Nepotism and Inter Breeding On The North London Railway

(originally published in Journals 57, August 2013, and 58, December 2013, of the North London Railway Historical Society)


[Including William Lapidge, John Lapidge , Elizabeth Jane née Lapidge, Joseph John Ashlin, Joseph William Ashlin, George Edward Ashlin, Albert E Ashlin, Henry Elsom, John Thomas Schmutter, Reuben Hart, Jane Crouch and Elizabeth Jones]


The research for this article started with David Patten posting on the North London Railway Group details of the trial of William Lapidge and his subsequent release early from prison as the result of a petition to the Home Secretary. It all seemed cut and dried until it was discovered that a month after the trial the NLR General Manager had been informed that two of the prosecution witness were being charged with perjury. From then on everything escalated.

Lapidge Ashlin Family Tree
Lapidge Ashlin Family Tree

The Cast

The Railwaymen And Their Families

William Lapidge, a case of miscarriage of justice?

John Lapidge, brother of William, who married his cousin Mary, and made a brief appearance in the NLR.

Joseph John Ashlin, who married a Lapidge girl, and who produced three sons who worked for the NLR:

Joseph William Ashlin;

George Edward Ashlin (whose wife had three brothers who worked for the NLR); and

Albert Edmund Ashlin.


Elizabeth Jane, née Lapidge who produced two sons who worked for the NLR:

Henry Elsom, her son by her first husband.

John Thomas Schmutter, her son by her second husband.

For The Prosecution

Reuben Hart, who said that he had left a parcel containing watches in a train.

Jane Crouch, who said that she had found the parcel and handed it to the guard, William Lapidge.

Elizabeth Jones, a charwoman at Poplar, NLR, who stated that she saw the parcel being handed over.


The Railwaymen and Their Families

William Lapidge- A Case Of Miscarriage Of Justice?

William Lapidge was born on 3 August 1834 in Hackney, the ninth of ten children. After what schooling he might have received he became a labourer before enlisting into the Army in January 1853. He joined the 48th Foot Regiment (Northamptonshire Regiment). In the spring of 1854 he was posted to the 1st Bn 7th Foot (Royal Fusiliers) and promptly sent overseas. He was at the Crimea, twice sick at Scutari, promoted to Corporal and later demoted. Having survived the dangers of disease and bullets, he was sent to the Indian Mutiny uprising which was another horror story. He arrived back in England in June 1864 and posted to the depot at Walmer. On 6 July he was discharged from the Army and given the rail fare back to London. By the end of the month he was employed by the North London Railway as a porter, his weekly wage being 18s.

Like many NLR railwaymen he had relations who had connections with the railway. One of his brothers, John, after being a LNWR goods porter at Poplar, a soldier and a policeman, was a NLR signalman for a couple of years before transferring to back to the LNWR. Mary, the  daughter of another brother, Edward Lapidge, married Joseph Ashlin who ended up as a station inspector at Homerton. Henry Elsom and John Thomas Schmutter, two sons by two different marriages of another of Edward’s daughters, Elizabeth Jane Lapidge, were also employed by the NLR.

On 1 November 1865 William Lapidge was upgraded to under guard on twenty-two shillings and six pence a week. In 1866 he married Maria Ambrose and they had a son, William. In August 1867 he was made a guard on the Poplar services on twenty-five shillings. At that time guards, provided their services were satisfactory, had two annual increments of two and six pence. William was obviously doing his job well because in 1869, as a guard on the Kew services, he was receiving thirty shillings a week. Like most guards he accrued a few fines for running through stations and leaving doors unlocked. He was also fined one shilling because on New Year’s Day 1869 he absented “himself from 2 to 5.30 pm when working all day.” The author has been unable to ascertain whether it was a result of his actions the previous night or he was making up for what he had missed.

Then on Monday 4 September 1876 his world crashed. He appeared in Worship Street Police Court charged with having stolen a parcel contain­ing eighteen watches with a value of £64. One of the prosecution witnesses, Jane Crouch, said that on the night in question she entered the 10.35 pm train at Dalston Junction for Bow. There were no persons in the compartment of the coach she entered. After the train had started she found on the seat beside her a parcel done up in black shiny cloth, fastened with a white strap. At Hackney, the next station, she gave the parcel to the guard. The prisoner William Lapidge was the guard, and she was positive as to his identity. Detective Gall, of N Division, apprehended the prisoner, who denied having ever received the parcel. Mr. Pyke, who appeared for the defence, began to cross-examine the witness as to where she had been at such an hour of the night, why she was out, and why she had left her last situation when Mr. Bushby, the magistrate, interposed, and said he would not allow questions to be put to fish out the particulars of a witness’s antecedents. If Mr. Pyke would say that he had some information that the witness was of a bad character he could put the question straight, but he (Mr. Bushby) would not allow fishing questions to rake up the bad part of a person’s life. The prosecution asked for the prisoner’s committal. The defence said that Lapidge was a discharged soldier with a high character, and he wished to call witnesses. He therefore asked for a remand.

