Ethnic diversity and other things

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jim s-w
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Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby jim s-w » Fri Mar 03, 2017 5:29 pm

Hi all

How ethically diverse were the railways in the 1950s? Was it common to see a non white face on the footplate of locomotives or employed by the railway in general.

Also how strict was the dress code for railway staff? For example could drivers have beards?

It's not info that seems to have been readily recorded sadly



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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby grovenor-2685 » Fri Mar 03, 2017 7:40 pm

When I did my stint with the S&T at New street in the run up to the remodelling half of the gang were West Indian. mostly we were working at Number 5 box as the West end was remodelled every couple of weeks.
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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby Crepello » Fri Mar 03, 2017 8:01 pm

I think I saw my first West Indian face taking a breather from shovelling as a quaint 'toy-town engine' passed me spotting near Marshmoor, ECML in the late 50's. I was young, but old enough to read "Return to Ashburton Grove" on the wagons. So that would probably have been a J6 on the Ashburton Grove Pullman then.

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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby dal-t » Fri Mar 03, 2017 8:19 pm

Fascinating question, I'm sure it's going to get some very erudite replies. FWIW my memories (and what photos I've kept) of the 1950s don't feature any 'ethnic minority' footplate crew, but I do remember quite distinctly West Indian station staff appearing at London termini by the late '50s, including one extremely helpful Porter (whose accent was entirely unintelligible to my North Bucks schoolboy ear) who showed my Grandfather where the Continental booking office had been temporarily relocated at Victoria, explaining in the process that he'd been here from the 'Indies for "years' but just couldn't get used to London winters. The other staff-related aspect I remember distinctly was a sudden drop in the average age of first firemen and then drivers, both on the branchline turns from the local shed and the mainline freights we jostled to 'cab.' That would have happened at the height of my spotting days, between about '59 and '64, presumably as the older men either retired in droves, or appreciated that they were in a declining industry and jumped ship before they got too close to pension age. Incidentally, I don't recall a beard in sight throughout that period, although from family portraits both my Great-Grandfather and Great-Great-Grandfather had sported handsome sets in their driving days during the latter part of the nineteenth century.
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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby Noel » Fri Mar 03, 2017 8:21 pm

There had been a small black and asiatic population in the UK from the 18th century, if not before, the great majority in restricted areas of major ports, such as the East End of London. The major immigration of West Indians started with the Empire Windrush in 1948, and continued well into the 1960s. Virtually all went to major cities after arrival. There was also some immigration from various Commonwealth countries in Africa, plus Indians and Pakistanis, or their descendants born in East Africa or the RSA.

Some certainly joined BR; I have a photograph dated to 1956 in one of my magazines, of 5 engine cleaners at Bricklayers Arms, 4 of whom are black. I have also come across a reference to a black goods guard in the late 1950s or early 1960s [I think - I can't find the reference at the moment]. How long it would have taken a black cleaner to reach the footplate I don't know; given the likelihood of unofficial colour bars and the time it could take for anyone to reach passed cleaner status I suspect several years.

I grew up in Dorset and then South Devon; apart from one black child who made a brief appearance at my primary school I saw no black or Asian people until a visit to Nottingham in 1968. BR would have had some non-white employees during the 1950s and 1960s, but probably only a very small proportion, and mostly based in inner city areas. Possibly porters, lorry drivers, guards, etc. would have been more common than footplate staff, but that's only my guess. Employment was generally easy to get in the 1950s, so immigrants tended to do the poorly paid, dirty, manual jobs that no-one else wanted to do, as there was often significant discrimination by both employers and unions if they applied for the better jobs, whatever their qualifications.

My memory of the 1950s says that beards were not then in fashion, possibly a left-over from wartime service in the armed forces, when, unless you were RN with permission for a 'full set', beards were not acceptable. Contemporary photographs and films tend to confirm beards were not usual.

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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby shipbadger » Fri Mar 03, 2017 8:51 pm

Somewhere in my 'archive' (OK big pile of stuff) is a picture of a gentleman of afro-caribbean origin pictured on the footplate of an ex-LMS 4F, at Horton Road, Gloucester, the caption describing him as the driver. He later become the mayor of Gloucester. Obviously he started his career early enough on the railway to make the footplate grades in steam days. I suspect he was a rarity and in view of his other achievements perhaps an exceptional individual.

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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby Sapper » Sat Mar 04, 2017 2:19 pm

Further to your enquiry about ethnic workers on the railways, I have a distinct memory of the down West Coast Postal train being hauled by a red Princess Royal engine one summer's evening in 1959 or 1960 passing South Kenton station near Wembley. The evening was very still and the exhaust from the engine hung around for a good 20 minutes or so before it cleared or more likely settled, due I expect to poor quality coal. I noted that the fireman was a West Indian and I think it was the first time I had one on the footplate and certainly on a prestigious train such as this one. The loco probably was a Camden engine and from memory the train was not travelling that quickly hence I was able to see the crew.

Hope this is of interest.


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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby Armchair Modeller » Sat Mar 04, 2017 8:03 pm

There is a photo somewhere of a K&ESR Ford railbus with 2 ethnically diverse staff on the platform. That must have been 1930s at the latest.

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jim s-w
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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby jim s-w » Sun Mar 05, 2017 9:05 am

Thanks all.

Seems it happened but was very much the exception rather than the rule. The idea that people with darker skin would end up in the more menial roles is not unexpected.



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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby Maitland » Sun Mar 05, 2017 2:02 pm

I haven't found any details, but apparently there was a strike by some railway workers at King's Cross in 1957, in an attempt to impose a colour bar.

From a record review on
Charlie Mayo, loco-motive fireman of King's Cross loco depot, wrote the words to this hard-hitting song immediately after the colour-bar strike of the King's Cross railwaymen in 1957. The air is by Ewan MacColl.

But it seems that racial discrimination persisted:
Originally published in the Guardian on 16 July 1966
The colour bar at Euston station and St Pancras goods station ended yesterday and Mr Asquith Xavier, the West Indian guard who brought it into the open, is to be offered the job he was refused.

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jon price
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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby jon price » Sun Mar 05, 2017 2:32 pm

The words of the song give some information. It was apparently the shunters who struck, but the union refused to support them and so they were obliged to return to work.

My union badge shows two joined hands
With a lighted flame in common fight
But trouble's brewing in the sheds
For both these working hands are white

But working hands are white and black
And the work they do is all the same
But prejudice and fear come in
To break the grip, and dim the flame

The shunters broke the grip one day
Kings Cross goods yard went on strike
Not in a fight for better pay
But a coloured man they did not like

They did not like the coloured man
They wouldn't work with him, they said
In truth, it touched their overtime
And to a colour bar it led

The colour bar strikers soon went back
Jim Figgins led the NUR
And when they asked for his support
He said, 'We'll have no colour bar'

Jim Figgins said, 'Get back to work
This is a strike we'll not support
This is the kind of ignorance
That unions have always fought'

But though the union won that fight
The pressure's there and rising higher
Smoke rises in the engine sheds
And where there's smoke there's always fire

Men don't let smoke get in your eyes
Kindle that flame and keep it bright
To proud tradition still be true
And make those joined hands black and white
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Re: Ethnic diversity and other things

Postby Horsetan » Sat Mar 11, 2017 1:28 pm

One of my old clients was from Grenada IIRC, and he served many years in the '50s and '60s as a fitter at Crewe South shed. He particularly remembered the 8Fs, and put his signature on the inside cover of my copy of the Domestic Duck Loco Profiles 8F book!
That would be an ecumenical matter.

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