Joseph Tatlow.

Fifty Years of Railway Life in England, Scotland and Ireland online

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This eBook was prepared by Les Bowler.


by Joseph Tatlow

Director Midland Great Western Railway or Ireland and Dublin and
Kingstown Railway; a Member of Dominions Royal Commission, 1912-1917;
late Manager Midland Great Western Railway, etc.

Published in 1920 by The Railway Gazette, Queens Anne's Chambers,
Westminster, London, S.W.1.

[The Author: tatlow.jpg]


I. Introductory
II. Boyhood
III. The Midland Railway and "King Hudson"
IV. Fashions and Manners, Victorian Days
V. Early Office Life
VI. Friendship
VII. Railway Progress
VIII. Scotland, Glasgow Life, and the Caledonian Line
IX. General Railway Acts of Parliament
X. A General Manager and his Office
XI. The Railway Jubilee, and Glasgow and South-Western Officers and
XIII. Men I met and Friends I made
XIV. Terminals, Rates and Fares, and other Matters
XV. Further Railway Legislation
XVI. Belfast and the County Down Railway
XVII. Belfast and the County Down (continued)
XVIII. Railway Rates and Charges, the Block, the Brake, and Light
XIX. Golf, the Diamond King, and a Steam-boat Service
XX. The Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland
XXI. Ballinasloe Fair, Galway, and Sir George Findlay
XXII. A Railway Contest, the Parcel Post, and the Board of Trade
XXIII. "The Railway News," the International Railway Congress, and a
Trip to Spain and Portugal
XXIV. Tom Robertson, more about Light Railways, and the Inland Transit
of Cattle
XXV. Railway Amalgamation and Constantinople
XXVI. A Congress at Paris, the Progress of Irish Lines, Egypt and the
XXVII. King Edward, a Change of Chairmen, and more Railway Legislation
XXVIII. Vice-Regal Commission on Irish Railways, 1906-1910, and the
Future of Railways
XXIX. The General Managers' Conference, Gooday's Dinner, and Divers
XXX. From Manager to Director
XXXI. The Dominions' Royal Commission, the Railways of the Dominions,
and Empire Development
XXXII. Conclusion


The Author
George Hudson, the "Railway King"
Sir James Allport
W. J. Wainwright
Edward John Cotton
Walter Bailey
Sir Ralph Cusack, D. L.
William Dargan
The Dargan Saloon
Sir George Findlay
Sir Theodore Martin
The Gresham Salver


North-West Donegal. A fine afternoon in September. The mountain ranges
were bathed in sunshine and the scarred and seamy face of stern old
Errigal seemed almost to smile. A gentle breeze stirred the air and the
surface of the lakes lay shimmering in the soft autumnal light. The blue
sky, flecked with white cloudlets, the purple of the heather, the dark
hues of the bogs, the varied greens of bracken, ferns and grass, the gold
of ripening grain, and the grey of the mountain boulders, together formed
a harmony of colour which charmed the eye and soothed the mind.

I had been travelling most of the day by railway through this delightful
country, not by an express that rushed you through the scenery with
breathless haste, but by an easy-going mixed train which called at every
station. Sometimes its speed reached twenty-five miles an hour, but
never more, and because of numerous curves and gradients - for it was a
narrow gauge and more or less a surface line - the rate of progress was
much less during the greater part of the journey.

The work of the day was over. My companion and I had dined at the
Gweedore Hotel, where we were staying for the night. With the setting
sun the breeze had died away. Perfect stillness and a silence deep,
profound and all-pervading reigned. I had been talking, as an old
pensioner will talk, of byegone times, of my experiences in a long
railway career, and my companion, himself a rising railway man, seemed
greatly interested. As we sauntered along, the conversation now and
again lapsing into a companionable silence, he suddenly said: "Why don't
you write your reminiscences? They would be very interesting, not only
to us younger railway men, but to men of your own time too." Until that
moment I had never seriously thought of putting my reminiscences on
record, but my friend's words fell on favourable ground, and now, less
than a month since that night in Donegal, I am sitting at my desk penning
these opening lines.

