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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

Monday, 24 October 2011

We were Coachmen, Servants and Craftsmen. Early Railway Recruitment - Part 3

This is last post on research that I have been doing on the occupations that 400 London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) employees had before coming  to the company’ Traffic, Coaching and Operating Department (hereon known as the traffic department) between 1837 and 1860. This is based on a single file found in the National Archives. In the first post (here) I discussed how most of the department’s new employees came from the company’s permanent way department. The second post (here) presented evidence relating to those who went into the department directly after school, and those that came from the army or from being labourers. This last post will look at individuals who had worked in transportation industries, were previously employed as servants and those who had been skilled craftsmen.

One of the big questions relating to the early railways is how many employees came from other transportation industries. The results above reveal that the number was small and only ten had been involved in such businesses (2.50%). The ten were constituted of two mariners, five coachmen, one carman, one letter carrier and one currier. What is interesting about the ten is that there were no individuals who had worked in the canals.  Indeed, apart from the mariners (and possible the carman), it seems that most had been working for themselves.  Coachmen, particularly, were seeing the railways as a chance to improve their fortunes in the greatest number.
Furthermore, it also seems that there was no pattern as to when ex-transport workers joined the railway, and in each of the six periods I have split the years between 1837 and 1860 into (see above) there are always at least one individual joining the department. The only pattern that has been discerned is the types of jobs that the men went into. Eight of the ten went into the secondary labour market (with low weekly pay, low job security and few promotional prospects), becoming Porters (3), Guards (1), Pointsmen (1), Ticket Collectors (2) and Police Constables (1). However, only two joined the company’s primary labour market (with high job security, promotional prospects and good pay), one becoming a Station Master and another becoming a station agent. Indeed, these individuals were the mariners, clearly indicating that their prior jobs were perceived as being more skilled and that their education made them suitable for administrative posts. Therefore, this further reveals, as the last post did, that employment patterns before the railways came into existed determined how the L&NWR appointed individuals to posts.

Ex-servants constituted a large number of the sample, with fifty-seven of the 400 being employed as such (14.25%) before coming to the railway. Of these two had been butlers, one was a footman, six had been grooms, thirteen were listed as having been in ‘Gentlemen’s service,’ while thirty-four were simply described as servants. There seems to be no pattern as to when they joined the railway. In the years between 1837 and 1839 they made up 9.09% of those joining the department. In the early 1840s, however, none joined, but in the late 1840s they constituted a massive 19.05%. In the early 1850s the proportion dropped to 8.93%, then rose 16% in the late 1850s and 24.59% in 1860. Thus, the evidence implies that the labour market changed. Before the railways domestic service was the largest employing sector of the economy. However, as shown, when the railways came along they took over this mantle and many people saw them as means to obtain better employment prospects.

Most of the servants went into the secondary labour market. However, it is interesting that large numbers were in the positions that had a public service focus (and which were cleaner). Thus, twenty-seven became porters, three became ticket collectors and nine became police constables. Therefore, there was a clear link between the types of occupations individuals did before they came to the railway and the positions they took up within the L&NWR. This is reinforced by the fact that the Butler, an individual who was a ‘club servant’ (whatever that is) and a man who was in a ‘gentleman’s servant’ were the only three who went into the primary labour market as an Agent, Clerk and an Assistant Agent respectively. Thus, because two of these seemed to have been servants of a higher status, and one may have been, they were accordingly given jobs in the railway that were of similar standing.

Lastly, the forty-one skilled craftsmen were in the sample, and had been occupied in twenty-eight different professions including Tin-Plate Workers, Brassfounders, Shoemakers, Brickmakers and Weavers. Proportionately, skilled craftsmen were the largest group of individuals joining the railway in the period 1837 to 1839, constituting 27.27% of them. Thereafter, their contribution hovered around 10% in each of the remaining periods. I am uncertain what this suggests, and because the sample size for the period between 1837 and 1839 is only twenty-two, the figure may be artificially high.

