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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Improving the Management Class? LSE Training and the London and South Western Railway.

I have written before about the training of London-based railway clerks at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the very early twentieth century ( here). Realistically, clerks were the only individuals in the pre-1914 railway industry that had a chance of moving into management. Thus, the training, which took place from 1903 onwards and which was up to the clerks themselves to attend (although the railway companies made a donation to the LSE), were designed to give them a good grounding in what was considered good management technique. What is of interest in this post is not the courses themselves, they have been covered before. Rather, I am interested on the effect that the courses had on the quality of railway managers. Did the courses have the potential to improve the quality of railway companies’ management class? The company of choice is the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR).

The LSE contacted the L&SWR about their clerks attending its courses in October 1903, and by May 1904 183 were attending.[1] Some of the earliest courses L&SWR Clerks attended were as follows:-

1- The Economics of Rapid Transit

12 - The Law relating to railway companies

14 - Economic Factors in Railway Administration

41 - Railway Statistics in England and Foreign Countries

108 - The Law of Carriage by Railway[2]

After 1903 number of L&SWR employees attending fell consistently up until 1913 when only 43 took the courses. Understandably, during World War One the number of attendees dropped off further. However, after 1918 there was a slight recovery in numbers. This is shown in the graph below. It is suspected that this drop, apart from during the war, can be attributed to the fact that in 1903 most of the clerks who were willing to attend the LSE did so at that point. Subsequently, those who went later on were either new employees or they had moved to places where the LSE was geographically accessible. However, their numbers were not as great.

Yet, despite high overall attendance, the effect the courses had on the calibre of the L&SWR’s management class seems marginal. I have found that 156 L&SWR employees attended courses at the LSE which were assessed by examination, their results being recorded on their staff records. Of these individuals only 3 (1.92%) actually went on to become senior managers within the company. Furthermore, in 1921 the company did a detailed survey of its entire staff. This census showed that across all departments that it had 162 individuals in senior management positions. Thus, the three individuals constituted only 1.85% of the L&SWR’s management in this year.

The three men were John Percival Milton, William Tucket Venton and Herbert Ivor Bond. Milton was a clerk in the Goods Manager’s Office when he took his first course in 1903 (Law of Carriage by Railway). He later became District Goods Superintendent at Salisbury in 1918.[4] Venton was also a clerk in the same office and also began in 1903 (‘Law of Carriage by Railway’). He later became a District Goods Superintendent in 1912 at London, later moving to Southampton.[5] The last was Bond, and Draughtsman in the Engineering Department. It is unknown what courses he took, but in 1919 he became London District Engineer. Of the three only Milton excelled, and in 1912 he won the 'Brunel' Medal for three first class certificates in three subjects in not more than four years.

Therefore, attendance by L&SWR employees at the LSE courses had minimal effect on the quality of its senior management between 1903 and 1922. Nevertheless, it is possible that it did improve the day to day performance of the other 153 attendees from the company. Indeed, the LSE training may have had far had more benefits for the quality of its junior management. Presumably, many of those who attended the courses later on in their history (after 1910, for example) would not have had time to rise up into senior management positions by the time the L&SWR was dissolved in 1922. Yet, by then they may have become stationmasters or chief clerks. Furthermore, their career advancement may also have quickened because senior managers advanced them based on their LSE attendance.

Lastly, it is highly plausible that the training courses had an effect on the senior management of the Southern Railway (formed in 1923 from the L&SWR, London, Brighton & South Coast and South Eastern & Chatham Railway), as after its formation the majority of the LSE attendees would have had long enough careers to be senior managers. This will, however, require further research.


[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/265, Traffic Committee Minute Book, Minute No. 886, 18th May 1904

[2] TNA, RAIL 411/265, Traffic Committee Minute Book, Minute No. 562, 18th November 1903 and TNA, ZPER 11/23, South Western Gazette, June 1904 pp.5

[3] TNA, RAIL 411/673, L&SWR 1921 Census of Staff

[4] TNA, RAIL 411/493, Clerical staff character book No.3 1839-1920, p.119

[5] TNA, RAIL 411/494, Clerical staff character book No.4 1859-1920, p.258

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

How [not] to Defraud a Victorian Railway Company

Being large corporations, the biggest of their day, it is unsurprising that the railways were highly susceptible to attempts to defraud them. All sorts of individuals attempted to steal from the railways by devious means, including railway employees, passengers, traders and others. Thus, this post will detail some of the interesting cases that have been found in 19th century newspapers which show how the individuals tried, and failed, to commit fraud.

