The story/chapter I’m writing at the moment is all about Bert Marsh, a young railway porter working at London Bridge Station in 1920. I’m hoping to get it finished in time to wrap it up nicely as a Christmas Present for all you wonderful members of my Readers’ Club. I thought I’d call it “Christmas Porter”.
It was going to be a warm-your-cockles Christmas tale. But that was a bit boring. So, I threw myself into the research, and found a little gem – a kernel of truth around which to weave a story.
Bert has to work for the South Eastern Railways because… well, for reasons to do with other chapters in the book. And he has to live in London, preferably the East End (but south of the river would do) because… well, reasons, again.
After a prolonged Google-frenzy, I found this, courtesy of The National Archives and Ancestry.co.uk. It’s a page from the employment records of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (who ran out of London Bridge, alongside South Eastern).
All sorts of lovely details in this document, about the numbers of porters working at the station, how much they were paid, who recommended them for the job, where they moved on to, and why. Gold dust.
For example, most of these men joined the railway in 1918/19, and were recommended by the Army or the Navy. So, this is a bunch of demobbed soldiers and sailors. Already, I want to know their stories.
And loads of them dropped out. There’s a fair number of resignations within just months of joining. And several dismissals. But there’s also promotions and “Removed to Victoria”. I love this sense of a group of (possibly, traumatised) men coming together – some making the most of it, others not doing so well. And the camaraderie there must have been. I’m not sure whether portering was a “job for heroes”, but I’ve read newspaper reports that suggest it could be quite a cushy number.
And that kernel I was talking about? In the top right-hand corner…
I don’t know if you can read it, but it’s a “remark” on the record of one William Chandler. He didn’t serve in the War, actually. He was a 40-year-old former carriage cleaner, who’d been promoted to Porter, and then on to Cloak Room Clerk. But, within a year of getting the job in charge of left luggage, he was sacked. As the Remark says…
Dismissed 19/12/19 – Re-issuing C. Room tickets & appropriating proceeds.
He was running a scam. Somehow, he was recovering old baggage receipts, re-using them without entering the details in the books, and pocketing the cash.
Just before Christmas, too.
So, that’s my story. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to work out, but our Bert’s going to get himself involved somehow. It might not be the cozy Christmas Tale I was planning, but I hope it’ll be fun. If all goes according to plan, you’ll get to find out in about five weeks’ time.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this newsletter, please feel free to pass it on to all your book-loving friends, and encourage them to sign up on my website at PaulCMercer.com
If you’ve any thoughts about how the scam might have worked, please do drop me a line. Otherwise, I’ll just have to make it all up.
All the best