Skip to content

By Sally Sculthorpe on

100 years of station master memories

Archive collections and personal histories can help us paint a picture of life for a station master across the last century.

From the 19th century right up until recently, the station master was the key authority figure in the railway station, with responsibility for all station staff. Large terminus stations and small country branch line stations were both managed by station masters.

He (invariably they were male) was a well-respected figure with significant social standing in the local community. He was usually provided with a station house to live in. It was also common, especially in rural areas, for the station master to be running a sideline or two to supplement his railway pay packet.

Today’s station managers don’t have the same visible presence on the platform, and can split their time between managing several large stations. Using historical accounts from our collection and memories shared by station masters through the Station Stories project, I’ve pieced together a picture of the role of the station master as it’s changed through more than a century of station life.

Tom Baker became a station master with Midland railway in the 1890s. His diary entries offer revealing insights into his professional and private life.

Here he records his efforts to locate a missing trunk:

October 1893

At work 7.40am. Pretty busy. Recorded wire from Wilson Rangemoor which said “Shall expect trunk at Burton four o’clock”. Griffiths wired Burton who had no trace. About 3pm Mr Hodgson came in and he mentioned the matter to him. Mr Hodgson in turn told Mr Maxey who had Griffiths in and gave him a good jacketing. He looked no end of places but without success.

Left duty 8pm. Still no trace of Wilson’s trunk. Went to see if anything had been heard of it at 10pm. Griffith, West and Challans were there. Burton had just wired for description of trunk and we replied and at 11pm they replied “Wilson’s box now found”. Bed at 11.30pm. Tired out.

A typical page from Tom Baker's diary.
A typical page from Tom Baker’s diary.

Tom’s diary includes comments about Victorian society, such as this description of the Liverpool docks:

July 1893

I saw children and women barefooted and nearly naked. They had scurvy.

It also charts his growing affection for Edie, the young lady who became his wife. Like many of its time, their courtship was largely conducted by letter.

Edie replied to my letter writing that she didn’t like me going to Liverpool.

Had a very nice letter indeed from Edie, best I have received yet.

Edie, or ‘Grandmother Edith’ in a photo taken by one of her grandchildren.
Edie, or ‘Grandmother Edith’, in a photo taken by one of her grandchildren.

The next recollections were submitted by a station master’s great-granddaughter via our online story form. Her great-grandfather was the station master at various big stations in the early 1900s, including Bristol Temple Meads and Derby.

He had a top hat which folded away into a box. He used to show it to us when we were children and told tales of having to wear it on special occasions to meet important people who were arriving at his station. One person I particularly recall him speaking about was Sarah Bernhardt, a French film actress.

Sarah Bernhardt and her entourage at St Pancras station, 1894.
Sarah Bernhardt and her entourage at St Pancras station, 1894

Norman Kemp was appointed the station master for two small branch line stations Elland and Greetland in the 1940s:

When I first came to Elland station from Hull I rang them up and said, “Can you find me some accommodation?” I got off this train, I remember it was steamed up so I was black and dirty, I’d called into Wakefield to report. Then this little porter who was in his early seventies came down to meet me. I said, “Where am I staying, have you got me somewhere?” he said, “Ey lad, just down the path there, Station Hotel”. I was there nearly six months until I found a house, and my wife came to join me with our first son.

In those days many station masters had side lines such as coal sales, newspaper sales and so on. In fact, the first station I was at, Hedon on the Withernsea line, even had a lorry to deliver the coal, it was such a large operation.

Norman and his new bride setting off for London on the 'Honeymoon special'.
Norman and his new bride Pam leaving Hull Paragon station on the ‘Honeymoon Special’ to Kings Cross, London

E.L. Wheeler was a country station master in the 1950s. He was in charge of Sandling for Hythe station and Westenhanger station. Here he describes how he overcame the challenge of travelling between them:

To overcome the difficulties of travelling between the two stations an ancient bicycle was made available. The supply of which to me, had created one less item on hand in the Central Lost Property office at Waterloo. I also used it to travel to my most distant signal box, Herringe, a couple of miles beyond Westenhanger. This box was only used on Saturdays during the summer train service to cope with additional boat trains to and from the Channel ports.

