This eBook was prepared by Les Bowler.
FIFTY YEARS OF RAILWAY LIFE IN ENGLAND, SCOTLAND AND IRELAND
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 Clerks XII. TOM 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 Railways 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 Nile 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 Matters XXX. From Manager to Director XXXI. The Dominions' Royal Commission, the Railways of the Dominions, and Empire Development XXXII. Conclusion
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
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
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY
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.
CHAPTER II. BOYHOOD
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 event.
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' Association.
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.
CHAPTER III. THE MIDLAND RAILWAY AND "KING HUDSON"
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 company.
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 of the strife and fury of the mania times, when his powerful personality counted for so much, that he reached the zenith of his happiness.
[George Hudson: hudson.jpg]
Whilst conducting in York his linendraper business, a relation died and left him money. The railway boom had then begun. He flung his yardstick behind him and entered the railway fray. The Liverpool and Manchester line and its wonderful success—it paid ten per cent.—greatly impressed the public mind, and the good people of York determined they would have a railway to London.
A committee was appointed to carry out the project. On this committee Mr. Hudson was placed, and it was mainly owing to his energy and skill that the scheme came to a successful issue. He was rewarded by being made chairman of the company.
This was his entrance into the railway world where, for a time, he was monarch. He must have been a man of shrewdness and capacity. It is recorded that he acquired the land for the York to London railway at an average cost of 1,750 pounds per mile whilst that of the North Midland cost over 5,000 pounds.
On the 1st July, 1840, this linendraper of York had the proud pleasure of seeing the first train from York to London start on its journey.
From this achievement he advanced to others. He and his friends obtained the lease, for thirty-one years, of a rival line, which turned out a great financial success. His enterprise and energy were boundless.
It is said that his bold spirit, his capacity for work and his great influence daunted his most determined opponents. For instance, the North Midland railway, part predecessor of the Midland, was involved in difficulty. He appeared before the shareholders, offered, if his advice and methods were adopted, to guarantee double the then dividend. His offer was accepted and he was made chairman, and from that position became chairman, and for a time dictator, of the amalgamated Midland system. Clearly his business abilities were great; his reforms were bold and drastic, and success attended his efforts. He soon became the greatest railway authority in England. For a time the entire railway system in the north was under his control, and the confidence reposed in him was unbounded. He was the lion of the day: princes, peers and prelates, capitalists and fine ladies sought his society, paid homage to his power, besought his advice and lavished upon him unstinted adulation.
In 1845 the railway mania was at its height. It is said that during two or three months of that year as much as 100,000 pounds per week were expended in advertisements in connection with railway promotions, railway meetings and railway matters generally. Scarcely credible this, but so it is seriously stated. Huge sums were wasted in the promotion and construction of British railways in early days, from which, in their excessive capital cost, they suffer now. In the mania period railways sprang into existence so quickly that, to use the words of Robert Stephenson, they "appeared like the realisation of fabled powers or the magician's wand." The Illustrated London News of the day said: "Railway speculation has become the sole object of the world—cupidity is aroused and roguery shields itself under its name, as a more safe and rapid way of gaining its ends. Abroad, as well as at home, has it proved the rallying point of all rascality—the honest man is carried away by the current and becomes absorbed in the vortex; the timid, the quiet, the moral are, after some hesitation, caught in the whirlpool and follow those whom they have watched with pity and derision."
Powers were granted by Parliament in the year 1845 to construct no less than 2,883 miles of new railway at an expenditure of about 44,000,000 pounds; and in the next year (1846) applications were made to Parliament for authority to raise 389,000,000 pounds for the construction of further lines. These powers were granted to the extent of 4,790 miles at a cost of about 120,000,000 pounds.
Soon there came a change; disaster followed success; securities fell; dividends diminished or disappeared altogether or, as was in some cases discovered, were paid out of capital, and disappointment and ruin followed. King Hudson's methods came under a fierce fire of criticism; adulation was succeeded by abuse and he was disgraced and dethroned. A writer of the day said, "Mr. Hudson is neither better nor worse than the morality of his time." From affluence he came to want, and in his old age a fund was raised sufficient to purchase him an annuity of 600 pounds a year.
About this time, that most useful Institution the Railway Clearing House received Parliamentary sanction. The Railway Clearing System Act 1850 gave it statutory recognition. Its functions have been defined thus: "To settle and adjust the receipts arising from railway traffic within, or partly within, the United Kingdom, and passing over more than one railway within the United Kingdom, booked or invoiced at throughout rates of fares." The system had then been in existence, in a more or less informal way, for about eight years. Mr. Allport, on one occasion, said that whilst he was with the Birmingham and Derby railway (before he became general manager of the Midland) the process of settlement of receipts for through traffic was tedious and difficult, and it occurred to him that a system should be adopted similar to that which existed in London and was known as the Bankers' Clearing House. It was also said that Mr. Kenneth Morrison, Auditor of the London and Birmingham line, was the first to see and proclaim the necessity for a Clearing House. Be that as it may, the Railway Clearing House, as a practical entity, came into being in 1842. In the beginning it only embraced nine companies, and six people were enough to do its work. The companies were:—
London and Birmingham, Midland Counties, Birmingham and Derby, North Midland, Leeds and Selby, York and North Midland, Hull and Selby, Great North of England, Manchester and Leeds.
Not one of these has preserved its original name. All have been merged in either the London and North-Western, the North-Eastern, the Midland or the Lancashire and Yorkshire.
At the present day the Clearing House consists of practically the whole of the railway companies in the United Kingdom, though some of the small and unimportant lines are outside its sphere. Ireland has a Railway Clearing House of its own—established in the year 1848—to which practically all Irish railway companies, and they are numerous, belong; and the six principal Irish railways are members of the London Clearing House.
The English house, situated in Seymour Street, Euston Square, is an extensive establishment, and accommodates 2,500 clerks. As I write, the number under its roof is, by war conditions, reduced to about 900. Serving with His Majesty's Forces are nearly 1,200, and about 400 have been temporarily transferred to the railway companies, to the Government service and to munition factories.
In 1842, when the Clearing House first began, the staff, as I have said, numbered six, and the companies nine. Fifty-eight railway companies now belong to the House, and the amount of money dealt with by way of division and apportionment in the year before the war was 31,071,910 pounds. In 1842 it was 193,246 pounds.