Furthermore, unlike the other areas of the economy, where individuals’ jobs before they came to the railway affected their position within it, the correlation in the case of the skilled craftsmen was not as strong. The craftsmen took up positions in both the primary and secondary labour markets. Given that the majority of individuals had at least a fair education given their professions, it would suggests that the L&NWR was not just assigning individuals to their posts based on their prior occupations, but also on their ability to undertake their responsibilities.

Overall, I have not been able to reveal in these three posts all the information that I have discovered. However, a number of interesting things have been revealed about recruitment in the early L&NWR’s. Firstly, its Traffic Department recruited heavily from its engineering sections, suggesting that the completion of lines and the subsequent unemployment this brought for some, allowed the company to choose from known staff. Furthermore, there were not a great number of individuals who worked previously in either the military or other transportation industries, as has always been suspected. Lastly, the jobs that individuals received from the railway company were closely correlated to the level of skill and education that were required for their original occupations.

This is by no means a complete study, and there are over 300 pages in the document that haven’t been surveyed. Thus, I hope to do this at some point and give an even better picture of early railway recruitment.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I was a Schoolboy, a Soldier, a Labourer. Recruitment in the Early Railway Industry - Part 2

In my last post I discussed research I have been doing on  professions that the earliest railway workers had before they joined the London and North Western Railway’s (L&NWR) Operating, Traffic and Coaching Department (to be hereon known as the Traffic Department) between 1837 and 1871. Previously, I looked at sixty-eight individuals (out of 400) who had been employed in the company’s Engineering Department before to coming to the Traffic Department. In this post I will start to focus on the remaining 332 men who, before coming to the L&NWR, were employed in jobs outside the company.

As stated, for ease of interpretation I have categorised the 400 workers into the following fourteen categories (Note, there is one slight modification from the table presented in the last post because an error was found.)
Firstly, only a very small proportion of the individuals, twenty-three out of the 400 (5.75%), had no prior employment before coming to the railway. This was reflected in their ages. The youngest of them were three boys of thirteen, two of which were appointed as Booking Clerks and another of which became an ‘assistant agent.’ The oldest individual in the sample was James Nicholson, the [Station] Agent at Bulkington, who was listed as being thirty-six.  Yet, because of his age and his position of responsibility it is highly implausible that he had done nothing before coming to the railway. Overall, apart from Nicholson and two other individuals, the rest were all under the age of eighteen.

However, more interesting conclusions can be made about changes in the L&NWR's recruitment processes. Only four of the individuals who had had no prior profession were recruited in the 1830s and 1840s (3.57% of the 121 individuals recruited in these years). Furthermore, only three of these men were engaged in the early 1850s (2.67% of 112 new employees). Thus, this leaves sixteen that were appointed between 1855 and 1860 (12.80% of 125 individuals). Clearly, in the railway's emergent years it was principally recruiting individuals who had experience of other industries. However, in the late-1850s did it start to recruit people straight out of school, and this is presumably when families’ decades-long associations with the railways began.

The positions that these individuals went into are also of interest. In this period only two went into the secondary labour market (with low weekly pay, low job security and few promotional prospects), becoming a policeman and pointsman. Indeed, the twenty remaining took up positions as agents, clerks and assistant agents (all clerical positions), and, thus, were in the primary labour market (with high job security, promotional prospects and good pay). Consequently, because only sixty-six of the individuals in the overall sample of 400 went into the primary labour market, the L&NWR’s Traffic Department evidently was recruiting a large number of school-leavers into clerical positions before 1860, possibly because of a skills shortage in the economy. But, importantly, this data also signals that by 1860 the distinction between the two labour markets, the jobs they encompassed and what sort of individuals went into them, were well-defined.

One of the most repeated stories about early railway managers was that their ranks were dominated by senior military men, as they were the only ones that had experience of administering large organisations. However, in four previous blogs (starting here) I have clearly showed the error of this assertion. Nevertheless, my interest in the transference of skills from the military to the early railways meant that I was on the look-out for soldiers and sailors when doing this study.

Of the 400 railway workers in my sample only twenty-eight (7.00%) had been in the military before being employed by the L&NWR. Six had been in the royal navy (two as Royal Marines), with twenty-two being ex-soldiers. All bar three of the individuals went into the secondary labour market. Indeed, it is no surprise that fourteen joined the railway police as presumably the discipline of military training made them suitable for this position. Additionally, eight others received manual positions where strength was required, three becoming porters and five taking up posts as pointsmen.