In 1849 John Coulson was a booking clerk in the employ of the Bolton, Blackburn, Clitheroe and West Yorkshire Railway company based at Over Darwen. The company in its formative years seemed to be one of the first to offer cheap tickets to holiday resorts, and it offered them to Blackpool. At the court case in Preston in September, the General Manager of the line, Terence Flanagan, stated that he had become alerted to the fact that something wasn’t right when he noticed that the traffic returns from Over Darwen were less than those from other stations by some considerable margin. Indeed, Coulson’s return sent to the Audit office on Sunday the 12th of August, recorded that he had booked 10 men and 34 women and children to Blackpool. Yet, the porter at the station, Thomas Griffith, swore that more people than that had been booked from the station. Coulson had no chance after that, and seventeen other witnesses were brought forward who had between them purchased 20 tickets on that day. Furthermore, it was revealed that he was discharged previously from the employ of the Board of Excise for collusion. It was unknown how much he got away with.[1] However, he was eventually sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour.[2]

Probably the most common attempts to defraud railway companies were when individuals attempted to travel without a ticket. In May 1858, William Byrd came up before Bromsgrove Pettys Sessions for such an offence. He was known to Midland Railway staff for being a fruitier and dealer in Birmingham. Indeed, he had secured as a trader a free pass for the western part of the company’s line ‘to enable him to visit markets.’ On the 21st April he had arrived at Camp Hill Station without a ticket. When James Goodchild, the inspector, challenged him he said he had paid his fare at Bromsgrove Station. An investigation soon proved this to be untrue. He had in fact joined the train at Worcester and had avoided paying 11s 0.5d. Byrd pleaded guilty and said he was sorry for the offence. On account of his ‘circumstances in life’ and ingratitude to the company, he had the heaviest fine possible inflicted on him by the court of £2, plus £1 2s 4d in costs. Interestingly, at the trial Mr Draycott, a Midland Railway Inspector, stated that ‘attempts were made daily to defraud railway companies.’[3]

One of the oddest cases of fraud being committed against a railway company relates to twenty individuals who tried to impersonate militia men in Lancaster in 1869. The men, from various parts of the county, had been simultaneously caught on the 31st of May ‘endeavouring to obtain by false pretences’ from Bryan Thornhill a ‘pair of boots, two shirts and one pair of socks and one shilling and threepence.’ Presumably, they had impersonated militia men in the process of being called up in order to obtain these items. All twenty of them pleaded guilty and were imprisoned for three months with hard labour. However, in passing sentence the chairman of the petty sessions stated that all of them must have ‘defrauded the railway company in making their journeys to Lancaster.’ Indeed, real militia men would have been entitled to free or reduced fare travel and presumably the defendants took advantage of this. However, it is unknown whether any were charged in relation to these offences.[4]

The Abergele railway disaster on 20th August 1868 was the worst accident on Britain’s railways up to that point. At 12.39 pm a London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) mail train ran into some runaway wagons, causing the train to overturn and setting light to some paraffin oil in the wagons. The ensuing fire enveloped the locomotive and first three carriages, and 33 individuals died, with many more being injured.[5] Some days later Henry Ford contacted a solicitor by the name of Fox to prosecute a claim for £4000 against the L&NWR for injuries he had sustained in the accident. Fox wrote the L&NWR stating that:

‘Our client, Mr Henry Ford, of Patricroft, was in the train at the time of the accident on the Holyhead Railway and was a first-class passenger from Chester to Dublin. He was very much shaken and injured by the shock and has found it necessary to consult a surgeon, who says he is suffering from concussion of the spine, and that he must remain in bed for some time to give him any opportunity of recovering. Mr Ford will claim compensation of the company in respect of his injuries, but it is impossible at present to state the extent and nature of them. If you wish the surgeon of the company to see Mr Ford, please put him in communication with us, and we will arrange for his doing so.’

