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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Football Amongst Railway Workers on the GCR (1905-06, 06-07 seasons)

Sports were one of things that socially drew together late 19th and early 20th century railway workers. However, in the late 19th century cricket was the sport of choice for many individuals, as testified by the vast swathes of cricket scores found from 1881 onwards in the London and South Western Railway’s Staff Magazine, the South Western Gazette.[1] By comparison, football was still in its infancy, and while there were a great many large clubs in existence in by the early 20th century,[2] the formation of teams at grassroots level was still prolific. With highly inter-connected organisations, cooperative working and a sense of loyalty to railway Companies, it isn’t surprising that railway workers began to form teams and leagues of their own. Thus, this Blog post is about football amongst Great Central Railway employees.

Cricket was seemingly the sport of choice for many employees of the Great Central Railway (GCR) in 1905, and the first edition of the company’s staff magazine, the Great Central Railway Journal, detailed the matches that the Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester Great Central cricket clubs played. Interestingly, many of these matches were against teams from other railway companies, revealing that inter-railway rivalry spread beyond just the speed of trains, the quality of the service or the shine of railway worker’s buttons. In May 1905 the Nottingham Club lost by 120 runs to 76 against the Nottingham Locomotive Department of the Midland Railway. However, they won against the Great Northern Railway’s Nottingham clerks by 82 runs to 45. The Leicester GCR team beat some London and North Western Railway men by 66 runs to 23. Furthermore, in addition to the inter-company games, the GCR cricket clubs also played teams from surrounding villages and groups.[3]

Yet, since the late 19th century, football had become a far more popular sport and the April 1906 edition of the Journal gave reports of Football matches that were occurring amongst GCR railwaymen. The team from Ardwick Station beat their colleagues from Openshaw, 3-0. The Doncaster District Superintendent’s Office (DSO) team beat Liverpool DSO staff members by four goals to none. Lastly, Blyton Station staff stunned the Sheffield Bridgehouses Goods Accounts Clerks by inflicting on them a 13-0 defeat.[4] This was unsurprising though, as the Blyton team was beaten only once in the 1905-06 season.[5] With footballing activity at a high level, it is interesting to note that the May 1906 edition of the GCRJ stated that there were not only teams amongst the GCR staff, but there were clubs also.[6]Indeed, a later correspondent cited that teams and clubs were established at Doncaster DSO, Hexthorpe, Mexborough, Wombwell, Stairfoot and Barnsley Goods Depot.[7] As a community of footballers, their undoubted crowning achievement of the 1905-06 season was that a united GCR team won the Hampstead and District League West London Charity Cup.[8]

In the May 1906 edition of the GCJ there was a description of the Doncaster DSO’s team that gave details of the nature of a GCR football team. It seems that its formation was a reflection of the community spirit that existed amongst the men. The team was formed because of ‘a desire on the part of some of the members of the office to meet in friendly games with the staff in the other district offices of the company.’ While the article didn’t specify a date of formation, it suggested that the team, while new, was one of the more established clubs. Growing from a small start it had become ‘a team capable of meeting many of the amateur teams in the district.’ Its star players were the Captain, Mr Storer, and the Vice-Captain, Mr Fennell, two players who were ‘capable of leading the team onto victory.’[9]

Amongst all the GCR teams the Blyton Station team stood out as being a well-established (and not to mention formidable),[10] as they were already partaking in a local league.[11] Thus, in the April 1906 edition of the GCRJ a Mr A.E. Bales, of the company’s Carriage and Wagon Workshops at Gorton, had a letter published suggesting that a company league be started. On the basis of the Blyton example he posited that ‘a league could be formed composed of employees from the GCR system.’ He suggested establishing more than one league, to be arranged in divisions, as well as a cup competition for the whole of the system. He felt that the cost would low and welcomed suggestions from ‘admirers of the winter pastime.’[12] This, therefore, would move the activities of footballers in the company to a more advanced phase of organisational development.

Many of the views were positive. E. Kimmery of the Blyton team offered his support and the use of a ground for teams that did not have their own.[13] He was supported by ‘W.A’[14] and a ‘would be football team’ from an unknown location, who suggested that it was ‘about time something was being definitely decided upon.’ They hoped that a league could be formed by the start of the next season.[15] ‘J.S.S.,’ ‘A.K.D.’ and ‘H.O.’ from Liverpool supported the idea, but raised the point that because of the size of the GCR the distances some teams would have to travel to play matches would be impractical. As an alternative they suggested two or more leagues in the districts, with occasional test matches being played between teams that constituted of the best players from both. They also suggested a central organisation to coordinate the leagues which would be based at Sheffield.[16] Subsequently, Kimmery took it upon himself to marshal the organisation of the league, writing to twenty-two stations about the proposals.[17]

Unfortunately, Kimmery reported in the November issue of the GCRJ that of the twenty two stations that he had written to, only four had replied. Subsequently, the idea was ‘to rest for the present time.’ However, he was willing to fix up friendly matches for Blyton with any GCR team.[18] Blyton in the 1906-07 season continued to be on top form, beating Chapeltown 5-1 on November 18th and the Hull Kingston Street team 11-0 on December 8th.[19]

Unfortunately, my research hasn’t taken me far enough to establish whether a football league was eventually formed in the 1907-08 season or beyond. However, it is hoped that this will be discovered soon. What this case study suggests is that football by the early twentieth was an increasingly popular pastime and that communities were arranging more than just individual matches. Cricket had dominated as the sport of choice in the 1900s. However, presumably because of the increased free time that railway employees had due to legislation that limited their working hours, football, a sport that was far more accessible and shorter in duration, quickly became popular amongst them.