Mr Wheeler in his station master days

The Beeching cuts in the 1960s led to the closure of many small stations. The land was sold off, including the station master’s house.

Hollin Harper was a station master in the 1950s. He experienced the Beeching axe first hand:

I was appointed Station Master at Moulton on the Richmond branch, from the 12 November, 1951. The attraction of that job was twofold – one, I got a house – I remember the house rent was eight and eleven pence a week – and it was on the Richmond branch, which had a good passenger service in those days. We used to think, ‘Well, as long as they’ve got troops stationed at Catterick camp, this railway’s going to last forever’. How false that was. It didn’t last for ever at all and it lost its passenger service in 1969, a matter of great regret. It lost its freight service in 1970 and was completely closed and abandoned – something we never thought could ever happen.

The red on the map signifies lines that were closed down by the Beeching axe.
The red on the map signifies lines that were closed down by the Beeching axe

Mohammed Ayub was an assistant station manager at Liverpool street station in the 1980s. He has fond recollections of banter with passengers:

A few funny things happened at Liverpool Street. One day I was standing on platform 11 seeing off the Hook of Holland. A gentleman and his wife came to me. The wife pointed at the engine, and he said to me, “Is this the train for Hook of Holland?” I said, “No, this (pointing to where she had) is the engine, the train is farther back”.” She laughed and the gentleman gave me a big grin. The gentleman put his wife on the train before he came back. As he walked back one of my inspectors says to me, “You’re in trouble”. The gentleman said to me, “Can I talk to you, on your own?” I took him aside and he said, “Thank you very much. She’s never laughed the last twenty years. You’ve made my day”. I had my ups and downs, some passengers were rough, and some were easy, but I always did my job!

Passengers boarding the 'Hook continental' train at Liverpool Street station, London.
Passengers boarding the ‘Hook continental’ train at Liverpool Street station, London

Until earlier this year, Phil Crow was the station manager for York, Darlington and Durham railway stations. In an interview, he talked about his career progression, and how he juggled managing three stations:

Twenty-eight years ago I started on a Youth Training Scheme. I progressed through a range of placements that involved things like working with Red Star parcels. I then moved onto switchboard operator at the Travel Centre at Middlesbrough. Then I’ve progressed through Travel Centres to supervisor to Travel Centre manager to head of Travel Centres for the route and then into station operations.

I tend to base most of my time at York because it has more services, more staff, and more customers: the footfall is much higher. I go through Darlington everyday on a morning and on an evening, so I get to see Darlington everyday and I get to Durham as often as I can. For example this week I’ve been to Durham twice. I’ve got a team of four managers. This enables us to ensure we’ve got consistent approach across all of the stations.

The ticket office at York station, 1993.
The ticket office at York station, 1993

A timeless thread through all the station master stories is the enormous sense of pride they all took in the job. This is nicely summed up by Trevor Adams, former manager of Waterloo Station, who recalls:

People wanted a bowler hat on the platform to meet them and say, “Good morning. Thank you for travelling by British Rail”.  That’s what makes the railways tick, the people!

You can see stories like these on display in our redeveloped Station Hall. Find out more about the changes were making on our main Station Hall page.

If you have a station story to tell, you can get in touch by filling in our online form, or emailing us at stationstories@nrm.org.uk

Note: Sally’s now left our museum to work at the British Postal Museum & Archive – but we’re still actively collecting your Station Stories. Email us at the address above.

20 comments on “100 years of station master memories

  1. I was very interested in the article by Mohammed Ayub who I remember as a great ASM to work with at Liverpool Street. Fond memories indeed Jock,I do hope you’re well.
    Best wishes
    Jerry Panter

    1. Hi Jerry
      Thanks very much for your comment.
      Dad was glad to see that he’s still remembered.
      Dad would love to hear from you.
      Best regards
      Sagda

  2. HI SAlly can you please tell me how I can find any information on my grandfather who was a station master at Lime street station around 1920/1930, his name was Wright Higginson.
    kind regards Ray Oliver

  3. I can’t find any information on my Great Grandfather John Thomas Godfrey who was station master at Ingoldstone in 1860. Any suggestions?