As for when the individuals were appointed, it seems that there was a consistent stream of soldiers and sailors moving from the military to the railway between 1837 and 1860. Indeed, of those employees who joined in the late-1830s, ex-military men made up 9.09% of these. This increased to 11.1% in the early-1840s, but decreased to 7.14% in the early 1850s. However, thereafter the proportion rose again to 9.80% in 1860. In the early-1840s there was seemingly an anomalous result as only 1.59% of the sixty-three new railway workers appointed in the period had been in the army or navy. The reason for this anomaly is unknown.

The profession that most of those in the sample were engaged in before coming to the Traffic Department was that of ‘labourer’ (apart from those who had worked in the Engineering Department). Anyone who has used the census’ will testify how ambiguous this job description is. Indeed, only in six cases out of the sixty-two ex-labourers was more information available (one carter, one collier, two quarraymen and two warehousemen). Unsurprisingly, all the ex-labourers went into the secondary labour market and the positions that they were appointed to in the greatest numbers were as porters (17), pointsmen (19) and policemen (8). Additionally, they also obtained positions as foremen, gatemen, greaser and shaklers (whatever they were) or signalmen. Therefore, the majority of ex-labourers went from strenuous positions to strenuous positions. However, it is quite possible that the railways paid better than their previous employers.

Of more interest is that the proportion of new Traffic Department staff that had been labourers declined over the period. Between 1837 and 1839 they constituted 27.2% of all those appointed. Yet, in the early-1840s this dropped to 18.5%, in the late-1840s the proportion was 15.8%, in the early 1850s it rose slightly to 16.1%, but declined again in the late-1850s to 14.4%. Lastly, in 1860 they constituted only 9.8% of all new staff.

This suggests that changes occurred in the national economy, as well as within the railway companies. Firstly, it would appear that the simple description of ‘labourer’ was becoming less common as time progressed, possibly as new trades were started, new inventions were created and the economy diversified in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Furthermore, and as will be shown in the next post, the reducing number of ex-labourers, who would have had only poor education at best, suggests that the L&NWR was increasing looking to recruit into secondary labour market men with better schooling or even better backgrounds. Only an investigation of the company's files have the potential to prove this.

Overall, this post has revealed that between 1837 and 1860 the L&NWR’s Traffic Department refined who it wished to recruit into its ranks. In the 1830s the new company was recruiting a far higher proportion of poorly educated individuals whose experiences were limited to labouring work. Indeed, school leavers did not feature highly.  Yet, by 1860 most positions that new railway workers were appointed to were highly dependent on their prior experiences and education, as well as being defined by the strict parameters of the company’s primary and secondary labour markets. Thus, it is clear that between 1837 and 1860 the norms of railway employment of the later nineteenth century were developed. In the last post of this series this will be demonstrated further.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 October 2011

"Love it as though it were a human being" - Edward Entwistle, the First Driver of Stephenson's Rocket

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) opened on the 15th October 1830. It was the world’s first intercity railway, and while the Stockton to Darlington had broken new ground in 1825 by being the first to convey passengers, the L&MR was the first to look and act like all the railway companies that came after it. Its stations had all the features we would associate with rail travel today, its trains were hauled solely by steam engines and there were the first timetable. Of particular note was that the first train was hauled by the winning design of the company’s competition to find a suitable form of traction. This was George Stephenson’s Rocket.

What I have just recounted can be found in any railway book covering this period. However, what receives less attention is the staff that manned this pioneering railway. Thus, in my research this week I came across the story of Edward Entwistle, the man who drove the L&MR’s first train. Indeed, this led me to a number of other sources that has allowed me to reconstruct much of his life.