[1] The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 11/5, The South Western Gazette, June 1885, p.8

[2] TNA, ZPER 16/2, Great Eastern Railway Magazine, March 1912, p.73-74

[3] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, July 1906, p.7

[4] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, April 1906, p.240

[5] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, January 1907, p.185

[6] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[7] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, July 1906, p.23

[8] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, March 1907, p.238

[9]TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.268

[10] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, April 1906, p.247

[11] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[12] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[13] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[14] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, June 1906, p.298

[15] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, July 1906, p.23

[16] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, August 1906, p.54

[17] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, November 1906, p.134

[18] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, November 1906, p.134

[19] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, February 1907, p.234

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Selling at Stations - The first W.H. Smith Station Bookstalls

Usually, before our train journeys we feel the urge to have something to read while being conveyed to our destination. We go in to the shop at the station, choose our book or magazine of choice, pay for it and leave. I suspect for most of us the fact that we made our purchase in a W.H.Smiths barely crosses our mind. They are just there, woven into the fabric of our travelling experience. Yes they do have a monopoly, and perhaps that that isn’t the best thing in the world. However, the fact that we do not question this monopoly is because Smiths has been providing this service so well for a very long time. Since 1848 in fact.

In 1792 Henry Walton and Anna Smith opened as news vendors in Little Grosvenor Street, London. This was on the back of the growth in newspaper titles since the mid-1750s, and by this date there were eight regular morning dailies and nine evening papers in the city.[1] In 1812 on the deaths of Henry and Anne their son William Henry took over the business. William soon expanded it, and with his brother Henry opened up a reading room at 192 Strand in 1821.[2] Their new enterprise’s position close to centre of the newspaper industry on Fleet Street and the Stamp office at Somerset House would soon pay off, and soon Smith began to expand his operation into one increasingly concerned with the ‘transmission and sale of London newspapers to the provinces.’[3] Thus, via mail-coaches the company created a nation-wide newspaper distribution network.[4]

With the growth of the railways Smith used them to distribute London newspapers across the nation. However, in 1846, William Henry went into partnership with his son, also William Henry, creating W.H. Smith and Sons.[5] The son soon saw the opportunity to place their bookstalls in stations. Prior to W.H. Smith moving in on the market, many of the newspaper vendors at stations were former railway employees (many of whom were crippled) or their widows who were trying to make ends-meat. For them, this was the best pension that they could expect receive. Generally what they sold was a mixture of soiled newspapers, ‘improper literature,’ gingerbeer bottles and tarts.[6]

The lack of newspaper vendors at stations selling quality publications was an opportunity for Smith. Thus, in August 1848 he approached the London and North Western Railway with a view to securing ‘exclusive rights to sell books and periodicals on stations.’ Smith would also endeavour to provide employment for the vendors that he replaced. Only a month later Smith’s tender was accepted. He would pay £1,500 for ‘the privilege of selling Newspapers etc. at all the Railway Stations now under the sole control of the LNWR.’ Euston was chosen as the first site for a bookstall, which opened on the 1st November 1848.[7]

Quickly, the number of bookstalls that Smith controlled grew, and between 1848 and 1863 he secured contracts with the following railways:-

1848 – London and North Western Railway

1851 - Great Northern Railway, London and South Western Railway, Eastern Counties, Lancashire and Yorkshire, London, Brighton and South Coast, North Staffordshire, North British

1852 – South Eastern, Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire,

1854 – Midland Railway

1863 – Great Western Railway [8]

Thus, by 1865 most of the main line stations and many of the smaller ones had a W.H.Smith bookstall. Smith had, in the space of a mere 15 years, created an empire which had a virtual monopoly on the reading habits of the travelling public, a testament to Smith’s business acumen and foresight. While his and his successor’s relationships with the railway companies were not always smooth, this is a dominance that still persists to this day.


[1] Wilson, Charles, First with the News: The History of W.H.Smith, 1792-1972, (London, 1985), p.10-11

[2] Wilson, First with the News, p.17

[3] Wilson, First with the News, p.37

[4] The First WH Smith Railway Bookstall -Questia Online

[5] Wikipedia Wikipedia - W.H. Smith

[6] Wilson, First with the News, p.102-103

[7] Wilson, First with the News, p.103

[8] Wilson, First with the News, p.99 and 132

Sunday, 20 February 2011

"A Typical Hotspur Crowd" - The Great Eastern Railway's Football Arrangements - 1912

In my work on the London and South Western Railway I frequently come across references to how it managed the movement of thousands of passengers to race courses such as Kempton, Hurst Park and Sandown. However, I have never encountered anything related to the transportation of football fans, presumably as this was only a small proportion of its traffic. While having a leisurely comb through the pages of The Great Eastern Railway Magazine (GERM) from 1912, I found an article that detailed how that company moved fans to and from league games.

The Great Eastern Railway’s (GER) territory was not small. Its trains ran out of Liverpool Street Station to most of East Anglia and it also served the north east London suburban district. However, because of emergent nature of the football league it only served a handful of major clubs. These were Tottenham Hotspur, Clapton Orient, which is now known as Leyton Orient, Woolwich Arsenal, well, I’ll let you guess their current name, Leyton, West Ham, Southend and Norwich City. Of these clubs it was Tottenham that drew the biggest crowds, and the article suggested that for first fixture of the season, ‘with, say, Newcastle United, or the North Londoner’s neighbours and keen rivals, Woolwich Arsenal’ the number of passengers attending would be around 40,000. On cup-tie days this number was exceeded. Thus, the majority of the article focussed on the movement of fans to and from White Hart Lane.