  4. Hi Gary did the train to York run from Darlington to
    North road and. On to York station in the 50s/60s I remember going to Great Yarmouth from Darlington to York then changing trains at York to Great Yarmouth

  5. Hi, I’m trying to find out if a family story is true. My great grandfather John Joseph Gerard who was born in 1858 was an engine driver, I have a photograph of him in his uniform. It is thought that he became the Station Master at Lime Steeet Station, Liverpool. Is there a list of former Station masters that I could refer to?

  6. Hi I’m trying to track a photo of my late grandfather who was staion master at Newcastle and Darlington stations in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The picture is on the platform with Sir Winston Churchill, my grandfather was George Renton, hoping someone can help

  7. Looking for when a relative of mine was station master at Kings Cross.
    Somewhere between 1960 and 1966 approx, his name was EW Allen.

  8. Are there any photographs of Oakley station in Bedfordshire existing from the 1950 s and who were the staff there

  9. Looking for a picture of my father who delivered stores from st pancras to kidbrooke in 1940s ,his name was Thomas james pyne ,known as jim . his father also worked on the railway before, had same name as my father

  10. I’m trying to get information on a Robert Gilmour ,who I believe was the last stationmaster at Derby station , and I believe he was at Luton before Derby ,I have newspaper clippings of when he got the job in Derby ,also a photo of him meeting prince Philip at Derby ,I’m not a relation but was left these items in a will , not sure if they would be of any use to anyone ,

    1. I am the grandson of Leonard Mumford. Len was first a signalman at Waterloo, beginning his service in 1909 with the LSWR and subsequently became Assistant Station Master in 1944, having previously received the BEM in recognition of his bravery and conduct at Waterloo during the Blitz,

      I have recently retired and I am researching an article I am writing about Len’s railway career which concluded in 1959, when he retired from the post of station master at Holborn Viaduct, Blackfriars and Elephant & Castle stations. I have been trying to obtain information about the long-serving station master at Waterloo during the 1940s. I know his surname is Greenfield: indeed I have a letter he wrote to my grandfather and a signed photograph of Mr Greenfield wearing his dress coat and top hat. He has signed the photograph in “Southern Railway” green ink.

      His letter to my grandfather says he began working at Waterloo in 1925, but I can find no other references to him. I would be grateful to receive any information you might hold about Mr Greenfield, or advice as to where I might direct my research.

      Kind regards,

      Michael Rowe

  11. I have just discovered that an old wooden cuban cigar box, which my nana kept some jewellery, medals etc. in, has some writing underneath the thin wooden cover ‘sheet’. It reads: ‘Given to Euston Station Master Xmas 1920’. How can I find out who that might have been? Any ideas?

  12. I am the grandson of Harry Nichols who at the time was the youngest person to be promoted to the position of Station Master Great Western Railway. I believe this to have been just after the first world war.
    He was in charge of Maidenhead, Taplow and Wantage.
    His birth certificate shows that he was born in Ipswich Suffolk in the eighteen hundreds. which of course is the area of The Great Eastern Railway.
    I have no idea how or when he joined the Great Western.
    I have a photo of him in uniform which was taken in the garden of the railway house at Maidenhead.

  13. I am looking for any records of three generations of Atkinson who were station masters in Yorkshire. The last at at Saltmarshe and one at Pately Bridge. One also started as a signal man on Goole Swing Bridge

  14. Details of senior station staff were often included in local directories. These were the ‘Yellow Pages’ of the day, giving information about towns, cities, and the trades therein They give the name of the station master, freight manager, and others.
    Many Directories have been digitised and uploaded to the Internet- Google for details.
    Hope this helps,

  15. I am researching an ancestor Edward Scott Pond on the marriage certificate where he is the father of the bride, he lists his occupation as ‘Station Master’ this was 26 June 1860. I would like to find a roll if there is such a thing and find out what Station he was located at if possible.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *