Despite naming his memoir ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, Frank initially had no interest in working on the railway. Frank writes that ‘I further disappointed my father by having no interest in the railway as a career at that time. Railway wages were still very poor and the hours were long with a full six or seven day week’ (16). Frank had a desire to work in the open air, ideally on the farm, and this can be due to Frank spending a lot of time with the local farmers family during his childhood.
Frank’s first job was with his uncle, as he had ‘a good butchers business a few miles from [his] home and having no children of his own, he was prepared to give [him] a start hoping that [he] would learn the trade and be of some assistance to him’ (16). The work went well to begin with, but his uncle’s wife greatly resented the new addition to the family and ‘made things very unpleasant for [him] when [he] was away from my uncle and after two or three weeks [he] was forced to return home’ (16). Following the end of this period of employment, his father was able to get him a job at the local grocers. Frank got paid £2 a month which was not good enough to support his mother. Frank used a bike that to commute from place to place on and often in all weathers. ‘However, this routine did not last very long as unfortunately the firm gradually began to lose money as competition increased in the surrounding smaller villages’ (17) so was required to help out in all parts of the business.
When Frank was sixteen years of age ‘the advent of the eight-hour day for railwaymen came into being with additional pay for overtime and Sunday work’ (18). With this improvement in wages and compared to the poor wages he was receiving at the time Frank wrote that ‘the question of me joining the railway service was once again strongly represented to me by my parents and I now had no alternative but to agree to their wishes but at that time without much enthusiasm’ (18). As mentioned in a previous post [Reading and Writing]. Frank’s parents employed an elderly tutor to help Frank pass his exams, so he would be able to secure a position on the railway. In 1920 Frank commenced his career on the railway, as a Clerical Worker, under his father’s jurisdiction. Frank writes that ‘the 5/0d a week “Learners” pay [made] it necessary for me to continue living at home’ (20).
Frank refers to the General Strike of 1926 which began on May 3rd, 1926. Frank admits that he ‘only [has] a vague memory of the 1926 General Strike, called in support of the Coal Miners’ (33). Frank writes that ‘after some 10 days I recollect the Railwaymen gradually returning to work after the partial collapse of the strike’ (33). The strike made relations between railwaymen and the public tense. ‘In particular the farmers in the county districts and the good relationship previously existing between the farmers and ourselves was unfortunately never regained’ (33). Ultimately, this strike called by the TUC failed and ‘the defeat which the trade unions suffered at the hands of the Government successfully discredited the idea of widespread industrial action as a method of obtaining the demands of labour’ (Mason, 1969, 1).
After being transferred to a stationmaster’s office in Eastbourne in 1926. Frank realised ‘that working with the public in this way gave one the feeling of satisfaction and of some importance and I thoroughly enjoyed this work’ (33). After this experience in Eastbourne, Frank ‘began to plan for the future and [he] had no doubt in [his] mind after these periods of duty at a larger station that [he] wanted to be a station master at some future date’ (36).
Frank kept working on the railway to fulfil his ambition of becoming a stationmaster. This ambition became a reality after two decades of working on the railway. Frank was offered the position of stationmaster at Woldingham, Surrey on 8th April 1942. Taking on this job ‘would mean an initial reduction in pay of about 70/0d a week on my present relief earnings’ (77). However, it was Frank’s desire to become a stationmaster and this position would open doors for future promotions which would lead to a rise in wages and improvements in accommodation for him and his family. Frank had an inner moral dilemma on accepting the position because of the ongoing war. Frank admits that like many others he was not keen to join the fighting forces. However, he justified accepting this promotion as he ‘had not hurriedly seeked this position at a crucial point in [his] life, having passed [his] rules in 1936 and had been working very hard in the intervening period with many disappointments’ (78). Ultimately, Frank concluded that ‘there was no conceivable reason for [his] refusal and [his] conscience was clear’ (78).
Frank’s experience as a stationmaster, a role he continued for a further two decades at several stations, will be discussed further in the second blog post on Life and Labour.
Mason, A. ‘The Government and General Strike, 1926’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 14, Issue 1, 1969. 1-21.
‘Frank Prevett’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:638.
Prevett, Frank. ‘Memoirs of a Railwayman’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection
London Butchers – LondonRoadCroydon.org
1926 General Strike – Documentingdissent.co.uk
Woldingham Station – Germansteam.co.uk