Turnip Rail

This site is only being updated in part now. Existing full posts will still remain, but for new blogs and more information on me, please see my new website HERE

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Britain’s first railway? Business and Beaumont

Two lines originally thought to have been built around one year apart fight it out for the claim to be the ‘first’ British railway - this post explores the history of one of them. Huntingdon Beaumont was born at Coleorton in Leicestershire in around 1560, the youngest son of Sir Nicholas and Ann Beaumont. They exploited the rich supplies of coal within their estate and it is here that the young Huntingdon learned the business of mining. Driven by his insatiable energy, clear vision, but a reckless streak, in 1601 he moved to Nottinghamshire, and using what he had learnt at his parents’ mining business leased and worked coal pits at Wollaton, Strelley and Bilborough...

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Don't Confuse Your Bradshaws

One of the questions I frequently get asked as a railway historian is “do you ever watch the Michael Portillo show? You know, the one where he goes around with a Bradshaw’s Guide?” Usually, I respond that I don’t very often. This is not because I dislike the show, I just lack the time to watch it. I nonetheless think the BBC produced an excellent program that has re-awakened national interest in the Victorian railways and their legacy; this is to be celebrated. Where previously railway history books were relegated to a bottom, lonely shelf in bookshops, now they can lay claim to whole bays.
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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

From nothing to everything: the development of the career railway worker

It has been proclaimed in many places, at many times thatbefore 1914 a job on the railway was a job for life.  Railway workers' careers apparently followeda set course: starting out in their teenage years, employees would undergo someform of apprenticeship, gradually move up through the ranks of their department,and would eventually retire at the age of 60 or 65. Throughout, in return fordiligent and obedient service – a form of supplication to the law of therailway - employees received a high degree of job security, the opportunity torise into positions of authority and, at the end of their careers, that rarityof the Victorian world: a pension.[1]

But these patterns of employment had to have been institutedby company managers and directors at some point. The idea of a career railwayworker would have been an alien concept to all railway staff in 1840, perhapseven as late as the 1850s. Yet by the 1890s, if you wanted it, obeyed the rulesand did not find better employment (or for that matter were killed when doingyour duties – a sadly not uncommon occurrence), the railway could easily beyour home for life.
Pinpointing when the ‘career’ railway employee came intoexistence is not easy. Amongst a multitude of small railway companies, by the1860s Victorian Britain was the possessor twelve large ones, each of whichinstituted different employment policies at different points. To add to themelee of confusion, railway workers were divided amongst themselves with regardto pay, working conditions and status. The status and pay of a platelayer,fixing and maintaining the track day in day out, was far lower that theengineman driving the train past him. The clerical staff – who were the only staff  in Traffic Departments who had any realistic chance of entering management if they had the talent and ambition –likely looked down on the porters, pushing suitcases and boxes around stationall day. This staff separatism, which management frequently encouraged to keepthe staff divided, lest they undertake some collective action over wages orworking conditions, meant that industry decision-makers usually determined recruitmentand employment policies on a grade-by-grade basis. Standardisation within acompany was definitely not the norm.

Nonetheless, despite these issues, general conclusionsabout when the career railway worker emerged onto the industrial landscape are possible.As early as the 1850s the career railway clerk started appearing. Before then clericalwork on the railways was not acknowledged as being particularly unique – theindustry being very young – and so the companies recruited the talented, of anyage, from wherever they could. For example, on joining the London and SouthWestern Railway[2] as a clerk at the age of thirty-five in 1835, nodoubt after being in some other clerical position, William Mears would likelynever have entertained the idea that he would retire in 1881.

