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By Tasha McNaught on

The Railway Queen who met Stalin

Tasha McNaught takes us back to a time when railway workers' daughters competed for the title of Railway Queen.

Between the 1920s and early 1980s the likes of cotton mills, coal mines and railways crowned girls and young women Queens of their industries in a PR effort to distract from worker dissatisfaction and trade union disputes.

The competition to be crowned Railway Queen was open to all teenage daughters of railway workers. Despite the demands of the title, the election of an industry queen would often come down to beauty and the apparent virtues of the 14-to-17-year-olds.

A daunting 70,000 people saw Audrey Mossom crowned as the 10th Railway Queen of Great Britain in 1935. The 15-year-old had grown up on the Fylde coast and trained as a ballet dancer. Her mother kept a guest house in Blackpool and her father was a London North Western Railway Company guard.

Sepia photograph of railway queen Irene Easton
Railway queen Irene Easton

In true Blackpool fashion, Audrey was asked to switch on the Blackpool Illuminations—making her the second celebrity to do so. In her address she hoped they would “illuminate the path of peace”. Fifty years later she would return to switch on the illuminations again, this time with actress Joanna Lumley.

Incredibly, Audrey was sent on a peace-keeping mission to the USSR. At a theatre in Moscow she met leading Soviet Union politicians including Joseph Stalin himself. She also met the Narkom (Minister) for the railways, Lazar Kaganovich, who was already sowing the seeds of the Great Purge by organising the arrests of thousands of railway administrators and managers in the railways.

Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin
Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, c 1920s (Manchester Daily Express/SSPL)

On a relatively brighter note, Audrey was gifted a matryoshka (Russian wooden stacking dolls, to you and me) by Vladimir Lenin’s widow.

These girls and young women were expected to champion their industry, county and sometimes their country in their role as ambassador. This demanding work would have changed their lives forever, especially for the Industry Queens who came directly from the factory floor.

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