard, Friday, 2 December 1881, p. 3
[15] Du Plat, ‘Meals on Trains’, pp.148-155
[16] The York Herald, Tuesday, 28 October 1879, p. 5
[17] Harris, ‘dining car’, p.420

Friday, 11 November 2011

Discovering the factors that caused Accidents to Railway Workers in 1884 - Part 2

 In my last post (here) I looked at possible factors that may have affected the number of accidents British railway workers suffered in 1884. I did this through correlating the accident rates of thirty-one English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish railway companies’ against other operational statistics (Included were 21 English and Welsh companies, 4 Scottish and 6 Irish). I concluded that working for a Scottish railway company, as opposed to English, Welsh or Irish one, put a railway employee at greater risk. Furthermore, in what was ultimately a futile exercise, I discovered there was no correlation between the accident rates in each company and the number of staff they employed. In this post I will examine whether the proportion of goods and passenger traffic the companies carried played a role in accident rates. Furthermore, I will assess if the intensity of train operations on companies’ lines was a factor.

Throughout the period every company carried different proportions of goods and passenger traffic. So, for example, 84.12% of the Taff Vale railway’s (in south Wales) train miles were run by goods trains. However, for the the Metropolitan Railway, serving London and suburban districts, the proportion was a mere 0.46%. Thus, I figured that given goods trains invariably required more human labour to load and prepare than passenger trains, that railways where a higher proportion of goods train miles were run than passenger train miles would have more accidents. Indeed, passengers were self-loading, while goods trains required more shunting and had to be loaded and unloaded by hand. Thus, the scatter graph below shows the number of deaths, injuries and accident overall per train mile against the proportion of goods train miles each company ran.

Personally, I would have expected that as the proportion of good operations increased, the frequency of death would also rise. However, the evidence slightly suggests otherwise. Firstly, as the goods train miles increased proportionately, there is weak evidence to suggest that the number of deaths per train mile also decreased. However, there are significant anomalies. Indeed, the Furness railway, of which 54.40% of train miles were run by goods trains, had a very low fatality rate, with one death every 1,311,973 miles. However the correlation is so weak, and skewed by these anomalous results, that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the regularity of deaths changed dependent on the level of each company’s goods operations.

This said, there is much stronger evidence in the graph that as the proportion of goods train operations increased, so did injury rates. Indeed, The Metropolitan and District railway, on which only 0.60% of train miles were run by goods trains, suffered one injury every 457765 train miles. However, 84.12% of the Taff Vale Railway’s train miles were undertaken hauling goods and it suffered one injury per 590278 miles.

Lastly, as the third set of data indicates as the proportion of goods train miles went up, the frequency of accidents, irrespective of the outcome, also increased. Indeed, this is the best correlation, and no figures are included in that can be considered wildly anomalous. Thus, overall, there clear evidence that working for a company that hauled more goods than passengers, was more dangerous.

But perhaps another factor played a role: intensity of train operations. To determine this figure I calculated the number of train miles run by each company per mile of track they owned (route miles), and plotted this against the number of route miles to each accidents (overall), death and injury. Thus, this would show if companies that on average had the most intense operations per mile of track, suffered more or less accidents. The results are shown in the scatter graph below.

Firstly, the evidence suggests the intensity of train operations did not really affect the fatality rate. While the linear line goes down, the actual results are wildly scattered, with very little correlation at all. Thus, the mere fact that companies had higher intensity networks did not realistically impact on the number of employee deaths, suggesting that other factors played a role, for example the nature of the company's traffic, as shown above.

Furthermore, the number miles per injury were not, seemingly, affected by the intensity of the companies' networks. Indeed, while their are many anomalous returns, the majority spread out in a line along the x-axis. Additionally, the figures for route miles per accident, irrespective of outcome, show that higher intensity operations did not affect overall accident rates. These are the best results, and the returns spread out with lowest deviation above and below the linear line.

Thus, from the statistics considered in this and the last post, the location of railway companies and the type of traffic they transporting have been shown to have affected accident rates in 1884. Indeed, a company operating in Scotland and having a higher numbers of goods trains compared to passenger must have been a very risky employer. However, it should also be remembered that other considerations, which cannot show up in these figures, would have affected accidents rates further. Indeed, some of the responsibility for varying accident rates must be placed on managerial factors, such as companies having a diverse range of safety regimes, the technologies they purchased, different rules and regulations and the quality of employee supervision. Thus, as with very post I write, more research needs to be done.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Discovering the factors that caused Accidents to Railway Workers in 1884 - Part 1

Railway workers in the Victorian period were employed in a perilous industry. In 1884 British railways (including Ireland) killed 546 railway workers and injured 2319. Historians have understandably looked at the way government tried to improve safety through legislation. However, almost nothing has been said about different accident rates within different companies. Indeed, little study has been done on whether safer to work for company ‘A,’ rather than company ‘B.’