Being the only form of mass-transportation in Britain, the conveyance of away fans to the ground was a huge logistical effort. Thus, the company had to lay-on “special trains” to accommodate them. Railway managers not only had to take into account the extra locomotives and carriages required, but also had to operate these services around the regularly scheduled ones. The process of arranging these trains began when GER managers met with club officials a few weeks before match. By using figures from previous games they ‘computed’ how many fans could be expected at the game and by what routes they would travel. Subsequently, the number of special trains required would be worked out.

The next stage was for the company’s Chief Rolling Stock inspector to be consulted. He would arrange for the required carriages ‘that were lying idle at one or other of the suburban sidings’ to be placed at the disposal of the running department who would make them up into trains. A close inspection of the working time table was then undertaken and the arrival and departure times from Liverpool Street Station, and the paths the trains would take, were then worked out. All the company’s staff along the route of these trains, the stationmasters, guards and signalmen, were then appraised of the trains’ times. Lastly, at the station extra inspectors, ticket collectors and police were employed on the day to handle the swathes of fans.

Ticketing for these matches also took on a ‘special’ character. In the case of Tottenham games, cheap tickets were issued to what the GERM referred to as ‘Park’ Station, which I now suspect is ‘White Hart Lane Station.’ These tickets were issued on match days from Hertford, Ware, St Margarets, Ryde House and ‘all points between Ponder’s end and Broxbourne.’ In the Magazine’s opinion the availability of cheap tickets was ‘entirely justified’ as it drew crowds to the football from far and wide. However, it wasn’t just cheap tickets that were used to entice fans to the games, and the advertising department was also ‘rendered busy’ producing ‘placards, handbills and booklets etc.’ Indeed, special tickets were offered for Leyton and Norwich games also. In the latter case, the club also cooperated with the railway company to offer reduced-rate fares from surrounding stations. The large number of people patronising the trains was evidence that the ‘“sons of the soil” appreciate and support high class football with enthusiasm only equalled by their town-bred brethren.’

It was after all these plans were put in place that the real action began, and the second half of the GERM gives a rather poetic account of the melee that occurred on a Tottenham match day. On the platform at Liverpool Street Station the fans crowded waiting for the “White Hart Lane Special.” Even before the train came to a standstill they crowded in with ‘a little horseplay – a little pushing perhaps – but more from sheer exuberance of spirits than necessity,’ filling the trains beyond capacity and converting every compartment ‘pro tem into a smoker.’ Some trains went direct from Liverpool Street to White Hart Lane. However, some were dispatched half full, picking up fans on the way.

The activities of the fans on the trains would not seem a million miles away from the antics of today’s supporters; ‘a snatch of a song…a comic chorus, intermingle with the loud jests and banter of the noisy contingent.’ Yet, not everyone was as loud and ‘with difficulty’ the quieter element settled down to ‘talk football.’ Indeed, the topics of conversation are more than familiar to us today; ‘the chances of rival teams are carefully weighed, individual players criticized or praised’ and the prices of the latest editions to the transfer list were ‘debated as eagerly as stockbrokers might discuss the variation in “home rails”’

After a journey of half an hour the extra staff at White Hart Lane Station was ready. The trains pulled up and the passengers alighted, ‘each individual anxious to be the first to gain some coveted point of vantage on the stands or terraces.’ Hurriedly, they travelled downstairs where their tickets were collected from them in an expeditious manner and the platform was cleared in the ‘space of about two minutes.’ The now empty train steamed on, with another coming up behind it. The last special trains arrived just before kick-off.

‘It has been asserted by close observers’ the article went on ‘that the fortunes of the home team can be gauged by the demeanour of the crowd upon its return.’ With the final whistle blown the first arrivals from the ground began to appear at the station. Before entering they were taken in hand by ‘mounted patrols of the Metropolitan Police’ who lined them up in a queue at the entrance. They were let into the station, as one “Geordie Tripper” described it, “like t’animals into t’ark – two by two.” If one of the ordinary trains was not due a waiting ‘special’ would be brought into the platform. As soon as enough passengers to fill the train had passed through the gates they were shut, and those left outside had to await the next train. The virtue of this arrangement, which the GERM stated was unique, was that in the entire time that it had been in operation there had not been a single accident.

It seems that the GER particularly impressed observers with the speed with which they dispatched the fans after the games. Amongst the regularly scheduled services, the special trains were brought in at five minute intervals. Should a train not be available the stationmaster would message Enfield Station who would send another empty one from Liverpool Street. The result of so many trains arriving in a short space of time was that the company could clear crowds of seven or eight thousand in 35 minutes. Should the match be a cup-tie, between fifteen to seventeen thousand fans were apparently transported from White Hart Lane in just under an hour, a fact made even more impressive as this was from only one platform.

Indeed, this arrangement was not limited to the Tottenham crowds, and at Woolwich Arsenal, West Ham, Clapton Orient and Leyton, the same arrangements were operated. Overall, it seems that by 1912 the GER had honed their skills of organisation, advertising and ticketing to get the maximum return out of the football fans, but at limited cost to the company.

All information Taken from: The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 16/2, Great Eastern Railway Magazine, March 1912, p.73-74, Original article written by George A. Fisher, Secretary's Department.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Colour, Safety and the State - Colour-Blindness and the Victorian Railways

Much focus in the historical railway literature has been placed on the role that the state played in imposing safety measures on the Victorian railway companies. Less light has been shed on what the railway companies themselves did to improve the safety of the industry for both the passengers and their employees.

