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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Second Class Passenger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, 18 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, 11 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 7 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information on History Lab can be found HERE


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

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