Yet, very gradually, from the 1840s onwards, the railwaysestablished regulations for the recruitment and employment of clerks. In 1846 theLondon and North Western Railway (LNWR) laid down regulations for incrementalpay and promotion amongst clerks, a preference for filling vacancies internallyand a set age range for new apprentice clerks – fourteen to sixteen. [4] Otherrailways did the same around this time; the LSWR brought in some rules around1843;[5] although rigid formalisation of its promotional and payprocedures was not deemed necessary until the early-1850s.[6]

For the rest of the staff – known as the ‘wages grades’ -the structured railway career started much later. The 1870s saw the GreatWestern Railway (GWR) progressively specify the route careers should take, whenstaff should be promoted and their pay each step of the way.[7] Similarrules for new police and porters on the LNWR, as well as a minimum height of5ft 7in (although this likely came into force earlier), were formalised in 1860.Such regulations, which governed recruitment and the notion of career on the railwaysinto the twentieth century, had become the norm throughout the industry by the1870s. [8]

Despite the institution of these rules, they did not immediatelygive birth to a culture where railway employment was automatically considered alifelong vocation. Did the teenager joining the railway as a junior clerk, ladporter or engine cleaner in the 1870s think they would be with the companyuntil retirement? It is improbable they could be sure of this. Surrounding newrecruits were old hands. These older men may have believed in the securityrailway work provided, they may even have realised the jobs they were doing weretheir last, but they would have understood that not everyone stayed with therailway until the end of their working lives. They had been losing colleaguesto pastures new (or destitution) for decades – a fact they would undoubtedly haveimparted this fact to newcomers. In the London, Brighton and South CoastRailway’s case, sixteen per cent of all employees resigned or were dismissed in1865-69.[9]

The understanding that working on the railways was alifelong vocation only emerged around 1880s and 1890s, when almost all staffhad been with the industry from their teens. Within the Great Eastern Railway,for example, the recognisable facets of railway employment – recruitment at anearly age, clearly defined career paths and vacancies being filled byindividuals on a lower rung of a promotional ladder – became embedded between1875 and 1905, with the decisive years being between 1885 and 1895.

The developing idea that railway staff were in a lifelongcareer manifest itself in other ways in this period. The first railway staffmagazines, the South Western Gazette andGreat Western Railway Magazine (andTemperance Union Record), appearedin 1881 and 1888 respectively. The magazines’ content of news, reports andinformative articles about the railways’ activities reflected employees’ deep connectionwith the railway and its family of staff, which in part were bound together by their common state: a railway employee for life. Railway employment as a lifelongpursuit was also a factor in the rise of the railway labour movement after 1870. The AmalgamatedSociety of Railway Servants started in 1871, the General Railway WorkersRailway Union established itself in 1889 and the Associated Society ofLocomotive Engineers and Firemen came into existence in 1880. [10] Railwayworkers took pride in their work, looked out for each other and, thus, foughthard as a group for the improved pay and working conditions they deserved. Had railwayworkers believed their time on the railway was limited, fleeting even, the establishmentof such movements would have been unlikely: the fight would have been a redundantenterprise.

There was no such thing as a lifelong railway worker in1840. This idea, which constitutes a fundamental part of the popular conceptionof the railway history, developed slowly over many decades, at different speedsin different places. There was an evolution; in the early years of the industrymen (and some women) just happened to work on the railway, by the 1890s they proudlycalled themselves ‘railwaymen’ (and railwaywomen).


[1]Peter Howlett, ‘The Internal Labour Dynamics of the Great Eastern RailwayCompany, 1870-1913', Economic HistoryReview, 57, 2 (2004): 404
[2]Then named the London and Southampton Railway.
[3]The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/492, Clerical staff character book No. 2,414
[4]TNA, RAIL 410/1876, London and North Western Railway Company: Records. STAFF RECORDS.Salaries alteration book, 1-3
[5]TNA, RAIL 411/1, Court of Directors Minute Book, 11 August 1843
[6]TNA, RAIL 411/216, Special Committee Minute Book, ? January 1859
[7]Mike Savage, ‘Discipline, Surveillance and the “Career”: employment on theGreat Western Railway 1833-1914’, in Foucault,Management and Organisational Theory, ed. Alan McKinlay and Ken Starkey,(London: Sage, 1998), 81-82
[8]TNA, RAIL 410/1829, Conditions of service; retiring allowances; scales of payand other general staff matters: papers, Regulations as to Appointments,Extracts from the Minutes of the Board of Directors, 10 March 1860
[9]P.W. Kingsford, Victorian Railwaymen,(Frank Cass & Co., 1970), 42
[10]David Howell, Respectable Radicals:Studies in the politics of railway trade unionism, (Aldershot: Ashgate,1999), 6

