Clements Hall
Queen Victoria St  with tram

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe and South Bank areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe and South Bank areas of York

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Railway employment in Dale Street, Dove Street and Swann Street, 1841-1881  

Judith Hoyle and our Poverty Research Group have been exploring railway work in our research area, in the 19th century

NLS MapExtract from map of York showing part of the parish of St Mary Bishophill Junior, OS six inch map Yorkshire 174 surveyed 1846-51; pub. 1853. See  https://maps.nls.uk/view/10234481

Investigating poverty reveals the range of ways that local residents made ends meet. Many found employment in a variety of settings. For men, the railway industry was a major employer. 

This post looks at the significance of railway-related jobs for those living in three streets in St Mary Bishophill Junior parish, between 1841 and 1881. In 1851 only 7% of jobs in York were railway-related, with 19% in manufacturing and 15% in making and dealing in clothing and shoes. Railway work in the city increased through the century, employing 420 in 1851, and 3,170 by 1911. The numbers employed in transport and communications almost doubled - from 7% to 13% - in this period.

Models of engine driver and firemen 1852 (National Railway Museum, Science Museum Group)

engine driver NRMFireman NRMFor our three streets the importance of railway-related  employment increased between 1841 and 1881. In 1841 fourteen (8% of the men in our streets) were employed in the industry, including three engine drivers and two engine fitters. By 1861 there were 66 (28%), including thirteen engine fitters and twelve railway labourers. By 1881 this number had further increased to 73 (37%) including 18 engine fitters, though the number of labourers had fallen to four. There were nine railway trades and occupations in 1841 rising to twenty in 1881, including engine drivers, engineers, guards, clerks, labourers and porters.

In the first two censuses there are a greater number of railway workers living in Dale Street and Swann Street than in Dove Street.  By 1881 that is no longer the case and the numbers are more or less evenly spread. 

1841

Dale St

Dove St

Swann St

Total

 

 

 

Assistant on railway

 

1

 

1

Engine cleaner

 

 

1

1

Engine driver

 

 

3

3

Engine fitter

 

 

2

2

Plate layer on railway

1

 

 

1

Railway clerk

 

1

 

1

Railway guard

1

 

1

2

Railway police

1

 

 

1

Railway porter

2

 

 

1

Men employed by railways

5

2

7

14

Total men in employment

 

 

 

181

% of total employed by railways

 

 

 

8

1861

Dale St

Dove St

Swann St

Total

 

 

 

At The Railway

1

 

 

1

Engine Driver

 

3

1

4

Engine Fitter

7

3

3

13

Engine Smith

2

 

 

2

Engine Stoker/Locomotive stoker/Fireman

3

 

3

6

Engineer / comb manufacturer

1

 

 

1

Fitter

1

1

1

3

Fitters Labourer

 

 

1

1

Lamp Inspector N E Railway

1

 

 

1

Platelayer

 

 

2

2

Pointsman

 

 

1

1

Railway & spring Maker

1

 

 

1

Railway Clerk

1

4

 

5

Railway Goods Guard

 

 

3

3

Railway Guard

 

 

2

2

Railway Labourer

5

2

5

12

Railway Porter

3

 

2

5

Railway Repairer

 

 

1

1

Travelling Railway Inspector

 

1

 

1

Wagon Fitter

1

 

 

1

Men employed by railways

27

14

25

66

Total men in employment

 

 

 

233

% of total employed by railways

 

 

 

28

1881

Dale St

Dove St

Swann St

Total

 

 

 

Carriage Fitter (Rly)

1

 

 

1

Engine Fitter

6

3

9

18

Engine Smith  (NER)

 

 

1

1

Engine Spring Maker ( E & M )

1

 

 

1

Engineer At N E R ( E & M )

1

3

1

5

Fitter ( E  & M )

2

 

 

2

Guard N E Railway

3

1

3

7

Locomotive Engine Driver (Rly)

 

2

 

2

Locomotive Fireman (Rly)

1

2

 

3

Lumber At The RLW

 

1

 

1

Painter At The RLW

 

1

1

2

Railway Carriage Trimmer

1

 

2

3

Railway Clerk

2

5

 

7

Railway Engine Cleaner

 

1

1

2

Railway Labourer

2

 

2

4

Railway Platelayer

 

1

1

2

Railway Porter

1

1

2

4

Railway Signalman

 

1

2

3

Railway Stoker

 

1

1

2

Wagon Fitter (Rly)

3

 

 

3

Men employed by railways

24

23

26

73

Total men in employment

 

 

 

198

% of total employed by railways

 

 

 

37

Proximity to the railways may help explain the significance of railway employment to men living in the three streets. The range of jobs within the industry reveals many trades, and a wide spectrum – and hierarchy - of skills. Jobs were overwhelmingly male. There were no females in our sample working on the railway in either 1841 or 1861. However, there were three in 1881: a carriage trimmer, a sack maker (North Eastern Railway) and a railway wagon fitter.  These are not included in the tables above.

