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By Peter Thorpe on

A petition to let railway staff grow moustaches

Search Engine Assistant Peter Thorpe reveals the story behind a weird and wonderful document from our collection.

One of the nicest things about working in Search Engine is coming across fascinating items in the archives that I didn’t know about. Quite often I happen upon some wonderful items while I’m retrieving material for a researcher, or just searching the museum’s inventory in order to provide information in response to an enquiry.

Usually you find them when you’re looking for something totally different altogether.  Like the document that’s the subject of this post, which caught my eye whilst I was searching our collections database for South Eastern Railway rules and regulations.

Petition, Staff of South Eastern Railway Company to John Shaw, General Manager and Secretary of the SER 21/11/1877.

It’s a petition signed by 634 staff members of the South Eastern Railway Company and submitted to the General Manager and Secretary of the Company in November 1877. So what did all these workers feel so strongly about?

They simply wanted to be allowed to grow moustaches!

‘To John Shaw Esq. General Manager and Secretary of the South Eastern Railway Company. We the undersigned being, Inspectors, Guards, Ticket Collectors and other employe’s in the service of the South Eastern Railway Company having been therefore prohibited from wearing Moustaches by the Rules of the Company’s Service and believing and being advised that the wearing of Moustaches is a protection against the inclemency of the weather and for drivers other good reasons, beg most respectfully to solicit your aid in abrogating or obtaining the abrogation of the aforesaid prohibitory rule, by your doing which, you will confer on us a great benefit for which we shall be most grateful.’

When looking at photographs of railways from the late Victorian period it is very common to see railway staff wearing some quite impressive moustaches. So I have to say it surprised me that some companies had prevented their employees from wearing them at all.

This was probably a consequence of changing trends. It was only in the mid-1800s that moustaches started to become fashionable, a time when the railways were also expanding rapidly. Possibly companies like the South Eastern disapproved and wanted to prevent their workers from joining this growing fad for facial hair?

With so many interesting items within the archives, I’m hoping to post further examples of the more weird, unusual or quirky material from our collections over the coming weeks.

3 comments on “A petition to let railway staff grow moustaches

  1. I keep trying to convince people that taches are not just for Movember,it is pleasing to see railway workers of the past saw the value of such facial adornment. Is it recorded if they the petition was successful at the time?

    1. Hi, thank you for your comments. Having carried out a little more research, it would appear that the petition did succeed.

      The SER ban on moustaches is mentioned in ‘South Eastern Railway’ by Adrian Gray (Middleton Press 1990). “Some consternation has been occasioned by the among the porters and other employed at the different stations of the SER, in consequence of an order having been received requiring those who had adopted moustaches to have them at once shaved off” (Maidstone Journal, January 1866) The book then mentions the 1877 petition and that the board allowed it. Certainly there seem to be numerous photographs of SER staff in the 1880’s displaying plenty of hair over their top lips!

  2. Given the facial hair on … Patrick Stirling, H. A. Ivatt, Matthew Kirtley, John Ramsbottom, Dugal Drummon etc …
    This very suprising.

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