That my undertaking will not be an easy one I know. My memory is well
stored, but unfortunately I have never kept a diary or commonplace book
of any kind. On the contrary a love of order and neatness, carried to
absurd excess, has always led me to destroy accumulated letters or
documents, and much that would be useful now has in the past, from time
to time, been destroyed and "cast as rubbish to the void."

Most autobiographies, I suppose, are undertaken to please the writers.
That this is the case with me I frankly confess; but I hope that what I
find much pleasure in writing my readers may, at least, find some
satisfaction in reading. Vanity, perhaps, plays some part in this hope,
for, "He that is pleased with himself easily imagines that he shall
please others."

Carlyle says, "A true delineation of the smallest man, and his scene of
pilgrimage through life, is capable of interesting the greatest man; that
all men are to an unspeakable degree brothers, each man's life a strange
emblem of every man's; and that human portraits, faithfully drawn, are of
all pictures the welcomest on human walls."

I am not sure that portraits of the artist by himself, though there are
notable and noble instances to the contrary, are often successful. We
rarely "see oursels as ithers see us," and are inclined to regard our
virtues and our vices with equal equanimity, and to paint ourselves in
too alluring colours; but I will do my best to tell my tale with strict
veracity, and with all the modesty I can muster.

An autobiographer, too, exposes himself to the charge of egotism, but I
must run the risk of that, endeavouring to avoid the scathing criticism
of him who wrote: -

"The egotist . . . . . . .
Whose I's and Me's are scattered in his talk,
Thick as the pebbles on a gravel walk."

Fifty years of railway life, passed in the service of various companies,
large and small, in England, Scotland and Ireland, in divers' capacities,
from junior clerk to general manager, and ultimately to the ease and
dignity of director, if faithfully presented, may perhaps, in spite of
all drawbacks, be not entirely devoid of interest.


I was born at Sheffield, on Good Friday, in the year 1851, and my only
sister was born on a Christmas Day.

My father was in the service of the Midland Railway, as also were two of
his brothers, one of whom was the father of the present General Manager
of the Midland. When I was but ten months old my father was promoted to
the position of accountants' inspector at headquarters and removed from
Sheffield to Derby. Afterwards, whilst I was still very young, he became
Goods Agent at Birmingham, and lived there for a few years. He then
returned to Derby, where he became head of the Mineral Office. He
remained with the Midland until 1897, when he retired on superannuation
at the age of seventy-six. Except, therefore, for an interval of about
three years my childhood and youth were spent at Derby.

My earliest recollection in connection with railways is my first railway
journey, which took place when I was four years of age. I recollect it
well. It was from Derby to Birmingham. How the wonder of it all
impressed me! The huge engine, the wonderful carriages, the imposing
guard, the busy porters and the bustling station. The engine, no doubt,
was a pigmy, compared with the giants of to-day; the carriages were
small, modest four-wheelers, with low roofs, and diminutive windows after
the manner of old stage coaches, but to me they were palatial. I
travelled first-class on a pass with my father, and great was my juvenile
pride. Our luggage, I remember, was carried on the roof of the carriage
in the good old-fashioned coaching style. Four-wheeled railway carriages
are, I was going to say, a thing of the past; but that is not so. Though
gradually disappearing, many are running still, mainly on branch lines - in
England nearly five thousand; in Scotland over four hundred; and in poor
backward Ireland (where, by the way, railways are undeservedly abused)
how many? Will it be believed - practically none, not more than twenty in
the whole island! All but those twenty have been scrapped long ago. Well
done Ireland!

From the earliest time I can remember, and until well-advanced in
manhood, I was delicate in health, troubled with a constant cough, thin
and pale. In consequence I was often absent from school; and prevented
also from sharing, as I should, and as every child should, in out-door
games and exercises, to my great disadvantage then and since, for
proficiency is only gained by early training, and unfortunate is he whose
circumstances have deprived him of that advantage. How often, since
those early days, have I looked with envious eyes on pastimes in which I
could not engage, or only engage with the consciousness of inferiority.

I have known men who, handicapped in this way, have in after life, by
strong will and great application, overcome their disabilities and become
good cricketers, great at tennis, proficient at golf, strong swimmers,
skilful shots; but they have been exceptional men with a strong natural
inclination to athletics.