Just over a week later, on Tuesday 12 September, he appeared on remand, again before Mr. Bushby. For the defence Mr. Fenton, solicitor, defended for the Society of Railway Ser­vants. The foreman porter at Bow Station, the Superintendent of Police on the railway and Mr. Hitch, General Manager of the line, were called to speak as for the prisoner’s character. Having been 12 years in the company’s service, Mr. Fenton said the prisoner was arraigned on a “false and fictitious charge,” and he desired it to go before a jury. He would not even be satisfied to be discharged by the magistrate, but wished a full inquiry into the matter. Bail was asked for, but Mr. Bushby refused to grant it without the consent of the prosecution. Lapidge was then committed for trial.

Lapidge stood trial on Wednesday 27 September at the adjourned September Middlesex Sessions for criminal business, at Clerkenwell. He was indicted on the original charge of stealing a parcel containing seventeen English silver lever watches and one English gold lever lady’s watch, of the value of £60, the property of Mr. Reuben Hart, of 39, Dalston Lane, commercial traveller. On Monday 14 August at about 10.30 pm, Mr. Hart and his daughter got into a second-class carriage at Broad Street Station on their return to Dalston. Lapidge was the guard of the train. The carriage was divided into five compartments, but the divi­sions were low, so that the carriage was open from end to end. No one else was in the compartment in which Mr. Hart and his daughter travelled to Dalston. On getting out of the carriage, Mr. Hart forgot a parcel which he had had with him, and had placed on the seat by his side. This parcel contained the watches mentioned in the indictment, and was wrapped in American cloth and fastened with a light-coloured leather strap. He discovered his loss before leaving the station, and spoke to the stationmaster about it, who telegraphed to the stationmaster at Bow to have the second-class carriages of Lapidge’s train searched for a parcel containing watches. Mr. Hart also waited at Dalston Station until Lapidge came back on his return journey, and asked him if he had seen anything of the parcel. Lapidge said he had not.

Nothing being heard from the railway officials of the missing parcel, Mr. Hart had bills circulated giving the date and other particulars of his loss, with a descrip­tion of the parcel and the numbers of the watches, and stating that persons giving information would be “hand­somely rewarded.” These were first published on the 16 August, and were posted at the different stations of the North London Railway. On the 19th they were altered by the addition of a heading, “£5 Reward,” and on the 22 August advertisements were inserted in the Standard and on the 28th in the Daily Telegraph to the same effect.

The result of these different modes of advertising was that an Elizabeth Jones, who was employed as a charwoman by the North London Railway Company at Poplar Station, communicated with Mr. Hart on the 19 August. The information she gave him, and which she repeated in her evidence, was that she got into a compartment of a second-class carriage at Dalston Station in the train by which Mr. Hart had travelled. Lapidge, whom she had known by sight for years as a guard on the line, was the guard, and there were persons in the compartment she entered. In another compartment into which she could see, the carriage being open from end to end, a young woman was seated alone, and when the train stopped at Hackney this young woman, after trying to open the window, knocked at it, and Lapidge went to the door and opened it. The young woman then called his attention to a parcel which she said she had found in the carriage, and asked him what she ought to do with it. Lapidge took it from her and put it under his arm.

