An uppity ticket inspector at Cannon Street

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As I was sitting on a Great Northern train at Finsbury Park four excited GN employees got off and went in separate directions. They looked pumped up for a day at work, which seemed a little odd given the flak that the railways has received in the past 12 months.  GN has frequently cancelled trains usually citing either a signaling problem (beyond their control) or a lack of drivers (which certainly isn’t). Here though were four happy employees about to start their daily shifts. As my wife pointed out though, they weren’t drivers, or even guards; they were the ticket inspectors about to embark on a day of flushing out fare dodgers.

I appreciate that the GN have to protect themselves against individuals that try to ride their network without paying but I think I’d prefer it if they actually ran all the trains they advertise on their timetable and trained up some of these eager inspectors for that purpose.

Nevertheless, the inspectors on Great Northern trains (and others no doubt) are always polite and friendly, unlike William Hill, who worked for the South Eastern Railway in 1876.

Hill was a ticket collector at Cannon Street in the City of London and on 13 April he was checking tickets at the station when a gentleman named James Herbert Smith approached him.  Mr Smith was a regular traveller and held a first class season ticket from Blackheath to central London. As he passed through the barrier Hill demanded to see his ticket. Smith fumbled in his pockets but couldn’t find it. He explained he must have misplaced and handed the man his calling card, so that he could be contacted. That, he felt, should be sufficient.

It wasn’t. Within moments Hill ‘seized him by the collar, and turned him around and stopped him’, again demanding to see his season ticket. Mr Smith tried a different pocket and this time found his ticket. This should have satisfied the collector but it didn’t. Instead of letting the passenger continue on to work Hill insisted that he accompany him to the ticket office. Smith obliged but told the man he felt it was entirely unnecessary (which it was of course) and when they got there the clerk immediately recognized him and he was allowed to carry on with his day.

Later Mr Smith asked for an apology from the ticket collector or his employer but since none was forthcoming he acquired a summons to bring him before a magistrate. On the 20 April Hill was set in the dock at Mansion House Police court to be questioned by the Lord Mayor about his actions. The railway denied any wrongdoing by their employee and provided him with a solicitor, Mr Mortimer. The defense was simply that Hill had a right to see the season ticket and was ‘merely doing his duty’.

The Lord Mayor evidently thought that the collector had overstepped the mark and acted unreasonably. An assault had clearly occurred and had the man apologized as Mr Smith requested, he would have let it go without further comment. Since the railway and the collector had been so determined to maintain their position on this he found Hill guilty of assault and fined him 20s.

One imagines that the relationship between the collector and this particular passenger in future will have been at best frosty, since they would have seen each other most mornings of the week. The case reminded Hill that he was merely a lowly employee of a service industry and, more importantly, several steps below the gentleman whose honesty he had the audacity to question. In future he would have to restrain himself  because a subsequent complaint might cause his employers to replace him.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, April 21, 1876]

Drew Gray is the joint author of Jack and the Thames Torso Murders, published by Amberley Books in June 2019. Details available here

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