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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Cleaner> Fireman> Engine Driver - Positions, Promotion and Pay at Faversham in the 1870s

Today I will be heading to Faversham with friends to visit friends. With this in mind I thought I would see if I could find some information on the railway workers that were based in the town in Victorian times. Faversham station was opened in January 1858 and it soon developed in importance given it was at the junction of two lines; one heading off towards Margate via Whitstable, the other heading towards Dover via Canterbury. Being a junction station, it is unsurprising that the London, Chatham and Dover Railway decided to build an engine shed there. In this post I will briefly look at the members of locomotive department staff that were assigned there in (and around) 1875 and give some insight into their careers.

I have determined that the locomotive department was employing thirty-one men at Faversham Shed in 1875. Nineteen of the men stationed there were on the ‘Engine Driver promotional tree.’ Beginning as locomotive cleaners, they would be promoted to firemen and then engine driver.

Engine drivers were the most numerous type of employee at Faversham in 1875, with seven being assigned there. Curiously, there were only five firemen, and because each locomotive needed one of each for operation, initial analysis may suggest that an error is present in the records. However, on closer examination it is clear that two of the enginemen, Arthur Trowell and John West, were in training as they had been promoted from firemen’s positions that year and were paid less than their colleagues.

The period that individuals were employed with the company before becoming drivers was seemingly formalised by 1875 at nine years. Both Trowell and West were made engine drivers six years after their appointments as firemen in June 1869. Furthermore, R. Clackett and Thomas Jones were promoted from being cleaners to firemen after only three years. Clackett was appointed as a cleaner at Faversham in September 1874 and became a fireman in August 1877. Jones had started in August 1873 and was promoted to fireman in June 1876.

Naturally, the rates of pay increased as individuals were promoted. I am uncertain whether the LC&DR adopted the same practices as other railway companies, however, its employees had a daily rate.  Cleaners received very poor pay and J. Gates, who was appointed in November 1875, started his career on 1s 3d per day. If it is taken that individuals worked six days a week, this equated to £19 10s per year.  As the cleaners gained experience their pay rose to 3s per day or £46 16s per year, at which point they were promoted to being firemen.

However, despite the fact individuals spent six years as firemen, their wage increases advanced at a slower rate than when they were cleaners. As cleaners, the men’s pay increased by an average rate of 3.5 pence for each day’s work per year. Yet, as firemen the maximum pay they could receive was 4s per day or £62 2s per year, equating to an average rate of increase of 2s for every day’s work per year.    

On being promoted to being a driver individuals stayed on 4s per day for around two years, after which an extra six pence per day was added for each year of service. The maximum that drivers received, or so it seemed, was 7s 6d, which was the very considerable sum of £117 per year. [1] Indeed, this was more money than all but one clerk at the Longhedge works was earning in 1875 and reflected the prestige in which engine drivers were held in the late Victorian period.[2]

Of course, even becoming a driver had its risks and the Faversham drivers were no exception. One F. Wilson was probably the unluckiest of all those I have found. On the 1st of October 1881 he had his ‘eye cut with a stone thrown on [the] Sheerness line’ when working the 6.40 am Blackfriars to Faversham goods train.[3] In January 1882, while on his way home, he ‘caught his leg against the lever of points’ in the Faversham Goods Yard and did not return to work for a few days.[4] Then in February 1882 one of the glass gauges on his locomotive broke, scolding his left hand with boiling water.[5] However, Wilson was not the only Faversham driver to get injured and on the 19th March 1886 Richard Broadbridge ‘when waiting at Chatham in stepping over the buffers of carriage caught his foot in communication chord and fell and injured his left leg.’[6] Lastly, J.Powles in July 1889 had two fingers cut by stones ‘thrown from over bridge near East Margate Station.’[7] It seems that accident an injury were a fact of life for the Faversham engine drivers. Yet, there is no doubt others were injured also.

This small study has shown is that by 1875 there was a rigid promotional structure for and pre-determined career path for those the LC&DR employees starting as cleaners. Thus, unless they did something to warrant dismissal or disciplinary action, they would have had a very high level of job security as from day one they would have known the post they would have ended up in. Indeed, Broadbridge spent forty-seven years in the company and finished his career as a driver at Faversham in 1907. J. Powles also stayed at Faversham for all his career and left the company in 1906 after forty-three years’ service.[8] Thus, careers with the railways were, potentially, careers for life.

[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 415/109, Register of staff at Longhedge works and outstations, 1860-1881, p.125-128
[2] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 415/109, Register of staff at Longhedge works and outstations, 1860-1881, p.4
[3] TNA, RAIL 415/108, Register of injuries to workmen, 1880-1891, p.23
[4] TNA, RAIL 415/108, Register of injuries to workmen, 1880-1891, p.29
[5] TNA, RAIL 415/108, Register of injuries to workmen, 1880-1891, p.31
[6] TNA, RAIL 415/108, Register of injuries to workmen, 1880-1891, p.96
[7] TNA, RAIL 415/108, Register of injuries to workmen, 1880-1891, p.123
[8] TNA, RAIL 415/108, Register of staff at Longhedge works and outstations, 1864 – 1918, p.219

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