In consequence of this information further advertisements were inserted in the papers requesting the young woman to come forward, and on 1 September Jane Crouch, who was residing with her brother at 22 St. Stephen’s Road, Bow, communicated with Mr. Hart. She said that she had got into a train at Dalston on the night of the 14 August, about 10.45 pm; that she got into a compartment of a second-class carriage, and that after going a short distance she felt a parcel on the seat beside her, and looked at it and saw it was about eight inches long, wrapped in American cloth or some similar material, and fastened with a light leather strap. At the next station, Hackney, she called to the guard to open the door, and gave him the parcel, telling him she had found it, and he thanked her and took it from her. In consequence of this information Mr. Hart appears to have communicated with the railway company, and, on the following day, Crouch went to Broad Street Station. There she was taken into a room where the prisoner was placed among other railway servants. She picked him out at once as the guard to whom she had given the parcel. Upon this Lapidge was given into custody, and Mr. Hart, Elizabeth Jones, Jane Crouch, and a gentleman from the lost property office of the railway, who proved that the prisoner had not sent in the parcel, gave evidence against him at the police-court. It will thus be seen that the case against the prisoner really rested on the evidence of the two women Jones and Crouch, who both appeared to be thoroughly respectable. Both swore positively that they were perfect strangers to one another until they met at the police-court, and no attempt was made to contradict them on this point. Both of them also swore that, although it was some time after the loss before they communicated with Mr. Hart, they had previously mentioned what they had seen to other persons before seeing any advertisement, and Crouch’s brother confirmed her evidence in this respect.

The case for the defence was that the whole story was a complete fabrication on their part, and they were both subjected to a very close cross-examination into every circumstance of their story. In the course of this it appeared that on this occasion Crouch had taken a third-class ticket, but had ridden in a second-class carriage. She explained this by saying that the train was on the point of starting when she got on the platform, and she had entered the nearest carriage without thinking of the class. Mrs. Jones also declared positively that the carriages had not been searched at Bow for the missing parcel, although it was admitted that directions had been telegraphed to the stationmaster to do so.

For the defence ten witnesses were called who were nearly all officials of the company, and their evidence was to the effect: that Lapidge’s train was late that night; that at Dalston Station the train arrived with all the third-class carriages full, and that about 150 third-class passengers were waiting to go by it; that these people were sent to the second-class carriages, which they nearly, if not quite, filled, and that no second-class carriage was, as Crouch and Jones represented, nearly empty. With respect to what passed at Hackney, two porters who assisted Lapidge in starting the train and in getting the passengers in and out, said that he did not go to any carriage and receive a parcel from any passenger in it. One of the company’s engine drivers, who was a passenger by that train, and was riding in Lapidge’s brake on account of the crowded state of the third-class carriages, deposed that when the train was starting, and was actually in motion, Lapidge sprang into the brake. He had to use both hands to get in, and his coat was open, consequently the witness could be positive that he had no parcel of the size of Mr. Hart’s with him then.

The same witness and the foreman porter at Bow Station both swore that as the train was drawing up at that station the foreman porter came up to Lapidge with the telegram from Dalston, and they at once proceeded to search the second class carriages, Lapidge and the foreman porter going to alternate compartments, looking under the seats with a lantern and asking the passengers to move to enable them to do so. These witnesses also denied that any passenger spoke to Lapidge, as far as they saw, either at Old Ford or Bow, on this point to some degree contradicting Jones. The stationmaster at Poplar stated that Lapidge’s train came in late, and had to be immediately shunted for its return; that the operation of clearing the train and shunting it occupied about seven minutes, and that the guard had to assist in shunting by working his brake.

The defence stated Lapidge had an unexceptionally good character during his 12 years in the Army. He had also been for 12 years in the service of the North London Railway Company, during which his conduct had never been called in question. The jury, after deliberating nearly half an hour, found him guilty, but recommended him to mercy on ac­count of his character. The Assistant-Judge said he con­curred in the verdict, and thought the defence, which he had instructed his counsel to set up, was an aggravation of his guilt. The sentence of the Court was that “he be impri­soned and kept at hard labour for 12 calendar months.”

The guards and employees of the North London Railway, believed him to be innocent and raised a subscription on his behalf. A reward of £25 was offered by the secretary of the fund for information respecting the missing property.

On the evening of Tuesday 17 October 1876 a large number of railway employees and gentlemen in the habit of travelling on the North London Railway assembled in the Luxembourg Hall, near the Dalston Station, in response to a requisition issued by a committee of friends of William Lapidge, for the purpose of receiving an account of the case both for and against the convicted guard, and taking steps “for the furtherance of justice, believing, as his fellow-servants do, that justice had miscarried” and to endeavour to bring public opinion to bear upon the Home Secretary, with a view to obtaining the release of Lapidge. The books at Broad Street Station showed that since he had been in the company’s service he had returned no fewer than fifty-five lost articles at that station alone, and that those articles ranged from a canvas bag containing a large amount of gold, of which none was missing, to twopence.

