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Monday, 24 October 2011

We were Coachmen, Servants and Craftsmen. Early Railway Recruitment - Part 3

This is last post on research that I have been doing on the occupations that 400 London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) employees had before coming  to the company’ Traffic, Coaching and Operating Department (hereon known as the traffic department) between 1837 and 1860. This is based on a single file found in the National Archives. In the first post (here) I discussed how most of the department’s new employees came from the company’s permanent way department. The second post (here) presented evidence relating to those who went into the department directly after school, and those that came from the army or from being labourers. This last post will look at individuals who had worked in transportation industries, were previously employed as servants and those who had been skilled craftsmen.

One of the big questions relating to the early railways is how many employees came from other transportation industries. The results above reveal that the number was small and only ten had been involved in such businesses (2.50%). The ten were constituted of two mariners, five coachmen, one carman, one letter carrier and one currier. What is interesting about the ten is that there were no individuals who had worked in the canals.  Indeed, apart from the mariners (and possible the carman), it seems that most had been working for themselves.  Coachmen, particularly, were seeing the railways as a chance to improve their fortunes in the greatest number.
Furthermore, it also seems that there was no pattern as to when ex-transport workers joined the railway, and in each of the six periods I have split the years between 1837 and 1860 into (see above) there are always at least one individual joining the department. The only pattern that has been discerned is the types of jobs that the men went into. Eight of the ten went into the secondary labour market (with low weekly pay, low job security and few promotional prospects), becoming Porters (3), Guards (1), Pointsmen (1), Ticket Collectors (2) and Police Constables (1). However, only two joined the company’s primary labour market (with high job security, promotional prospects and good pay), one becoming a Station Master and another becoming a station agent. Indeed, these individuals were the mariners, clearly indicating that their prior jobs were perceived as being more skilled and that their education made them suitable for administrative posts. Therefore, this further reveals, as the last post did, that employment patterns before the railways came into existed determined how the L&NWR appointed individuals to posts.

Ex-servants constituted a large number of the sample, with fifty-seven of the 400 being employed as such (14.25%) before coming to the railway. Of these two had been butlers, one was a footman, six had been grooms, thirteen were listed as having been in ‘Gentlemen’s service,’ while thirty-four were simply described as servants. There seems to be no pattern as to when they joined the railway. In the years between 1837 and 1839 they made up 9.09% of those joining the department. In the early 1840s, however, none joined, but in the late 1840s they constituted a massive 19.05%. In the early 1850s the proportion dropped to 8.93%, then rose 16% in the late 1850s and 24.59% in 1860. Thus, the evidence implies that the labour market changed. Before the railways domestic service was the largest employing sector of the economy. However, as shown, when the railways came along they took over this mantle and many people saw them as means to obtain better employment prospects.

Most of the servants went into the secondary labour market. However, it is interesting that large numbers were in the positions that had a public service focus (and which were cleaner). Thus, twenty-seven became porters, three became ticket collectors and nine became police constables. Therefore, there was a clear link between the types of occupations individuals did before they came to the railway and the positions they took up within the L&NWR. This is reinforced by the fact that the Butler, an individual who was a ‘club servant’ (whatever that is) and a man who was in a ‘gentleman’s servant’ were the only three who went into the primary labour market as an Agent, Clerk and an Assistant Agent respectively. Thus, because two of these seemed to have been servants of a higher status, and one may have been, they were accordingly given jobs in the railway that were of similar standing.

Lastly, the forty-one skilled craftsmen were in the sample, and had been occupied in twenty-eight different professions including Tin-Plate Workers, Brassfounders, Shoemakers, Brickmakers and Weavers. Proportionately, skilled craftsmen were the largest group of individuals joining the railway in the period 1837 to 1839, constituting 27.27% of them. Thereafter, their contribution hovered around 10% in each of the remaining periods. I am uncertain what this suggests, and because the sample size for the period between 1837 and 1839 is only twenty-two, the figure may be artificially high.

Furthermore, unlike the other areas of the economy, where individuals’ jobs before they came to the railway affected their position within it, the correlation in the case of the skilled craftsmen was not as strong. The craftsmen took up positions in both the primary and secondary labour markets. Given that the majority of individuals had at least a fair education given their professions, it would suggests that the L&NWR was not just assigning individuals to their posts based on their prior occupations, but also on their ability to undertake their responsibilities.

Overall, I have not been able to reveal in these three posts all the information that I have discovered. However, a number of interesting things have been revealed about recruitment in the early L&NWR’s. Firstly, its Traffic Department recruited heavily from its engineering sections, suggesting that the completion of lines and the subsequent unemployment this brought for some, allowed the company to choose from known staff. Furthermore, there were not a great number of individuals who worked previously in either the military or other transportation industries, as has always been suspected. Lastly, the jobs that individuals received from the railway company were closely correlated to the level of skill and education that were required for their original occupations.

This is by no means a complete study, and there are over 300 pages in the document that haven’t been surveyed. Thus, I hope to do this at some point and give an even better picture of early railway recruitment.

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