In our previous blog post Railway Families in Westmorland: the Ratcliffes, we discovered a remarkable dynasty associated with the railway for over 100 years, centred in Orton Parish but ending up spread all over the north of England. In this blog post we will look at how the coming of the railway completely altered the working life of just one man, Robert Calvert.
We first came across him aged 42 in the 1851 census for Shap living at Townhead House with his wife Rebecca and their two children. Townhead House is now known as Planetrees and lies on the east side of Main Street not far from the Kings Arms Hotel. Robert is listed as having been born in Cockerham, a village just south of Lancaster and 70 miles south of Shap. He is working as a Railway Policeman, we presume on the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway, which opened in 1846 and runs through Shap. His young children were not born in Shap however. They were both born in a place called Farleton, the oldest one 12 years earlier. Farleton is a tiny village 26 miles due south of Shap and right next to the Lancaster Canal. Significantly as we will see, Cockerham, Robert’s birthplace down in Lancashire, is just a mile away from the same canal.
As we saw in the blogpost Railway navvies in Westmorland: ‘infatuated beings’, the arrival of hordes of railway construction workers struck terror into the hearts of genteel Victorian locals and by 1838 a government act had been passed requiring railway companies to provide their own police force to control the thieving and brawling which seemed to be a feature of navvy life. By 1851 however, the navvies who built the Lancaster & Carlisle line had moved on, so at that point in time Robert must have been employed as one of the forerunners of the British Transport Police whose website has a detailed history from which the following extract is taken:
“Within a few months of both the introduction of the Metropolitan Police and the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first railway police force was formed. In November 1830, minutes of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway refer to “The Police Establishment” and, less than a year later, a pay rise was given to the railway police due to the responsibility of their office. These early railway policemen were probably sworn in as special constables under a statute passed in 1673 during the reign of Charles II. They were appointed to preserve law and order on the construction site of the railway, patrol and protect the line [and] control the movement of railway traffic. Station houses were placed at one mile intervals along the line to provide shelter for the railway police. The term ‘police station’ used by most police forces today probably derives from these buildings. In 1831 the Special Constables Act was passed and railway policemen had jurisdiction not only on the railway but in the area in which they were appointed.
Most constables carried elaborately painted truncheons bearing the crest of the Railway Company. Inspectors carried a brass or ivory ‘tipstaff’ surmounted by a crown. Watches, flags and lamps were issued to each man (the Ulster Railway Police were even issued with a shovel and a wheelbarrow to help remove obstructions from the line). The watch was used to ensure there was a suitable delay between trains entering each section of track and thus avoid collision. The flags were red and white, (the former to mean ‘stop’ the latter to mean ‘all clear’).
The duties of these forerunners of the police service were to maintain law and order on the railways and to regulate the movement of trains. These somewhat static duties changed over the next fifty years as the railway network extended throughout the country.” ‘The First Railway Police’ British Transport Police website
This must have been an important and presumably well-paid job for Robert. We were curious about the career path which had brought him to this point, so we followed him back to the census of 1841 and to the village of Farleton in Westmorland where his children were born. He and his wife were living in ‘Packet House’ which seemed an odd name and he is listed as a ‘Horse Keeper’. A little research led us to realise that he must have been employed by the Lancaster Canal Company to care for the horses which pulled their remarkable fast packet boat service between Lancaster and Kendal, carrying passengers in comfort aboard specially adapted canal boats. Farleton was one of the stopping points along the route where horses were swapped over.
The canal basin still survives in Farleton and there is a ruined building next to it which we believe was the Packet House and stables.
The history of the Lancaster to Kendal packet boat service has been documented in several places online and the Westmorland Gazette has contemporary adverts and articles about it. These wonderful photographs of the Water Witch No 2 after she had been adapted for use as an inspection boat by shortening the passenger cabin were kindly supplied by Lancaster City Museums.