Entwistle was born on the 24th March 1815 at Tyldesley Banks near Wigan in Lancashire. While some accounts say that he was apprenticed to the Duke of Bridgewater’s Manchester works at the age of eleven, his own account made no mention of this. Rather, it seems that he was apprenticed at Robert Stephenson’s Newcastle works for seven years. It was here that Rocket was constructed, and Entwistle had a good mechanical mind and helped in the construction of various parts and the locomotive’s assembly.[1]

While Rocket had helped move materials during the construction of the line, its first day of glory came on the 15th October 1830 with the L&MR’s opening. Entwistle was in luck that day when the driver chosen to drive the inaugural train pulled out. Thus, like most very early railwaymen, he received his position purely on the basis of recommendation. Robert Stephenson asked his works foreman whether he knew of a good man to drive the train. The foreman could not, yet asked the great engineer whether he would be willing to try the apprentice, Entwistle. [2] After Stephenson had submitted him to a detailed examination, the fifteen year old Entwistle was allowed to step up onto the locomotive’s footplate. In 1907 he recalled:

“I stepped into the cab, pulled the throttle; the steam hissed, the wheels creaked and groaned, and amid the cheers of thousands upon thousands of people we started on our journey. Slow at first, but soon more rapidly until we were bowling pleasantly along the country, with the continual accompaniment of cheers and shouts.”[3]

Luckily, Entwistle was not at the helm when the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, William Huskison, was run over by Rocket later that day. Indeed, the distinction of being the first train driver to kill an individual goes to another noted engineer, Joseph Locke.[4]

After the line’s opening Entwistle remained the Rocket’s driver, driving it the thirty-one miles between Liverpool and Manchester in the morning and returning in the evening. However, after two years, and still only at the age of seventeen, he had had enough of the work. It was hard graft and every day he was exposed to the elements. Stephenson accepted his resignation, and as the engineer was impressed with the teenager’s performance, found him a position on the Duke of Bridgewater’s sailing vessels (This is possibly where the confusion about his apprenticeship originated from.) He stayed on these vessels for six years.[5]

At the age of twenty-two Entwistle emigrated to the United States. Initially times were hard and all he could earn was a dollar a day as the engineer on the steamer Troy which operated in the Hudson River and Long Island sound. However, when the boat was decommissioned, Entwistle took the engines and set up a rolling mill. In 1844 he moved to Chicago and worked as an engineer on stationary engines and boats. Lastly, he became the engineer at two major mills and retired in 1889 to a farm he had bought in 1845.[6] He died in 1909 at Des Moines, Iowa at the age of 95.

It is interesting to note that with Entwistle we find the start of a phenomenon that all train drivers, from then until the current day, have experienced; that of great affection for the machines that were in their charge. He recalled that while Rocket was primitive, he was “still loyal to that old engine, and love it as though it were a human being.”[7] How many drivers through the ages could express a similar sentiment?


[1] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78
[2] The Yorkshire Herald and The York Herald, Saturday, August 15, 1896 p. 12
[3] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78
[5] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78
[6] Hird, Frank, ‘Driver of the first passenger train,’ in Lancashire Stories, (London, 1994), p.15-16
[7] Otago Witness, 7 August 1907, p.78

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Discovering Britain's first Railwaywomen (1840s and 1850s) - Part 2

My last post discussed the research I have done on some of Britain’s earliest railwaywomen. They were employed by four companies in the 1840s and 1850s and I looked at the positions they worked in and how they came to be appointed. In this post I will look at their wages, length of employment and how they left the service.

The wages the women received were highly variable within companies, between companies and even amongst individuals doing the same jobs. Out of the sixty women, Ann Berry, an office cleaner at Atherton on the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR), had the sad distinction of being the lowest paid, earning only 1 shilling a week (£2 12s per year)[1]. Interestingly, another office cleaner,  Ann Cavanagh who was based at the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway’s Manchester offices, was the highest paid, receiving £1 1s a week (£52 12s per year).[2] However, despite Ann being the highest paid woman, in comparison with her male colleagues it was still a low amount.