Towards the end of the century many medical professionals became aware that some individuals’ colour blindness was potentially a danger to the lives of the travelling public if they worked in safety-critical parts of the railway industry. By the 1850s most railway companies used coloured signals to stop and start trains. Thus, an individual who was colour-blind may not have been able to distinguish the signals’ colouration and potentially caused an accident if he misread one at danger. Indeed, this was a greater problem at night as most railways used identically sized circular light signals. In 1857 The Derby Mercury reported a lecture by Professor George Wilson. In it he stated that:-

“people who are colour-blind are generally insensible to red and green colours, or rather confound these colours when presented to the eye; and therefore, if the officers who have charge of railway signals, that are red or green, should happen to have this imperfection of vision, most serious accidents might be the consequence.’[1]

This was just one example of how those in scientific and medical circles felt about railway companies having colour-blind individuals as engine drivers or guards. Indeed, many of the individuals who spoke and wrote on this matter, especially in the 1850s when it became a widely discussed topic, called for the railway companies to introduce testing. In 1859 The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent detailed a lecture given by Edward Smith to a local Literary and Philosophical Society on the topic. He stated that “it was important that persons before they were made signal men, drivers guards etc. should be subjected to an examination, to see that they were not labouring under this defect.”[2]

But, by this point some railway companies had started to introduce colour-blindness examinations. Smith cited the case of the Great Northern Railway who had instituted one for drivers, and by 1866 the Great North of Scotland had done the same. [3] Furthermore, in January 1880 J.H. Stafford, Secretary of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, wrote to The Times in response to a letter that stated that many companies did not have a test for colour-blindness. He stated that his company had had a test in place for many years and that ‘no person was appointed to any position connected with the working of the trains’ without being tested.[4] Indeed, it seems that by 1892 most companies had instituted tests for colour blindness for drivers, firemen, signalmen and guards.[5] Indeed, by this point the London and South Western Railway even tested all individuals in the Traffic Department, who were not in safety-critical positions,[6] and there is evidence that this practice was quite widespread.[7]

Yet, a range of different types of testing methods for colour-blindness existed within the industry, and it is clear that some companies did not employ tests that were deemed effective by some in scientific circles. The Glasgow Herald reported that at a meeting at the Glasgow Philosphical society in March 1879 Dr J.R. Wolfe proclaimed that ‘the examination of railway applicants for application into railway service…he considers was worse than useless.’[8] Furthermore, at the Society of Arts in 1890 Mr Bond, the Great Western Railway’s surgeon, stated that the company’s directors had asked him to look into the matter. He agreed with the speaker, Mr Brundell Carter, who had said that ‘complaints had been made of the tests adopted by railway companies.’[9] Subsequently, by the 1890s there was seemingly a storm raging over the testing methods employed by railway companies.

These fears were validated by Board of Trade’s committee of 1892 on ‘colour vision.’ This was formed to look into the scientific understanding colour blindness and to determine which form of examination was the most effective. Despite there being no conclusive evidence by this date that colour-blindness had caused any accidents, the committee concluded that ‘very few [railway companies] have an adequate system of testing’ and that ‘nearly all the methods employed are defective.’[10] After taking evidence from 500 witnesses, it recommended that tests be compulsory and that railway company’s used ‘Holmgreen’s test.’ This used the gradual removal of different coloured wool skeins from a larger selection that had a range of colours. As the skeins were removed the examiner would narrow down the extent of the examinee’s colour-blindness.[11]

Despite defining which test for colour-blindness was most effective, the committee only had the power to make recommendations to the railway companies. As such, it is unknown how many were using the Holmgreen’s system by the turn of the century. Yet, it is important to note that it was the State, and not the railway companies, that had to step in to determine which method of testing was most accurate. After 40 years of trying the railway companies had not by themselves been able to institute an effective industry-wide testing method and had evolved their own individual ways of doing things that were imperfect.


[1] The Derby Mercury, September 9, 1857

[2] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, December 03, 1859; pg. 8

[3] The Aberdeen Journal , December 5, 1866

[4] The Times, Jan 02, 1880; pg. 5; Issue 29767

[5] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers [HCPP],1894 [C.7325] Colour vision. Circular from the Board of Trade to the railway companies of the United Kingdom, and correspondence relative thereto.

[6] HCPP, 1892 [C.6688] Report of the Committee on Colour-Vision, p.17

[7] HCPP, 1894 [C.7325] Colour vision. Circular from the Board of Trade to the railway companies of the United Kingdom, and correspondence relative thereto.

[8] The Glasgow Herald, March 6, 1879

[9] The Times, Jan 23, 1890; pg. 11

[10] HCPP, 1892 [C.6688] Report of the Committee on Colour-Vision, p.17-19

[11] HCPP, 1892 [C.6688] Report of the Committee on Colour-Vision, p.20

Monday, 14 February 2011

One Year of Blogging - What I have learnt so far

This, would you believe it, is my first anniversary Blog post. Over the past year I have touched on topics as diverse as religion in railways, right through to modern railway issues. I can’t say I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the process, and at times I have struggled to find something to say. However, it has been rewarding, inspiring and useful to me. I hope that you, dear reader, have also enjoyed my posts and will continue to follow my blog in the year ahead. In this post I hope to touch on some of the things that I have learnt in the process that will, hopefully, improve my blog in the future.

I am not a miracle-man – No, sadly I am not. In around September and October I started to write a blog post every other day. My goodness, it was a mistake. Not only did I rack my brains constantly for things to say, but I found that my other work, the PhD, began to suffer. The main thought behind starting the blog was that I wasn’t time burdened with teaching classes, something that full-time PhD students usually do. Thus, the blog would naturally fill this space. Yet, writing seven blog posts per fortnight was too much, even though it did have a positive effect on the number of hits I received.

