The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

Last Update

Talk Synopsis

7 January 2006

The Work of the Railway Mission since 1881
Ian Markey
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 The chapels were a haven of peace for those working on the railway, but eventually became outdated - that at Peterborough is now used as a mess hut.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.

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