The surgeons of the company visited Mr Ford and judged that he had indeed been injured. Thus, the £4000 was duly paid. Yet, one of the company’s superintendents was dissatisfied with the claim and commenced an action at the spring assizes to reclaim the money. It was at this point that Ford disappeared. Some weeks later he was met in the street in London, apparently in good health and was arrested. The case at the Manchester assizes on 16th January 1869 brought forward testimonies that on the day of the accident he had been seen sitting in his lodgings in Patricroft reading a newspaper. Furthermore, a day or two afterwards he was seen in good health in his lodgings. Lastly, his landlord had paid an unexpected visit in the days after the accident and found him standing in his rooms. Ford was found guilty for trying to defraud the company, and was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.

While I have shown some of the more interesting cases I found, there can be no doubt the majority of the cases of fraud were where the individuals did not pay the full fare, or paid no fare at all. Therefore, it would be interesting to know how much money the railways lost in the manner, and how they attempted to counteract it.


[1] The Preston Guardian etc, Saturday, September 29, 1849; Issue 1935

[2] The Preston Guardian etc, Saturday, October 20, 1849; Issue 1938

[3] Berrow's Worcester Journal, Saturday, May 15, 1858, pg; 8 Issue 8113

[4] The Lancaster Gazette, and General Advertiser for Lancashire, Westmorland, Yorkshire, &c., Saturday, July 03, 1869, pg. 2, Issue 4292


[6] Liverpool Mercury etc., Thursday, August 12, 1869; Issue 6723

Friday, 20 May 2011

Statistics for Managers on the 1830s Stockton to Darlington Railway

The Stockton to Darlington Railway (SDR), which was promoted by local businessmen, was authorised as an act of parliament in 1821 and was completed in 1825. Its significance is because it was the first railway to be permitted to carry goods and passengers by steam traction. However, some historians dispute that it was the railway that started the ‘Railway Age’ and only consider it a precursor to it. These views have been formed on the basis that initially the railway ran from collieries to Stockton via Darlington, a mere 30 miles. Secondly the bulk of the early traffic was heavy minerals, and lastly the company sub-contracted portions of its operations. Yet, while many comparisons are made with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830, the SDR did help George Stephenson to refine locomotive design, track building techniques and rail profiles.

However, the SDR it soon became more than just a short line, and in 1828 the company extended its line to Middlesbrough. [1] However, it was in 1833 that the company started to truly resemble a modern railway. Prior to this date the company had only used locomotives on mineral trains, with horses pulling the passengers. Furthermore, the company owned only a few trains, and the majority of individuals could pay to use their own traction to pull their own trains on it. Thus, the line was managed in much the same manner as a canal or toll road, and there were no timetables or safety mechanisms.

In 1833, this all changed and the management of the SDR took control of the line. Firstly, double tracks were laid to allow trains to run in opposite directions. Timetables were introduced, as well as a crude system of signalling.[2] Lastly, the Shildon works, which had been established on a small scale in 1825 to build and maintain the company’s own locomotives, came to resemble what we would now know as a locomotive works under the charge of the company’s new locomotive superintendent, Timothy Hackworth.[3] Subsequently, the SDR became a standard railway and was a huge success.

While outwardly appearing like a conventional railway, it cannot be ignored that the company also started to use management techniques that were akin to other early companies. Within the files of the SDR at the National Archives can be seen the SDR’s early attempts at statistical gathering. The data that has survived pertains to the number of passengers conveyed and how far they went. While it is unknown what other data the company kept (at this point at least) the statistics do suggest that very quickly after establishment early railway companies were gathering metrics beyond just revenue and expense.

The first page of data showed me the monthly totals of passengers conveyed and how far they travelled. In 1833 12,829 passengers travelled 101,288 miles on the SDR (7.90 miles per passenger). However, between January and September 1834 the railway conveyed 143,672 passengers 1,049,370.5 miles (7.30 miles per passenger). Thus, while the company was conveying more passengers in 1834 than in 1833, on average they were going shorter distances. Subsequently, financial information (which I do not have at the moment) may reveal that the effect that this had on the company’s profitability. What is for certain is that the company was rapidly becoming more popular, and this also may have had an effect on the statistic of miles travelled per passenger.

