Wednesday, 4 April 2012

From Labourer to London Bridge Station Superintendent

London Bridge - 1856
I have got into the habit of looking at the social backgrounds of early railway managers.  Recently I came across Henry Anscombe, the superintendent at the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway's London Bridge station in 1864. Ascombe began his career with the LBSCR in March 1847 at the age of 37[1], and was listed in the 1851 census as being a porter[2]. However, he had come from quite a lowly background, and the 1841 census states that he and his father were labourers in his home town of Chailey in Sussex.[3] Early in his career he narrowly escaped death, and in 1848 he was knocked down by a train and had both legs broken. Yet, clearly this did not hinder his career, and at some point between 1851 and 1864 he rose through the ranks rapidly to command London Bridge Station. He was appointed the Brighton station Superintendent in 1876, and died while still in the company's service in March 1896.[4]

The social gulf between where Anscombe came from and where he ended up was huge. However, the rise he would have experienced was not have been uncommon for many early railway managers, and with formal hiring and promotional structures not yet established, the companies employed staff, at all levels, from a vast array of backgrounds. It is, therefore, unsurprising that for Anscombe such a rise was possible.


[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 414/768, Register of salaried staff appointed 1836-1879, 1864 - 1879, p.1
[2] HO 107/1653/148, 1851 census, Sussex-Chichester St Bartholomew-District 1, p.16
[3] HO 107/1113/1, 1841 census, Sussex-Chailey-District 3, p.5
[4] The Standard, Monday, March 16, 1896, p. 3; Issue 22373.

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