For this post I will investigate whether the size of the company’s staff affected how likely accidents were to occur. While theoretically it should not, I chose this question as I considered that the larger companies may have had more formalised rules and money to invest in safety devices, which may have improved their safety records. Additionally, in a period before many safety devices were required to be installed by law, when the hours that employees could be made to work were not regulated and when the companies’ managements were becoming more professional, this question goes right to the heart of whether larger, more impersonal companies are better or worse to work for.

I will use two files from the year 1884 to answer this question. The first is the Board of Trade’s accident returns that detailed the number of railway workers killed and injured in the course of their duties. [1] The second was a return of the numbers of people the railways employed on the 31st March.[2] From these files I have extracted data relating to thirty-one British railways which employed over 1000 people. Twenty-one were English and Welsh, four were Scottish and six were Irish.

From thirty-one railways, employing 351,889 individuals in 1884, there were 508 fatalities (0.14%) and 2,242 (0.64%) injuries. However, before analysing whether company size affected safety, I noticed that the country in which individuals worked in seemed to be a factor in accident rates:-

It is evident that working for a Scottish railway company was rather more dangerous than working elsewhere. In 1884 the four Scottish companies killed 0.24% of their staff and injured 0.80%. This was while on English and Welsh and Irish railways 0.14% of the staff died, and 0.64% and 0.19% were injured respectively. Indeed, this suggests, in 1884 at least, that Irish railways were the safest to work for. The exact cause for Scotland’s higher accident rate is unknown at present, and only more research will give a definitive answer. However, one possibility, which ran through my head, is that the harsher weather of Scotland made working conditions more treacherous.

Turning to the relationship between size and accident rates, there seems to have been no correlation the fatality rate and staff body size. Of the eleven companies that employed over 10,000 people, the largest proportion of fatalities was attributed to the North British Railway, who killed thirty-five of its 13,896 employees (0.25%). The safest railway was the Great Western, who only suffered thirty-four deaths amongst a staff of 39,547 (0.09%).  However, a great range of proportions is also found in the case of the smaller railways. Of the ten companies that employed fewer than 2,500 people, the Waterford and Limerick Railway killed four of its 1503 workers (0.27%), the heist proportion of fatalities of any of the thirty-one companies. However, the Metropolitan railway did not kill any of its 1685 staff. Therefore, because of the range of figures within the samples, for both large and small companies, it suggests that other factors were important in determining how many deaths occurred, for example the technologies the companies were using, the training that staff received and the decisions managers made.

However, when examining injuries it is found that the size of the company’s staffs did have a loose correlation with the number of accidents that occurred. Of the eleven companies employing above 10,000 people, the Lancashire and Yorkshire had the highest injury rate with 284 of its 20,962 employees (1.36%) suffering some minor or major accident. However, the safest company in this regard was the Midland Railway, where only 121 of its 43,699 (0.28%) employees were injured. Amongst the ten companies employing fewer than 2,500 workers, the worst to be employed in was Somerset and Dorset where seven employees out of 1089 were injured (0.64%). The best was the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, where only two of the 1089 staff members were injured (0.18%). Indeed, the average injury rate for the largest 11 employers was 0.69%, whereas for the smallest ten it was 0.33%. The (exceedingly) loose correlation is shown in the scatter graph below.

Given the very weak nature of the correlation I would not like to venture a suggestion without further study. Indeed, the injury rates should, theoretically, be subject to the same forces as the death rates.

Therefore, in my next post I will examine how the intensity of the different companies’ networks affected their accident rates and whether companies that moved more passengers and goods in 1884 harmed more of their workers.

[1] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers [HCPP], Return of Accidents and Casualties as Reported to the Board of Trade By the Several Railway Companies in the United Kingdom, During the Year 31st December 1884, p.17
[2] 1884 (242) Railways (number of persons employed). Return of the number of persons employed by each of the railway companies of the United Kingdom on 31 March 1884 (classified according to the nature of the work performed by them); &c.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Slavery and the Financing of Britain's Early Railways: A Consideration

At the current time I am part of a wonderful organisation called History Lab. If you haven’t heard of it, the ‘Lab’ is a network of history postgraduates operating out of the Institute of Historical Research at Senate House, Bloomsbury. We run events for postgraduates including socials and workshops, as well as hosting papers from PhD students where they can present their research. Thus, History Lab brings postgrads together to learn, share experiences and exchange ideas in a friendly atmosphere.

