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Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Social Backgrounds of Female Railway Clerks - 1875-1886

Mid-way through last year, I looked at the first sixteen female ledger clerks employed at the London and North Western Railway’s (L&NWR) Birmingham Curzon Street goods station between 1874 and 1876. However, in the course of my research I actually discovered the staff records of fifty-six female clerks that the company appointed between 1874 and 1886 at eight locations across the company’s network.

While I determined from the records these women’s rates of pay, length of employment, promotional prospects and what their jobs involved, I did not look at their family backgrounds. However, understanding individuals’ backgrounds is important, as they ultimately they determined their employment prospects. Indeed, I have postulated elsewhere that these clerks were possibly the daughters of railwaymen. Thus, I set out to test this theory. To determine the women’s backgrounds, which in the Victorian period were essentially their father’s occupations, I looked for the clerks in census records. Consequently, I found the professions of eighteen of their fathers.

Firstly, my theory that the female clerks predominantly came from railway families seems to be unfounded. Of the nineteen clerks only five had fathers employed by the L&NWR (27.78%).  For example, Margaret A. Peacock, who was employed at Shrewsbury station on the 1 December 1876,[1] was the daughter of Edward Peacock who made Station Master at Tattenhale Station in 1881.[2] Furthermore, in that year William Redford, Goods Agent in Manchester,[3] was father to both  Elizabeth[4] and Isabella[5] Redford, who were both clerks in Manchester Moss Street Goods Station. Lastly, Mary Hannah Hassall, who was also appointed at Manchester Moss Street in 1876,[6] had a brother, James, who was a Junior Clerk at the time,[7] which may also have facilitated her entrance into the company. Thus, a considerable, but not overwhelming, proportion of the women did have some link with the railway.

Of the nineteen fathers, seven could be considered to have been in some form of trade (38.89%). For example, Edith Gould, who joined the Camden Goods Office in 1876,[8] was the daughter of James Gould, a cheesemonger in St Pancras.[9] Additionally, James Harris was a Blacksmith employing one man, [10]  and was the father of Martha and Mary Harris who were employed at Birmingham Curzon Street in 1874 and 1876[11] respectively. The professions of the remaining four fathers were a cabinet maker, someone simply listed as a ‘manufacturer,’ a cigar and tobacco manufacturer and a master jeweller employing one boy.

Four (22.22%) of the fathers had positions in some form of administration. Probably the highest ranked was Joseph Arlom, father of Emma Arlom who was appointed at Manchester Moss Street Station in 1878[12], who was an ‘Inspector of Police.’[13] The lowest ranked socially was Alfred Vigurs, who by 1881 was a clerk at a lamp makers.[14] He was the father of Lizzie Vigurs, who was appointed to the Birmingham Curzon Street office in 1875.[15] The others fathers were working as Canal (or possibly Burial) Agent and a Superintendent of a public baths.

Only two of the fathers (11.11%) had what can be considered unskilled jobs. Frederick Hughes, the father of Martha Hughes, an appointee at Birmingham in 1875[16], was a ‘spoon and fork filer.’[17] The other was a Wheelhouseman in Manchester.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the vast majority of the female clerks had fathers who were in professions that required skill or education. Indeed, sixteen of the eighteen (88.89%) fathers would almost certainly have provided comfortable households for their families including good schooling for their children. Furthermore, the majority of the fathers were in positions that Victorian society considered ‘respectable’, meaning their daughters would have had a good chance of obtaining the positive references that potential employers required. Lastly, while this brief piece of research has shown that familial links to the railway were not necessarily required for the women to become clerks on the L&NWR, it has shown that the basis of their entry was identical to that for male clerks, in that the social class, public standing and educational level of the father were hugely important factors.