People are more interesting that Management – Well, this one took a while to realise. I am by default a railway historian but my PhD is placed, quite naturally, under the banner of ‘business history.’ Thus, most of my material in the early days of the blog was of a managerial bent. I realise that sometimes I still post things of this nature, but I do see in the statistics that they are not as popular. Thus, in September or October I started writing more about railway employees, as these posts invariably attracted more attention. This policy has subsequently met with much success.

Don’t start a boring side-project– Does anyone remember ‘Turniprail +Documents?’ I have a very large collection of railway documents from railway history which I find fascinating. Thus, I started the ‘+Documents site’ as a way to show them off and by proxy promote my main blog. This site monumentally failed as virtually no one looked at it. Presumably, everyone wasn’t really interested in my documents and I suppose as the ‘historian in the room’ it was my job to interpret their contents and write something interesting about them. Unsurprisingly, I ended the project very quickly.

My interest is not everyone’s – If you could only see my cutting-room floor. I have posted entries on the blog that were much longer in their first draft because I wrote parts that I alone found interesting. If you look back at my early posts you will see this. However, I soon came to realise that putting in too much irrelevant detail can be stifling for the reader. This doesn’t mean I have stopped doing it. However, I can now identify the boring parts and catch them before they get on the site.

Social Networking is a great, but Google is better – Many of you are no doubt reading this because I either posted this article on Twitter or my Facebook group. That’s great, and many thanks for following me, I do value it. However, as the number of posts has risen, so have the hits that I have received from search engines. Over the year they have provided me with a third of my traffic, yet, in the last month they constituted half. Thus, people are finding the site and my work because I am now becoming an internet presence. I suppose this percentage can only go up.

Referencing is Important – I am not entirely sure whether any the information on my site has been used in books or articles elsewhere (and please shout if it has). However, I have come to the realisation that referencing my sources in my posts is highly important. Firstly, I want what I write to be used by historians elsewhere. Secondly, I don’t just want this site to be something that forgotten by historians when I stop adding to it. I want it to be a resource for many of them in the future. As such, I now reference everything so that the posts are taken seriously academically and will also stand the test of time.

One Document can be interesting – I still sometimes write highly involved pieces where the references are coming out of my ears. Nethertheless, I have learnt that simply using one document for a post can be the path to getting it out when time is at a premium. More importantly, blogs on individual documents can also be equally as interesting as multi-sourced ones.

Of course, this isn’t everything I have learnt over the past year, to write that list would be laborious. Yet, these are my central revelations that I will hope will improve my blog in the future. Lastly, all that remains to be said is to thank you for reading my work…and here’s to the next year!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Public Opinion and Railway Managers - A Victorian Case Study

In my work on the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) I am acutely aware of the fact that after 1870 the railway company’s business was affected by external forces such as rising costs, government legislation on safety, fluctuations in the trade cycle and the growth of unions. Indeed, much of the literature on the late 19th century railway industry has focussed on how these factors affected companies’ profitability. Another area of interest is the effect that public opinion had on companies and whether they may have tailored their services to the needs of the public, rather than engaging in ruthless profit maximisation. However, rarely has this been studied in detail. Thus, it was with this in mind that I decided to have a look at The Times online archive to ascertain whether I could find linkages between public opinion of the L&SWR and its policies. I did in part, but my discovery wasn’t what I expected, in that I found a storm that was blowing around one man.

Archibald Scott was born in Dundee in 1821 to a Tanner, also by the name of Archibald.[1] Information Scott’s early life is unknown, apart from the fact that he was employed by the Edinburgh and Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee, and North British Railway companies. In 1852 he was appointed as Traffic Manager of the L&SWR, after the previous holder of the post, Cornelius Stovin, absconded to the United States with a fair amount of the company’s money. In 1870 he was promoted to the position of General Manager with control over all the company’s operations.[2] Thus, by 1884 Scott had been the company’s most senior manager for 32 years.

From the mid-1870s the complaints against the speed and unpunctuality of the L&SWR’s train services began to grow. The May 1876 issue of The Pall Mall Gazette published a letter from ‘Quaerens’ complaining that the L&SWR, amongst other companies, halted the regular trains in favour of ‘specials’ bound for the race meetings at Epsom and Ascot.[3] In an edition of Funny Folks magazine of October 1878, it mentioned the case of a season ticket holder who had brought an action against the company because of delays to his journey. He lost his case, which the publication lamented.[4] In September 1880 a letter to The Standard from a ’victim’ complained that the ‘unpunctuality of the [L&SWR’s] trains was notorious’ and that he ‘had never in my life arrived at Waterloo at the proper time.’ He placed the blame at the feet of the management.[5] Lastly, in the late 1870s the residents of Hounslow formed an ‘Acceleration Movement Committee,’ and under the leadership of Peter Watson they frequently petitioned the company for improved train services. In some cases, trains arriving at Waterloo arrived 20 to 30 minutes late.

Many of the delays in the train service can be attributed to the fact that between 1870 and 1880 the company’s passenger traffic increased by 126%. In 1870 the company hauled 13,387,357 passengers. By 1880 this number had risen to 30,294,406, and this caused the infrastructure of the company to come under strain, especially at bottlenecks in the system like Waterloo. The lines into that station were narrow and the station was small, only possessing four platforms in the mid-1870s. The company attempted to ease the pressure by expanding the station in 1878 and 1885, adding a further eight platforms.[7] Yet, these changes were unsuccessful in slowing the steady flow of complaints about the company's train services. As always, the blame was laid squarely at the feet of ‘the management.’[8] Then in late 1884 a storm broke.