CHAPTER IV. FASHIONS AND MANNERS, VICTORIAN DAYS
The boy who is strong and healthy, overflowing with animal spirits, enjoys life in a way that is denied to his slighter-framed, more delicate brother. Exercise imparts to him a physical exuberance to which the other is a stranger. But Nature is kind. If she withholds her gifts in one direction she bestows them in another. She grants the enjoyment of sedentary pursuits to those to whom she has denied hardier pleasures.
During my schooldays I spent many happy hours alone with book or pen or pencil. My father was fond of reading, and for a man of his limited means, possessed a good collection of books; a considerable number of the volumes of Bohn's Standard Library as well as Boswell's Life of Johnson, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, Butler's Hudibras, Bailey's Festus, Gil Blas, Don Quixote, Pilgrim's Progress, the Arabian Nights, Shakespeare, most of the poets from Chaucer down; and of novels, Bulwer Lytton's, Scott's, Dickens' and Thackeray's. These are the books I best remember, but there were others of classic fame, and I read them all; but not, I fear to much advantage, for though I have read many books it has been without much method, just as fancy led, and study, memory and judgment have been little considered. Still, unsystematic reading is better than no reading, and, as someone has said, "a phrase may fructify if it falls on receptive soil."
I never in my boyhood or youth, except on short visits to relatives, enjoyed the advantage, by living in the country, of becoming intimate with rural life. We resided at Derby in a terrace on the outskirt of the town, much to my dislike, for monotonous rows of houses I have ever hated. One's home should be one's friend and possess some special feature of its own, even in its outward aspect, to love and remember. As George Eliot says: "We get the fonder of our houses if they have a physiognomy of their own, as our friends have."
In my schooldays, country walks, pursued as far as health and strength allowed, were my greatest pleasure, sometimes taken alone, sometimes with a companion. The quiet valley of the Trent at Repton, Anchor Church, Knoll Hills, the long bridge at Swarkestone, the charming little country town of Melbourne, the wooded beauties of Duffield and Belper, the ozier beds of Spondon; how often have I trod their fields, their woods, their lanes, their paths; and how pleasantly the memory of it all comes back to me now!
In those days fashions and manners differed greatly from those of to-day. Ladies wore the crinoline (successor to the hoop of earlier times), chignons and other absurdities, but had not ventured upon short skirts or cigarettes. They were much given to blushing, now a lost art; and to swooning, a thing of the past; the "vapours" of the eighteenth century had, happily, vanished for ever; but athletic exercises, such as girls enjoy to-day, were then undreamed of. Why has the pretty art of blushing gone? One now never sees a blush to mantle on the cheek of beauty. Does the blood of feminine youth flow steadier than it did, or has the more unrestrained intercourse of the sexes banished the sweet consciousness that so often brought the crimson to a maiden's face? The manners of maidens had more of reserve and formality then. The off-hand style, the nod of the head, the casual "how d'ye do," were unknown. Woman has not now the same desire to appear always graceful; she adopts a manly gait, talks louder, plays hockey, rides horseback astride, and boldly enters hotel smoking rooms and railway smoking compartments without apology.
When walking with a lady, old or young, in those days, the gentleman would offer his arm and she would take it. The curtsey was still observed but gradually disappearing. When about nineteen years of age, I remember being introduced to one of the young beauties of the town, who I had long secretly admired. She made me a profound and graceful curtsey—feminine homage to my budding manhood. The first curtsey I remember receiving, except of course in the stately ceremonies of the dance. For many a day afterwards my cheek glowed with pleasure at the recollection of that sweet obeisance. She became my sweetheart, temporarily; but a born butterfly, she soon fluttered away, leaving me disconsolate—for a time!
Women then wrote a sloping hand, delicate penmanship, to distinguish them from men; crossed and re-crossed their letters, and were greatly addicted to postscripts.
The men? Well, they wore mutton chop whiskers, or, if Nature was bountiful, affected the Dundreary style, which gave a man great distinction, and, if allied to good looks, made him perfectly irresistible. They wore "Champagne Charley" coats, fancy waistcoats, frilled-fronted shirts, relic of the lace and ruffles of Elizabeth's days; velvet smoking caps, embroidered slippers, elastic-side boots and chimney pot hats.
At eighteen years of age I had my first frock coat and tall hat. Some of my companions, happy youths! enjoyed this distinction at sixteen or seventeen. These adornments were of course for Sunday wear; no weekday clothes were worn on Sundays then. My frock coat was of West of England broadcloth, shiny and smooth. Sunday attire was incomplete without light kid gloves, lavender or lemon being the favourite shade for a young man with any pretension to style.
Next in importance to my first frock coat ranked my first portmanteau; it was a present, and supplanted the carpet bag which, up to then, to my profound disgust, I had to use on visits to my relatives. The portmanteau was the sign of youth and progress; old-fashioned people stuck to the carpet bag.
Man's attire has changed for the better; and woman's, with all its abbreviations and shortcomings, is, on the whole, more rational; though in the domain of Fashion her vagaries will last no doubt as long as—woman is woman; and if ever that shall cease to be, the charm of life will be over.
With man the jacket suit, the soft hat, the soft shirt, the turn-down collar, mark the transition from starch and stiffness to ease and comfort; and Time in his course has brought no greater boon than this; except, perhaps, the change that marks our funeral customs. In those days, hatbands, gloves and scarves were provided by the bereaved family to the relatives and friends who attended the obsequies; and all of kinship close or remote, were invited from far and near. Hearse and coaches and nodding plumes and mutes added to the expense, and many a family of moderate means suffered terrible privation from the costliness of these burial customs, which, happily, now are fast disappearing.
Beds, in those days, were warmed with copper warming pans, and nightcaps adorned the slumbering heads of both sexes. Spittoons were part of ordinary household furniture. To colour a meerschaum was the ambition of smokers, swearing was considered neither low nor vulgar, and snuffing was fashionable. Many most respectable men chewed tobacco, and to carry one's liquor well was a gentlemanly accomplishment.
Garrotters pursued their calling, deterred only by the cat-o'-nine tails, pickpockets abounded and burglaries were common.
The antimacassar and the family album; in what veneration they were held! The antimacassar, as its name implies, was designed to protect chairs and couches from the disfiguring stains of macassar oil, then liberally used in the adornment of the hair which received much attention. A parting, of geometrical precision, at the back of the head was often affected by men of dressy habits, who sometimes also wore a carefully arranged curl at the front; and manly locks, if luxuriant enough, were not infrequently permitted to fall in careless profusion over the collar of the coat.
