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Friday, 21 January 2011

When Railway Workers' Write Poetry

Unfortunately, I am deep into a chapter that is due in on Monday, or thereabouts. As such, I have not had the time to write any blog posts and so I thought I’d post some poems that I have found in Railway Company Staff Magazines. While I have many poems from the London and South Western Railway’s (L&SWR) staff magazine, The South Western Gazette, I have also started to photograph staff magazines that originated within other railway companies before 1923. It seems to me that while they loved to include poetry, poetic submissions were also used by editors to fill space. This said, the South Western Gazette did actually have a ‘poet’s corner’ for many years.

Many came from external sources, however, a good proportion were written by railway employees and I’m sure that the poems could tell us a lot about attitudes to work on different railways, railway workers’ concerns in different parts of the country and the lives they led. However, for now, just enjoy them (even if some of them are not great). I’ll start with a poem by J.J. Hatch, a clerk on the L&SWR, who was so prolific that he eventually had a book of his work published. This was from the April 1st edition of the South Western Gazette.

A Lost Friend

As meeting in the eventide,
A man, his journey well nigh done,
Whose face towards the setting sun
Is bright and seems half glorified.

So met I him when life was late,
His life, and loved him from the first;
My soul hath ever been athirst
For kindly hearts with which to mate;

And his was warm with gentle thought
And fruitage of congenial speech,
And so our spirits, each to each,
Were drawn, by mutual impulse taught:

He pass’d into the silent night,
And left me standing all alone,
The sunset hue of eve had gone,
And earth was darken’d to my sight.

Poems with a railway theme were actually quite rare. However, this one from the Great Central Railway Journal of April 1906 certainly bucks the trend. It is simply called ‘A Railway Romance’ and was about a deaf man called Wilkinson who had his hearing restored by being run into by a train. There was no stated author.

A Railway Romance

Wilkinson was strolling slowly,
Pensively upon the railway:
The express was fact approaching
Just behind him, but he lit a
Cigarette and hummed a ballad:
He was deaf, and so he could not
Hear th’ approaching locomotive,
Raging, panting locomotive,
Panting close upon his footsteps:
Or the driver gently whisp’ring
Lisping to the evening zephyrs,
“Wilkinson, you Crimson idiot,
“Crimson, suicidal idiot
“Can’t you hear the crimson engine
“Panting o’er the purple railroad?
“Will you-?” But his words were idle,
(Wilkinson could not have heard a
Cannon let off close beside him);
But the passengers could hear them.-
So the engine rushed upon him,
Rushed at full four miles and hour
(It was a suburban railway),
Smote him with the dreadful buffers
Right upon the ear, when-wonder-
His complaint was cured completely.
Wilkinson regained his hearing.
But when he hears the driver
Comment on the situation,
Mention his opinion of him,
Fully his opinion of him,
Then he wished devoutly that he
Never had regained his hearing.

The Great Western Railway Magazine and Temperance Union Recorder was started by the company’s temperance union in 1888. Because of its origin its content reflected the fact that the readers were expected to engage in good habits. Thus, the poems were often of a religious, clean living or pious nature. This one, from January 1889, was simply called ‘Gone!’ and was ascribed to an unnamed employee who worked at Paddington Station.


Hark! Hark! The bell in the old church tower yonder,
It echoes, dirge-like in the midnight clear;
It bids the soul upon this thought to ponder,-
The Dying Year!

The Dying Year! The “Hand” will soon be “vanished;”
The Dying Year! The “Voice” will soon be “still;”
The Dying Year! The form will soon be banished
Behind Life’s hill.

And as the bell in toll grows slower, deeper,
A Form comes gliding on,
Murmuring, as watchers o’er the pallid sleeper,
The sad word, “Gone!”

Anon, a merry peal of bells are ringing,
The New Tear grasps a rope,
And in the air and angel choir is singing
The joyous song of “Hope.”

The Great Eastern Railway Magazine was started in 1911 by the Great Eastern Railway. Interestingly, a number of poems in the early editions were actually about the magazine itself and events that took place early in its existence. This one, from the first edition in January 1911, certainly shows one individual was optimistic about the magazine’s future. Attributed to ‘A.L.G,’ it is called ‘The G.E.R.M.’

The G.E.R.M.

Pray have you the space for one to make
A trifling observation?
Our Magazine already bears
A shortened appellation-
But one we might adopted without
The slightest hesitation-
“The Germ”!
For germs are good as well as bad,
And often quite benevolent,
Converting all to good that is
In any way malevolent.
(If thou be such, then let us pray
To see thee ever prevalent,
O Germ!)
May be ‘twill prove a germ of life
Of the most intense vividity:
A germ so precious as to be
Sought after with cupidity-
Of such content that all who taste
Will swallow with avidity
The Germ!

Well, for now I think I will stop there. I have many more for when I am having a busy period in my PhD, and I am sure the number I will find will increase.

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