“There was a passenger boat service on the [Lancaster] canal from August, 1798, between Preston and Lancaster, which was extended through to Kendal on 1st May, 1820. The journey time for the whole length between Kendal and Preston was 14 hours, at a cost of six shillings in the fore-cabin or four shillings in the aft cabin. Refreshments were available to all passengers. To try to combat the threat to the boat services from the railways, a new fast passenger service using swift packet boats was introduced. There were four vessels used on this service, which commenced in 1833. The first was the “Water Witch”, an iron-hulled craft of a long, narrow, sleek design, with a length of 76 feet and a beam of six feet. She could carry 120 passengers, and cut the journey time between Preston and Kendal to ten hours. These boats were pulled by two horses, which were changed every four or five miles at stable points along the route; the second horse was ridden by a boy postilion who would sound his horn to warn other vessels of their approach.” From ‘Passengers’ http://www.yobunny.org.uk/canalcaholic/packets.htm. Date accessed 29 June 2021
“In 1833 a fast passenger boat service was begun between Preston and Kendal in eight hours, using specially developed swift boats drawn by two horses at 10mph. They were changed every five miles. Stops were made at Salwick, Garstang, Forton, Galgate, Lancaster, Hest Bank, Bolton-le-Sands, Carnforth, Capernwray, Tewitfield – where passengers walked up the locks to another waiting craft – Burton, Farleton, Crooklands and Hincaster. The boats carried 100 passengers in two heated cabins where refreshments were served. It was a very slick operation. The Lancaster and Preston Railway was opened in 1840, but quickly experienced financial trouble, whereupon the ever-enterprising Gregson [Bryan Padgett Gregson, canal company engineer and manager], contrary to events elsewhere, arranged a takeover by the canal, at the same time discontinuing the passenger boat service. It was a profitable move, helped by an immediate increase in rail fares and removal of third class seats in order to accommodate more passengers standing. After the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway was opened in 1846 that company was empowered to run its trains independently through to Preston. With a complete lack of co-operation between the two companies, and no effective signalling, inevitably there was an accident.
In 1848 a southbound Lancaster and Carlisle express ran into the back of a Lancaster and Preston stopping train standing in Bay Horse station. The Board of Trade then intervened and ordered the two companies to put their houses in order, resulting in an agreement that the railways should carry passengers and small merchandise, and the canal coal, minerals and heavy goods. Soon both railways were absorbed into the much larger London and North Western Railway, to which in 1864 the canal sold the north end of its waterway, simultaneously selling the south end to the Leeds and Liverpool. From ‘Lifeline which revolutionised heart and face of Lancashire for generations’ Lancaster Guardian 19th July 2018
When Robert was at the Packet House in Farleton in 1841, the speed of the twice daily boat journey to Kendal had been greatly increased apparently using an engine and archimedes screw if this newpaper snippet is to be believed.
The opening in 1846 of the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway which passed within 4 miles of Farleton and the accident at Bay Horse station (close to Cockerham where he was born), hastened the end of the swift packet boat service, so Robert was presumably forced to look for a new career, perhaps starting out policing the construction workers as the line moved north. At some point in the ten years after the 1841 census he moved his family permanently to Shap. One sad little footnote is that one of his and Rebecca’s children died very young. In 1841 he has Mary Ann (3) and John (2 months). In 1851 John is missing presumed dead and we have Mary Ann and a new son William born in Farleton 7 years earlier.
The 1861 census reveals that Robert has given up his work as a Railway Policeman and is now working as a Railway Pointsman and he and his family have moved out of Shap and up to the Railway Cottages at Shap Summit next to the Granite Works where there would have been plenty of work out in all weathers shifting the points handles making sure goods and passenger trains were running on the right lines.
Robert and Rebecca’s son William now aged 17 is working as an Agricultural Labourer, but ten years later in 1871, he has a job working as a Gardener (Domestic Servant) we assume at Springfield Hall in Lancaster, because he and his parents are all now living in Springfield Lodge in Lancaster. Robert is still employed as a Railway Pointsman but presumably in somewhat less bleak circumstances compared to Shap Summit. There are two Lodges marked on the 25″ 1898 OS map, both a stone’s throw away from the railway goods yard so we assume he found light work there as he came to the end of his railway career. Robert disappears from the later censuses so we assume he must have died sometime after 1871. We think his wife Rebecca died in Lancaster in 1872 aged 56.
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