It is where this storm broke that was important. It was in the country’s most prominent newspaper, The Times. On the 9th October five prominent passengers, Lieutenant-Colonel S.E. Orr, Colonel Clifford Parsons, Lieutenant-Colonel R.H. O’Grady Haly, Edward H. Halsey J.P. and George Fry, wrote to The Times to complain about the unpunctuality of the L&SWR’s train services. All lived about 35 miles from Waterloo and travelled on the same train daily. While according to the timetable they were expected to arrive at 10.24, they always arrived later, sometimes after 11 am.[9] This was followed on the 11th October by another letter from D. Radford who complained about the ‘extreme unpunctuality’ of the company’s services.[10] On the 16th three more letters were published from ‘A Resident,’ ‘A Victim’ and ‘Viator.’ The ‘victim’ laid the blame for the unpunctuality of trains at the feet of ‘the utter incapacity of the management of the London and South Western Railway.’ But it was not all criticism, and while the ‘Resident’ did acknowledge the problems, he defended the company on the grounds of that increased traffic had caused the delays in trains. Also, ‘Viator’ was positive about trains on the ‘Thames Valley Line,’ (to Shepperton) stating that were never more than 10 minutes late.[11]

However, any defence of the company was quickly nullified by the letters that the paper printed on the 21st October. Of six letters printed only one supported the company, with almost all attacking the unpunctuality of the company’s trains. Indeed, the first, from H. Stopes, went further in criticising officials at Waterloo who he claimed were ignorant and lacking in courtesy. Lindo S. Myers stated that he had travelled in Europe and that ‘there is not one [company] so badly managed as the South-Western nor is there any time table which is so purely the work of supposition.’ The only support for the company came from J.M.D. who stated that the trains between Exeter and London were always punctual.[12] Yet, this defence was called into question by a letter printed on the 23rd October in which H.T. Edwards wrote that the punctuality on this service proved ‘that even the London and South Western can be punctual when they come into competition with the Great Western.’ He called this fact the ‘last nail in the coffin’ for the ‘disgraceful management’ of the L&SWR.[13]

What effect this had on the L&SWR General Manager is unknown. However, it cannot be a coincidence that on the 10th November, only two and half weeks after the last complaint in The Times, Scott sent a letter to the L&SWR board tendering his resignation.[14] While other factors may have been involved in this decision, such as the worsening financial situation of the company and Scott’s increasing age, the high profile nature of the complaints, combined with the increasingly poor image of the company because of them, no doubt helped Scott decide that it was time to go.

Therefore, this case overall raises the question as to the extent external pressure played in shaping the careers of Victorian railway managers and the decisions they made. This, subsequently, is an area that needs more work.

[1] The National Archives [TNA], Unknown Reference, 1841 Census Return, Dundee, Forfarsh, p282

[2] TNA, ZPER 11/28, South Western Gazette, January 1911, p.8

[3] The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Monday, May 22, 1876; Issue 3512

[4] Funny Folks (London, England), Saturday, October 26, 1878; pg. 338; Issue 204

[5] The Standard (London, England), Wednesday, September 15, 1880; pg. 3; Issue 17521.

[6] Williams, R.A., The London and South Western Railway – Volume 2: Growth and Consolidation, (Newton Abbot, 1968), p.48

[7] Chivers, Colin and Wood, Philip, Waterloo Station circa 1900: An Illustrated Tour – South Western Circle Monograph No.2, (London, 2006), p.2-17

[8] TNA, ZPER 11/3, South Western Gazette, December 1884, p.3

[9] The Times, 11th October 1884, p.7 Issue 31262

[10] The Times, 15th October 1884, p.7 Issue 31265

[11] The Times, 16th October 1884, p.10 Issue 31266

[12] The Times, 16th October 1884, p.12 Issue 31270

[13] The Times, 23rd October 1884, p.12 Issue 31272

[14] TNA, RAIL 411/7, Court of Directors Minute Book, Minute No.1547, 13th November 1884

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Ministering to Navvies - Railways, Religion and Combating the Labourer's 'evils'

I have talked in the past about looking at the relationship between religion and the railways, as the way that religion interacts with society and the structures within it is something that fascinates me. Therefore, when I came across the government’s 1847 select committee report on Railway Labourers it didn’t surprise me that their religion, or lack thereof, was something that concerned the committee members.

The committee was formed to ‘inquire into the Condition of the Labourers employed on the construction of the railways and other public works, and into the remedies which may be calculated to lessen the peculiar evils, if any, of that condition.’ [1] Seemingly, the commons did not see the error of putting ‘if any’ [italics added] in the terms of reference, as there would have been no reason to form the committee if railway labourers were perceived to by sober, polite and pious. Indeed, as I have written in this blog previously, railway labourers and navvies had a reputation for being drunkards, brawlers and semi-criminal.[2] Thus, in a Christian country, where clean living was seen as highly important for the health of one’s body and soul, railway labourers were perceived as heathens. This is why the committee too such an interest in their religious activities.

The committee took evidence from many individuals, including such notables as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous engineer, Samuel Morton Peto, the owner of one of the largest contracting firms in the country, and Captain Constantine Richard Moorsom, a director of many railway companies and later chairman of the London and North Western Railway. Furthermore, the committee also interviewed builders, other contractors, railway employees and clergy that dealt with railway labourers. Thus, when writing their final report they had evidence from many quarters.