In addition, how the passengers were carried was also noted. While we are familiar with the distinctions of First, Second and Third class carriage from later on in British railway history, it seems that the early SDR distinguished the customers by ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ passengers. The evidence, which again showed the monthly totals, indicates that from the 1st January 1834 to the 17th December, 11,270 (25.54%) passengers paid more to travel ‘inside.’ However, 32,857 (74.46%) travelled by the evidently cheaper ‘outside’ accommodation.

Furthermore, by 1835, it is clear that the managers were demanding more complex statistics, and another document evidences the number of passengers each month travelling under specific headings: ‘Number of Passengers on Market Days,’ ‘Number of passengers not including market days’ and ‘total number of passengers.’ For that year 23,485 (45.54%) passengers travelled on market days, with 28,082 (54.46%) conveyed at other times.

Lastly, a document from 1836 shows that the SDR was not just recording the volume of passengers across the line, but was also recording specific detail were passengers were travelling to and from (however, this can be inferred from the details communicated by the first document). Between April and October that year, the company earned £202 10s 0d from passengers conveyed from Stockton to Darlington (58.96%), £41 10s 0d from passengers going from Shildon to Darlington (12.08%), £85 6s 4d from those going from Shildon to Middlesbrough (24.84%) and £14 2s 8d was spent by individuals making other journeys (4.12%). Thus, the management could gauge what their most popular journeys were, and where extra capacity in trains may have been needed.[4]

Overall these documents indicate that even in the early days of railway operation railway managers were using statistics to measure demand, pricing and uptake of their services. Indeed, on the bottom of the first sheet, which showed the number passengers conveyed and the number of miles they travelled, there is a calculation in pencil of how far, on average, each passenger travelled. Later documents also show that these calculations were made. Thus, what these documents indicate is that systems of management accounting were developed very quickly in the early railway industry. Furthermore, as they started at the beginning of the SDR’s proper operation it can be deduced that management recognised, based on prior experience that management accounting was important.

[1] Kirby, Dr Maurice, ‘Stockton & Darlington Railway’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.478


[3] Ransom, P.J.G, ‘Works, railway manufacture and repair’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.569

[4] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 667/1364, Statistics of passenger journeys: numbers carried, mileages, receipts etc., 1833-1837

Monday, 16 May 2011

"The Man With A Gold Cap" - The Life of a Stationmaster - 1912

While I talk a lot on this blog about the broad issues of railway operations, I rarely discuss the day to day running of Britain’s railways. In July 1912 the Railway & Travel Monthly printed an article entitled ‘The man with the gold cap.’ The article discussed the nature of the daily work of the stationmaster. Written by J. Thornton Burge, a stationmaster on the London and South Western Railway, he stated that he had ‘often been struck by the apparent ignorance of the general public as to the duties and responsibilities of a stationmaster.’ Burge worked at Templecombe Station, a station of considerable size where there was a ‘very large transfer of traffic’ and ‘marshalling of trains.’ Burge, while working for one company, clearly felt that the experiences he was describing applied to most station masters throughout Britain.

Burge’s day started at 7.45am, where on arrival he would find between 50 and 100 letters. Some were from Head Offices which had ‘arrived by trains during the night,’ some were from his own staff, and others came from other station masters. The details of the letters were very varied, including requests for ‘special attention to be given to some old person or child changing trains,’ the quick transit of goods and complaints from traders. There were also enquiries from headquarters as to suggested timetable changes, derailments, operating irregularities, staff changes or pay rises. All of these had to be read, and responded to.

After dealing with the correspondence he next received the night inspector’s report that detailed any irregularities as to the running of the trains, followed by the yard foreman’s report that showed how many wagons were in the yard. From this, he would be able to determine whether there were more wagons waiting to be sent from the station, than the goods trains that were due to arrive were able to convey. Thus, he would have to arrange special trains. Lastly he read the signalmen’s report which explained any delays, most of which he could account for to head office without the further need for investigation.

Stationmasters in the period were also responsible for the station’s accounts and returns. Therefore, he had to check and sign many returns, accounts had to be settled and claims by traders investigated. He also had to make sure all trains were ‘cleaned and birthed’ for the morning services and every delay in the train service had to be reported to headquarters.

By now many trains were passing through the station, it being the busiest part of the day. Being the man in charge he had to make sure that their movements were completed efficiently. On the one hand, he was not to delay the fast trains considerably, lest he ‘incur the censure of his chiefs.’ Yet because his station was a junction, if he let trains go that were due to connect with others that were late, meaning passengers missed their connections, he may also ‘upset plans’ and ‘greatly annoy passengers.’ However, the telegraph and telephone was utilised to regulate the service and plan for irregularities.