[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department including clerks, goods managers, inspectors, superintendents, time keepers, accountants, foremen, agents, canvassers and collectors., p.1286
[2] TNA, RG 11/3552, 1881 Census, Cheshire, Tattenhale, District 6, p.1
[3] TNA, RG 11/3473, 1881 Census, Lancashire, Manchester, Heaton Norris, District 12, p.16
[4] TNA, RAIL 410/1841, Salaried Staff Register [No 2, pages 2593-3088] - Miscellaneous departments. Includes staff employed in the following departments: Goods, Cattle, Horse, Rolling Stock, Detective and Canal. Includes station masters, inspectors, detectives and clerks, p.2634
[5] TNA, RAIL 410/1843, Salaried staff register [No. 1, pages 1089-1599] - Goods Department. Includes clerks, goods managers, inspectors, superintendents, time keepers, accountants, foremen, agents, canvassers, collectors, timber measurer, traffic solicitor and cartage, p.1338
[6] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Departmentp.1215
[7] TNA, RG 11/4003, 1881 Census, Lancashire, Manchester, St George, District 19, p.71
[8] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1227
[9] TNA, RG 11/176, London, St Pancras, Regents Park, District 4, p.17
[10] TNA, RG 11/2982, 1881 Census, Warwickshire, Birmingham, St Martin, District 7, p.24
[11] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1207
[12] TNA, RAIL 410/1841, Salaried Staff Register [No 2, pages 2593-3088] - Miscellaneous departments, p.1338
[13] TNA, RG 11/3940, 1881 Census, Lancashire, Moss Side, District 81, p.59
[14] TNA, RG 11/2835, 1881 Census, Staffordshire, Handsworth, District 20, p.26
[15] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1207
[16] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1207
[17] TNA, RG 11/3033, Warwickshire, Aston, Duddeston, District 41, p.19

Sunday, 18 March 2012

An Early Railway Manager - A Perpetual Failure

Cornelius Stovin is not a familiar name in railway history circles. To my surprise, he is not even well known amongst those who study the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR), the company for which he worked as its first Traffic Manager from 1839. My interest in him stems from the fact he left the company suddenly in 1852 when it was found that his accounts were seriously in disarray. However, no research has been done on Stovin before he came to the railway, and, therefore, I resolved to find out more. What was discovered was that Stovin was a perpetual failure.

Cornelius Stovin was born in Birmingham in 1802 to John and Elizabeth Stovin, and was christened at St’ Martins Church on 2 June. [1] According to Chapman’s Birmingham Directory for 1801, John was a druggist who also dispensed oil, soap, candles and glue at the Bullring.[2] He was obviously considerably wealthy, as he was able to send Cornelius to Magdalen Hall at Oxford University, which he entered on the 18 March 1820, aged nineteen.[3]On graduation Cornelius moved into Mosley Street, Birmingham[4] and went into business with John Heycott Jervis as brass founders. This would be Cornelius’ first failure in business, and for unknown reasons the partnership was dissolved in August 1826.[5]

Yet, At some point before then he had met Jane Waddell, who he married on 2 November 1824 at St Phillips Cathedral in the city.[6] Jane was the daughter of William Waddell,[7]  who had taken over the ‘Hen and Chickens Inn’ at 130 New Street in 1802. While keeping the inn he also established himself as a coach proprietor there[8] and turned the business into one of the Midland’s most extensive coaching establishments by the 1830s.[9] Clearly, John Stovin and William Waddell were friends, as William named one of his sons John Stovin Waddell.[10] Thus, it is it is very possible that some point after 1826 Cornelius joined  Waddell’s growing business.

On the death of William in 1837[11] Jane, received £5000, which would have passed to Cornelius because of wives’ property rights in the period.[12] I am not one hundred per cent sure what happened next, however, my best theory is that in late 1837 Cornelius set up a coaching business on his own, probably using this money. [13] However, he did not inherit any of William’s business directly, as most of it was taken over by his son, Thomas.[14] Yet, he clearly had some use of the Hen and Chickens Inn site, as shown by the following advert from The Liverpool Mercury on 7 December; ‘Royal Mails and Fast Post Coaches leave the above Establishment (Hen and Chickens Coach Office, New Street Birmingham), to all parts of the Kingdom, immediately upon the arrival of the different Railway Trains.’ The advert was signed ‘Cornelius Stovin and Co. Proprietors.’[15]

For the second time in his life, Cornelius’ business was unsuccessful, and he was declared bankrupt on the 26 February 1839. Indeed, one of the petitioning creditors was John Stovin Waddell,[16] who by then was a coach builder in his own right.[17] Stovin made a poor business decision by setting up as a coach proprietor in Birmingham in 1837, as the railways arrived there that year.  On 4 July 1837 the Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Liverpool opened[18] and on 17 September 1838 the London to Birmingham started operating.[19] Furthermore, the Manchester and Birmingham Railway was under construction.[20] Therefore, given I presume the main routes of the Birmingham coaching industry were to London, Liverpool and Manchester, it is logical to suggest that in this period much traffic was being lost to the railways, which would have hit Cornelius hard.

However, three days before Cornelius’ bankruptcy, the London and Southampton Railway’s (later L&SWR) Traffic and General Purposes committee minuted that ‘Mr Cornelius Stovin to be Superintendent of the Traffic Department at salary not exceeding £250 a year.’[21] Stovin accepted the post on the 28 February.[22] Later, in 1840, he was made the company’s Traffic Manager.[23] It is quite possible he got the job through being in contact with an influential L&SWR director, William Chaplin,  who had  also been in the coaching business previously. Indeed, Stovin had the support of Chaplin throughout his at the L&SWR, and this had allowed him to increase his power within the company, despite his temper.

