IGNITING THE FLAME OF UNITY


THE HISTORY OF THE


BRIGHTON BRANCH OF A.S.L.E.F.

 

 

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  What I mean by socialism is a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked….....

 ........in which all men would be living in equal condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully

William Morris (1834-1896)

 


 "LONG LIVE THE SPIRIT

OF THE REBEL RAILWAY WORKERS"

 

(This was a slogan that was graffitied on the wall of the Hollingbury abbtoir in the 1970s,

 does anybody of this piece of graffiti?) 

For its time, the LB&SCR was regarded as a good employer. In 1851 it created a benevolent fund for members of its staff who 

had become incapacitated, and from 1854 operated a savings bank for employees. 

The Daily Telegraph said in 1860 that : “The reason why there are not 10 accidents where we have 1 is the praiseworthy 

pluck and perseverance of thousands of poor fellows, who, with noble sense of the enormous trust imposed upon them, have 

not permitted either abuse, tyranny or oppression to impoverish their integrity or honesty.”

 

 BEFORE THE DAYS OF THE RAILWAY TRADE UNIONS


Twelve railway strikes are recorded between 1831 - 1871, most were of fairly short duration and of which seven involved 

enginemen, and four by porters. The strike of enginemen on the North Eastern Railway in April, 1867 lasted two weeks and 

was broken by the N.E.R. employing blacklegs recruiting from other railway companies and giving special payments to those 

grades not joining the strike. 

During the early days of unions sectional unions which were formed were short lived because of the lack of power to combat 

the methods of the railway company directors.


IN STILL SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE

Most companies thought it desirable to employ only literate men. Even in the literacy test applicants for employment were 

required to pass, the attempt was made to install a spirit of obedience. Those seeking employment on the Great Western 

Railway in 1837 were required to write these words:


‘Zealous strive to excel. Industry is commendable. Perseverance deserves success. Quietude of mind is a treasure.


FINES AND SUSPENSIONS

An elaborate system of fines and suspensions kept the discipline of the railways service as severe as it was in the Army. On the 

Eastern Counties Railwa, in August 1850, two drivers were fine 2s.6d. each because a cotter pin broke in a drawbar on their 

train of 56 wagons. The cost of a new counter pin was 3d.


BLACKLISTING AND EVICTIONS

Thousands of railwaymen lived in cottages owned by the companied that employed them. For these, joining a trade union 

might mean not only the sack and “black-listing” - which precluded similar employment with other companies - but also 

eviction and ultimate resort to the workhouse, In May 1871, some of the engine drivers who struck work on the London North 

Western Railway were evicted from their company owned homes in Camden Town.


DISCIPLINE

Discipline was severe and there was an elaborate system of fines for every sort of alleged misdemeanour.

Discipline on the Taff Vale Railway was perhaps the strictest to all. The rules of that company included the warning that

‘not an instance of intoxication, singing, whistling or levity while on duty will be overlooked, and besides being dismissed the 

the offender will be liable for punishment.'


LONDON BRIGHTON AND SOUTH COAST RAILWAY CIRCULAR 1857

The directors are in principle opposed to combination of any description for the purpose of interfering with the natural course 

of trade. They think that masters and men should be left in every establishment to settle their differences without foreign 

interference or dictation. 

 

During the 1860s, Enginemen and Firemen around the country started to realise that they had industrial muscle and by 

standing together they might be able to resolve various grievances within the many railway companies that made up the 

increasing size of Britain’s Railways at the time. 

Many of these companies during this period faced industrial unrest with Enginemen and Firemen in their employment who 

where trying to improve their often appalling working conditions. With Enginemen striking for better working conditions they 

run the risk of  being sacked and in some cases the Railway Companies when bankrupt as a result of their action. It was not 

uncommon for Enginemen and Firemen at this time to be expected to work for up to 16 hours a day often for 7 days a week.   

The History of the Brighton Branch of 

A.S.L.E.F. can be traced back to the formation 

of The Engine Drivers and Firemen’s United 

Society established in 1865, and one of the 

earliest branch’s being located at Brighton.  

Its object was to assure friendly society 

benefits for its member’s. By 1866, the Engine 

Drivers and Firemen’s United Society  claimed to have a membership of over 10,000 nation wide.

The Engine Drivers and Firemen’s United 

Society held it first conference in November 

1866 and the Brighton delegate was 

Engineman J. Slater. Engineman J. Slater is 

pictured No. 58 which is the last man seated 

on the right hand side.