Of the family album I would rather not speak. It is scarcely yet extinct. A respectable silence shall accompany its departing days.
Perhaps these things may to some appear mere trivialities; but to recall them awakens many memories, brings back thoughts of bygone days—days illumined with the sunshine of Youth and Hope on which it is pleasant to linger. As someone has finely said: "We lose a proper sense of the richness of life if we do not look back on the scenes of our youth with imagination and warmth."
CHAPTER V. EARLY OFFICE LIFE
In the year 1867, at the age of sixteen, I became a junior clerk in the Midland Railway at Derby, at a salary of 15 pounds a year.
From pre-natal days I was destined for the railway service, as an oyster to its shell. The possibility of any other vocation for his sons never entered the mind of my father, nor the mind of many another father in the town of Derby.
My railway life began on a drizzling dismal day in the early autumn. My father took me to the office in which I was to make a start and presented me to the chief clerk. I was a tall, thin, delicate, shy, sensitive youth, with curly hair, worn rather long, and I am sure I did not look at all a promising specimen for encountering the rough and tumble of railway work.
The chief clerk handed me over to one of his assistants, who without ceremony seated me on a tall stool at a high desk, and put before me, to my great dismay, a huge pile of formidable documents which he called Way Bills. He gave me some instructions, but I was too confused to understand them, and too shy to ask questions. I only know that I felt very miserable and hopelessly at sea. Visions of being dismissed as an incompetent rose before me; but soon, to my great relief, it was discovered that the Way Bills were too much for me and that I must begin at more elementary duties.
A few weeks afterwards, when I had found my feet a little, I was promoted from the simple tasks assigned to me in consequence of my first failure and attached to the goods-train-delays clerk, a long-bearded elderly man with a very kind face. He was quite fatherly to me and took a great deal of trouble in teaching me my work. With him I soon felt at ease, and was happy in gaining his approbation. One thing found favour in his eyes; I wrote a good clear hand and at fair speed. In those days penmanship was a fine art. No cramped or sprawling writing passed muster. Typewriting was not dreamed of, and, at Derby, shorthand had not appeared on the scene.
One or two other juniors and myself sedulously practised imitating the penmanship of those senior clerks who wrote fine or singular hands. At this I was particularly successful and proud of my skill, until one day the chief clerk detained me after closing time, gave me a good rating, and warned me to stop such a dangerous habit which might lead, he said, to the disgrace of forgery. He spoke so seriously and shook his head so wisely that (to use Theodore Hook's old joke) "I thought there must be something in it," and so, for a long while, I gave up the practice.
Office hours in those days were nominally from nine till six, but for the juniors especially often much longer. In 1868 or 1869, 1 do not remember which, a welcome change took place; the hours were reduced to from nine till five, and arrangements made for avoiding late hours for the juniors. This early closing was the result of an "appeal unto Caesar." The clerical staff in all the offices had combined and presented a petition in the highest quarter. The boon was granted, and I remember the wave of delight that swept over us, and how we enjoyed the long summer evenings. It was in the summer time the change took place.
Combined action amongst railway employees was not common then, not even in the wage-earning class, but Trade Unionism, scarcely yet legalised, was clamouring for recognition. Strikes sometimes occurred but were not frequent.
In 1867 Mr. James Allport was general manager of the Midland Railway, Mr. Thomas Walklate the goods manager and Mr. William Parker head of the department in which I began my railway life. Ned Farmer was a notable Midland man at that time; notable for his bucolic appearance, his genial personality, and, most of all, for the well-known songs he wrote. He was in charge of the company's horses, bought them, fed them, cared for them. He was a big-bodied, big-hearted, ruddy-faced, farmerlike man of fifty or so; and the service was proud of him. He had a great sense of humour and used to tell many an amusing story. One morning, he told us, he had been greatly tickled by a letter which he had received from one of his inspectors whose habit it was to conclude every letter and report with the words "to oblige." The letter ran: "Dear Sir, I beg to inform you that Horse No. 99 died last night to oblige Yours truly, John Smith." He wrote the fine poem of "Little Jim," which everyone knew, and which almost every boy and girl could recite. His then well-known song, "My old Wife's a good old cratur," was very popular and was sung throughout the Midlands. The publication of his poems and songs was attended with great success. His Muse was simple, homely, humorous, pathetic and patriotic, and made a strong appeal to the natural feelings of ordinary folk. Often it was inspired by incidents and experiences in his daily life. His desk was in the same office as that in which I worked, and I was very proud of the notice he took of me, and grateful for many kindnesses he showed to me.
After spending twelve months or so in Mr. Parker's office, I was removed to another department. The office to which I was assigned had about thirty clerks, all of whom, except the chief clerk, occupied tall stools at high desks.
I was one of two assistants to a senior clerk. This senior was middle- aged, and passing rich on eighty pounds a year. A quiet, steady, respectable married man, well dressed, cheerful, contented, he had by care and economy, out of his modest salary, built for himself a snug little double-breasted villa, in a pleasant outskirt of the town, where he spent his spare hours in his garden and enjoyed a comfortable and happy life.
Except the chief clerk, whose salary was about 160 pounds, I do not believe there was another whose pay exceeded 100 pounds a year. The real head of the office, or department it was called, was not the chief clerk but one who ranked higher still and was styled Head of Department, and he received a salary of about 300 pounds. Moderate salaries prevailed, but the sovereign was worth much more then than now, while wants were fewer. Beer was threepence the pint and tobacco threepence the ounce, and beer we drank but never whiskey or wine; and pipes we smoked but not cigars.
This chief clerk was an amiable rather ladylike person, with small hands and feet and well-arranged curly hair. He was quick and clever and work sat lightly upon him. Quiet and good natured, when necessity arose he never failed to assert his authority. We all respected him. His young wife was pretty and pleasant, which was in his favour too.
The office was by no means altogether composed of steady specimens of clerkdom, but had a large admixture of lively sparks who, though they would never set the Thames on fire, brightened and enlivened our surroundings.
