Today’s Midweek Retro pays tribute to railworkers, whose history is at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and all the changes it brought to South Yorkshire.
Not to forget North Derbyshire, as Tapton House in Chesterfield was the last home of the railway pioneer George Stephenson.
However, the Victorian entrepreneurs were nothing without the vast workforce of railworkers and railway builders who made it possible for them to change the landscape of Britain forever.
The rail drivers’ union ASLEF notes on its website that the railway boom “brought both benefits and hardships for the workers employed on the railways”.
Accident rates were high in an industry which saw lethal machinery hurtling around at high speeds for the time. Apparently, only mining was as dangerous an occupation.
Drivers and firemen on the Great Western Railway suffered pay cuts and longer hours in 1879.
When a petition to management had little effect, workers formed the first lodge of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen in Sheffield. ASLEF held its first strike on the Midland railways in 1887.
One of the later leaders of the union was Bill Ronksley from Stannington, who is featured in the Ken Loach film, Spirit of 45. Bill is still active in the trade union movement in his 90s.
He saw the industry transformed by nationalisation in 1948 – only to be privatised again in the 1990s.
When the National Railway Museum in York appealed for memories of working on the railways during the war five years ago, it was inundated by responses from South Yorkshire.
Former Sheffield Victoria Station worker Philip Gahegan recalled: “I started work during the war at the age of 15 with the LNER at Sheffield Victoria station in the Signals and Telegraph department.
“My lasting memory is of the ambulance trains flying past at huge speeds, with a big red cross on each carriage, and the wounded soldiers looking out and waving to me.
“I also remember seeing Flying Scotsman pulling a goods train and also seeing submarines and tanks on goods trains.”
Doncaster’s Plant Works was of course the place where the Flying Scotsman and other famous locomotives like the Mallard were built. In total, 2,500 locomotives were built there, plus thousands of carriages and wagons.