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Railways and 'the beautiful game' before 1914: football, fans and formalisation

Recently I have been doingsome work on how the railways of Britaininfluence the development of organised sport  before 1914 and most of myinvestigations have focussed on the ‘beautiful game’: football. Early forms of football, which used rules that may have borneonly a passing similarity to those in the current game, was being played inpublic schools from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.[1] However, by the late-nineteenth andearly-twentieth centuries going to a football match was on the nation’sfavourite pastimes. The question I have therefore been asking is to what extentto were the railways a factor in transforming football (and while we arethinking about it rugby) from a ramshackle game into the popular spectatorsport it is today? Were the railways a key factor because of the improvedtransportation they provided, or did other, non-railway factors play a role,for example urbanisation or increasing incomes and leisure time amongst workingclass individuals? This issue can be split into two parts. Firstly, to whatdegree did the railways augment the number of spectators going to matches? And,secondly, how did it change participation in the game? 

I’ll start by talkingabout how attendance at football matches was augmented by the railways. Thetraditional view was that the railways played a big role, and some have arguedthat the improved transport communications they brought widened the population’saccess to sporting events generally. L. H. Curzon was a proponent of this idea.In 1892 he wrote ‘today the railways convey the masses in large numbers to thedifferent seats of sport’.[2] Years later this view was echoed by scholars.Vamplew argued that that ‘railways revolutionised sport by widening thecatchment area for spectators,’[3] while Simmonsconcurred, stating that they ‘contributed to the growth of spectator sports.’[4]While not directly mentioning football, these statements heavily implythat these academics believed that that the railways were a major factor in itsdevelopment as a popular spectator sport after the 1870s.

Recently, however, thisview fallen out of favour. Huggins and Tilson argue that the role of the railwaysin the growth of football spectatorship from the 1870s onwards has beenoverstated. Most supporters rarely ventured to away matches, except in the caseof a local derby or an important cup tie. Indeed, the vast majority of fanstravelled to local matches by foot and, from the 1890s, by electric tram.[5]David Goldblatt, a noted football historian, agreed, arguing that ‘apart fromlocal derbies away fans were almost absent [from matches] during the’ whole ofthe period between 1880 and 1914.[6]  Exemplifying this, even when a special train accommodationwas put on for away fans by the railway companies it was not well used. In 1886Middlesbrough F.C. was to play Lincoln in an early round of the F.A. Cup. The railwayprovided a special saloon carriage for away fans, but only 200 excursioniststravelled by it, which included the team and officials.[7] 

So why did football fans not travel to away matches that often?Primarily, it was because of economic and time constraints. Most did not havethe money to travel to away matches, while in an era when many employedindividuals worked on Saturday morning, they also lacked the time to traversethe hundreds of miles to an away fixture.[8] As such, there is a good case for saying that growth of footballspectatorship after the 1870s, particularly amongst the working classes, was not because of the improved transportation the railways provided. Rather, otherfactors played a role, for example working individuals' increased disposable income. 

Butwhat about participation in football? Here academics are broadly in agreementthat the railways played a much bigger role in its development, mainly throughallowing teams to play games outside their locality, as Mason has argued.[9] McDowell has suggestedthe growth of Cumnock in Scotland as a football centre has ‘as much to do withaccess to railways as to mere corporate acumen.’[10] Lastly, Golblatt similarly argued that by the 1880s trains allowed thebigger teams to conduct Easter and Christmas tours.[11] For example, in December 1902 Dundee Unitedconducted its Christmas tour, visiting Derby and Newcastle. A journalist reportedthat ‘Whilst I write we are en route for Newcastle where the United are met on StJames’ Park. It is a seven hours’ journey from Derby to Newcastle – 19 hours ina railway train out of 36 hours is not at all pleasant.’[12] 

