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Sunday, 23 May 2010

Three Station Masters at Hampton Court - The Odd Bunch

I have been always been interested in the lives of railway workers, and what has particularly peaked my interest are those individuals that worked at my local station, Hampton Court, in the Victorian period. Astoundingly, between 1849, when the station was built, and 1895, Hampton Court only had four station agents (later called station masters). The line, which came off the London to Southampton main line just past Kingston Station (now Surbiton), was built throughout 1848, and opened for traffic on the 1st February 1849. The London and South Western Railway had been interested in the tourist traffic going to the Hampton Court Palace since 1839. Therefore,those individuals that took up the position of station master is of interest as this was a prestige post.
The first Station Agent or Master was John Madigan. Like most of the staff based at Hampton Court in the period, Madigan was not from the local area. A minute of the Traffic and coaching committee of the 23rd February 1849 boasts that the company's three major projects at the time, the extension of the line from Nine Elms to Waterloo, the Windsor line and lastly the Hampton Court Branch were all 'manned without adding a single individual to the company's staff.' This indicates that Madigan had joined the railway at an earlier point. Indeed, Madigan had started as a clerk at Nine Elms in 1840, had been moved to Winchester in 1841, Botley in 1842 and Wareham in 1847.
But what of his background? On the 1851 census it shows that Madigan was from Ireland. He was 29 year old, meaning he was born in either 1822 or 23, was married, and was listed as living in the 'Corn House Building'. Having come from Ireland it is quite possible that Madigan had brought his young family over during the Irish Potato famine. Many of the Irish who came over to work on the railways during this period only took positions as navvies. However, Madigan's employment shows that as time progressed more immigrants went into the operational side of the railways taking on administrative jobs. The position of Station Agent was not as prestige as it became in the later Victorian period, yet for an Irish immigrant of only 29 years of age, running a station would have been quite an achievement. Madigan was moved to Windsor in September 1851 and the station agency was taken over by William P. Legh.
Like Madigan, Legh was not a local being born in Windsor in 1810. He was very well educated. In his notice of retirement in 1882 the South Western Gazette, the company's staff magazine, notes that he was at Eton and was a contemporary of the sitting Prime Minister at the time Gladstone. Legh obtained his first railway job when he entered the company as a clerk in the Stores Department at Nine Elms in 1847 . The formal process of job appointment was through a process of nepotism and he would have been nominated by one of the directors of the company. It is possible that his family knew some company directors, perhaps through an Eton contact.
As a well-educated clerk in the Traffic Department in 1847, Legh's promotion prospects were good, and he was quickly moved to the Booking Office at Nine Elms station. In 1848 he was made Station Agent at Adlestone Station, after which he moved in 1850 to Hounslow. In 1851 he was transferred to Hampton Court. The system of advancement on the London and South Western Railway was quite erratic and promotion was based on a number of factors, such as how good the employee was at their job and their degree of contacts within the company. Another possible explanation is that the Traffic Managers at the time, Mr Stovin up to 1852 and Mr Scott after, were actively trying to advance Legh. Employees of the company were not allowed to enter the company as station master at the time, and the majority of employees in the main were expected to work up from the bottom. Legh starts in a very cushy position as a Clerk in the stores department and rapidly worked his way through gradually more important stations. Thus, he may have been subject to further nepotism after his appointment. As a result in 1853 he became Assistant Superintendent at Waterloo.
This was short lived and in 1855, for an unknown reason, he was moved back to Hampton Court. He never married and lived in the station building until his retirement in 1882 at the age of 72. On his retirement he was on a wage of £110 a year, at the top end of the scale. He retired with a yearly allowance of £95 from the pension fund. He died on the 9th July 1883 and was buried in West Molesey Cemetery on the 12th July 1883. (Molesey is actually where the station is built and on the other side of the river from the Palace) The funeral was attended by Mr Chalwin the Goods Clerk, Mr Whittington the delivery agent, Inspector Nicholson of Waterloo Station and by the new station agent of Hampton Court, John McDougall. Clearly, Legh's appointment indicates that the position of Station Agent was gaining in prestige, as being appointed after an Irish immigrant, the ex-Eton student's posting suggests that the company wished to have an employee in the position of a higher social standing. It is, however, unusual for someone who had such impressive education to be placed in such a position, especially as the majority of station agents, when they first became clerks, would only have had basic elementary schooling.
I have found a lot more about Legh's successor, John McDougall. Once again McDougall did not come from Molesey, rather he was born in the Scottish Borders at Gordon near Kelso in 1831. He joined the railway company in 1860, becoming a porter at Waterloo in 1860. He started as a guard based at Hampton Court almost immediately after, and was appointed as an Inspector at the station in 1873. In the 1871 census he is recorded as being a married and living at 7 Creek Road, aged 40. In the 1881 census he is listed as living in Osborne Villa in Matham Road with his wife, Annie, his daughter Rosa, and two other railway employees. By this point however he was already reliving the ailing Legh of some of his administrative work, something that presumably precipitated his rise to the post of Station Master. In February 1880 The Locomotive committee paid McDougall £5 for filling in the Locomotive Department returns for a year. This he did for a number of years.