The only active physical recreations in which I have engaged with any
degree of pleasure are walking, riding, bicycling and skating. Riding I
took to readily enough as soon as I was able to afford it; and, if my
means had ever allowed indulgence in the splendid pastime of hunting, I
would have followed the hounds, not, I believe, without some spirit and
boldness. My natural disposition I know inclined me to sedentary
pursuits: reading, writing, drawing, painting, though, happily, the
tendency was corrected to some extent by a healthy love of Nature's fair
features, and a great liking for country walks.

In drawing and painting, though I had a certain natural aptitude for
both, I never attained much proficiency in either, partly for lack of
instruction, partly from want of application, but more especially, I
believe, because another, more alluring, more mentally exciting
occupation beguiled me. It was not music, though to music close allied.
This new-found joy I long pursued in secret, afraid lest it should be
discovered and despised as a folly. It was not until I lived in
Scotland, where poetical taste and business talent thrive side by side,
and where, as Mr. Spurgeon said, "no country in the world produced so
many poets," that I became courageous, and ventured to avow my dear
delight. It was there that I sought, with some success, publication in
various papers and magazines of my attempts at versification, for
versification it was that so possessed my fancy. Of the spacious times
of great Elizabeth it has been written, "the power of action and the gift
of song did not exclude each other," but in England, in mid-Victorian
days, it was looked upon differently, or so at least I believed.

After a time I had the distinction of being included in a new edition of
_Recent and Living Scottish Poets_, by Alexander Murdoch, published in
1883. My inclusion was explained on the ground that, "His muse first
awoke to conscious effort on Scottish soil," which, though not quite in
accordance with fact, was not so wide of the mark that I felt in the
least concerned to criticise the statement. I was too much enamoured of
the honour to question the foundation on which it rested. Perhaps it was
as well deserved as are some others of this world's distinctions! At any
rate it was neither begged nor bought, but came "Like Dian's kiss,
unasked, unsought." In the same year (1883) I also appeared in
_Edwards_' Sixth Series of _Modern Scottish Poets_; and in 1885, more
legitimately, in William Andrews' book on _Modern Yorkshire Poets_. My
claim for this latter distinction was not, however, any greater, if as
great, as my right to inclusion in the collection of _Scottish Poets_. If
I "lisped in numbers," it was not in Yorkshire, for Yorkshire I left for
ever before even the first babblings of babyhood began. However,
"kissing goes by favour," and I was happy in the favour I enjoyed.

I may as well say it here: with my poetical productions I was never
satisfied any more than with my attempts at drawing. My verses seemed
mere farthing dips compared with the resplendent poetry of our country
which I read and loved, but my efforts employed and brightened many an
hour in my youth that otherwise would have been tedious and dreary.

Ours was a large family, nine children in all; nothing unusual in those
days. "A quiver full" was then a matter of parental pride. Woman was
more satisfied with home life then than now. The pursuit of pleasure was
not so keen. Our parents and our grandparents were simpler in their
tastes, more easily amused, more readily impressed with the wonderful and
the strange. Things that would leave us unmoved were to them matters of
moment. Railways were new and railway travelling was, to most people, an

Our fathers talked of their last journey to London, their visit to the
Tower, to Westminster Abbey, the Monument, Madame Tussauds; how they
mistook the waxwork policeman for a real member of the force; how they
shuddered in the _Chamber of Horrors_; how they travelled on the new
Underground Railway; and saw the wonders of the Crystal Palace,
especially on fireworks night. They told us of their visit to the _Great
Eastern_, what a gigantic ship it was, what a marvel, and described its
every feature. They talked of General Tom Thumb, of Blondin, of Pepper's
Ghost, of the Christy Minstrels. Nowadays, a father will return from
London and not even mention the Tubes to his children. Why should he?
They know all about them and are surprised at nothing. The picture books
and the cinemas have familiarised them with every aspect of modern life.

