Three Station Masters of Bow Station

1st November 1863 – 31st July 1906

(Originally published in Journal 67, December 2016)

by Peter Bloomfield with a lot of help from Colin Mansell and Martin O’Keeffe.)

Abraham Keeble (1st November 1863 – 28th July 1884)

Abraham Keeble was born before records began (Autumn 1837) but it was sometime around 1816 (NLR Staff register), 1817 (death certificate), or 1818 (censuses), somewhere in the vicinity of Ipswich.

The first mention of him in London appears to be when he married in 1847. At the time he was a cabinet-maker.

Both he and his father, Stephen, a carpenter, seem to have been very elusive in the 1841 census. He had been married previously. He changed from being a cabinet maker to becoming a railway servant. His referee for being employed by the NLR was Mr Bickley who was a foreman at Euston station. That is where he started his railway employment as a porter on 19s a week.

North London Railway Service

Abraham Keeble joined the NLR in September 1854, aged 38, initially as a porter, which would have been on 18s a week, and appears to have been upgraded to platform foreman at Bow almost immediately, pay starting at 20s. Why else would he have given up a post at 19s a week and moved from St Pancras to Bow? Another question is, did William Bickley: see the potential he had; was told he had to reduce staff; or, at the request of the NLR, was told to provide staff for it?

On the 1st November 1863 he was promoted to station master at Bow on a wage of 35s a week. His next pay rise took him from company servant to company officer when he was transferred to the salaried list at £100 a year on 1st August 1866. In cash terms it was a rise of nine pounds. With the then forthcoming of the opening of the Bow station his salary was upped to £120 from 1st July 1869. However, £20 was taken back by the Company for rent for the station master’s accommodation in the new station, which was opened for the general public on Saturday, 26th March 1870. There he remained until he died, in service, on 28th July 1884. Presumably he died of natural causes as no funeral grant was made to his widow, which was the normal policy. A fund was, however, set up to help the widow but, again in accordance with normal policy, the Company declined to contribute.

Some daily happenings during his career

In the evening of the opening of the new Bow station, in the hall above the station, specially built by the Company for the Bow and Bromley Institute, an inauguration event was held. It was attended by the Reverend Mr Driffield, the rector of Bow, and a large number of gentlemen connected with the district, to present Abraham Keeble with a testimonial. This consisted of a valuable watch, a purse of sovereigns, and an address on vellum, expressing their high appreciation of his excellent character and general conduct.

On a Sunday in September 1871, a Mr William Milton was walking along Bow Road when he was surrounded several men. He heard a click found his watch was gone from his left waistcoat pocket. He went to the Bow station house some time afterwards to give information of the robbery, there he saw the one who stole his watch. He, an eighteen year old John Ryan from Bethnal Green in custody or attempting to rob a Mr. Abraham Rankin of his watch. Keeble saw Ryan on the platform that night, and watched him. He saw him take Mr. Rankin’s watch out of his pocket, and at once seized him by the collar and secured him. At Ryan’s committal hearing, he was referred to as an audacious young ruffian, who said that he would like to have the pleasure of kicking Mr Keeble for giving him into custody. It was recorded that Abraham Keeble had arrested many thieves and prevented several rob­beries.

Five and a half years later, on Monday, 19th March 1877, Abraham attended a Meeting of the Tower Hamlets General Licensing Committee, which was sitting to grant new licences. He requested a licence for the station’s refreshment rooms. A Mr Beard, on behalf of the executors of a Mr Good, who was a neighbouring victualler, opposed the application. Despite a plea from Mr Payne, representing the Company, that the license requested was for the railway company’s servants and persons travelling on the railway, and could not be used by any person who was not in possession of a railway ticket, a licence was refused.

Another two years passed and, on the 21st May 1879, his life was put at stake. A thirty-four year old butcher from Edmonton, Frederick Robertson, was in the passage of the station drunk, and making use of very bad language, and threatening to butcher witnesses. On the following day Robertson was charged at Thames Police Court and fined twenty shillings or seven days imprisonment.