Meanwhile, the members of the Locomotive, Traffic and Stores Committee did not appear to be happy with the outcome. The General Manager reported at both October 1876 meetings of the committee that no claim had been submitted and the committee ruled that any claim would be resisted, and all available measures taken for reopening the case with the view of bringing the real facts more fully before the Court. At the second meeting he reported that an intimation had been conveyed that two of the witnesses for the prosecution would be proceeded against for perjury, in which case facilities would be afforded for the attendance of the Company’s servants required to give evidence. No information concerning any court proceedings have come to light.

After considering the case the Home Secretary issued instructions for his release. On Friday 15 December 1876 Lapidge came out of prison, to the hearty congratulations of his fellow railwaymen. The General Manager authorised his reinstatement on a temporary basis until it was confirmed by the Board of Directors on the 18 January 1877.

William Lapidge died three years later on 24 November 1879, aged 45, of tuberculosis. The NLR was slow in recording his death as it was not minuted until 29 June 1880. He was survived by his wife, who died in her ninety-seventh year in 1943, and his son who died aged 71 in 1938.


Sources:Family records

RAIL 529/132/285 Folio 58 (Staff Register: details after Sep 1870 have been “worn off”).

RAIL 529/42 3 Sep 1867, Loco Com Min 310.

RAIL 529/43, 4 Aug 1868, Loco Com Min 502; 31 Aug 1869, Min 774.

RAIL 529/48 10 Oct 1876, Loco Com Min 2768; 31 Oct 1876, Min 2804.

RAIL 529/27 18 Jan 1877, Board Min 2575 (approval of his reinstatement).

RAIL 529/50 29 Jun 1880, Loco Com Min 4123 (notification of death – a bit late).

WO 12/2516, 2518-2528, 5999, 6000 (Army service records).

The Times, Tue 5 Sep 1876 p 9; Wed 13 Sep 1876, p 9; Thu 28 Sep 1876, p 9 (reports of Court proceedings).

Reynold’s Newspaper: Sun 10 Sep1876; Sun 8 Oct 1876; Sun 22 Oct 1876.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper: Sun 17 Sep 1876

Daily News (London), Sat 16 Dec 1876.



John Lapidge – His Brief Place In The NLR Nepotism Stakes

John Lapidge was born on 3 January 1832 in St John’s Parish, Hackney, where he:

was baptised a couple of weeks later;

married Mary Ann Lapidge, his cousin, on 12 November 1862;

died on 19 September 1880; and

was buried six days later.


His father, Joseph, who was a labourer born in 1794, and his mother, Elizabeth, had ten children, John being the eighth.

He joined the Army about 1850 and went into the Cavalry. By 1861 was serving with the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers, still holding the rank of trooper. He probably left in 1862 when he married and was employed by the LNWR. Mary was the fifth child of six of his father’s brother Thomas, labourer, born in 1830, and his wife Elizabeth.

John’s period with the LNWR was from 25 December 1862 to 6 September 1863, working as a porter at Poplar Goods on eighteen shillings a week. A month after leaving the LNWR he joined the Metropolitan Police and moved with his wife to 94 Gatcliff Building, Pimlico. During the whole of his police service he served as a constable, both mounted and on foot. Unfortunately he received a blow from a stone which fractured a small bone in his foot and was “lame of leg.” This resulted in him being unfit for further service and on 27 June 1868 left on a pension of thirty-two pounds a year. During his time with The Met his elder sons, Thomas and John, were born.

He appears to have lived on his police pension for two months. During this time he moved back to the East End ready to start as a signalman on the NLR on 7 September 1868. On the first of the following month he was one of three signalmen appointed to the Homerton box on the opening of the station on twenty-one shillings a week. There he remained until 1 July 1872, when he returned to the LNWR after a break of nearly nine years.

He and Mary had two more children, both born in Hackney: Samuel in 1871 and, finally a daughter, Maud, in 1873.

No record of service has been found for his second stint with the LNWR. Presumably he stayed with them for the rest of his life. He died of enteritis at 8 Margaret Street, Hackney, on 19 September 1880, aged forty-eight. Margaret Street was a popular road for Lapidge families from at least 1845 to 1891.

At the 1881 and 1891 Censuses his widow found employment, possibly self-employed, as a machinist and still living in Hackney. At the 1901 Census, by then seventy years old, she was living with her sister Elizabeth and her third husband, William Almeroth, presumably as their carer. Mary died on 1 January 1909.



Family Records


St John’ Parish

LMA, P79/JNJ/001, p88.

LMA, P79/JNJ/076, p233.