Yet, closer scrutiny of Stovin’s past may have avoided the problems that occurred in March 1852. It is clear that Stovin kept the Traffic Department’s accounts poorly. Like most railways of the period considerable traffic was brought to it by independent carriers. The arrangement at the L&SWR was that these carriers were allowed a rebate from the charges they collected for carriage and credit was allowed for three months. However, in August 1851 the directors’ attention was drawn to the poor state of these accounts, particularly those of a West of England carrier named Ford. Ford owed the company a considerable amount, and immediately after the directors expressed their concern Stovin managed to reduce his outstanding debit to £5000.

But things were going sour for Stovin and his operations were coming under more scrutiny. Thus, in early 1852 he took sick leave and then absconded to the United States in March. Initially, the press reported that there were ‘no known deficiencies affecting the railway company.’[24] However, an investigation, which lasted until July, found that Stovin had been hiding a shortage in the Traffic Department’s accounts of £2921 11s 8d. Chaplin offer to pay Stovin’s return fare so that he could explain himself to the board. But the ex-Traffic Manager stayed in New York.[25] Indeed, on the 19 May his wife Jane and seven children arrived in by the ship London to join him.[26] Finally, the whole family moved to Canada, where Stovin again became a railway manager.

Stovin was clearly an unsuccessful businessman three times over. Firstly, his foundry business failed in 1826, then the foray into the stagecoach industry collapsed, and, lastly, he arranged the L&SWR finances very poorly, costing the company money. Yet, he reached his lofty position by receiving help from individuals who were much more astute businessmen than he, for example William Waddell and William Chaplin.

Ultimately, the Stovin case raises some broader issues surrounding the nature of early railway managers. This was an era when the idea of the professional railway officer was far from established and the ‘Stovin affair’ highlights that the early railways took into their ranks a mixed bag of individuals that could not always be relied upon. However, Stovin was just one example amongst thousands in the period, and more research needs to be done on the backgrounds of other early railway managers to truly find out what their experiences were before coming to the job.


[2] Chapman, T, Chapman's Birmingham Directory, (Birmingham, 1801)
[3] Oxford University Alumni, 1715-1886, Volume VI, p.122
[4] Berrow's Worcester Journal, Thursday, November 18, 1824; Issue 6359
[5] The Observer, 28 Aug 1826, p.1
[7] Berrow's Worcester Journal, Thursday, November 18, 1824; Issue 6359
[8] Hanson, Harry, This Coaching Life, (Manchester, 1983), p.149
[9] Harman, Thomas T. and Showell, Walter, Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham, (Birmingham, 2006), p.125
[11] Death index Oct-Nov-Dec, 1837
[12] The National Archives [TNA], PROB 11/1873, Will of William Waddell, Innholder of Birmingham , Warwickshire, 24 February 1837
[13] Liverpool Mercury etc, Friday, December 7, 1838; Issue 1439
[14] Hanson, This Coaching Life, p.149
[15] Liverpool Mercury etc, Friday, December 7, 1838; Issue 1439
[16] The law journal for the year 1832-1949: comprising reports of cases in the courts of Chancery, King's Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer of Pleas, and Exchequer of Chamber…, p.13
[17] 1835 Pigot's Directory for Warwickshire, Birmingham, p.543
[21] TNA, RAIL 412/3, Traffic and General Purposes, and Traffic Police and Goods committees, 23 February 1839
[22] TNA, RAIL 412/3, Traffic and General Purposes, and Traffic Police and Goods committees, 2 March 1839
[23] TNA, RAIL 412/1, Court of Directors Minute Book, Minute No. 1307, 30 October 1840
[24] Reynolds's Newspaper, Sunday, April 18, 1852; Issue 88.
[25] Williams, R.A., The London and South Western Railway: Volume 1 – The Formative Years, (Newton Abbott, 1968), p.219-220
[26] National Archives (US), New York Incoming Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Reducing Railway Industry Fragmentation in the early 1900s

Christian Wolmar has written frequently that one of the major causes of the railway industry's current woes, in terms of operational costs and passengers fares being too high, is the fragmentation of the industry. Britain's railways as they exist contain a myriad of private companies interacting with each other within a web of complex working arrangements, most of which force costs up. Indeed, it is accepted by most experts that separating the management of the trains from the tracks was a disaster.[1]

