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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 43 - Spring 1981

The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants 1912 - A News Review - John Fairman

A copy of a weekly trades union newspaper for railwaymen called The Railway Review, dated Friday 24th May 1912, was recently lent to me and it made such interesting reading that I thought you would like to share the fascinating news and attitudes it portrayed of railway life nearly seventy years ago.

The paper had evidently been published for many years and the issue I had was New Series No. 752, Old Series No. 1763. It had sixteen pages, 18¼" x 12", was published by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants by the Kings Cross Publishing Co. Ltd., 312 Grays Inn Road, London, WC, and printed by the Co-operative Society Ltd., Tudor Street, New Bridge Street, EC.

On the front page was a 2½ column editorial article titled 'Distinctions and Differences'. This referred to a 'grave industrial crisis' and suggested there was a lack of understanding by the 'middle classes' for the point of view of the 'working man'. The Editor put forward the idea of more co-operation between the brainworker and the handworker, between the director, manager and those he is employed to direct or manage. The union of the two, it was considered, would provide the best means of industrial salvation from the exploiters of labour, the capitalists, the middlemen and the landlords. Red-hot copy from the Editor, you will agree! Advertisements took a column and included such offers as a high-grade bicycle for £6-6s and a perfect suit for 37/6d. Another column headed 'Parliamentary Notes' refers to a question in Parliament to the President of the Board of Trade by an MP, Mr. Wardle. He asked whether the President was aware that fifteen soldiers were in York Signal Cabin on 16th March and whether he knew that, during April, efforts were made at York to induce North Eastern Railway engine drivers to take soldiers on the footplate for instruction. Mr. Wardle considered these practices dangerous, but he was assured that the soldiers were only in the signal box for Army training.

On page two there was a feature called 'Shot and Shell', a miscellany of news items. The death of 'Jack' Smith of the Gas Workers and General Labourers Union is reported and it was said that he had been a tough and tenacious fighter, particularly for men employed in gas making. Another item was the queer tale of a platelayer, who, before his death, had been sixty years on the railway between Tebay and Shap Summit. In this time on the LNWR, Joseph Ratcliffe had remained a bachelor and had saved £1,000! A paragraph on Fatal Industrial Accidents quoted the Board of Trade Gazette statistics and gave 189 as the number of workpeople killed in one month, April 1912, of which 24 had been in railway service. Another paragraph from 'Shot and Shell' mentioned the use of Latin by the Great Western Railway in one of their publications for staff. Sunday being a 'dies non', it says; Great Western men should feel honoured by the use of such noble language. Maybe railway companies are on the way to reviving a dead language, the writer observes!

'Southern Sobs', by 'Battersea Bowser-Porter', takes the form of a letter written in true Cockney style and illustrated by cartoons. One shows a would-be employee looking at the newly introduced, complicated and detailed application form required to be completed by every applicant to the job of temporary porter. He is saying: 'Blimey, its a Bishop they want, not a temporary porter'. Another column on page three concerns 'Movements' and features reports from Bradford (GNR), Stockport (GLC) and Blackfriars (SE & CR) - and it also gives results of elections to conciliation boards of the Midland and Cambrian Railways. This feature is continued on page four with a report of a mass meeting in Southwark Park on 19th April, under the auspices of the ASRS, to demand a minimum wage. Mention is made that the goods workers at Bricklayers Arms average 14 and 15 hours a day, that 44,000 platelayers receive an average wage of 19/5d a week and that 436 railwaymen are killed every year while on duty.

A serial story of industrial life called 'The Potter's Wheel' takes 2½ columns on pages 4 and 5 and manages to reach Chapter 21! The most interesting feature on page five is the two column of correspondence. One writer, dubbing himself 'Sea on Land', calls attention to the awful riding qualities of the L & NWR goods brake vans which, above five mph, 'rock so much you can't sit down', the 20-ton six wheelers being the worst. Another correspondent expresses the hope that the arrival of a new inspector on the Signal Fitting Department of the Great Western London Division will lead to an improvement in the quality of the work, more use of the file and less of the heavy hammer! An advertisement, in the column headed 'Home from Home', offers Bed and Breakfast accommodation for 2/- to 2/6d a night.