Alongside this, the railways were alsoimportant in the growth of formal football associations and leagues. TheFootball League, for example, recruited teams to it on the basis of theirdistance from a station. The result was that Sunderland was not elected to itinitially because the Midland clubs felt that transportation costs to playgames in the city were excessive.[13]But it is important, as Huggins andTolson suggest, not to see the railways as a ‘panacea’ for team sports,as many football clubs had to shorten postpone and cancel games in the 1880sand 1890s because of the railway network’s failures.[14] In 1874 (when presumably players couldstill handle the ball) a football match between Durham School and Stockton wasshortened from four twenty-minute quarters to fifty minutes owing to the ‘usualunpunctuality of the North Eastern Railway, the train reaching Durham fullyhalf an hour late.’[15] 

Overall, there is goodevidence that the railways played a mixed role in the development of footballas the nation’s most popular sport. On the one hand it was instrumental inestablishing the organisational structures within the game. However, the growthin the popularity of the sport and the number of spectators that saw matcheswas down to other influences.


[1] Richard William Cox,Dave Russell and Wray Vamplew, Encyclopaediaof British Football, (London, 2002), p.234 
[2] L. H. Curzon, A Mirror of the Turf, (London 1892), p.32 cited in Mike Huggins and JohnTolson, ‘The Railways and Sport in Victorian Britain: A critical reassessment’,Journal of Transport History, 22(2001), p.100 
[3] W. Vamplew, Pay up and Play the Game, (Cambridge1988), p.47 
[4] Jack Simmons, TheVictorian Railway, (London, 1991), p.300 
[5] Hugginsand Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108-109
[6] DavidGoldblatt, The Ball is Round: A GlobalHistory of Football, (London, 2007), p.53
[7] Hugginsand Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108
[8] Hugginsand Tolson, ‘The Railways and Sport’, p.108-109 
[9] T. Mason, Association Football and English Society,1863–1915, (Brighton, 1980), p. 146–7 
[10] Matthew Lynn McDowell, ‘,Football,Migration and Industrial Patronage in the West of Scotland, c.1870–1900’, Sport In History, 32 (2012), p.408 
[11] Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, p.53 
[12] Evening Telegraph, Friday 26 December 1902 
[13] Goldblatt, The Ball is Round, p.53 
[14] Huggins and Tolson,‘The Railways and Sport’, p.109-110 
[15] York Herald, Saturday 21 November 1874

Monday, 23 December 2013

When Victorian railways conspired against Christmas

One of the features of the late Victorian British railwayindustry was competition, with railways in all parts of the nation trying toout-perform each other in order to win the patronage of passengers. From the1880s the Great Western and London & South Western Railways acceleratedtheir services as well as increased the luxury in which passengers wereconveyed, to secure the business to West Country locations such as Exeter andPlymouth.[1] Competition between companies also existed on the routes between Nottingham and Leeds,Liverpool and Hull, and Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as between other majorcities.[2]

Some historians have argued that these struggles betweenrailways were a major factor in their declining profitability after 1870, asfaster trains and more luxurious carriages cost more to build and operate.Cain, for example, stated his belief that ‘service competition alone would havebeen sufficient to promote levels of capital spending and methods of operationthat continuously eroded profitability.’[3] Personally, I have alwaysdoubted the extent to which competitive trains services actually erodedcompanies’ profitability. I argued in my thesis, on the management of theLondon & South Western Railway after 1870, that service competition was onthe margins of the railway’s activities. It and the GWR ran hundreds ofservices each day and only four or five express services to the West Countrywere truly ‘competitive.’[4]

One of the fiercest competitions between railwaycompanies were the famed ‘Races to the North’ in 1888 and 1895. Two groups ofcompanies that had control of the east and west coast main lines competed forthe fastest trains between London and Scotland. On the east coast route thecompetitors were the Great Northern (London to York), North Eastern (York toEdinburgh) and North British Railways (Edinburgh to Aberdeen); while on thewest coast route the contestants were the London and North Western (London toCarlisle) and Caledonian Railways (Carlisle to Edinburgh and Aberdeen). The raceof 1895, which received the same attention in the press as the derby atCheltenham, captured the public’s imagination, culminating in a west coasttrain on the night of 22 and 23 August making the journey between London andAberdeen in 8 hours 42 minutes. This was eight minutes quicker than an eastcoast train the night before.[5]

Because of events like this, the press liked to paintthese railway races as battles between warring powers. But how serious was theanimosity between the companies? Did the east and west coast railways reallytreat their competitors as enemies? Or were the ‘races’ just an exuberant, butgood-natured, expression of a rivalry between them? Perhaps an event thatoccurred before Christmas 1882 suggests an answer to these questions.