But fragmentation within the railway industry isn't a new issue and was addressed by railway managers in the early 1900s. In the late 1890s the railway industry's profits were depressed by a mix of poor management, competition, increasing material costs and the growth of high volume low-margin traffic (However, historians are divided on which of these factors played the biggest role). Indeed, in 1885 the industry's operating ratio, which is expenditure expressed as a proportion of revenue, stood at fifty-two per cent. By 1900 this had been driven up to sixty-two per cent.[2]

In response to their change in fortunes, railway companies attempted to reduce costs through numerous means in the first years of the 1900s;  more efficient track maintenance, better locomotive designs, new technologies and improved goods operation. Yet, despite these vigorous efforts to improve how they functioned, inter-company rivalry and duplicated services remained one of the most serious and costly issues for industry leaders. Between 1870 and 1900 the railway companies of Britain, of which there over a hundred, unsuccessfully sunk resources and capital into competing for market share on certain routes and at cities which were served by more than one company. For Example, the Great Western and London and South Western Railways had a protracted battle in the West of England, both in terms of the services they provided and through line building to gain territory. But such competition only served to depress profits, not improve them.

Therefore, late in the first decade of the twentieth century railway companies came together to promote economical working, eliminate competition, pool resources and ultimately reduce overheads. While outright mergers were actively resisted by government, as they would hand companies regional monopolies, railway directors and managers worked around this objection by forming 'working unions'. In late 1907 the Great Northern and Great Central Railways announced an alliance in which they pooled receipts and the management of all rolling stock, lines and works were placed under the remit of a joint committee. It was an arrangement akin to amalgamation, however, it just wasn't a legal union. 

Other companies soon followed suit. In June 1908 the London and North Western and Midland Railways produced a less comprehensive scheme, where all receipts, except those from coal and coke traffic, were pooled, competitive capital expenditure was ceased and cooperative and economical train operations were sought. Indeed, this had considerable success in reducing these two companies' operational expenses. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway joined the agreement in 1909. Furthermore, early in 1909 the Caledonian and North British Railways drew up a very similar agreement. Lastly, in August 1910, after nearly a year and a half of negotiation, the Great Western and London and South Western Railways came to terms. [3]

While the fragmentation of the modern railway industry is different in many ways to that which existed immediately after 1900, there is no doubt that in the period knowledgeable industry leaders felt a sensible way to reduce their railway's operational and capital costs was to cooperate. Indeed, the particular success of the London and North Western and Midland Railway in reducing these forms of expenditure through unification, is a testament to the idea that when it comes to railways, collaboration, not fragmentation, can be preferable.


[1] Wolmar, Christian, "Fragmentation is the problem, not the solution", Christian Wolmar's Website, 19 May 2011
[2] Gourvish, Terry, Railways and the British Economy 1830-1914, (London, 1980), p.42
[3] Cain, P.J., 'Railway Combination and Government, 1900-1914', The Economic History Review, 4 (1972), p.633

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Refreshment Rooms of Spiers and Pond - The Station Refreshment Room after 1870 - Part 2

In my last post I talked about the frequent complaints about the service and food in railway station refreshment rooms after 1870. However, there were exceptions where refreshment rooms were considered exemplary, the most notable being those managed by the catering contractors Messrs Spiers and Pond.

Spiers and Pond was formed in 1851 when Christopher Pond, while seeking his fortune in Australia, met Felix William Spiers in Melbourne. Initially, they rented a room in the National Hotel there, turning it into a catering facility for gold miners called ‘The Shakespeare Grill Room.’ After much success, they soon looked to expand and purchased the Cafe de Paris in the city.[1] In 1858, a Professor Anderson wrote to The Era describing it:-

‘Above the bars, and over the gateway you enter, is the CafĂ© de Paris, containing a salon, far superior in decoration and appointments to any I know of among the restaurants of London, and a coffee and smoking room fitted up with as much taste and elegance as you will meet in Paris…You may dine here in as much style as anywhere “at home,” and be served with a cut from a hot joint, just as at Simpson’s on the Strand.’[2]

But Spiers and Pond's plans didn't stop there and in 1861 they paid for the English Cricket team to visit Australia. The English team arrived on Brunel’s steamer, the Great Britain, on Christmas Eve 1861 and in the following months played matches against teams from the various Australian provinces. After losing all but one game, they played their last in early May, leaving shortly afterwards.[4] Financially, the cricket team's visit was a roaring success for Spiers and Pond, and, buoyed by its success, in March 1862 they tried to persuade Charles Dickens to conduct a speaking tour of Australia for £10,000; or £5,000 if they bore all costs.[5] He declined.

