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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Philanthropy of Railway Companies - 1910

One of things that I've noticed when going through the minute books of the London and South Western Railway was the large number of donations the company made to charitable causes, especially in the 1880s, 1890s and early twentieth century. However, it was also noted that the railway companies, for unknown reasons, refused many requests to contribute to organisations on many occasions. Yet, this was all I saw of the charitable activities of railway companies in the period. Therefore, imagine my surprise when found in the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers a report detailing all the charitable donations that British railway companies made in 1910.

In that year the railway companies of England, Wales and Scotland (I have excluded Ireland) earned £116,240,054 and cost £72,170,459 to operate.[1] In the same year, the industry donated a mere £14,068 4s 0d to external organisations, the large proportion of which were of a religious or charitable nature. This constituted a measly 0.000195% of the industry’s entire operating costs for 1910. Thus, the railways of Britain, while in large part seeing to the needs of their own workers though housing, pensions, training and healthcare schemes, were miserly when giving to those beyond their organisational borders.

Reflecting the paternal activities of the railway companies, the majority of their donations were to ‘Hospitals, Infirmaries and Dispensaries,’ which totalled £6,690 15s 6d. Combined with the donations to other ‘medical’ organisations listed amongst the recipients, ‘Convalescent Homes and Nursing Associations’ (£424, 5s 0d) and ‘Ambulance, medical, surgical aid, and truss societies’ (£308 1s 0d), the total that the railway companies gave to these types of bodies was £7,423 1s 0d, or 52.76% of the overall total. The fact that medical organisations were the largest beneficiaries of what little charity the railways provided, is indicative of the fact that they relied on them to support their own workers who fell sick or who were disabled in the course of their employment. Therefore, propping up medical organisations through donations was extension of the railways’ own internal paternalistic activities.

Religious organisations received the next largest amount of charity from the railway companies. ‘Church funds’ and ‘missions’ received £1,698 3s 0d overall (12.07%). As has been stated in earlier blog posts (here and here), early on different railway companies had varying approaches to religion, ranging from indifference to active encouragement. The fact that different attitudes were still present by 1910 is shown by the different proportional amounts that companies gave to such organisations. The London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) gave £100 5s 0d, or 9.17% of its overall total, to religious organisations, while the Great Western Railway (GWR) gave £125, or 9.89%. Yet the Lancashire and Yorkshire (L&YR), North Eastern (NER) and Great Central Railways (GCR) gave nothing, while the London and North Western Railway gave £822 1s 8d to churches and their attendant organisations, 31.22% of their overall total. Given that most donations were decided on by the companies’ directors, the varying contributory amounts given to religious bodies clearly related to the different levels of religiosity existing within company board rooms.

The early twentieth century was also a period when railway companies were starting to provide opportunities for their employees to train externally; opening up opportunities for them to gain further experience and possible promotion. To this end the railway companies donated £1,110 18s 0d (7.89%) to educational institutions. Looming large amongst the recipients was the London School of Economics (LSE), which at the time was training London based clerks in the art of railway management. You can read more about the courses in some of my earlier blog posts (here, and here). The five railways who sent clerks to the LSE in 1910 were the L&SWR, GWR, GCR, NER and Metropolitan Railway. Additionally, £1,278 14s 0d (9.09%) was spent on ‘Mechanic’s, Seamen’s and Fishermen’s Institutes.’ However, the majority of this total was constituted by the London and North Western Railway giving £1,087 10s 0d to the Crewe Mechanics’ Institute where it sponsored training 42 for individuals. Yet, as shown, the railways that were giving to educational institutes to varying degrees. This is indicative of the fact that the idea that railway employees could advance themselves and boost their careers through work-based education was only starting to permeate the industry.[2]

Overall, I do not have space to discuss all the donations that railway companies made in 1910 and have only mentioned the most prominent recipients here. However, what this post has shown is that the donations that company boards made could represent the state of the industry at the time, the beliefs and ideas of directors, and the environment in which the companies operated. Thus, more research needs to be done on this forgotten area of railway history to see how much we can learn about the attitudes of directors and managers. But then, I think I have lost count now of the areas I keep flagging for further research.

[1] Railway Returns 1910
[2] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers [HCPP], 1911 (266) Railway companies (charitable and other contributions, 1910). Return to an order of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 10 August 1911;--for, return "showing in detail the amounts contributed by the railway companies of the United Kingdom, during the year 1910, to institutions and associations of various character, not directly controlled by the companies, and not for the exclusive benefit of the companies' servants."

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