After all the correspondence had been completed and the rush in traffic was over, the stationmaster had to do his early morning inspection of the station to check that all was in order. This encompassed every part of the station from the waiting rooms to the lavatories, to the goods shed and yard. Additionally, once or twice a month he made surprise visits to the outlying signal boxes to make sure that nothing was out of order.

The rest of the day seemed to be filled up in attending to the range of other issues that arose at the station. Burge laid stress on frequency with which ‘blockages’ occurred on the main lines to which he had to attend. They occurred for multiple reasons, for example flooding on the line, the slippage of an embankment, a derailment, or an accident. It was the stationmaster’s duty to make sure that safety was ensured, but that, if possible, trains could continue to run. With a group of gangers and platelayers he would proceed to the blockage and put signalmen on either side of it to warn oncoming trains. He would then marshal the employee’s efforts to restore the free movement of trains. Interestingly, he commented that on such occasions it would be useful to not wear a uniform, as when hurrying around the station in times of urgency, he would be continually accosted by passengers or traders wanting information or trying to make a complaint.

Burge made the point that unlike other grades of employees, his responsibilities for looking after the station meant that he was never off duty and was ‘supposed to be always within reasonable call for cases of urgency day and night, Sunday and weekday, and from the time he becomes stationmaster he practically gives himself wholly to the company’s business.’ Thus, on many occasions, after he had left his post, he was called back to the station to attend to some matter. This was particularly the case for Burge as trains ran all through the night. He remembered a number of cases when he was called on at such times to attend to a disabled man, to make a decision about some injured cattle and when fog and snow storms slowed operations on the line.

While this was only a cursory view of stationmaster’s activities, and I could not do the entire article justice here (peppered as it is with very detailed, quite boring, information), what has been shown is that the stationmasters before the First World War were a dedicated group of individuals who were under consistent pressure to keep the railways of Britain moving. Their jobs while relatively clean and free from risk of physical harm, were far from easy and on occasions were very arduous.

All taken from The Railway and Travel Monthly, July 1912, p.201-210

Thursday, 12 May 2011

'At the time of catastrophe’ - Railway Passenger's Accident Insurance - 1849-1914

In the period 1874 to 1878, on average 35 passengers were killed per year on Britain’s railways (against 687 railway employees). High profile accidents such as Abergele in 1868, in which 32 people died, combined with the attendant hysteria, did much to put fear into the heart of the travelling public.[1] How then could the passenger avoid leaving their family destitute if they had the misfortune to be in an accident? The answer – railway passenger’s insurance.

The most prominent company to provide this was the Railway Passengers Assurance Company (now part of AVIVA). Formed in 1849, ‘for the purpose of Insuring Passengers by railway against accidents,’ it started with a capital of £1,000,000 ‘to inspire confidence in its ability to pay £1000 for a threepenny premium.’[2]

After establishment, the company quickly made deals with the railway companies of Britain to sell tickets and policies at stations. Initially the tickets, purchased from booking offices at station, would insure the passenger for the journey that they were about to undertake (irrespective of length). In 1849 passengers could pay threepence on a first class ticket, twopence on a second class ticket and onepence on a third class ticket would, which, in the case of a fatal accident, would entitle their family to £1000, £500 and £200 respectively. In the cases where accidents were non-fatal, but where there had been injury, the company would pay out ‘a sum of compensation that they consider just.’ If the amount paid out was disputed by the claimant, the company would go to arbitration.[3] The company also issued periodical insurance tickets (usually for a month), and, irrespective of class, any fatal accident would permit the family to claim £1000. The original cost of this tickets have not been determined.[4]

Despite much scepticism in the press regarding the viability of the new company, insurance policies and single journey tickets sold well. At the company’s first annual general meeting in March 1850, it was reported that in the period between August 1849 and the end of the third week in February, 65,353 single journey tickets had been sold (15,710 first class, 24,586 second class and 25,047 third class). Additionally, 1,683 periodical passes had also been sold.[5]

As the insurance was sold at stations there had to be some pay-off for the railway company. A London and South Western Railway 1858 guide to Station Agents stated that Booking Clerks that issued and received insurance tickets were to receive a 10 per cent commission from the Assurance Company as remuneration for their trouble. Indeed, they were required to process the tickets also, and clerks were to send a weekly return of the number of tickets issued and received to Waterloo Audit office.[6] However, the selling of tickets wasn’t always looked on favourably by the railway companies themselves, and many Booking Clerks were instructed by management not to invite the selling of insurance as talk of accidents on the railways may have increased anxiety among travellers.[7] Despite this, the company remained successful.