At this conference a motion was passed to 

petition each of the Railway companies for a 

number of improvements to Drivers and 

Firemen’s working conditions.

The Engine Drivers' and Firemen's United Society was founded in 1865 and claimed a membership of over 10,000 by 1866 when they made initial demands for a 10 hour day and payment of overtime as well as an increase in pay. With the esatblishment of the ASRS in 1872, there was some dilution of membership but the ASRS was regarded as too conciliatory and eventually the demand for a more militant and focused union led to the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen which was formed in Leeds in February 1880. 

 

 The First Conference of Locomotive Workers, November 

1866.


 The Engine Driver's and Fireman's United Society.

  

 Brighton Engineman J. Slater is pictured No. 58, which is the last 

man seated on the right hand side.

N.U.R. COLLECTION

A maximum of a 10 hour day. Payment for overtime with time and a half for Sunday working.

Daily limits of 150 miles for mainline trains and 120 miles on local trains. An immediate increase in basic levels of pay. 

A number of the biggest railway companies conceded some or all of these conditions rather than have a costly dispute. This 

was such the case on the London Brighton & South Coast Railway, were a little known strike took place in March 1867. 



For an account of the 1867 Enginemen’s strike, please click on the Icon

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN 

 On the 26th November 1871 a group of 

railwaymen held a meeting in Leeds, they made 

the decision which resulted in the establishment 

of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.

Within the next two weeks, further meetings in 

London enthusiastically endourced the launching 

of the new Society such as that at the Winchester 

Arms, 63 Southwark Street, London.

"A meeting will be held at the Winchester Arms, 

63 Southwark Street, on Sunday December 3rd 

(1871) to further the objects of securing ten hours 

for a day's labour, payment for Sunday duty and 

weekly payment of wages. Chair to be taken at 6 

o'clock. Please inform mates and solicit them to 

attend. "

Printed on tiny slips of paper four inches by two 

inches, in order not to attract the attention of the 

employers, this was the message passed between 

railwaymen that led to the forming of the 

Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants.

Despite the justified caution of the founders 

(there was an early proposal for a secret sign and 

password for the union) the union found a 

substantial support from railway workers and 

even "progressive" Member of Parliament such 

as Michael Thomas Bass (Derby) and his agent 

Charles Bassett Vincent who helped and 

encouraged railway to organise and fund the 

influential "Railway Service Gazette" forerunner 

of the " Railway Gazette"

By 1872 the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s 

Society had been amalgamated with other 

Friendly societies and become apart the 

Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to 

protest to parliament over the excessive hours 

Railway workers were expected to endure. 

However as this Society was made up of all 

grades of railway workers it became very 

ineffective in achieving any improvements and its 

membership very quickly decreased.





PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

 STORIES FROM THE SHOVEL

extracted from RTCS book on locomotives of the LBSCR


THE LOCO WITH A MIND OF IT'S OWN

 

On the 29th May, 1867 when Driver Marley (New Cross?) was unable to close the regulator of a 'Craven Standard Passenger 

2-4-0 loco' No. 185  as it run into Brighton station with the 8.0 a.m. down express. Despite a full application of the tender 

brake, and assistance from the guard, the speed could not be reduced below 20 to 25 m.p.h. Fortunately, this train was booked 

to call at the ticket platform before running on to the terminus, which gave just sufficient time and distance for both crew 

members to force the regulator closed, and then reverse the engine and apply steam. The buffers were hit, but only at a 

walking pace and no serious injuries were suffered. Subsequently the driver, fireman and guards were fined for ‘running into 

the Brighton ticket platform dangerously and at too high a speed’, the regulator on No. 185 having been found in good order.

Driver Marley, however was not satisfied, and found on other occasions that the regulator failed to close completely as well 

as at times opening slightly on its own. Complaining of this eccentricity, he was not believed and no thorough investigation 

was made until there came the day when No.185 had to be moved on New Cross shed by the Staff. The regulator opened with 

ease and then stuck. Moving quite smartly the engine bumped into a line of coke wagons and propelled them towards the 

foremen’s office, from whence this gentleman appeared at high speed, warned by much shouting that all was not well. He just 

managed to leap clear before the coke wagons and the gently puffing loco enveloped the area. Halted by the debris, the 

culprit’s regulator was closed. The offending item was removed forthwith, and since nothing could still be found amiss a new 

one was fitted with apparent success, since no further mentioned appears in the accident reports. One hopes that those fined 

received a full pardon and their money back. 

 

 PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

 

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