In early December 1882 a very thick letter arrived atKing’s Cross headquarters of the Great Northern Railway. Before a list of 214names was a letter addressed to those in authority within company:

   Wethe undersigned draw your attention to the fact that there are in London manyScotchmen who desire to avail themselves of the opportunity of visiting theirfriends in Scotland during the short vacation at Christmas but are deterredfrom doing so by the heavy railway fares.
We would thereforepetition to you to give this subject your full consideration and endeavour tomake some arrangement, whereby the result aimed at by your petitioners may begained namely: a reasonable reduction in fares between London and Scotlandequal to, if not quarter than that granted during the summer months.
   Weare certain that should you see your way to meet us in this matter, it wouldnot only confer a great boon, but from the large numbers availing themselves ofthe opportunity, prove equally to your advantage.
   Weare yours respectfully… [6]

But this petition was not the only one to be sent, and aduplicate also landed on the desk of George Findlay, the London and NorthWestern Railway’s General Manager. I suspect Findlay’s natural response was toreject the request. But he was an astute railway manager, and possibly because he wished to maintain good relations with his east coastrivals, he contacted to his opposite number within the GNR, Henry Oakley. ‘As Ipresume a similar application has been addressed to you’, wrote Findlay ‘Ishall be glad to know if you will be prepared to join us in declining to accedeto the request.’[7] Oakley’s response is not contained within thefile, but the two companies decided to reject the petition. Findlay also communicatedwith the Midland Railway, who likewise operated a route between London andScotland, and while they had not received a petition, they too were to going to keep fares at established levels. [8]

In 1882 three railway companies, all of which weretheoretically competing with each other for traffic between London and Scotland,collectively agreed to deny travellers making this journey reduce-rate faresover the Christmas period. Of course, this case does not indicate the nature ofthe GNR and LNWR’s relationship five or ten years later when they were racing. Nevertheless,it may suggest that despite superficially appearing to be competing railways, asa matter of fact their relationship was actually quite close and they workedtogether when it was mutually beneficial for them to do so. ‘Market forces’, in this case atleast, did not really work. One thing is for certain, the Great Northern, London& North Western and Midland Railways spoiled Christmas for a lot of London-basedScotsmen and their families in 1882.


[1]Jack Simmons, ‘South Western v. Great Western: railway competition in Devon andCornwall’, The Journal of TransportHistory, 4 (1959), 27-34
[2]Jack Simmons, The Victorian Railway,(London, 1991), p.83; Jack Simmons, TheRailway in England and Wales, 1830-1914, (Leicester, 1978), p.84-85
[3]P.J. Cain, ‘Railways 1870-1914: the maturity of the private system’, in,Michael J. Freeman and Derek H. Aldcroft, Transportin Victorian Britain, (Manchester, 1988), pp.115
[4]David Turner, ‘Managing the “Royal Road”: The London & South WesternRailway 1870-1911’, (Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of York, 2013)
[5]Oswald S. Nock, The Railway Race to theNorth, (London, 1958), p.120-121
[6]The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking forreduction in fares to Scotland during Christmas vacation, Letter fromorganisation committee to Great Northern Railway, 4 December 1882
[7]TNA, RAIL 236/721/9, From London `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares toScotland during Christmas vacation, Letter from George Findlay to Henry Oakley,11 December 1882
[8] TNA, RAIL 236/721/9, FromLondon `Scotchmen' asking for reduction in fares to Scotland during Christmasvacation, Letter from George Findlay to Henry Oakley, 13 December 1882

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

How drunk were late-Victorian train drivers?