After the formation of the company the types of accident insurance that could be taken out proliferated and some of the old schemes became more standardised. An 1897 guide for Station Agents shows that there was insurance for journeys not more than 35 miles and journeys of any length. The compensation was also dependent on how much the purchaser paid. There was also the option for individuals to purchase accident cover for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 5 years, 10 years or the entire length of their person’s life. Furthermore, the subjective assessment of how much individuals should receive if they were maimed or injured had been replaced with formalised payments for those who suffered ‘death or loss of two eyes or limbs,’ ‘total disablement’ and ‘partial disablement.’[8] (see image for more details)

While the Railway Passengers Assurance Company held sway over 19th century passenger insurance, the scheme of the periodical Tit-Bits should be noted. Tit-Bits was launched by the innovative publisher George Newnes in 1881. In May 1885 Tit-Bits announced in bold and capitals ‘A NEW SYSTEM OF LIFE ASSURANCE.’ The scheme was as follows: ‘ONE HUNDRED POUNDS WILL BE PAID BY THE PROPRIETOR OF"TIT-BITS" TO THE NEXT-OF-KIN OF ANY PERSON WHO IS KILLED IN A RAILWAY ACCIDENT, PROVIDED A COPY OF THE CURRENT ISSUE OF "TIT-BITS" IS FOUND UPON THE DECEASED AT THE TIME OF THE CATASTROPHE.’

This had been suggested to Newnes by the wife of a dedicated reader who had been killed in an accident. Seeing the potential to increase the periodical’s circulation and his profits, Newnes used the idea. The first successful claimants were the family of a 40 year old coachbuilder who had fallen between the train and the platform at Hatfield station and had been run over. The coroner proclaimed ‘accidental death.’ However, crucially, four witnesses testified that the man had Tit-Bits in his pocket. Subsequently, two claims a month on average were made and by September 1891 Newnes had paid out to 36 families. How far this scheme increased the circulation of the Tit-Bits is unknown. However, it provided the publication with gripping stories for individuals reading it on the commute.[9]

[1] Simmons, Jack, ‘Accidents’, The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.2-4

[2] Author’s Collection, Instructions to Station Agents – Railway Passenger’s Assurance Company, 1897

[3] The Era, Sunday, March 4, 1849; Issue 545

[4] Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, Thursday, November 22, 1849; Issue 4381

[5] The Morning Post, Thursday, March 07, 1850; pg. 3; Issue 23788

[6] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 1035/269, 1858 - RAIL 1035- Abstract of instructions which have from time to time been issued to the Station agents &c Previous to 1st May 1858, p.14

[7] Harrington, Ralph, ‘The railway accident: trains, trauma and technological crisis in nineteenth-

[8] Author’s Collection, Instructions to Station Agents – Railway Passenger’s Assurance Company, 1897 century Britain,’

[9] Jackson, Kate, ‘The Tit-Bits Phenomenon: George Newnes, New Journalism and the Periodical Texts,’ Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol.30, No.3, (Fall, 1997), p.217-218

Sunday, 8 May 2011

'Preferred in Finer Weather' - Early Third Class Passenger Accommodation

I don’t often write about the rolling stock of Britain’s railway on this blog. In fact, I don’t think I have so far. I don’t know why. The development of rolling stock on Britain’s railways relate to many aspects of the social, managerial, governmental and technological history of the railway network. But, as will be shown, the earliest third class accommodation was appalling because of the profit motive of the earliest railway managers.