LMA, P79/JNJ/135, p143.

LMA, P79/JNJ/001, p136.



1851 Census HO 107/1617, f 303, p 13.

1861 Census RG 9/431, f9, p 13.

WO 12/906


LNWR (first time)

RAIL 410/1860 f 2152.


Met Police

MEPO 21/9/2802.



Staff Register RAIL 529/132/726 Folio 147

Locomotive, etc, Committee Meetings RAIL 529/43, 29 Sep 1868, Minute 533.]


Wife, Mary Ann

1881 Census RG 11/308 Folio: 28 Page: 50

1891 Census RG 12/201 Folio: 125 Page: 52

1901 Census RG 13/1617 Folio: 60 Page: 20



Joseph John Ashlin – Whose Punctuality Was Not as Good as Trains

Joseph Ashlin was born on 22 November 1849 in the parish of St George in the East, son of John, a carman, and Nellie Ashlin, living at 5 Matthew’s Court.

 Joseph John Ashlin
Station Inspector Joseph John Ashlin (1849-1913)

When he joined the NLR, it was almost certainly in a job at the Locomotive Department at Bow. This is implied by the fact that W. Adams, the Locomotive Superintendent, is shown as Joseph’s referee when he joined the Traffic Department as a porter on 2 February 1871. His wage was eighteen shillings a week. He spent most of his time as a porter at Bow, although it is recorded that he was injured whilst on duty at Broad Street on the 20 April 1875. This resulted in a short period of sick leave during which he received half pay.

During his time as a porter he married Mary Lapidge on 2 September 1872 in St John’s, Hackney. Mary was seventeen months his senior having been born on 13 June 1848. They had twelve children, two of whom died at a young age.

Promotion to foreman porter came on 30 June 1875 with an increase of pay to twenty-one shillings. With the promotion he was moved from Bow but the NLR was not sure whether it was to Shoreditch (committee meeting minutes) or Barnsbury (staff register). Three months later however, both agree that he moved back to Bow with a further increase of two shillings a week. He had to wait nine years for another move and another pay rise. On 6 October 1884 he became a foreman porter at Broad Street on twenty-five shillings a week.

Mrs Mary Ashlin
Mrs Mary Ashlin, née Lapidge (1848-1909)

Joseph remained at Broad Street when he became a station inspector on the 1 February 1888. From the mid-1880s when a station master left a station he was replaced by two station inspectors. This did not, however, apply to Broad Street who retained a station master with station inspectors below him. As a station inspector his pay started at thirty-two shillings and sixpence and rose by increments of two shillings and six pence to a maximum of forty shillings in July 1893.

Things bumbled along quite well for seven and a half years until the 18 December 1900 when he was hauled before the Traffic Superintendent. He was cautioned and told that if he could not keep time in future he had better resign or he would receive a fortnight’s notice to leave the service.


Mary Jane Ashlin
Mary Jane Ashlin, daughter

Whether it was connected with his punctuality or happened later is unknown but he was removed to Homerton on thirty five shillings, a drop in pay of twelve and half per cent, and where it is believed he stayed until he either retired or died. It could well have been the latter as he was granted full pay during sickness from 10 March to 31 May 1913. He died on 30 August 1913, his wife Mary predeceased him, having died on 24 June 1907.

Three of his sons followed him into NLR service for the periods shown:

Joseph William (25 June 1885-October 1890);

George Edward (19 October 1887-14 October 1895);

Albert Edmund (23 January 1890-March 1893).




Family records.


BMD and Parish records

LMA, P79/JNJ, Item 002, p72.

LMA, P79/JNJ, Item 034, p128.]

LMA, P93/GEO, Item 021, p248.



Staff Register RAIL 529/131/603 Folio 206.

RAIL 529/47 4 May 1875, Loco Com Min 2308.]

RAIL 529/47 1 Jun 1875, Loco Com Min 2337.

RAIL 529/47 5 Oct 1875, Loco Com Min 2444.

RAIL 529/52, 29 Jul 1884, Loco Com Min Min 5559.

RAIL 529/54 30 Jan 1889, Loco Com Min 7197.

RAIL 529/55 5 Feb 1890, Loco Com Min 7573.

RAIL 529/57, 5 Jul 1893, Loco Com Min 8901.

RAIL 529/84, 20 May 1913 Offrs’ Mtg Min 1367.