'Our Women's Corner' on page six is conducted by 'Margery Daw' and reports on meetings throughout the country. The death of Lord Stalbridge on 18th May (at the age of 75) is noted; he was the Chairman of the L & NWR from 1891 to 1911. The Annual Delegates Conference of the Railway Clerks Association at Liverpool Street Hotel, London, has three columns devoted to its proceedings on pages six and seven and it is noted that the membership had grown from 8,043 in 1908 to 20,000 by 1912. Mr Wardle MP and Mr Ramsey Macdonald addressed the conference. Page seven is completed by 1½ columns from a lawyer on 'How Trade Unions may Avoid Vexacious and Unnecessary Litigation'.

The two centre pages of the paper are devoted to Part 19 of a series giving information on the National Insurance Act and there are some questions and answers on Friendly Society and Insurance matters for the benefit of readers. However, the most striking feature is a political cartoon, on page 9, which reflects sectional opinion sixty years ago. It is in two parts, each showing the reaction of Dame Britannia to two different 'threats'. One is 'The Law for the Rich' and the other is 'The Law for the Poor'. Both are pretty inflammatory!

Also on page nine is a report of the now legendary Will Thorne's deputation of members of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress to the Prime Minister, Mr Asquith. The deputation represented organised workers and asked the Government to nationalise the Railways in the interest of the workers, the trading public and the community generally. It was pointed out that dividends had improved between 1907 and 1911 from 3.32% to 3.67% and Mr. Walkden, General Secretary of the Railway Clerks Association, said that the companies were arranging what was virtually private nationalisation. Mr Asquith replied that it was true that if there had been State control of railways earlier a good deal of unnecessary multiplication of services and fruitless competition could have been avoided. He pointed out that the £1,324 million paid up capital in 1911, the £127¼ million receipts and £78 million expenditure gave a 3.66% return on capital- not unduly high - and he thought the case for nationalisation had not been made.

Page nine also reported on propaganda meetings at Carlisle, Deal, Wellington (Salop), Birmingham Small Heath, Wath-on-Dearne, Machynlleth and Grimsby and pages ten to fifteen were filled with branch reports in alphabetical order from Accrington to York Central.

'Things being Said' - a miscellany of short notes on page ten - includes this paragraph: 'That all the Non-Conformist places of worship in Penmaenmawr have passed a resolution protesting most strongly against the proposal of the London & NW Co. to run an excursion train on Sundays during the season between Bangor and Colwyn Bay, calling at all intermediate stations'. The resolution stated that it was considered such a course would be detrimental to the best and highest interests of the places concerned. Another note from Leicester (GCR) pointed out that it was a dangerous arrangement to send men up telegraph poles to release wires after the soil has been removed from the bottom of the pole! From the SE & CR it was remarked that it would be difficult, after removal of letters and buttons, to distinguish a SE & CR uniform from the well-known suit issued by the parochial authorities!

To close this period piece some more adverts : boots for 10/9d (post free); more suits offered at 22/6d to 31/- each (made to measure); copies of the agreement made under the Railway Settlement 1911 for 9d a quire; Owbridges lung tonic or Eade's gout pills as remedies for winter ills.

This fascinating paper ends on page sixteen with a Branch Directory showing the ASRS to be well established throughout Lancs, Yorks, the industrial Midlands and London and to be organised in some other centres like Bath, Bristol, Carlisle and Brighton. I am sure readers will understand that the idea behind reproducing these extracts from the 'Railway Review' of 1912 is to try to recapture something of the flavour of railway life in those days long past. Any political bias is, of course, unavoidable and I trust this is understood and, if necessary, pardoned!

The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1981 and so does not reflect events in the 33+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants 1912 - A News Review - John Fairman - Quainton News No. 43 - Spring 1981

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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