LocomotiveYork apprentices model train North Eastern Railway 1870. This model steam train is 1/8 scale and reputedly made at the Railway Carriage Shops at York. It is said to have been carried in procession around the city by railwaymen to celebrate the inauguration of a nine-hour working day which came into force in 1872. (National Railway Museum Science Museum Group)

The North Eastern Railway (NER) was established in 1854, and occupations listed in the above tables illustrate the increasing importance of its carriage works to York. This was underlined in 1884 when it became the sole NER carriage works, the 1881 Census revealing more carriage-related trades than in 1861.

As pointed out by Di Drummond, railway employment was new, and required no previous experience or expertise. It was desirable, offering a range of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled tasks. While a highly disciplined environment, railway work was secure with potential for promotion. The early 1840s – the 'Hungry 40s' – was a period when Britain experienced an economic depression causing widespread misery among the poor. Thus the industry was able to attract men from a wide area.

The 1841 census does not provide detailed birthplace data, but censuses from 1851 required households to provide the enumerator with both county – and  town or village - of birth. In 1861 over half  the residents of our three streets were born beyond York. Indeed 131 were born in English counties other than Yorkshire, plus nine in Scotland and seven in Ireland. 

Birthplace data for those for those in the railway industry reveal that many arrived between 1841 and 1861 from other parts of Yorkshire. In 1861 18% were York born, with 64% from other parts of Yorkshire and 18% born elsewhere in England.  By 1881 those born in York had increased to 50%, with 34% from Yorkshire and 13% from elsewhere in England.  The twelve from outside Yorkshire in 1861 came from eight counties (Bedfordshire, Durham, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Staffordshire and Warwickshire), but by 1881 the nine born outside Yorkshire came from only three counties, (Durham, Nottinghamshire and Northumberland).

Further research might focus on the reduction in the number of lower skilled jobs, such as labourers. between 1861 and 1881. It is unlikely that demand for labourers had fallen in the industry. Might this suggest the locality had become too expensive for households that largely depended on the income of labourers?

Fathers and sons often worked in railway occupations  In 1861 at least four households in Dove Street  -  Fletcher, Akery, Edson and Fawcett -  had father and son/s working in the industry:

John Fletcher (41) was an engine fitter; as was William (20).

Charles Akery (44) was also an engine fitter; as were Charles H. (18) and James (16).

Richard Edson (42), an engine driver, as was - somewhat surprisingly, given his age – Robert (17).

Robert Fawcett (43) was an engine driver; Robert, junior (19) a railway fitter.

In 1881 William Asquith (65) at 14 Dove Street was a wagon fitter, as were his unmarried sons  George (21) and John (16). William's eldest son, also William (29), was a railway carriage fitter.

Richard Powell (54) at number 31 was an engineer with the North Eastern Railway. His son William (15) was an engine fitter.

William Noble (57) was head of household at number 48, and a railway platelayer. His son Thomas (26) was a railway engine fireman; and his son Albert (20) a railway engine cleaner.

Further research might explore recruitment practices, such as the extent to which informal recommendations by existing railwaymen were the norm.

Primary sources

Census data 1841, 1861 and 1881

National Railway Museum https://www.railwaymuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories 

Secondary sources 

Di Drummond, Tracing Your Railway Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians (Pen and Sword, 2010) 

Charles Feinstein, 'Population, Occupations and Economic Development 1831-1981' in York 1831-1981: 150 Years of Scientific Endeavour and Social Change ed. C.H. Feinstein (William Sessions with the British Association for the Advancement of Science, York Committee, 1981). 

Edward Higgs, A Clearer Idea of the Census (Public Record Office, 1996)

Edmund Wright, A Dictionary of World History (Oxford University Press, 2006)