Thus, women’s starting wages on the early railways were meagre. The poorest wages were given to the gatekeepers, and from a sample size of 22 the average wage was 3 shillings 3 pence per week (£6 10s per year). However, this figure is forced up by the fact that there were a number of gatekeepers earning much higher amounts than the rest. Eliza Prince, based at the Saltney gate on the Great Western Railway (GWR) was earning 7 shillings per week (£18 4s per year).[3] However, this average is also skewed by the fact that seventeen of the gatekeepers worked for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) and fifteen of these were receiving what was clearly a standard rate of 2s 6d per week (£6 10s per year). Gatekeepers’ low wages reflected the fact that many of them were given a house as part of their work and had husbands who were also employed by the railway as platelayers or signalmen. Thus, the company did not feel the need to pay these women a higher wage.

The highest wage earners were the waiting room attendants, who on average earned 10 shillings 9 pence per week (£27 17s 2d per year). However, seven of the eight, working for the L&NWR and LB&SCR, all earned 10 shillings a week (£26 per year). Whereas, Francis Fuller, who worked as a ‘servant’ for the LB&SCR, was earning 15 shillings per week (£39 per year).[4] Possibly, the higher wages reflected the fact that attendants usually had had husbands killed on the railways, but also that these men had been in important positions, such as clerks or engine drivers.

While there are only four clerks in the sample, their wage average was 7 shillings 11 pence per week (£20 9s 6d per year). There are seemingly no patterns in their wages, possibly indicating that as the employment of women in such positions was rare, the companies decided what they were paid on a case by case basis. Lastly, cleaners earned on average 5 shillings 2 pence per week (£13 9s 3d per year). Yet, while most of these women were at the lower end of the wage spectrum, amongst the twenty-one individuals doing this job eleven different rates were paid and the only pattern that can be discerned is that the higher paid office cleaners were usually working in stations of note. For example, Ann Trant, who worked at London Bridge Station (LB&SCR), was earning 7 shillings a week (£18 4s per year)[5]. This said, some low paid cleaners at large stations have also been found, suggesting that those who were paid more were possibly in supervisory roles.

Once assigned to their posts forty-one of the women did not receive any wage increases, and for the nineteen women that did the extra income was minimal. Indeed, it was more likely that they would leave the service before they would receive a raise. The details of how twenty of the women left the service have been found. One, Jane Beattie who was an office cleaner at Sheffield on the (MS&LR), died. This was in 1877 after twenty-seven years in the service.[6] Ten resigned and given that four were in their late teens and two were in their mid-20s when they left, it suggests they did so to get married. (The ages when three left are unknown)
Nine of the women were dismissed and the reasons stated for this clearly show that the companies saw women’s labour as being far more dispensable than men’s. Indeed, the phrase ‘services dispensed with,’ or words to that effect, appear in eight of the nine cases, suggesting they were simply fired when no longer required.  The case of Esther Pearce, a gatekeeper at Berwick on the LB&SCR, is particularly interesting as the staff record clearly shows why she lost her job. After thirteen years of service she was discharged on the basis that the company appointed a man.[7] Additionally, long service did not seem to grant the women any immunity from being dispensed with when their post was no longer required. Only Elizabeth Boyd, who was a Charwoman on the MS&LR at Hull, was dismissed for any form of malpractice as she had been inattentive to her duties.[8]

Overall, a number of themes can be drawn from this information. Firstly, the wages women received were, overall, very low compared with those of their male colleagues, even in the cases of the female clerks who were the only women doing a job that men also held. Secondly, there were a considerable number of women who went into railway work before marriage. Lastly, the railway companies saw women were a source of cheap and dispensable labour.


[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 410/1858, Staff register including station agents, guards, porters, ticket collectors, gangers, ladies attendants, night watchmen, police constables, bellmen, lamplighters, engine drivers, firemen, labourers, stokers, signalmen, warehousemen etc., p.258
[2] TNA, RAIL 463/305, Staff register 1, p.441
[3] TNA, RAIL 264/349, Register of uniformed staff No.1 O & P, p.252
[4] TNA, RAIL 414/569, Returns of staff employed in all departments of the company, p.438
[5] TNA, RAIL 414/770, Traffic staff: register of appointments Indexed, p.4
[6] TNA, RAIL 463/305, Staff register 1, p.189
[7] TNA, RAIL 414/770, Traffic staff: register of appointments Indexed, p.119
[8] TNA, RAIL 463/305, Staff register 1, p.392
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