On a Sunday in March 1883, at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, one Ann Cooper from Barnsbury went to the lavatory at the station and found a dead body. It turned out to be that of Emily Broomhead, 21, wife of a mariner and mother of two children. The Coroner’s Inquest had been told the she had been under the care of a doctor since she was confined some three months previously. She was sober and steady in her habits. Her husband was unable to assign any reason for his wife taking her own life, and they were not in any pecuniary difficulty, and also lived happily to­gether. A postmortem found that she had died from poisoning by carbolic acid. Abraham told the Inquest that a bottle containing carbolic acid was found in one of the pockets of the dead woman’s dress. It was an eight-ounce bottle, and about one ounce of the acid had been extracted. The jury, after some consultation, returned a verdict, that the deceased committed suicide while suffering from temporary insanity.

During his tenure there were a few accidents, mainly on the open track either side of the station itself. One of those in the station occurred on the 7th November 1883 in the bay platform which catered for traffic to the LTSR. The signalman had allowed a passenger train to go into the platform from the siding some time before it was due to depart. There was dense fog in London that day and trains were running late. One train running late was a goods train coming south to travel on to the LTSR. It drew up to the home signal and waited. The signalman could not see the passenger train because of the fog and had forgotten that it was there. He gave the goods driver the signal to proceed. Off went the goods train and at the last minute the driver saw a red light and slammed on his brakes. Nevertheless, he ran into the passenger train. Luckily only one of the three passengers had boarded their train by that time was injured. The only other item of note was that the crew of the passenger locomotive were brothers and that the driver of the goods train was brother-in-law to one of the brothers.

His name frequently appeared in local papers. In today’s parlance he had celebrity status, at least in the Bow district.

Family Matters

On the 13th September 1847 he, as a widower, married Miss Ann Matilda West White, a spinster, and daughter of a gardener. The ceremony took place at St George’s Church, Hannover Square. Like her new husband, she was born before records began. Baptismal record, censuses, marriage certificate and probate entry suggest she was born around 1821/22 between Gosport and Fareham in Hampshire, her baptism taking place in Alverstoke on 31st March 1822. They went on to have at least nine children, seven of whom were girls. In June 1868 his second son, Charles, was employed by the NLR for two years: initially as a junior messenger and eventually as a junior booking clerk in May 1870. He only did this job for one month before before being told he was no longer wanted because of irregularities in his account.

Initially they lived in St Pancras and by 1861 they had moved to Bow. When he became station master they moved into the station master’s accommodation on the station. Abraham died in service on 28th July 1884, aged 67, leaving his widow with £243 13s and homeless. Poor Ann Matilda would have been kicked out of the station master’s house, as it would have been required for the new incumbent’s family. She moved to 82 Malmsbury Road where she died on 19th February 1887, aged 65, leaving £185. Probate was granted to their eldest daughter, Charlotte, who was still a spinster. Presumably, she was the one selected to stay at home to look after her parents, as eldest daughters frequently were.

The National Archives: General Register Office:
RAIL 410/1815, folio 9; Marriage, Sep 1847 qtr, St George, Hannover Square, 1, 46;
RAIL 410/1869, folio 8; Death, Sep qtr 1884, Poplar, 1c, 397;
RAIL 410/1871, folio 49; Death, Mar qtr 1887, Poplar, 1c, 402.
RAIL 529/43, 1 Jun 1869, Loco Com Min 717;  
RAIL 529/52 7 Oct 1884, Loco Com Mins 5594/5611; Probate:
RAIL 529/77 1 Aug 1866, FGP Com Min 169; 1884 Probate Register, p263;
RAIL 529/132 folio 19 (staff register). 1887 Probate Register, p13.
Censuses: Press:
1841HO 107/1028, Book 18, Folio 75, Page 25; Herapath 2 Apr 1870 page 329;
1851 HO 107/1496, Folio 901, Page 68; Morning Advertiser, 5 Sep 1871, page 7;
1861 RG 9/304, Folio 117, Page 3; East London Observer, 24 Mar 1877, page 3, column 3;
1871 RG 10/575, Folio 53, Page 3; The Evening News, Portsmouth, Sat 24 May 1879, page ?, column 3;
1881 RG 11/488, Folio 16, Page 25. The Times, Thu 22 Mar 1883, page 5, column 6.
NLRHS Journal 55, Dec 2012, pages 1-2.
Baptism Abraham Keeble, 1818;
Baptism Ann Matilda White. 1822.