There is also evidence that McDougall was gaining the respect and profile of a Station Agent, and this is why he is one of the most unusual appointments to such a post that I have encountered for a long time. On two occasions, in April 1880 and in December 1881, the Traffic Committee of the L&SWR reported being petitioned at first by the residents of Molesey and then by the local board for him to be the next Station Agent. This was eventually confirmed on the 15th February 1882, when he was put on a wage of £95 per year. Most station masters had to start as junior clerks and work their way upwards. McDougall, however, was not a clerk and therefore was only advanced to agent on the basis of the love that the people of Molesey had for him. This is shown through a lot of evidence in the South Western Gazette.
It is obvious that McDougall was a popular, efficient and good natured station master. On two occasions McDougall organised charitable donations for worthy causes. In 1881 each station, including Hampton Court, had a donation box for employees at Christmas. He suggested that each member of the station staff should donate a small portion to the London and South Western Railway's Widows and Orphans fund. 10 shillings was given by 16 men. In February 1884 there was an accident at Nine Elms, the main goods depot of the railway, in which a member of staff lost both his feet. McDougall organised a collection for the injured man, raising 9s 3d. This was again from the Christmas box.
McDougall also received a good number of honours and accolades from both the travelling public and local residents. The most notable came from Baron Pawell Von Rammingen, and his wife HRH Princess Frederica Von Rammingen. They lived in the palace and were regular travellers. On December 26th 1881, while he was still and inspector, the Princess presented him with a 'massive gold scarf pin set with pearl and pale coral.' She also gave him £4 to be divided between the station staff. In May 1885 the Baron presented him with a gold horseshoe pin set with Pearls as a new years gift. The last present that I have found was given in 1890 when they presented McDougall with a gift of a cut glass inkstand with silver tap and silver tray. On it was inscribed, “Presented by HRH Princess Frederica and the Baron Pawell Von Rammingen to J. McDougall, Station Master, Hampton Court.”
It has already been shown how respected McDougall was around the town. However, another accolade came on the occasion of his 20 years at the station in 1885 when it was “thought by many of the travelling public that so long a term spent in one place fairly deserved some recognition.” As such a committee was formed by local residents including the Reverend W.F. Reynolds, Rear Admiral Wilson, Capt Lonsdale, Mr Evan McGregor C.B., and Messrs Fletcher, Kennedy, Payne, Keeling, Young-Adams and Garland. Mr Athelstan was honorary secretary. The goal was to invite subscriptions for a testimonial, and a circular that was issued stated their efforts were in recognition of McDougall's “invariable courtesy and attention to the travelling public in general and the residents in this vicinity in particular during the past 20 years.” The call for subscriptions was widely heeded and Rear-Admiral Wilson sent McDougall just over 40 guineas, which, accounting for inflation, would be be worth around £1700 today. At the end of the letter that accompanied the gift it stated that the contributors hoped that McDougall would 'enjoy health and strength to continue the performance of his duties with the same credit to himself and comfort to others.”
Yet there was one point at which the station master's character, integrity and good nature was attacked. In September 1888 McDougall was summoned to court by Edwin Elphick, a cab driver, for using 'abusive, threatening and insulting language, with an intent to create a breech of the peace in the station yard.' All the evidence was stacked against Elphick. McDougall had seen that Elphick was drunk and asked his boss Mr Bowery not send him into the yard. Yet the next day Elphick reappeared, at which point McDougall ordered him out of the cab yard. Elphick became abusive towards the station master. The judge ruled in favour of McDougall and the case was thrown out before the defence could call any witnesses.
Towards the end of 1894 McDougall's health started to fail him. A Traffic Committee Minute of 23rd of February 1895 stated that at 64 years of age, and at the top of his pay scale of £110, he wished to retire as he had been certified permanently incapacitated. He was retired on the 1st February and was replaced by Mr F. Molyneaux, formally agent at Sunningdale.
The station masters at Hampton Court were probably the most unusual group of people to occupy the position of station agent at one location. An Irish immigrant, an Eton-educated man and an member of the Traffic Department's non-clerical staff, were three groups of people that were all very unlikely to be appointed to such posts. It is, therefore, unusual that an example of each were all located in the same place. Hampton Court doesn't therefore represent employment patterns typically found elsewhere in the company and makes an interesting case-study.
PLEASE NOTE: This is something I wrote 4 years ago. It was copied and pasted from a talk script I knocked up at the time, as being knocked off my pedal bike has rendered my left hand unable to type.

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