There was one, a literary genius, who had entered the service, I believe by influence, for influence and patronage were in those days not unknown. He wrote in his spare time the pantomime for a Birmingham theatre; and there constantly fluttered from his desk and circulated through the office, little scraps of paper containing quips and puns and jokes in prose or verse, or acrostics from his prolific pen. One clever acrostic upon the office boy, which has always remained in my memory, I should like for its delicate irony (worthy of Swift himself) to reproduce; but as that promising youth may still be in the service I feel I had better not, as irony sometimes wounds. For some time we had in the office an Apollo—a very Belvidere. He was a glory introduced into railway life by I know not what influence and disappeared after a time I know not where or why. A marvel of manly strength and grace and beauty, thirty years of age or so, and faultlessly dressed. Said to be aristocratically connected, he was the admiration of all and the darling of the young ladies of Derby. He lodged in fashionable apartments, smoked expensive cigars, attended all public amusements, was affable and charming, but reticent about himself. Why he ever came amongst us none ever knew; it was a mystery we never fathomed. He left as he came, a mystery still.
There was an oldish clerk whom we nicknamed Gumpots. This bore some resemblance to his surname, but there were other reasons which led to the playful designation and which I think justified it.
There was another scribe of quite an elegant sort: a perambulating tailor's dummy; a young man, well under thirty. He was good-looking, as far as regularity of features and a well-formed figure went, but mentally not much to boast of. He lounged about the station platform and the town displaying his faultlessly fitting fashionable clothes. They always looked new, and as his salary was not more than 70 pounds a year, and his parents, with whom he lived, were poor, the story that he was provided gratis by an enterprising tailor in town with these suits, on condition that he exhibited himself constantly in public, and told whenever he could who was his outfitter, received general credence, and I believe was true. He was never known to hurry, mingled little with men and less with women, but moved along in a stiff tailor-dummy fashion with a sort of self-conscious air which seemed to say, "Look at my figure and my clothes, how stylish they are!"
I remember a senior clerk in the office where I first worked to whom there was a general aversion. He was the only clerk who was really disliked, for all the others, old or young, serious or gay, steady or rackety, had each some pleasant quality. This unfortunate fellow had none. He was small, mean, cunning, a sneak and a mischief maker. He carried tales, told lies, and tried to make trouble, for no reason but to gratify his inclinations. He was a dark impish looking fellow, as lean as Cassius and as crafty and envious as Iago. The chief clerk, to his credit be it said, gave a deaf ear to his tales, and his craft and cunning obtained him little beyond our detestation.
In our own office about half our number were youths and single men and about half were married. Our youngest benedict was not more than eighteen years of age, and his salary only 45 pounds a year. On this modest income for a time the young couple lived. It was a runaway match; on the girl's part an elopement from school. They lived in apartments, kept by an old lady, a widow who, being a woman, loved a bit of romance, and was very kind to them. He was a manly young fellow, a sportsman and renowned at cricket, and she was amiable and pretty, a little blonde beauty. The parents were well to do, and in due time forgave the imprudent match. At this we all rejoiced for he was a general favourite.
Looking back now it seems to me the office staff was in some ways a curious collection and very different to the clerks of to-day. Many of them had not entered railway life until nearly middle-age and they had not assimilated as an office staff does now, when all join as youths and are brought up together. They were original, individual, not to say eccentric. Whilst our office included certain steady married clerks, who worked hard and lived ordinary middle-class respectable lives, and some few bachelors of quiet habit, the rest were a lively set indeed, by no means free from inclinations to coarse conviviality and many of them spendthrift, reckless and devil-may-care. At pay-day, which occurred monthly, most of these merry wights, after receiving their pay, betook themselves to the Midland Tap or other licensed house and there indulged, for the remainder of the afternoon, in abundant beer, pouring down glass after glass; in Charles Lamb's inimitable words: "the second to see where the first has gone, the third to see no harm happens to the second, a fourth to say there is another coming, and a fifth to say he is not sure he is the last." Some of the merriest of them would not return to the office that day but extend their carouse far into the night; to sadly realise next day that it was "the morning after the night before."
I do not think our ladylike chief clerk ever indulged in these orgies, but I never knew more than the mildest remonstrance being made by him or by anyone in authority.
Pay-day was also the time for squaring accounts. "The human species," Charles Lamb says, "is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow and the men who lend." This was true of our office, but no equal division prevailed as the borrowers predominated and the lenders, the prudent, were a small minority. A general settlement took place monthly, after which a new period began—by the borrowers with joyous unconcern. "Take no thought for the morrow" was a maxim dear to the heart of these knights of the pen.
Swearing, as I have said, was not considered low or vulgar or unbecoming a gentleman. There was a senior clerk of some standing and position, a married man of thirty-five or forty years of age, who gloried in it. His expletives were varied, vivid and inexhaustible, and the turbid stream was easily set flowing. Had he lived a century earlier he might have been put in the stocks for his profanity, a punishment which magistrates were then, by Act of Parliament, empowered to inflict. He was a strange individual. Long Jack he was called. He is not in this world now so I may write of him with freedom.
No one's enemy but his own, he was kindly, good-natured, generous to a fault, but devil-may-care and reckless; and, at any one's expense, or at any cost to himself, would have his fling and his joke.
It was from his lankiness and length of limb that he was called "Long Jack." He stood about six feet six in his boots. He must have had means of his own, as he lived in a way far beyond the reach of even a senior clerk of the first degree. How he came to be in a railway office, or, being in, retained his place, was a matter of wonder. Sad to tell, he had a little daughter, five or six years of age; his only child, a sweet, blue-eyed golden-haired little fairy, who, never corrected, imitated her father's profanity, and apparently to his great delight. He treated it as a joke, as he treated everything. Long Jack loved to scandalise the town by his eccentricities. He would compound with the butcher, to drive his fast trotting horse and trap and deliver their joints, their steaks and kidneys to astonished customers, or arrange with the milkman to dispense the early morning milk, donning a milkman's smock, and carrying two milk-pails on foot. I remember one Good Friday morning when he perambulated the town with a donkey cart and sold, at an early hour, hot cross buns at the houses of his friends, afterwards gleefully boasting of having made a good profit on the morning's business. In the sixties and early seventies throughout the clerical staff of the Midland Railway were many who had not been brought up as clerks, who, somehow or other had drifted into the service, whose early avocations had been of various kinds, and whose appearance, habits and manners imparted a picturesqueness to office life which does not exist to- day, and among these. Long Jack was a prominent, but despite his joviality, it seems to me a pathetic figure.