The report stated generally that religious provision for labourers was ‘imperfect.’ Large communities of railway labourers were established very rapidly when a new line was under construction, putting a strain on local religious facilities. This problem was especially acute in areas where the population was sparse. As such, the committee concluded that this deficiency cooperated with other evils to ‘deprave the character and degrade the habits of the men.’ Therefore, it is unsurprising that many of the individuals who stood before the committee felt that some form of religious instruction was beneficial for reducing the ‘evils’ that the labourers engaged in.[3] To make up for the deficiencies some railway and contracting companies did provide out of their own pocket religious facilities for the labourers engaged on building works. However, the level of provision varied between them. Some companies provided religious personnel to minister to the labourers. The Caledonian and Liverpool and Bury Railways,[4] as well as the contractor Peto,[5] paid for a number of scripture readers. The South Devon and Caledonian Railways paid for chaplains.[6] However, some companies went further and provided their labourers with venues for religious activities. On the Chester and Holyhead railway the company ‘temporarily fitted up a church’ at Chester. The Lancashire and Carlisle and South Eastern Railways built temporary chapels at Penrith and Dover respectively. The most minimal provision was made by the Sheffield and Manchester Railway who provided their labourers with a ‘hut covered with a tarpaulin.’ Lastly, Peto’s contracting firm provided his employees with Bibles as standard.[7]

However, despite these companies’ efforts, the report itself stated that religious provision was ‘utterly neglected.’[8] Officials from the North British, Norwich and Brandon, and Manchester and Leeds Railways stated that while they were aware of places of worship near their building works, the companies themselves did not provide any religious facilities. Subsequently, the report concluded that where labourers only had local religious provision attendance was varied. Labourers on the Chester and Holyhead railway attended the churches and chapels in Conway greatly, while workers employed on the Manchester and Leeds Railway’s Oldham branch did not.

Furthermore, only in the cases of the South Devon and Caledonian Railways were full priests, vicars or ministers provided for the labourers.[9] Indeed, it seems that many of the companies relied on local clergymen or religious organisations to take an interesting the spiritual wellbeing of the labourers. In the case of the South Devon Railway it was the Reverend John Robert Thompson that approached the company to minister to them because of the disturbance they were causing amongst the local population.[10] The Croydon and Epsom Railway’s employees were ministered to by the local Pastoral Aid Society and the Leicester and Carlisle Railway’s labourers had a layman employed by the ‘Dissenters of Kendal.’ Furthermore, the Irish labourers from the Caledonian Railway actually paid for a Roman Catholic priest to visit themselves. However, this was presumably because of the lack of Roman Catholic clergy in the area.

Additionally, while only Peto provided Bibles as a matter of course to his employees, on the Chester and Holyhead and Lancaster and Carlisle Railways the workers could buy them, as well as hymn and prayer books.[11] Therefore, it seems that the religious instruction that was provided by the companies was variable and was possibly affected by who was in charge of the company.

Overall, while the committee concluded that access to religious provision did have a ‘most satisfactory’ result in combatting ‘evils’ amongst railway labourers,[12] it also stated that this was no substitute for companies addressing their underlying causes. These included the level of wages paid, the regularity of payment,[13] the housing provision for them and their families, the rapid movement and growth of labouring communities,[14] and the conditions in which they worked.[15] Thus, in the committee’s final report the lack of religious provision for workers was cited last as a cause of labourer’s disruptive behaviour. Indeed, the presence of religious instruction was seen only as bonus in solving the problems of labouring communities, rather than a cure. The report stated that ‘no teaching can be of much avail to counteract the ceaseless operation of such degrading and deteriorating influences,’ and that in trying to improve labourer’s behaviour employers had understandably improved other aspects of their lives.[16] Furthermore, amongst the statements provided to the committee the evidence that religious instruction had positive effect on labouring communities’ ‘evil’ habits is seemingly very weak.


[1] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers [HCPP], 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers; together with the minutes of evidence and index.

[2] Coleman, Terry, The Railway Navvies, (London, 1968), p.19-35

[3] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.xi

[4] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.40

[5] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.43

[6] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.11

[7] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.40-41

[8] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.xi

[9] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.40-41

[10] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., Minute 179

[11] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.40-41

[12] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.xii

[13] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.iii

[14] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers.,

[15] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.viii

[16] HCPP, 1846 (530) Report from the Select Committee on railway labourers., p.xi

Saturday, 5 February 2011

We Need to Act Now to Save Railway Archives

The railways of Britain are probably some of the most studied organisations in the history of the world, with tens of thousands of enthusiasts nationwide researching and writing about them each year. These enthusiasts have been invaluable in advancing our knowledge of Britain’s railways and their operations, and have shed light on many areas of railway history that have previously been unknown. Indeed, my own work has been immeasurably enhanced by the London and South Western Railway’s study group, the South Western Circle, whose membership has provided me with documents, articles and pieces of research. In fact, such has been their contribution to my work that they get a big credit in the introduction to my PhD. But the Circle is only one part of a network of study groups across the country that research individual companies and lines. However, within this community there is an approaching problem.

It cannot escape anyone in the enthusiast world that a lot of these groups’ members are in their senior years and new members are in short supply. Subsequently, I predict this will have an effect on the level of research these groups undertake, the number of meetings they will hold and the dialogue they engage in with academic railway historians. But what concerns me most is the fact that many of these groups may start to fold, creating very dangerous situation. A look at the document catalogue of the London and North Western Railway Society lists the original documents it has in its possession on an immense 134 pages. This equates to approximately 2500 individual items related to the L&NWR, more than is held by the National Archives at Kew. If the group were to fold or was unable to maintain such a collection what would happen to these items? Additionally, if a member of the society who holds a large private collection of documents died, where would they end up? Ultimately, I can’t give you an answer because there isn’t a plan in place for the future.

