Early Railway Policing (Police and Education)

This article is taken from the booklet ‘Railway History & The Local Historian’ by E. H. Fowkes, published in 1963 by East Yorkshire Local History Society to whom we are grateful for permission to quote from it. The article is remarkable for several reasons – it gives an insight into the role of the railway policeman before the trains began running and indicates a social awareness perhaps not previously considered.

The Leeds & Thirsk Railway employed a Police Inspector whose reports concerning workmen building the Bramhope Tunnel and the Wharfedale Viaduct give us an insight into the lives of a remarkable class of navvies and labourers who toiled prodigiously to leave magnificent engineering works and then, as a class, vanished. Police Inspector James Midgley, reported on workmen in and out of work.  He informs us that there were 2,300 men employed at the Bramhope Tunnel. The masons, mostly local men, were quiet and well behaved, but difficulties occurred with those who lived in the rather overcrowded huts. Midgley records that he was satisfied that stolen geese were not taken by railway workmen “as he was in their dwellings almost every day to see the articles they consume, their manner of cooking and the way they live generally”. Midgley made his reports to Samuel Smiles, then Secretary of the Leeds & Thirsk Railway. On 22nd February 1847, he reported on the schooling of the children of the workmen employed building the Bramhope Tunnel. He visited every home and lists the cottages in order with the name of each occupant and the number of children who would attend in the event of a school being built above the tunnel. There were 93 temporary cottages, each housing from two to twenty persons. Among them were 221 children, and of these the parents of 115 were willing to pay for education. The village school at Bramhope had places for fifty children but only ten vacancies. Midgley thought the school might be extended to hold another forty for the expenditure of £20, though he thought that the village school was too far away for some of the younger children.

Social dislocation caused by abnormal or rapid railway development was frequently a source of concern to the more sensitive railway directors and shareholders. At the Tyne Dock area, which grew very rapidly, there was no school and the children were running wild. A printed appeal was made by the North Eastern Railway Company to the generosity of their shareholders for money for a school. The response to the appeal was very generous and the responsibilities of the company were widened to include the control of Tyne Dock school.

The main duties of the police were, of course, the maintenance of order and the prosecution of wrongdoers. Railway policemen would warn passengers if card sharpers had been seen, for example. The protection of people and the safe-guarding of property were their principal duties, particularly in towns, but police were also needed in rural areas. In 1858, the Chief Constable of Westmorland insisted on a policeman being provided at Kirkby Stephen. This solitary railway policeman, too remote from the command of the North Eastern railway police, obeyed the command of the Chief Constable of Westmorland and the records show details of his salary, uniform cost, boot allowance and other items paid for by the North Eastern Railway Company.

A remarkable article indeed, that was unearthed by Ed Thompson.

This article originally appeared in the BTPHG Year Book 2012.