CHAPTER VI. FRIENDSHIP
Delicate health, as I have said, was my lot from childhood. After about eighteen months of office work I had a long and serious illness and was away from duty for nearly half a year. The latter part of the time I spent in the Erewash Valley, at the house of an uncle who lived near Pye Bridge. I was then under eighteen, growing fast, and when convalescing the country life and country air did me lasting good. Though a colliery district the valley is not devoid of rural beauty; to me it was pleasant and attractive and I wandered about at will.
One day I had a curious experience. In my walk I came across the Cromford Canal where it enters a tunnel that burrows beneath coal mines. At the entrance to the tunnel a canal barge lay. The bargees asked would I like to go through with them? "How long is it?" said I, and "how long will it take?" "Not long," said bargee, "come on!" "Right!" said I. The tunnel just fitted the barge, scarcely an inch to spare; the roof was so low that a man lying on his back on a plank placed athwart the vessel, with his feet against the roof, propelled the boat along. This was the only means of transit and our progress was slow and dreary. It was a journey of Cimmerian darkness; along a stream fit for Charon's boat. About halfway a halt was made for dinner, but I had none. Although I was cold and hungry the bargees' hospitality did not include a share of their bread and cheese but they gave me a drink of their beer. The tunnel is two miles long, and was drippingly wet. Several hours passed before we emerged, not into sunshine but into the open, under a clouded sky and heavy rain which had succeeded a bright forenoon. I was nearly five miles from my uncle's house, lightly clad, hungry and tired. To my friends ever since I have not failed to recommend the passage of the Butterley tunnel as a desirable pleasure excursion.
When I returned to work my health was greatly improved and a small advancement in my position in the office made the rest of my time at Derby more agreeable, though, to tell the truth, I often jibbed at the drudgery of the desk and the monotony of writing pencilled-out letters which was now my daily task. Set tasks, dull routine, monotonous duty I ever hated.
About this time shorthand was introduced into the railway. A public teacher of Pitman's phonography had established himself in Derby, and the Midland engaged him to conduct classes for the junior clerks. It was not compulsory to attend the classes, but inducements to do so were held out. A special increase of salary was promised to those who attained a certain proficiency, and a further reward was offered; the two clerks who earned most marks and, in the teacher's opinion, reached the highest proficiency, were to be appointed assistants to the teacher and paid eight shillings weekly during future shorthand sessions, in addition to the special increase of salary. It was a great prize and keen was the contest. I had the good fortune to be one of the two; and the praise I got, and the benefit of the money made me contented for a time. My companion in this success, I am glad to know, is to-day alive and well, and like myself, a superannuated member of society. In his day he was a notable athlete, at one time bicycling champion of the Midland counties; and his prowess was won on the obsolete velocipede, with its one great wheel in front and a very small wheel behind.
A shorthand writer, my work was now to take down letters from dictation, a remove only for the better from the old way of writing from pencilled drafts.
Now it was that I made my first sincere and lasting friendship, a friendship true and deep, but which was destined to last for only ten short years. Tom was never robust and Death's cold hand closed all too soon a loveable and useful life. Our friendship was close and intimate, such as is formed in the warmth of youth and which the grave alone dissolves. To me, during those short years, it lent brightness and gaiety to existence; and, in the days that have followed, its memory has been, and is now, a rich possession.
With both Tom and me it was friendship at first sight, and nothing until the final severance came ever disturbed its course. He came from Lincoln and joined the office I was in. He was two years my senior and had the advantage of several years' experience in station work which I had not. We were much alike in our tastes and habits, yet there was enough of difference between us to impart a relish to our friendship. Indifferent health, for he was delicate too, was one of the bonds between us. We were both fond of reading, of quiet walks and talks, and we hated crowds. He was a good musician, played the piano; but the guitar was the favourite accompaniment to his voice, a clear sweet tenor, and he sang well. I was not so susceptible to the "concord of sweet sounds" as he was, but could draw a little, paint a little, string rhymes together; and so we never failed to amuse and interest each other. He was impulsive, clever, quick of temper, ingenuous, and indignant at any want of truth or candour in others; generous to a fault and tender hearted as a woman. I was more patient than he, slower in wrath, yet we sometimes quarrelled over trifles but, like lovers, were quickly reconciled; and after these little explosions always better friends than ever.
At Derby, for three years or so, we were inseparable. What walks we had, what talks, "what larks, Pip!" Dickens we adored. How we talked of him and his books! How we longed to hear him read, but his public readings had ended, his voice for ever become mute and a nation mourned the loss of one who had moved it to laughter and to tears. Tom had a wonderful memory. He would recite page after page from Pickwick, David Copperfield, Barnaby Rudge or Great Expectations, as well as from Shakespeare and our favourite poets. He was fond of the pathetic, but the humorous moved him most, and his lively gifts were welcome wherever we went.
Our favourite walk on Saturday afternoons was to the pleasant village of Kedleston, some five miles from Derby, and to its fine old inn, which to us was not simply the Kedleston Inn and nothing more but Dickens' Maypole and nothing less. We revelled in its resemblance, or its fancied resemblance to the famous old hostelry kept by old John Willet. Something in the building itself, though I cannot say that, like the Maypole, it had "more gable ends than a lazy man would like to count on a sunny day," and something in its situation, and something in the cronies who gathered in its comfortable bar, and something in the bar itself combined to form the pleasant illusion in which we indulged. The bar, like the Maypole bar, was snug and cosy and complete. Its rustic visitors were not so solemn and slow of speech as old John Willet and Mr. Cobb and long Phil Parkes and Solomon Daisy, "who would pass two mortal hours and a half without any of them speaking a single word, and who were firmly convinced that they were very jovial companions;" but they were as reticent and stolid and good natured as such simple country gaffers are wont to be.
I remember in particular one Saturday afternoon in late October. It was almost the last walk I had with Tom in Derby. The day was perfect; as clear and bright, as mellow and crisp, as rich in colour, as only an October day in England can be. We reached the Maypole between five and six o'clock. No young Joe Willet or gipsy Hugh was there to welcome us, but we were soon by our two selves in a homely little room, beside a cheerful fire, at a table spread with tea and ham and eggs and buttered toast and cakes—our weekly treat.
When this delightful meal was over, a stroll as far as the church and the stately Hall of the Curzons, back to the inn, an hour or so in the snug bar with the village worthies, who welcomed our almost weekly visits and the yarns we brought from Derby town; then back home by the broad highway, under the star-lit sky—an afternoon and an evening to be ever remembered.