It was in this environment that that I chaired a seminar last Thursday really got my neurons firing. A fascinating paper was given by Katie Donnington, from University College London (UCL), entitled ‘Feeding the ghosts: George Hibbert, the West India Docks and the re-memory of slave-ownership.’ at one point she mentioned that while the slave trade in the British Empire ended in 1807, it only became illegal for British residents to own slaves thirty years later through the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. This law technically freed most of the slaves in the colonies on the 1 August 1834. However, the reality was that those over the age of six were simply redesignated ‘apprentices.’ Nevertheless, the apprenticeships were eventually abolished in two parts on the 1 August 1838 and on the 1 August 1840, at last freeing the slaves.

For the slave owners the act took off their hands a piece of property, the slaves. However, it also allowed them to claim compensation from the government for their loss.  To fund this massive pay-out the government was permitted to raise £20 million, which constituted 40% of its total annual expenditure. Thus, by 1837-38 over 40,000 separate awards, totalling this amount, had been made to slave-owners.[1]

Katie’s’ paper highlighted the fact that as a slave-owner George Hibbert received compensation. Furthermore, she mentioned that he had been one of five brothers, many of whom also had interests in plantations and would have owned slaves. Indeed, this particularly interested me given that on the board of the London and South Western Railway, the company I study, there was a John Hibbert between 1835 and 1852. Now, I have found nothing so far to suggest that the men were related (in fact one piece of evidences suggests they weren't), yet Katie’s the paper did raise for me compelling questions regarding the possible links between slavery and the early financing of Britain’s railways.

Firstly, there is the possibility that much of the £20 million compensation paid to slave owners ended up in the capital accounts of early railway companies and funded their construction. Indeed, with the plantation owners having to now pay their labour force, which possibly damaged their businesses profitability, they may have seen the railways as good investment opportunities. The table below shows the total share capital raised by Britain’s railways between 1825 and 1843.[2]

This indicates there was a significant increase in investment in the railways in the mid to late-1830s, just as the slavery compensation money was being paid out. Indeed, it was only in 1839 that the share capital invested in Britain’s railways exceeded the total figure of the compensation, £20 million. Furthermore, the money may have played a significant role in fuelling the speculative frenzy of the first great railway mania between 1835 and 1837, in which parliament authorised 1,500 railway route miles and £34.6 million in capital.[3] Consequently, it is highly likely that the slave owners who were compensated invested in a the railways in a big way.

Furthermore, there are questions as to whether plantation owners were investing in the railways before the 1833 act, either to improve their business interests, or because they saw that the wind was turning against slavery and its abolition may damage their business’ profitability. Some evidence has been found that slave owners invested in railways before 1833. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway had slave owners on its board from its initial promotion in 1821 (opened 1830) and this is unsurprising given that Liverpool’s success as a city had been built on the slave trade. Indeed, John Moss, the company’s first chairman and later chairman of the Grand Junction Railway, was a noted slave owner.[4] However, the tiny amount of digging I have done has only found this one case, and I am sure there are more to be discovered.

Overall, what I have presented here are not conclusions, but considerations, and more research clearly needs to be undertaken to determine the links between slavery and the railways. Indeed, the ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership’ project at UCL, and of which Katies’ PhD is one part, is putting together a database of all the individuals who owned slaves in the British Caribbean in the 1830s.[5] Thus, when this database becomes available online I will certainly scan it carefully for early railway investors, promoters and directors. In the meantime, I will just have to be content with the ideas that one [excellent] seminar at History Lab stimulated.

More information on History Lab can be found HERE


[2] Figures taken from: Hawke, G.R. and Reed, M.C., ‘Railway Capital in the United Capital in the Nineteenth Century,’ Economic History Review, Vol.22 No.2 (Aug, 1969), p.271
[3] Reed, Dr. Malcolm, ‘manias, railway,’ in Simmons and Biddle (eds.), Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.311
[4] Trust, Graham, John Moss of Otterspool (1782-1858): Railway Pioneer Slave Owner Banker, (Milton Keynes, 2010), p.2

Friday, 28 October 2011

For Temperance, the Beach and Sport - The Victorian Excursion Train

The excursion train was an important part of British leisure pursuits in the Victorian period. Social, political, leisure and work groups made agreements with railway companies, or through intermediaries that soon became known as travel agents, to convey them to and from a place in a day for cheaper fares. This reduced the cost of travel for the passengers, while providing the companies guaranteed with income.

It is unsurprising that the first excursions were on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), Britain’s first intercity line, in 1831. In first year the company had offered some of the first special trains in the country. Two weeks after the line was inaugurated, in October 1830, individuals could travel from Liverpool to the Sankey Viaduct and back in the Duke of Wellington’s coach for five shillings. This was followed by a special train for visitors to the Liverpool Charity Festival a few days later.