Unlike today, where the majority of us sit in what is now ‘standard class,’ a much smaller proportion of customers travelled by the lowest class in the earliest days of Britain’s railways. Yet, this was not necessarily by choice and the railways before 1850 were reluctant to provide third class accommodation on many services. A return from 1847 showed that in the year ending June 1846 just over 6 million 1st class passengers were conveyed in Britain (14.07%), just under 17 million 2nd class passengers travelled (38.66%). The rest of those conveyed were about 18.5 million 3rd and Parliamentary class passengers (the latter of which more will be mentioned in a moment) (42.26%). However, the preference for carrying 1st and 2nd class passengers was logical considering they contributed £3.6 million of the £4.7 million (76.18%) of the revenue generated by passenger traffic in that year.[1]

Thus, for early railway managers providing accommodation for third class passengers forced up operating costs, reduced revenues and ultimately diminished profits. Indeed, on many railways, for example on the opening of the Hampton Court Branch of the London and South Western Railway, the company didn’t mention third class travelling arrangements at all.[2] Furthermore, many companies did not attach third class carriages to the regular passenger services, instead attaching them to goods trains. Of course, this wasn’t to say that the addition of third class carriages to a train that was ‘running light’ didn’t add profit to the overall service, but in the main, railway managers preferred to convey the more profitable first and second class traffic.

Furthermore, the low rate of return on conveying third class passengers also affected the quality of their accommodation which was, especially in winter, dreadful. Thus, early third class accommodation rarely had a roof, glazing, and almost always forced the passengers to sit on wooden seats. In short, these coaches were little more than slightly modified goods wagons.[3] However, by not spending large amounts of money on the coaches for third class travellers, railway managers were reducing the overall cost of conveying them. On the opening of the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway one reporter tried to make the best he could of the third class coaches which were ‘of common appearance but substantial in structure, and being open will probably be preferred in fine weather.’[4]

However, such poor accommodation carried with it substantial risks when an accident occurred. While individuals had come to harm falling from the coaches,[5] it was an accident on the Great Western Railway on Christmas Eve 1841 that brought the matter to the government’s attention. Late in the evening a luggage train, which was comprised of three third class coaches and some heavily loaded goods wagons, was going from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington and was passing through Sonning Cutting, east of Reading Station. Rains had caused a landslip which had covered the track with earth. In the dark the train hit this and derailed, causing the third class carriages, which were between the engine and the goods wagons, to be crushed. Eight people died at the scene, and one died in hospital a day later. 16 people were seriously injured.[6]

The accident report stated that one of the principal causes of fatality was the lack of protection afforded to the passengers within them. Indeed, many of the passengers had been thrown out of the carriage on impact.[7] As such, the Board of Trade initiated a general inquiry into the conveyance of third class passengers nationwaide, culminating in the 1844 Regulation of Railways Act. This compelled all companies that derived a third of their revenue from passenger traffic to provide one train daily calling at all stations, that did not go less than 12 miles per hour, which did not cost the traveller not more than 1d per mile and, crucially, used enclosed carriages with seats. These were called ‘Parliamentary Trains.’ Reflecting the fact that the operation of these services would be a financial burden for the railway companies, any company meeting these requirements would not have to pay taxes on the fares.[8]

While this piece of legislation was a landmark, given it was the first by government that actively intervened in railway affairs, it also showed the future of the third class carriage. Of course, the legislation did not stop the usage of open coaches immediately, and they continued to be used until as late as the early 1870s. Yet, what this story shows is that the from the very earliest days of the railway industry it was the government that had to intervene to restrict the railway’s earliest urges simply to make as much profit as possible. Indeed, it is also possible that this early intervention by the government instilled in railway management the idea that they had an obligation to the public, something that would have an effect on railway profitability in later years.

[1] House of Commons Parliamentary Papers [HCPP], 1847 (706) Railways. Summary of returns, showing the number of passengers carried on 63 railways of the United Kingdom during the year ending 30 June 1846, the fares of each class, and the receipts from each class of passengers, and for goods.

[2] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/227, Traffic & Coaching Committee Minute Book, 19th January 1849, p.301

[3] Harris, Michael, ‘Carriages,’ The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, (Oxford, 1997), p.76

[4] The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser, Saturday, November 03, 1838; pg. 2; Issue 908

[5] The Champion and Weekly Herald (London, England), Sunday, October 27, 1839; Issue 163.


[7] Accident Returns: Extract for Accident at Sonning on 24th December 1841,

[8] Simmons, Jack, ‘Parliamentary Trains,’ The Oxford Companion to British Railway History, p.369

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