The Kedleston Inn, I am told, no longer exists; no longer greets the eye of the wayfarer, no longer welcomes him to its pleasant bar. Now it is a farmhouse. No youthful enthusiast can now be beguiled into calling it The Maypole; and, indeed, in these unromantic days, though it had remained unchanged, there would be little danger of this I think.
Soon after this memorable day Tom left the service of the Midland for a more lucrative situation with a mercantile firm in Glasgow, and I was left widowed and alone. For six months or more we had been living together in the country, some four miles from Derby, in the house of the village blacksmith. It was a pretty house, stood a little apart from the forge, and was called Rock Villa. I wonder if the present Engineer-in- Chief of the Midland Railway recollects a little incident connected with it. He (now Chief Engineer then a well grown youth of eighteen or nineteen) was younger than I, and was preparing for the engineering profession in which he has succeeded so well. He lived with his parents very near to Rock Villa, and one day, for some reason or other, we said we would each of us make a sketch of Rock Villa, afterwards compare them, and let his sister decide which was the better, so we set to work and did our best. In the matter of correct drawing his, I am sure, far surpassed mine, but the young lady decided in my favour, perhaps because my production looked more picturesque and romantic than his!
When Tom had gone I became dissatisfied with my work, and a disappointment which I suffered at being passed over in some office promotions increased that dissatisfaction. I was an expert shorthand writer and this seemed to be the only reason for keeping me back from better work, so at least I thought, and I think so still. My sense of injustice was touched; and I determined I would, like Tom, if the opportunity served, seek my fortune elsewhere. The chance I longed for came. I paid a short visit to Tom, and whilst in Glasgow, obtained the post of private clerk to the Stores Superintendent of the Caledonian Railway, and on the last day of the year 1872, I left the Midland Railway, to the service of which I had been as it were born, in which my father and uncles and cousins served, against the wish of my father, and to the surprise of my relatives. But I had reached man's estate, and felt a pride in going my own way, and in seeking, unassisted, my fortune, whatever it might be.
What had I learned in my first five years of railway work? Not very much; the next few years were to be far more fruitful; but I had acquired some business habits; a practical acquaintance with shorthand, which was yet to stand me in good stead; some knowledge of rates and fares, their nature and composition, which was also to be useful to me in after life; some familiarity with the compilation of time-tables and the working of trains; but of practical knowledge of work at stations I was quite ignorant.
Thus equipped, without the parental blessing, with little money in my purse, with health somewhat improved but still delicate, I bade good-bye to Derby, light-hearted enough, and hopeful enough, and journeyed north to join my friend Tom, and to make my way as best I could in the commercial capital of "bonnie Scotland."
CHAPTER VII. RAILWAY PROGRESS
Before entering upon any description of the new life that awaited me in Glasgow, I will briefly allude to the principal events connected with the Midland and with railways generally which took place during the first five years of my railway career.
Closely associated with many of these events was Mr. James Allport, the Midland general manager, one of the foremost and ablest of the early railway pioneers, regarding whom it is fit and proper a few words should be said. Strangely enough I never saw him until nearly two years after I entered the Midland service, and this was on the occasion of a visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Derby. We clerks were allowed good positions on the station platform to witness the arrival of their Royal Highnesses by their special train from London. Mr. Allport accompanied them along the platform to the carriages outside the station. Probably the chairman and directors of the company were also present, but our eyes were not for them. Directors were to us junior clerks, remote personalities, mythical beings dwelling on Olympian heights.
[Sir James Allport: allport.jpg]
It was a great thing to see the future King and Queen of England, and our loyalty and enthusiasm knew no bounds. They were young and charming, and beloved by the people; but, hero worshipper as I was, our great general manager was to me even more than royalty. I little thought, as I looked on Mr. Allport then, that, twenty years later, I should appear before him to give evidence concerning Irish railways, when he was chairman of an important Royal Commission.
The great abilities which enable a man to win and hold such a position as his fired my fancy. I look at men and men's affairs with different eyes now; but Mr. Allport was a great personality, and youthful enthusiasm might well be excused for placing him on a high pedestal. He was tall and handsome, with well-shaped head, broad brow, large clear keen eyes, firm well-formed mouth, strong nose and chin, possessed of an abundant head of hair, not close cropped in the style of to-day, but full and wavy, and what one never sees now, a handsome natural curl along the centre of the head with a parting on each side. This suited him well, and added to his distinctive individuality. When I entered the Midland service he was fifty-six years of age and in the plenitude of his power, for those were days when the company was forcing its way north and south and widely extending its territory. He was the animating spirit of all the company's enterprises. No opposition, no difficulties ever daunted him. His nature was bold and fitted to command, and to him is due, in a large degree, the proud position the Midland holds to-day. It was not until late in life, 1884 I think, when he had reached the age of seventy- two, that his great qualities were accorded public recognition. He then received the honour of knighthood but had retired from active service and become a director of his company.
There was another personality that loomed large, in those years, on the Midland—Samuel Swarbrick, the accountant. His world was finance, and in it he was a master. So great was his skill that the Great Eastern Railway Company, which, financially, was in a parlous condition and their dividend nil, in 1866 took him from the Midland and made him their general manager, at, in those days, a princely salary. Their confidence was fully justified; his skill brought the company, if not to absolute prosperity, at least to a dividend-paying condition, and laid the foundation of the position that company now occupies.
His reputation as a man of figures stood as I have just said very high, but, whilst I was at Derby, and before he moved to the Great Eastern, he was prominent also as the happy possessor of the best coloured meerschaum pipes in the county, and this, in those days, was no small distinction. But a man does not achieve greatness by his own unaided efforts. Others, his subordinates, help him to climb the ladder. It was so with Mr. Swarbrick. There was a tall policeman in the service of the company, the possessor of a fine figure, and a splendid long sandy-coloured beard. His primary duty was to air himself at the front entrance of the station arrayed in a fine uniform and tall silk hat, and this duty he conscientiously performed. Secondarily, his occupation was to start the colouring of new meerschaums for Mr. Swarbrick. Non-meerschaum smokers may not know what a delicate task this is, but once well begun the rest is comparatively easy. The tall policeman was an artist at the work; but it nearly brought him to a tragic end, as I will relate.