However, the first real excursion was run in May 1831 when the company agreed through an independent promoter to take 150 members of the Bennett Street Sunday School from Liverpool to Manchester and back again for one third of the regular fare. This set the pattern for all excursion trains from then on.[1]

Excursions soon grew in number and popularity with groups being conveyed to race meetings, church bazars, or just to visit cities for a day out. The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent reported in April 1841 that during that year’s Whitsuntide Holidays the North Midland Railway would operate ‘an excursion train from Sheffield to Derby, when no doubt that thousands of our townsmen will take the opportunity of visiting that pleasant town and its arboretum.’[2] Probably the most interesting excursion train of the period was arranged by Bodmin and Wadebridge for a public execution in 1836.[3]

Furthermore, it was in this period that Thomas Cook began as an agent arranging excursions. The first he organised was on the Midland Counties Railway in 1841, and took 570 temperance campaigners to a rally at Loughborough. His business grew rapidly and by 1850 it spread as far as Scotland and North Wales. However, he was one of many travel agents that appeared in the period.[3]

However, with locomotive technology limited, and with carriages small in capacity, excursion trains were huge in size and have been described as ‘monstrous.’ An excursion train from Sheffield to Leeds in September 1840 was pulled by five locomotives and possessed seventy carriages.[4] Another in September 1844 from Leeds to Hull carried 6,600 passengers in 240 carriages pulled by nine locomotives.[5] Indeed, such was their size that in the period excursion trains usually arrived late at their destinations. This meant that the passengers only had a short time at their destination, given they had to rejoin the train to return soon after.

The Great Exhibition between 1 May and 15 October 1851 was the high point for the early excursion trains. By this time many small lines had been absorbed into larger networks that had terminals in London. Consequently, travel agents and groups were able to arrange excursions to the Exhibition from as far afield as Yorkshire. Indeed, some groups even set up ‘exhibition clubs’ to arrange the trips. Thus, all companies serving London experienced considerable traffic increases when the Exhibition was open. The Great Western Railway’s passenger traffic increased by 38.3%, the London and South Western’s by 29.9%, the London and Blackwall’s by 28.5% and the South Eastern;s by 23.8%. Furthermore, Thomas Cook claimed that, acting as agent, he had brought 165,000 individuals to Euston. Thus, most concluded that the railways and excursion trains contributed to the exhibition’s success.[6]

Excursions by this point were an accepted railway activity, even though many railway companies, for example the London and North Western Railway, were not entirely certain they were profitable. Indeed, after the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 the number of excursions exploded and they took vast swathes of people to large religious gatherings, coastal resorts, race meetings, cities, sports events, the boat race and to fairs that many organisations ran. Furthermore, the National Sunday League, which was a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1855 to pressure for museum and park openings on Sundays, began arranging their own excursions from the 1870s. After a small start, by 1914 the League organised 540 such excursions in that year. Furthermore, large companies, such as Bass in Burton and the railways themselves arranged day trips for their workers, principally to the seaside. The GWR’s annual ‘Swindon Trip’ drained the town of half its population, giving a day out to around 26,000 people.[7]

Ultimately, the growth in excursion train numbers after the late 1860s was spurred on by people possessing greater free time and the increased range of available leisure activities. However, the exact number of people using them across the period is unclear. A Royal Commission on Railways between 1865 and 1867 found that the L&YR, L&NWR and Midland Railway carried 1,140,000 excursion passengers in 1865. This constituted 3% of their passenger revenue.[8] This proportion possibly grew and in the period between 1901 and 1909 excursion trains contributed 10% of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway’s income from passengers. However, the latter company served principally passenger districts, whereas the three former companies did not, and the samples were from different periods in the history of the excursion train. Thus, the comparison is not really fair.[9]

Nevertheless, the excursion train added to the cultural life of the country in the Victorian period, and allowed many to experience much that they wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise. Thus, for the people of Britain, the excursion train was a great success.


[1] Simmons, Jack, The Victorian Railway, (London, 1991). p.272
[2] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Saturday, April 10, 1841, p. 8, Issue 1107
[3] Simmons, Jack, ‘Excursion Trains,’ The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.150
[4] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent Saturday, January 02, 1841, p. 2, Issue 1093
[5] Simmons, The Victorian Railway, p.273
[6] Simmons, The Victorian Railway, p.275
[7] Simmons, ‘Excursion Trains,’ p.150
[8] Simmons, The Victorian Railway, p.278
[9] Simmons, ‘Excursion Trains,’ p.151
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