In those days our pleasures and our amusements were fewer, but impressed
us more. I remember how eagerly the coloured pictures of the Christmas
numbers of the pictorial papers were looked forward to, talked of,
criticised, admired, framed and hung up. I remember too, the excitements
of Saint Valentine's Day, Shrove Tuesday, April Fool's Day, May Day and
the Morris (Molly) dancers; and the Fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Day. I
remember also the peripatetic knife grinder and his trundling machine,
the muffin man, the pedlar and his wares, the furmity wheat vendor, who
trudged along with his welcome cry of "Frummitty!" from door to door.
Those were pleasant and innocent excitements. We have other things to
engage us now, but I sometimes think all is not _gain_ that the march of
progress brings.

Young people then had fewer books to read, but read them thoroughly. What
excitement and discussion attended the monthly instalments of Dickens'
novels in _All the Year Round_; how eagerly they were looked for. Lucky
he or she who had heard the great _master_ read himself in public. His
books were read in our homes, often aloud to the family circle by
paterfamilias, and moved us to laughter or tears. I never now see our
young people, or their elders either, affected by an author as we were
then by the power of Dickens. He was a new force and his pages kindled
in our hearts a vivid feeling for the poor and their wrongs.

Scott's _Waverley Novels_, too, aroused our enthusiasm. In the early
sixties a cheap edition appeared, and cheap editions were rare things
then. It was published, if I remember aright, at two shillings per
volume; an event that stirred the country. My father brought each volume
home as it came out. I remember it well; a pale, creamy-coloured paper
cover, good type, good paper. What treasures they were, and only two
shillings! I was a little child when an important movement for the
cheapening of books began. In 1852 Charles Dickens presided at a meeting
of authors and others against the coercive regulations of the
Booksellers' Association which maintained their excessive profits.
Herbert Spencer and Miss Evans (George Eliot) took a prominent part in
this meeting and drafted the resolutions which were passed. The ultimate
effect of this meeting was that the question between the authors and the
booksellers was referred to Lord Campbell as arbitrator. He gave a
decision against the booksellers; and there were consequently abolished
such of the trade regulations as had interdicted the sale of books at
lower rates of profit than those authorised by the Booksellers'

Practically all my school days were spent at Derby. As I have said, ours
was a large family. I have referred to an only sister, but I had step-
sisters and step-brothers too. My father married twice and the second
family was numerous. His salary was never more than 300 pounds a year,
and though a prudent enough man, he was not of the frugal economical sort
who makes the most of every shilling. It may be imagined, then, that all
the income was needed for a family that, parents included, but excluding
the one servant, numbered eleven. The consequence was that the education
I received could not be described as liberal. I attended a day school at
Derby, connected with the Wesleyans; why I do not know, as we belonged to
the Anglican Church; but I believe it was because the school, while cheap
as to fees, had the reputation of giving a good, plain education suitable
for boys destined for railway work. It was a good sized school of about
a hundred boys. Not long ago I met one day in London a business man who,
it turned out, was at this school with me. We had not met for fifty
years. "Well," said he, "I think old Jessie, if he did not teach us a
great variety of things, what he did he taught well." My new-found old
schoolmate had become the financial manager of a great business house
having ramifications throughout the world. He had attained to position
and wealth and, which successful men sometimes are not, was quite
unspoiled. We revived our schooldays with mutual pleasure, and lunched
together as befitted the occasion.

"Jessie" was the name by which our old schoolmaster was endeared to his
boys; a kindly, simple-minded, worthy man, teaching, as well as
scholastic subjects, behaviour, morals, truth, loyalty; and these as much
by example as by precept, impressing ever upon us the virtue of
thoroughness in all we did and of truth in all we said. Since those days
I have seen many youths, educated at much finer and more pretentious
schools, who have benefited by modern educational methods, and on whose
education much money has been expended, and who, when candidates for
clerkships, have, in the simple matters of reading, writing, arithmetic,
composition and spelling, shown up very poorly compared to what almost
any boy from "old Jessie's" unambitious establishment would have done.
But, plain and substantial as my schooling was, I have ever felt that I
was defrauded of the better part of education - the classics, languages,
literature and modern science, which furnish the mind and extend the
boundaries of thought.

"Jessie" continued his interest in his boys long after they left school.
He was proud of those who made their way. I remember well the warmth of
his greeting and the kind look of his mild blue eyes when, after I had
gone out into the world, I sometimes revisited him.