Outside Derby station was a ticket platform at which all incoming trains stopped for the collection of tickets. This platform was on a bridge that crossed the river. One Saturday night our fine policeman was airing himself on this platform, colouring a handsome new meerschaum for Mr. Swarbrick. It was a windy night and a sudden gust blew his tall hat into the river, and after it unfortunately dropped the meerschaum. Hat and pipe both! Without a moment's hesitation in plunged the policeman to the rescue; but the river was deep and he an indifferent swimmer. The night was dark and he was not brought to land till life had nearly left him. He recovered, but lost his sight and became blind for the rest of his life. Mr. Swarbrick provided for him, I believe, by setting him up in a small public house, where, I am told, despite his loss of sight, he ended his days not unhappily.
In 1867, compared with 1851, the Midland had made giant strides. It worked a thousand miles of railway against five hundred; its capital had doubled and reached thirty-two millions, about one-fourth of what it is to-day; its revenue had risen from about a million to over a million and a half; and the dividend was five and a half compared with two and five- eighths per cent.
The opening of the Midland route to Saint Pancras; the projection of the Settle and Carlisle line; the introduction of Pullman cars, parlour saloons, sleeping and dining cars; the adoption of gas and electricity for the lighting of carriages; the running of third-class carriages by all trains; the abolition of second-class and reduction of first-class fares; and the establishment of superannuation funds were amongst the most striking events in the railway world during this period.
On the first day of October, 1868, the first passenger train ran into Saint Pancras station, and the Midland competition for London traffic now began in earnest, and from that time onward helped to develop those magnificent rival passenger train services between the Metropolis and England's busy centres and between England and Scotland and Ireland, which, for luxury, speed and comfort, stand pre-eminent. Prior to this, the Midland access to London had been by the exercise of running powers over the Great Northern Railway from Hitchin to King's Cross. The Great Northern, reluctant to lose the Midland, and fearing their rivalry, had, a few years previously, offered them running powers in perpetuity. "No," said Mr. Allport, "it is impossible that you can reconcile the interests of these two great companies on the same railway; we are always only second-best." Second-best certainly never suited the ambitious policy of the Midland, and so the offer was rejected, and their line to London made. It was at that time thought that the Midland headquarters would be removed from Derby to London, and I remember how excited the clerical staff and their wives and sweethearts were at the prospect. The idea was seriously considered but, for various reasons, abandoned.
The Settle and Carlisle line, perhaps the greatest achievement of the Midland, was not completed until sometime after I left their service. It was opened in the year 1875. In 1866 they obtained the Act for its construction. For some years their eyes had been as eagerly turned towards Scotland as the eyes of Scotchmen had ever been towards England, and for the same reason—the hope of gain. The Midland had hitherto been excluded from any proper share of the Scotch traffic, but now having secured the right to extend their system to Carlisle, they hoped to join forces with their allies, the Glasgow and South-Western, and secure a fair share of it. But "there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip," and in 1869 in a fit of timidity—a weakness most unusual with them—they nearly lost this valuable right. The year 1867 was a time of great financial anxiety; the Midland was weighted with heavy expenditure on their London extension, the necessity for further capital became clamant, the shareholders were seized with alarm, and a shareholders' consultative committee was appointed, with the result that, in 1869, the company, badgered and worried beyond endurance, actually applied to Parliament for power to abandon the Settle and Carlisle line, and for authority to enter into an agreement with the London and North-Western for access over that company's railway to Carlisle. That power and authority, however, Parliament, in its wisdom, refused to give.
The financial clouds, as all clouds do, after a time dispersed; the outlook grew brighter, the Midland made the line, and it was opened, as I have said, throughout to Carlisle in 1875.
In the autumn of 1872 Mr. Allport visited the United States and was greatly impressed with the Pullman cars. On his return he introduced them on the Midland, both the parlour car and the sleeper. About the same time the London and North-Western also commenced the running of sleeping cars to Scotland and to Holyhead. To which company belongs the credit of being first in the field with this most desirable additional accommodation for the comfort of passengers I am not prepared to say; perhaps honors were easy.
But the greatest innovation of the time were the running by the Midland of third-class carriages by all trains; and the abolition of second-class carriages and fares, accompanied by a reduction of the first-class fares. The first event took place in 1872, but the latter not till 1875. The first was a democratic step indeed, and aroused great excitement. Williams, in his book The Midland Railway, wrote, "On the last day of March, 1872, we remarked to a friend: 'To-morrow morning the Midland will be the most popular railway in England.' Nor did we incur much risk by our prediction. For on that day the Board had decided that on and after the first of April, they would run third-class carriages by all trains; the wires had flashed the tidings to the newspapers, the bills were in the hands of the printers, and on the following morning the Directors woke to find themselves famous." At a later period, Mr. Allport said, if there was one part of his public life on which he looked back with more satisfaction than another it was the time when this boon was conferred on third-class passengers.
When we contemplate present conditions of third-class travel it is hard to realise what they were before this change took place; slow speed, delays and discomfort; bare boards; hard seats; shunting of third-class trains into sidings and waiting there for other trains, sometimes even goods trains, to pass. Mr. Allport might well be proud of the part he played.
Another matter which concerned, not so much the public as the welfare of the clerical staff of the railways, was the establishment of Superannuation Funds; yet the public was interested too, for the interests of the railway service and the general community are closely interwoven. Up till now station masters and clerks had struggled on without prospect of any provision for their old age. Their pay was barely sufficient to enable them to maintain a respectable position in life and afforded no margin for providing for the future.
At last, the principal railway companies, with the consent of their shareholders, and with Parliamentary sanction, established Superannuation Funds, which ever since have brought comfort and security to their officers and clerical staff, and have proved of benefit to the companies themselves. A pension encourages earlier retirement from work, quickens promotion, and vitalises the whole service. On nearly all railways retirement is optional at sixty and compulsory at sixty-five.
The London and North-Western was the first company to adopt the system of superannuation, the London and South-Western second, the Great Western came third, the Midland fourth, and other companies followed in their wake.
In 1873 the Railway Clearing House obtained Parliamentary power to form a fund for its staff, with permission to railway companies not large enough to successfully run funds of their own, and also to the Irish Railway Clearing House, to become partners in this fund. The Irish Clearing House took advantage of this, as also have many railway companies, and practically the whole of the clerical service throughout the United Kingdom can to-day look forward to the benefits of superannuation.
CHAPTER VIII. SCOTLAND, GLASGOW LIFE, AND THE CALEDONIAN LINE.
On the last day of December, in the year 1872, between seven and eight o'clock in the evening, I arrived at Glasgow by the Caledonian train from Carlisle, and was met at Buchanan Street Station by my good friend Tom.
