London Railways, 1899
In the 1800s increasing numbers of people commuted to work five or six days a week. Trams and railways were the preferred option for the working classes, as horse drawn omnibuses ran a little later and were a bit more expensive. Most working men had to be at their place of employment very early, by 7 o’clock, so they either needed to live close by (as the dockworkers in the East End did) or required reliable public transport to get them there.
Given that wages were low transport had to be cheap, which is why men like Alfred Shepperson took the train. Thousands used the workmen’s trains from the beginning of the 1860s, these usually ran early and charged just two pence return (instead of the flat rate of a penny per mile that was the cost of third class travel on the railways). It was an imperfect system however, some train services ran too late, others too early, and casual workers were particularly badly affected by this. Calls for better transport echoed down the century as the government recognized that this was crucial if they were to encourage migration to the developing suburbs north and south, and so clear the crowded slums of central, south and east London.
On Monday 27 July 1868 Alfred Shepperson had a bad Monday morning. He arrived at Walworth Road station at 7 am as usual, ready to start work nearby as a sawyer. He presented his ticket (a workman’s ticket) to Henry Ricketts at the gate but the Chatham & Dover Railway employee refused it. It had expired on Saturday he told him, and he’d need to pay 4d for his travel.
Shepperson growled at him declaring he see him damned first and an altercation seemed inevitable. Then a man stepped forward, smart and of a higher social class, who paid the sawyer’s fare. This might have been the end of it but Shepperson’s blood was up and he was in no mood to be reasonable. He continued to protest and was asked to leave the station quietly.
Unfortunately ‘he refused, made a great disturbance, calling [Ricketts] foul names, and threatening to have his revenge on him at the first opportunity’.
The ticket inspector was called and when be tried to steer the sawyer out of the station Shepperson’s rage intensified and he became ‘extremely violent’ assaulting both men and ripping the inspector’s coat in the process. Bystanders intervened before Shepperson could throw the man down some stairs. Eventually he was subdued and hauled off to a police station.
On the following morning he was up before Mr Selfe at Lambeth Police court where Shepperson claimed he didn’t know the ticket was out of date.
‘Can you read?’ the magistrate asked him.
‘Then you must have seen the ticket was not available, for it is plainly printed on it’.
Shepperson had no answer for this so tried to deny the violence he was accused of, and hoped the magistrate would ‘overlook it’.
‘It is quite clear to me you have acted in a disgraceful manner’, Mr Selfe told him, ‘and I shall certainly not overlook such conduct. You are fined 20s., or 14 days’ imprisonment’.
The sawyer didn’t have 20s (about £60 today, but 4-5 days’ wages at the time) so he was led away to the cells to start his sentence, one that might have had more serious repercussion if he had then (as was likely) lost his job.
[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, July 29, 1868]
One thought on “Transport woes mean a bad start to the week for one Victorian worker”
It’s one of those timeless situations when, for the life of you, you cannot see why the person acted as they did. In this case, his fare was paid for him by an apparently generous by-stander – so why erupt. The back story – of why he got so het up – must have been fascinating to Freud (who wasn’t analysing folk at that stage of the century..)