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Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Social Backgrounds of Female Railway Clerks - 1875-1886

Mid-way through last year, I looked at the first sixteen female ledger clerks employed at the London and North Western Railway’s (L&NWR) Birmingham Curzon Street goods station between 1874 and 1876. However, in the course of my research I actually discovered the staff records of fifty-six female clerks that the company appointed between 1874 and 1886 at eight locations across the company’s network.

While I determined from the records these women’s rates of pay, length of employment, promotional prospects and what their jobs involved, I did not look at their family backgrounds. However, understanding individuals’ backgrounds is important, as they ultimately they determined their employment prospects. Indeed, I have postulated elsewhere that these clerks were possibly the daughters of railwaymen. Thus, I set out to test this theory. To determine the women’s backgrounds, which in the Victorian period were essentially their father’s occupations, I looked for the clerks in census records. Consequently, I found the professions of eighteen of their fathers.

Firstly, my theory that the female clerks predominantly came from railway families seems to be unfounded. Of the nineteen clerks only five had fathers employed by the L&NWR (27.78%).  For example, Margaret A. Peacock, who was employed at Shrewsbury station on the 1 December 1876,[1] was the daughter of Edward Peacock who made Station Master at Tattenhale Station in 1881.[2] Furthermore, in that year William Redford, Goods Agent in Manchester,[3] was father to both  Elizabeth[4] and Isabella[5] Redford, who were both clerks in Manchester Moss Street Goods Station. Lastly, Mary Hannah Hassall, who was also appointed at Manchester Moss Street in 1876,[6] had a brother, James, who was a Junior Clerk at the time,[7] which may also have facilitated her entrance into the company. Thus, a considerable, but not overwhelming, proportion of the women did have some link with the railway.

Of the nineteen fathers, seven could be considered to have been in some form of trade (38.89%). For example, Edith Gould, who joined the Camden Goods Office in 1876,[8] was the daughter of James Gould, a cheesemonger in St Pancras.[9] Additionally, James Harris was a Blacksmith employing one man, [10]  and was the father of Martha and Mary Harris who were employed at Birmingham Curzon Street in 1874 and 1876[11] respectively. The professions of the remaining four fathers were a cabinet maker, someone simply listed as a ‘manufacturer,’ a cigar and tobacco manufacturer and a master jeweller employing one boy.

Four (22.22%) of the fathers had positions in some form of administration. Probably the highest ranked was Joseph Arlom, father of Emma Arlom who was appointed at Manchester Moss Street Station in 1878[12], who was an ‘Inspector of Police.’[13] The lowest ranked socially was Alfred Vigurs, who by 1881 was a clerk at a lamp makers.[14] He was the father of Lizzie Vigurs, who was appointed to the Birmingham Curzon Street office in 1875.[15] The others fathers were working as Canal (or possibly Burial) Agent and a Superintendent of a public baths.

Only two of the fathers (11.11%) had what can be considered unskilled jobs. Frederick Hughes, the father of Martha Hughes, an appointee at Birmingham in 1875[16], was a ‘spoon and fork filer.’[17] The other was a Wheelhouseman in Manchester.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the vast majority of the female clerks had fathers who were in professions that required skill or education. Indeed, sixteen of the eighteen (88.89%) fathers would almost certainly have provided comfortable households for their families including good schooling for their children. Furthermore, the majority of the fathers were in positions that Victorian society considered ‘respectable’, meaning their daughters would have had a good chance of obtaining the positive references that potential employers required. Lastly, while this brief piece of research has shown that familial links to the railway were not necessarily required for the women to become clerks on the L&NWR, it has shown that the basis of their entry was identical to that for male clerks, in that the social class, public standing and educational level of the father were hugely important factors.

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[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department including clerks, goods managers, inspectors, superintendents, time keepers, accountants, foremen, agents, canvassers and collectors., p.1286
[2] TNA, RG 11/3552, 1881 Census, Cheshire, Tattenhale, District 6, p.1
[3] TNA, RG 11/3473, 1881 Census, Lancashire, Manchester, Heaton Norris, District 12, p.16
[4] TNA, RAIL 410/1841, Salaried Staff Register [No 2, pages 2593-3088] - Miscellaneous departments. Includes staff employed in the following departments: Goods, Cattle, Horse, Rolling Stock, Detective and Canal. Includes station masters, inspectors, detectives and clerks, p.2634
[5] TNA, RAIL 410/1843, Salaried staff register [No. 1, pages 1089-1599] - Goods Department. Includes clerks, goods managers, inspectors, superintendents, time keepers, accountants, foremen, agents, canvassers, collectors, timber measurer, traffic solicitor and cartage, p.1338
[6] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Departmentp.1215
[7] TNA, RG 11/4003, 1881 Census, Lancashire, Manchester, St George, District 19, p.71
[8] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1227
[9] TNA, RG 11/176, London, St Pancras, Regents Park, District 4, p.17
[10] TNA, RG 11/2982, 1881 Census, Warwickshire, Birmingham, St Martin, District 7, p.24
[11] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1207
[12] TNA, RAIL 410/1841, Salaried Staff Register [No 2, pages 2593-3088] - Miscellaneous departments, p.1338
[13] TNA, RG 11/3940, 1881 Census, Lancashire, Moss Side, District 81, p.59
[14] TNA, RG 11/2835, 1881 Census, Staffordshire, Handsworth, District 20, p.26
[15] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1207
[16] TNA, RAIL 410/1837, Register of salaried permanent officers in the Goods Department, p.1207
[17] TNA, RG 11/3033, Warwickshire, Aston, Duddeston, District 41, p.19

2 comments:

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