Why Spiers and Pond returned to Britain and started taking over railway station refreshment rooms is unknown. However, by mid-1864 they had made arrangements with the London, Chatham and Dover Railway to run all the rooms on their line, as well as at Charing Cross Station on the South Eastern Railway when it opened. Rather than Spiers and Pond paying the railways a rent, they would receive a proportion of the profits ‘thus giving to each party to the contract an interest in the extension of the business to be done.’ Furthermore, Spiers and Pond would ‘endeavour to attract customers by the quality and price of their goods supplied.’[6] Unsurprisingly, their refreshment rooms were a great success and, consequently, arrangements were made with the Great Northern Railway for the operation of a refreshment room at King’s Cross station, and with the Metropolitan railway for the provision of services at all their stations.[7]

As part of this deal with the Metropolitan, in 1866 Spiers and Pond opened a refreshment room at the company's Ludgate Hill Station. The Era gave a description:

‘It is now decorated in the most refined taste, and divided into compartments fitted with spring, velvet covered seats, and every possible contrivance to ensure the comfort of those who may make use of it in the future. An enormous stove, oven and fireplace combined, called the “Great Grill Apparatus,” is a prominent object at one end of the restaurant…”

The restaurant opened on Monday 1 January 1866 to passengers of all classes. The publication, referring to refreshment rooms generally, commented that ‘reforms in this branch of what we may call railway administration were imperatively demanded, and these reforms Messrs Spiers and Pond have commenced in the most praiseworthy manner possible.’[8]

In the years that followed the company took over the operation of rooms all over Britain’s railways. At some point before 1882 they received the contracts for all of the refreshment rooms on the Great Western and Midland Railways. Yet, in that year the companies took them back from contractors and operated them themselves (these decisions were later reversed).[9] Furthermore, in 1888 the London and South Western Railway’s rooms were in the hands of Spiers and Pond.[10] Only a more thorough investigation, which I have not time to do, will reveal when different companies made arrangements with Spiers and Pond. However, in 1894 they were operating rooms at the ‘principal stations’ of the following railway companies:

London, Chatham and Dover
South Eastern
Great Western
London and South Western
Great Northern
Great North of Scotland
North British
Great Eastern
Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire
Lancashire and Yorkshire

Thus, by 1925 Spiers and Pond operated over 200 refreshment rooms in Britain.[11]
Spiers and Pond were universally praised for the quality of their services. In 1866 it was commented that they ‘maintained the highest reputation, and we sincerely trust that their efforts at reforming the system of railway refreshment rooms will meet with success.’[12] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent in 1869 called them ‘celebrated caterers.’[13] In 1872 it was commented that ‘Spiers and Pond have earned a reputation for their good fare at moderate prices.’[14] A writer in The Fishing Gazette in 1880 commented that he ‘found everything up to the mark’ and that the ‘most courteous attention was paid to the visitors.’[15] Lastly, Spiers and Pond’s arrival in Britain was referred to in 1888 as having caused a ‘gastronomic revolution.’[16]

Therefore, Spiers and Pond refreshment rooms provided passengers with a better quality service than those elsewhere, the quality of which was highlighted in the last post. Nevertheless, what effect this had on improving the provision in refreshment rooms generally is unclear. There is a possibility that it put pressure on railway companies and other contractors to improve their facilities. However, given that most held monopolies at the stations they were serving, and combined with the evidence presented in the last post, I suspect it is unlikely.


[2] The Era, Sunday, September 12, 1858
[3] The Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet, and General Advertiser, Friday, April 25, 1862, p.6
[4] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Wednesday, May 14, 1862
[5] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Tuesday, March 18, 1862, p. 5
[6] The Morning Post, Saturday, August 27, 1864, pg. 2
[7] The Era, Sunday, October 2, 1864
[8] The Era, Sunday, December 31, 1865
[9] The County Gentleman; Sporting Gazette and Agricultural Journal, Saturday, November 04, 1882, pg. 1123
[10] The County Gentleman, A Sporting Gazette and Agricultural Journal, Saturday, January 07, 1888; pg. 9
[11] Biddle, George, ‘Refreshment Rooms,’ The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (London, 1997), p.417
[12] Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, Saturday, January 06, 1866
[13] The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Saturday, May 15, 1869; pg. 6
[14] The Standard, Monday, March 18, 1872; pg. 2;
[15] The Fishing Gazette, Saturday, January 24, 1880; pg. 37
[16] The County Gentleman, A Sporting Gazette and Agricultural Journal, Saturday, January 07, 1888; pg. 9
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