But my school life was not all happiness. In the school there was an
almost brutal element of roughness, and fights were frequent; not only in
our own, but between ours and neighbouring schools. Regular pitched
battles were fought with sticks and staves and stones. I shrunk from
fighting but could not escape it. Twice in our own playground I was
forced to fight. Every new boy had to do it, sooner or later.
Fortunately on the second occasion I came off victor, much to my
surprise. How I managed to beat my opponent I never could understand.
Anyhow the victory gave me a better standing in the school, though it did
not lessen in the least my hatred of the battles that raged periodically
with other schools. I never had to fight again except as an unwilling
participant in our foreign warfare.


In the year 1851 the Midland Railway was 521 miles long; it is now 2,063.
Then its capital was 15,800,000, against 130,000,000 pounds to-day. Then
the gross revenue was 1,186,000 and now it has reached 15,960,000 pounds.
When I say _now_, I refer to 1913, the year prior to the war, as since
then, owing to Government control, non-division of through traffic and
curtailment of accounts, the actual receipts earned by individual
companies are not published, and, indeed, are not known.

Eighteen hundred and fifty-one was a period of anxiety to the Midland and
to railway companies generally. Financial depression had succeeded a
time of wild excitement, and the Midland dividend had fallen from seven
to two per cent.! It was the year of the great Exhibition, which Lord
Cholmondeley considered _the_ event of modern times and many
over-sanguine people expected it to inaugurate a universal peace. On the
other hand Carlyle uttered fierce denunciations against it. It certainly
excited far more interest than has any exhibition since. Then, nothing
of the kind had ever before been seen. Railway expectations ran high;
immense traffic receipts, sorely needed, ought to have swelled the
coffers of the companies. But no! vast numbers of people certainly
travelled to London, but a mad competition, as foolish almost as the
preceding _mania_, set in, and passenger fares were again and again
reduced, till expected profits disappeared and loss and disappointment
were the only result. The policy of Parliament in encouraging the
construction of rival railway routes and in fostering competition in the
supposed interest of the public was, even in those early days, bearing
fruit - dead sea fruit, as many a luckless holder of railway stock learned
to his cost.

Railway shareholders throughout the kingdom were growing angry. In the
case of the Midland - they appointed a committee of inquiry, and the
directors assented to the appointment. This committee was to examine and
report upon the general and financial conditions of the company, and was
invested with large powers.

About the same time also interviews took place between the Midland and
the London and North-Western, with the object of arranging an
amalgamation of the two systems. Some progress was made, but no formal
_engagement_ resulted, and so a very desirable union, between an
aristocratic bridegroom and a democratic bride, remained unaccomplished.

Mr. Ellis was chairman of the Midland at this time and Mr. George Carr
Glyn, afterwards the first Lord Wolverton, occupied a similar position on
the Board of the London and North-Western. Mr. Ellis had succeeded Mr.
Hudson - the "_Railway King_," so christened by Sydney Smith. Mr. Hudson
in 1844 was chairman of the first shareholders' meeting of the Midland
Railway. Prior to that date the Midland consisted of three separate
railways. In 1849 Mr. Hudson presided for the last time at a Midland
meeting, and in the following year resigned his office of chairman of the

The story of the meteoric reign of the "_Railway King_" excited much
interest when I was young, and it may not be out of place to touch upon
some of the incidents of his career.

George Hudson was born in 1800, served his apprenticeship in the
cathedral city of York and subsequently became a linendraper there and a
man of property.

Many years afterwards he is reported to have said that the happiest days
of his life passed while he stood behind his counter using the yardstick,
a statement which should perhaps only be accepted under reservation. He
was undoubtedly a man of a bold and adventurous spirit, possessed of an
ambition which soared far above the measuring of calicoes or the
retailing of ribbons; but perhaps the observation was tinged by the
environment of later and less happy days when his star had set, his
kingly reign come to an end, and when possibly vain regrets had
embittered his existence. It was, I should imagine, midst the fierceness

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Online LibraryJoseph TatlowFifty Years of Railway Life in England, Scotland and Ireland → online text (page 1 of 20)