Every now and again, when I go looking for such things, Ifind cases where Victorian engine drivers got drunk and then proceeded tooperate their vehicles. A few days ago I discovered one case from 1891 of anexpress driver who, after leaving Liverpool Street Station, was found to bequite sozzled.  On his journey he hadstopped the train at Broxbourne for five minutes, for no apparent reason, afterwhich the Bury and Norwich Postrecorded the ride to Bishop Stortford was ‘most uncomfortable.’ On arriving atthe station the station master was alerted to the driver’s inebriated state andthe latter was, after some wrangling, finally removed from the locomotive. Thetrain continued its journey under the charge of a goods train driver (wholikely relished the chance operate an express.)[1]

This and other cases made the newspapers because a trainunder the charge of an intoxicated individual was clearly an accident risk. Butreviewing such reports cannot give me an accurate indication of how frequently late-Victorianengine drivers were found to be drunk. To determine this hard data wasrequired.

While Victorian railway companies kept staff registerswhich listed their employees’ positions, pay and promotions, most also kept‘Black Books.’ These ominously titled volumes recorded every instance where anemployee disobeyed the rules and was punished. They recorded smalltransgressions, such as when forms were incorrectly filed, to major offences,for example criminal activity, refusing to follow orders, or drunkenness – the subjectof this post. Indeed, from the time of the earliest railways being intoxicatedwhile on duty was a serious offence, and rule 12 of the London and SouthWestern Railway’s (LSWR) 1897 rule book stated: ‘The company may at any timewithout notice dismiss or suspend from duty any servant of the company forintoxication.’[2]

So, it was to the Black Books (available throughAncestry.com) that I turned to find out about drunkenness amongst nineteenthcentury engine drivers. Despite a reluctance to again study the LSWR, it beingthe company I have done my thesis on, a Black Book dedicated to themisdemeanours of its footplate crew (drivers and firemen) between 1889 and 1896was available on-line. This volume was the perfect choice for my research.

In total I surveyed the records of 584 LSWR firemen anddrivers in the Black Book. Between 1889 and 1896 these individuals collectivelytransgressed the rules 1,728 times. However, amongst these punishments thenumber issued for intoxication was small, with only seventeen instances beingrecorded (0.98 percent of cases). Additionally, these seventeen offences wereonly committed by fourteen individuals (2.50 percent of the sample), three ofthe men being repeat offenders.

These findings clearly suggest that for the most part theLSWR’s drivers and firemen were, while at work at least, a temperate group ofemployees.[3] The supports the commonly held view at the time that railwayemployees stayed away from alcohol while at work. The South Western Gazette, the company’s staff magazine, reported in1885 that at the inaugural meeting of the Exeter branch of the United KingdomRailway Temperance Union, the Bishop of the city had commented that theorganisation was ‘very peculiar and very striking’ as ‘it could not be saidthat railway men as a general rule were tempted to drunkenness.’ Generally theywere ‘as a body were as temperate a body as could be found.’[4]

As for the fourteen drivers and firemen found to be underthe influence while at work, it is probable that most never got as far as beingin control of a train. Usually the ‘Black Book’ recorded that they came ‘toduty the worse for drink’ or they were ‘under the influence of drink whilst onduty’, and only in two cases was it explicitly stated that a driver had been ‘underthe influence of drink whilst in charge of an engine’: J. Appleton of the NineElms Shed was caught in May 1896, while R. Reid., who was based at Twickenham, wasfound driving a passenger train while drunk in August 1889.[5]

From this evidence it can therefore be tentativelysuggested that instances where drivers ‘under the influence’ actually got onto thefootplate of their locomotives, such as the one cited at the start, wereexceedingly rare on the late-Victorian railways.