I believe that we cannot simply allow groups to fail before any action is taken. Structures have to be put in place in the next 10 years to make sure the documents that these groups hold will be preserved. Nothing drastic needs to be done now, and we don’t need to move at a rapid pace because this problem itself won’t materialise rapidly either. But, there needs to be a concerted effort by the study group community to protect what they have so that all these archives are not deposited in a nearby skip.

So, how could the study group community begin to undertake such a task? I believe that the only way that this can be done is through the creation of an umbrella body that would be responsible for the monitoring and registering of the nation’s railway study groups. This group would, therefore, act as a basis for the cataloguing of all records that the different groups and their members hold, and facilitating, if and when a group folds, the transferral of the archival material to the jurisdiction of a central body that can take care of them. Subsequently, it may arrange for the documents to be deposited in a county or national archive (i.e. The National Archives or the National Railway Museum Archives).

However, such a group may also lead to a standardisation of the rules regarding how external individuals could access the documents that are held, the procedures that societies could follow to take over the custody of documents when an individual passes, and the rates they charge for access to their archives. Furthermore, like the railway clearing house in the 19th century helped coordinate aspects of the industry beyond its initial remit, this umbrella body may also lead to greater unity between organisations, standardisation of membership rates and act as an advocacy body for the study of the railways. It may even, dare I say it, set up its own archive to preserve the nation’s railway history .

Overall, I feel so strongly that something needs to be done in the future that I may, after my PhD, pursue this issue. Furthermore, if you, dear reader, are a member of a company study group and feel this is an issue, please pass this post onto other members so they can start thinking about it. We need to do something, lest railway archives pass into the midst of time…or into a skip.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Size and Performance - Did the number of railway managers affect company performance?

In my recent work I have been considering the decline in profitability of the late Victorian Railway industry. Many of the commentators have attributed this decline to many factors, such as management trying to build empires, inefficient operating practices and the external pressures such as high wage costs or traders service demands. However, to my knowledge no historians have looked at the link between the number of managers the railway companies employed and their profitability. In short, did the size of a companies’ management class affect its performance?

While information on the railway companies’ financial performance is easy to find for the entire 1870- 1914 period, employment data is a bit more elusive. The only year from which accurate data is available can be found is 1884, when the companies submitted a return of how many individuals they employed in all grades to the government. Thus, for this blog post I will look at the link between the number of managers companies’ had and their profitability in 1884 in Britain’s 14 largest railway companies. The central measure of company efficiency is the Operating (OR), which measures the company’s expenditure as a proportion of revenue. Thus, while imperfect, it does give some indication as to corporate performance. This will then be measured against the number of senior managers and administrators the companies’ had as a proportion of their total workforce, and also against the number of managers and administrators they employed per route mile operated.

Firstly, I looked at the OR against the number of senior managers as a proportion of the overall number of staff. This is shown below:-

As can be seen, there is no discernable correlation between how many senior managers the company employed to administer the staff and company performance. The one return that is out of place was the Taff Vale Railway, in which 0.63% of all employees were managers, a fact probably reflecting its smaller size.

I have then expanded the sample to include all the companies’ ‘administrators.’ By this I meant all the individuals that had a chance to go into management, such as clerks, station masters and inspectors. Thus, the next graph shows the OR against the number of administrative staff as a proportion of the companies’ total workforce:-

Once again, there is seemingly no strong correlation between the size of the management class proportional to the companies’ total workforces and the performance of them.

However, on discovering these results it didn’t conclusively prove that in 1884 the number of managers affected company performance. So, I wanted to take this further and decided to look at the number of managers per route mile open against the OR. The graph below shows this.

Again this reenforces the fact that the number of managers within companies did not affect their ORs in any real sense. The one ‘high’ figure was the Midland railway which seemingly had a very large number of senior managers per route mile operated (69.40). Contrastingly, the Taff Vale Railway, which had the same operating ratio of 53%, had the lowest number of managers per route mile operated (4.57).

Lastly, I looked at the number of administrators per route mile open against the OR. This is shown in the last graph below.

This is probably the graph that has the highest level of correlation between two data sets that I have chosen, showing, very weakly, that as the number of administrators per route mile open increased, so did the operating ratio. However, given what has been discovered above, I cannot conclusively say that incereased administrators per route mile increased the operating ratio.

Overall, what my very quick piece of research has shown is that in the very largest companies in Britain in 1884 the size of an organisations’ established executive and management class had almost no affect on their profitability. Companies with larger managements proportional to the staff or per route mile did not seem to gain from this fact, whereas those with smaller ones did not suffer devistating efficiency losses. Therefore, this suggests that by 1884 railway companies appointed managers based on the needs of operation and not based on an internal logic that dictated that increased management meant increased profit. It further suggests that in 1884 that British railway companies were not ‘top heavy’ in that they had too many managers.

Conversely, it has been well documented that 19th century Britishrailway companies’ were over-centralised, a factor that meant the numbers of senior managers in the industry was small proportional to the total workforce. Thus, what this evidence cannot show is whether significantly increased numbers of managere may have had an affect on companies’ performance in the long run as I have essentially measured the companies against their piers. Indeed, the fact that British railway companies managed themselves in very similar ways means that these figures may be of more use if compared with railways in other countries. Naturally, as with all things I post, this area of work needs more research...
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