The Work of the Railway Mission since 1881
2 September 2005
It was in an unfamiliar location that we received
our first talk of the new season on 12th September 2005. The Chiltern
Railways Board Room was in use so we were in one of their meeting rooms.
Not so elegant, but more homely, and with more chairs. Once more our
topic considered the human element of the railways as Ian Markey told us
about the work of the Railway Mission. He illustrated the current work
of the Mission with a short film included in issue 3 of The Railway
Monthly DVD. He then handed over to Laurence Wright, who is the
chaplain based at Peterborough.
The Railway Mission supports 16 chaplains around the
UK railway system. They are dependent upon donations, but get much
support from the railway industry. Their aim is to serve all,
regardless of rank or religion. The Mission was founded on 14th
November 1881 as a successor to the Railway Boys Mission. Over the
years there has been support from the railway companies, for instance by
the provision of land for the Mission to erect pre-fabricated chapels.
These "Tin Tabernacles" were the Victorian "Flat Pack" buildings. The
chapels were a haven of peace for those working on the railway, but
eventually became outdated - that at Peterborough is now used as a mess
hut. In 1969 the first Mission chaplain was taken on and now the
chaplains operate from offices provided by the various railway
companies. Inevitably, much of the Mission's work relates to disasters,
either personal in the case of railway staff, or major incidents such
as Ladbrook Grove and Hatfield. These recent incidents had highlighted
the pastoral work of the chaplains to the injured and those traumatised
by the horror of working at the site.
The Mission first published its magazine "Railway
Signal" in May 1882. Its calendar is now much sought after. The
Mission's archives have been passed to the NRM for safe keeping and it
is hoped that the Mission's history will be published sometime,
especially as it celebrates its 125 year anniversary next year.
Lawrence Wright gave us a vivid account of his work
with railway staff. An important part of his job is be a friend to all
and to provide a listening ear for confidential topics which could not
be discussed with colleagues or a welfare department - the Mission
complements the company organisation, not replace it. Lawrence brought
to his work experience from the British Transport Police. This proved
valuable when it became necessary to get to the to the scene of one
incident rapidly and helped him to understand the support needed by the
emergency crews during major incidents. He finished the talk with some
amusing memories from his work, but the most important lesson was that
the human element of any railway system needs its maintenance if the
system is to work smoothly, and some of this maintenance is provided by
The Railway Mission.
At the end members donated £37.20 and a very nice letter has been received thanking the group.