[1] Bury andNorwich Post, 20 January 1891
[2] South Western Circle Collection [SWC], 1897 Rule Book, p.9
[3] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/521, London andSouth Western Railway Company. STAFF RECORDS. Black Book - fines to drivers andfiremen, 01 January 1889 - 31 December 1896. Accessed through Ancestry.com.
[4] South WesternGazette, January 1885, p.6
[5] TNA, RAIL 411/521, London and South Western RailwayCompany. STAFF RECORDS. Black Book - fines to drivers and firemen, 01 January1889 - 31 December 1896, p.11 and p.29. Accessed through Ancestry.com.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Working City to City: The LNWR's on-train typist service of 1910

I am sure from the very earliest days of the railways passengersmust have done work on the train. It is, some might say, a tradition of thetravelling businessperson. However, the declining cost and increasing hardinessof laptops has undoubtedly changed the nature of train-based work. Rather thansimply reading policy documents and making notes, as was likely the case in thepoorly lit Victorian railway carriages, those travelling to their place of workcan now produce via their laptops formal documents that will go on to their colleagues,managers and companies’ directors. The train can be, for many, a second officethat is possibly more pleasant than the one at their final destination.

But the ability to produce formal document on the trainis nothing new. Long before the laptop was invented, from February 1910 businessmenon the London and North Western Railway’s (LNWR) “City-to-City” express had facilityto have their important and urgent documents typed.[1]

The typist's compartment on the "City-to-City".
The “City-to-City” express was inaugurated by the LNWR betweenBirmingham and London Broad Street Station to compete with the Great WesternRailway’s express services between the same places (the GWR’s services ran intoPaddington). Starting from Birmingham at 8.20 am and arriving at 10.35 am, the morning“City-to-City”, which also had a breakfast car attached, took two and a quarterhours to make the journey, whereas the GWR’s service took fifteen minutes less.Although, if you made the journey by the GWR it possibly would have taken youlonger overall reach your place of work, Paddington being some distance awayfrom the commercial centres of London. Broad Street Station on the other handwas only a short walk away from the city.[2] The return run of the “City-to-City”started from Broad Street at 5.25pm and arrived at 7.40pm.[3]

Presumably in an attempt to entice to their services businessmenwho were eager to save time at work, the LNWR took the innovative step ofproviding Britain’s first ever on-train typist service on the “City-to-City”. Situatedin a compartment specially fitted up with a desk and chairs, the shorthand typistwas available to take dictation of letters at any time on the journey.[4] On theinaugural run of the express the work was supervised by Miss Tarrant of the Eustontyping room; while on subsequent journeys a Miss Boswell took over.[5] It would,however, seem that there was some initial objection to this service in the press. In the ‘Woman’s Gossip’ section of the CheltenhamLooker-On it was stated that while 5 or 6 hour journeys for passengers was ‘tiringin itself’, the ‘girl’ doing the typing was expected to be at her post fivedays a week to ‘do office work all the time.’ In its estimation this would betoo much work for the ‘girl and exclaimed that ‘the doctors talk of the growthand spread of nervous habits among the people, but who can wonder at it?’[6]

The first letter from the "City-to-City" express.
Initially, it would seem the typing service wassuccessful. “I have been kept busy all the way up,” Tarrant said in aninterview shortly after the “City-to-City’s” inaugural return run, “twelvepassengers dictated letters to me and only once, when we were passing throughthe Kilsby Tunnel,  was the dictationinterrupted…I had no difficulty whatever in using the typewriter, and all myclients appeared to be highly satisfied. The experiment was quite a success.”[7]Yet, after two months the Tamworth Heraldwould report the typewriting services had ‘not been so well patronised as wasexpected would be the case.’ It would seem that travellers using the servicewere unable to overcome the fear that any business they conducted through thetrain’s typist would not be confidential. Yet, irrespective of customers’trepidation, the LNWR decided to extend the service to other trains.[8] Whetherthe typist service was successful in the long-run is unclear, only a closerexamination of the company’s files may reveal this.


[1] EveningTelegraph, Wednesday 2 February 1910, p.4
[2] Wolmar, Christian, Fire and Steam: A new history of the Railways in Britain, (London,2007), p.188
[3] The RailwayTimes, 22 January 1910, p.122
[4] The RailwayTimes, 22 January 1910, p.122
[5] AberdeenJournal, Thursday 03 February 1910, p.6
[6] CheltenhamLooker-On, Saturday 29 January 1910, p.16
[7] EveningTelegraph, Wednesday 2 February 1910, p.4
[8] Tamworth Herald,Saturday 16 April 1910, p.6
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