After supper we repaired to the streets to see the crowds that congregate on Hogmanhay, to make acquaintance with the mysteries of "first-footin'," and to join in ushering in the "guid new year." It was a stirring time, for Scotchmen encounter their Hogmanhay with ardent spirits. They are as keen in their pleasures as in their work. Compare for instance their country dances with ours. As Keats, in his letters from Scotland says, "it is about the same as leisurely stirring a cup o' tea and beating up a batter pudding." The public houses and bars were driving a lively trade, but "Forbes Mackenzie" was in force, and come eleven o'clock, though it were a hundred Hogmanhays, they all had to close. We met some new-made friends of Tom's and joined in their conviviality. I was the dark complexioned man of the party, and as a "first-footer" in great request. We did not go home till morning, and reached there a little hilarious ourselves, but it was our first Hogmanhay and may be forgiven.
Dear reader, did you ever lie in a concealed bed? It is a Scottish device cunningly contrived to murder sleep. At least so Tom and I found it. It was my fate to sleep, to lie I should say, in one for several weeks. Its purpose is to economise space, and like Goldsmith's chest of drawers, it is "contrived a double debt to pay," a sleeping room by night, a sitting room by day.
Whilst Glasgow is a city of flats its people are resourceful and energetic. Keen and canny, they drive a close bargain but, scrupulous and conscientious, fulfil it faithfully. Proud of their city and its progress, its industries and manufactures, its civic importance, they are a little disdainful perhaps, perhaps a little jealous, of their beautiful elder sister, Edinburgh. Glasgow is the Belfast of Scotland!
Self-contained houses are the exception and are limited to the well-to- do. The flat, in most cases, means a restricted number of apartments, insufficient bedroom accommodation, and the concealed bed is Glasgow's way of solving the difficulty.
Tom and I did not take kindly to our hole in the wall, and soon found other lodgings where space was not so circumscribed, and where we could sleep in an open bed in an open room.
Our new quarters were a great success; a ground-floor flat with a fine front door; a large well-furnished sitting room with two windows looking out on to the street, and an equally large double-bedded room at the back of the sitting room. Our landlady, a kind, motherly, canny Scotchwoman, looked after us well and favoured us with many a bit of good advice: "You must be guid laddies, and tak care o' the bawbees; you maun na eat butchers' meat twice the week; tak plenty o' parritch and dinna be extravagant." Economy with the good old soul was a cardinal virtue, waste a deadly sin. I fear she was often shocked at our easy Saxon ways, though Tom and I thought ourselves models of thrift.
Once, it was on a Sunday, Tom and I, with a party of friends, had had a very long walk, a regular pedestrian excursion, thirty miles, there or thereabouts, to use a Scotticism, and poor Tom was quite knocked up and confined to bed for several days. Our good old landlady was greatly shocked; a strict Sabbatarian, she knew it was a punishment for "breakin' the Sabbath; why had na ye gane to the kirk like guid laddies?" We modestly reminded her that we always did go, excepting of course on this particular Sunday. "Then whit business had ye to stay awa on ony Sabbath?" We had nothing to say in answer to this. The dear old creature was really shocked at our backsliding; but she nursed Tom very tenderly all the same.
When the sultry heat of summer came we found Glasgow very trying, and though sorry to leave our good landlady, moved into the country, to Cambuslang, a village some four miles from the city, which was then becoming a favourite residential resort.
At Cambuslang I made the acquaintance and became the friend of Cynicus, the humorous artist whose satirical sketches have, for many years, been well-known and well sold in England, in Scotland and in Ireland too. He was then a youth of about twenty. Longing to see the world and without the necessary means, he emulated Goldsmith, made a prolonged tour in France and Italy supporting himself not by his flute nor by disputations, but by his brush and palette. For a few weeks at a time he worked in towns or cities, sold what he painted, and then, with purse replenished, wandered on. He and I were living "doon the watter," at Dunoon, on the Clyde, one summer month. A Fancy Dress Bazaar was on at the time. The first evening we went to it, and he, unobserved, made furtive sketches of the most prominent people and the prettiest girls. We both sat up all that night, he working at and finishing the sketches. Next morning by the first boat and first train, we took them to Glasgow, had six hundred lithographic copies struck off; back post-haste to Dunoon; in the evening to the Bazaar, and sold the copies at threepence each. It was an immense success; we could have disposed of twice the number; every pretty girl's admirer wanted a copy of her picture, and the portraits of the presiding "meenister" and of the good-looking unmarried curate were eagerly purchased by fond mammas and adoring daughters. We had our fun, and cleared besides a profit of nearly four pounds sterling. This financial coup would not have come off so well but for the warm-hearted co-operation of our railway printers, McCorquodale and Coy. They, good people, entered into our exploit with a will, did their part well, and made little if any profit, generously leaving that to Cynicus and myself.
To his mother, like many another clever son, Cynicus owed his talent. She was a woman of great intellectual endowment, with highly cultivated literary tastes. Her memory was remarkable and her conversational powers very great. She read much and thought deeply. In a modest way her parlour, which attracted many young people of literary and artistic leanings, recalled the Salons of France of a century ago. She entertained charmingly with tea and cakes and delightful talk. Of strong, firm, decided character, she might, perhaps, have been thought a little deficient in womanly gentleness had not genuine kindness of heart, motherly feeling, and a happy humour lent a softness to her features and imparted to them a particular charm. She exercised an authority over her household which inspired respect and contrasted strikingly with the easy- going parental ways of to-day. There were other sons and there were daughters also, all more or less gifted, but Cynicus was the genius of the family—its bright particular star.
The various lodgings of my bachelor days was never quite of the conventional sort. The Cambuslang quarters certainly were not. The house was large and old-fashioned. Originally it had been two smallish houses: the two front doors still remained side by side, but only one was used. The rooms on the ground floor were small, the original building composed of one storey only, but another had been added of quite spacious dimensions. We had two excellent, large well-furnished rooms upstairs. The landlady was an interesting character and so was her husband. She was Irish, he Scotch; she about seventy years of age, he under fifty; she ruddy, healthy, hearty, good-looking; he, pale, nervous, shy, retiring. But on the last Thursday of each month he was quite another man. On that day he went to Glasgow to collect the rents of some small houses he owned; and generally came home rather "fou" and hilarious, when the old lady would take him in hand, and put him to bed.