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Forgotten pasts at Glasgow Queen St

At the moment, Glasgow Queen St station is undergoing a major redevelopment, which has included exposing the Victorian glass frontage, concealed for the last 40 years by a concrete carbuncle now demolished. However, what isn’t so easy to see is another hidden past: the human cost of working on the railway, in employee accidents.

This post will reveal a few of the cases in our database that occurred at Queen St station. The many stations, goods yards and railway connections that once dotted the city as a whole mean that Glasgow locations appear 66 times in our database. But Queen St appears only 6 times.

Queen St station, 1927, seen centre top. The glass train shed frontage recently re-exposed in the 2018 redevelopment is clearly visible here.
Courtesy Britain from Above

One of these occasions took place on 24 January 1912, at 14.15. Shunter W Wylie managed only 15 minutes on duty before meeting his death. As a train entered the station he ‘attempted to jump on to the footboard of the third vehicle […but] he dropped down between the train and the platform and was so severely crushed […] that he died two days afterwards.’ According to Inspector Charles Campbell’s report, Wylie failed to follow Rule 23 (c) ‘which prescribes that no servant [note the terminology!] must jump on to the steps or footboards of trains entering stations.’ There followed a significant observation, embedded in Campbell’s recommendation to the North British Railway Company: ‘it is to be hoped that this rule, which prior to the accident was frequently disregarded at Queen Street Station, will be strictly enforced in future’ (1912 Quarter 1, Appendix C). As always, we might want to question why it was that Wylie and his colleagues were trying to save time by jumping on to moving trains, and why the Company found it necessary to introduce a rule against the practice – albeit one which it is quite clear was routinely ignored, undoubtedly with the knowledge of the supervisors who were nominally tasked with ensuring the rules were followed. Time meant money to the railway companies at this time, so hurrying the staff to get the work done was a basic business proposition – albeit one which sometimes produced accidents.

The next case had similar qualities. On 6 April 1914, carriage examiner T Graham was examining some coaches for defects and spotted that a buffer casting (part of the underframe that housed the buffer) was loose. Inspector Campbell was once again investigating and, with a wonderful turn of phrase that demonstrates the roles workers occupied on the railways, noted that Graham ‘sent his greaser for some tools and bolts, and also a red flag with which to protect himself while performing the work’. The flag would have been placed on the end of the carriages he was working on, so that any loco crew moving stock would have known that someone was at work on it and it wasn’t to be touched. However, the (unnamed) greaser hadn’t returned by the time a loco crew attempted to move the rake of carriages to where they were next needed, so they weren’t to know that Graham was working on one of them. Graham had his thumb crushed by the buffer – but it could have been a lot worse. Campbell decided the accident was due to want of care (1914 Quarter 2, Appendix C), though once again we could see a dedicated worker was eager to get the job done as soon as possible and ensure the train was ready to go out on time.

The red flag as it was supposed to work, as warned in the LMS’ 1924 safety booklet.

The final accident in this post took place a few weeks’ later, on 29 April 1914, at 11.45am. Porter John Burke, aged only 22, was killed whilst he and a colleague were filling lavatory water tanks on coaches. Some accidents of this nature were a result of a fall from height: the water tanks were filled from the rooves of coaches. However, on this occasion fellow Porter F Clarke who was the roof was fine; instead Burke was taking care of the water supply at track level. The hydrant was positioned close to the tracks, but Burke was found crushed between the buffers of two coaches on the adjacent line. Inspector JJ Hornby investigated but could not work out what had happened; in his report he noted that ‘Burke was an experienced man […] but there was no necessity for him to have stood foul’ of the buffers (1914 Quarter 2, Appendix C). No recommendations or further comments were made.

Queen St station in its surrounding, c.1910.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland maps

3 typical cases from our database, all sadly run-of-the-mill in the operation of a large station, and now no doubt forgotten by all. There would be no memorial to Wylie or Burke at the station, but hopefully by revealing these forgotten pasts we can expose to view how the railway system and the demands of railway working exacted a price from the workers.

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