1861 Census [RG 9/281 Folio: 153 Page: 8]

1871 Census [RG 10/ 569 Folio: 37 Page: 29] Appears employment of Joseph and elder brother William have been transposed.

1881 Census [RG 11/495 Folio: 67 Page: 19]

1891 Census [RG 12/319 Folio: 38 Page: 24]

1901 Census [RG 13/ 345 Folio: 166 Page: 53]

1911 Census [RG 14/1166, RG 78/38, RD11 SD5 ED27 SN317]


Joseph William Ashlin – Who Set A Precedent For Cautions

Joseph was born on 8 November 1872 and baptised shortly after at St Mary’s Bromley He went to school at the Bromley Board School and immediately after leaving at the age of thirteen, he joined the NLR on 25 June 1885 as a train register boy on six shillings a week. He started in Dalston No 2 cabin and stayed there getting annual increments to his pay for just over two years, when he moved to West Junction on ten shillings a week.

He was caught out for doing what he and his contemporaries probably had been doing quite often for years before and more than likely did for years after. On the 22 August 1887 he was before the Traffic Superintendent and cautioned for travelling in a third class carriage without ticket or pass when off duty. Thus beating his father by thirteen years in getting a superintendent’s caution.

In November 1889 he was made a parcels porter on twelve shillings a week. A job he stuck to until 15 October 1890, when he resigned to go into the furniture business and began as a forwarding clerk with Saul Moss and Company in Curtain Road. Later he wad a salesman and a buyer.

On 29 May 1898 he married Alice Austin, a draper’s assistant and a year older than him. They had one daughter.

Saul Moss went into liquidation sometime before 1916. Whether Joseph Ashlin stayed with them to the end or left before they folded is not known. Whatever he did after, he must have done it quite well as he left just over £11,000 when he died on 19 August 1933. His wife died three years later.


Family records

Parish Register, LMA, P88/MRY2, Item 007, p241.

Parish Register, LMA, P88/STE1, Item 004, p170.


1891 Census RG 12/331, f111, p18

1901 Census, RG 13/1588, f157, p35.

1911 Census, RG 14/9870, RG 78/521A.


RAIL 529/134/615 Folio 207 (Staff register).

RAIL 529/52, 30 Jun 1885, Loco Com Min Min 5883.

RAIL 529/53, 1 Jun 1886, Loco Com Min Min 6203.]

RAIL 529/53, 29 Jun 1886, Loco Com Min Min 6231. Corrected by Min 6279.

RAIL 529/53, 3 Aug 1886, Loco Com Min Min 6279.

RAIL 529/53, 2 Aug 1887, Loco Com Min Min 6646.

RAIL 529/55 4 Dec 1889, Loco Com Min 7523.

RAIL 529/55 5 Nov 1890, Loco Com Min 7853.

BT 31/8918/65730.

BT 34/1674/65730.

George Edward Ashlin – Who Brought the NLR to a Grinding Halt

George was born on 9 August 1874 and, like his elder brother Joseph, was baptised in St Mary’s, Bromley.

After leaving school he was, for a short time, an errand boy and then on 19 October 1887 he, too, joined the NLR. He started as a train register boy in Poplar Central signal cabin, earning six shillings a week, which, on his first anniversary, was upped to eight shillings. He advanced quicker than some of his contemporaries: in June 1889 he moved to Dalston on nine shillings; and in the December of the same year he went to West Junction cabin at ten shillings, where he stayed for nearly two years.

He became a junior porter on 10 November 1892 at Old Ford on twelve shillings, which, after a year was, like his first pay rise in 1888 was upped by two shillings. On 4 October 1893 he became a watchman learning to become a signalman. At the end of the following January he qualified as signalman on twenty-three shillings a week and went to the South Bromley signal cabin.

Unfortunately on the 14 October 1895, almost eight years to the day he started with the NLR, his world came tumbling down and he was dismissed for being asleep on duty and delaying the traffic. At the time he was still single and was more than likely living at home. One can only conjecture how his father, by then a station inspector, re-acted. Like some other signalmen he is also recorded in LNWR staff records: in George’s case appointed 4 October 1893, dismissed 14 October 1895, the period he was a signalman.

George married Susan Penny on 9 May 1898 in St Mark’s, Victoria Park. She was a Bow girl, three years older than him, a daughter of a police constable and who worked as a silk winder. They had at least six children. She had three brothers who worked for the NLR, although the stay of one them, George William, was so short that his appointment and resignation appeared in the same Locomotive Committee meeting minute.

George became a dock labourer at one stage and lived on to 1947 when he died at the age 72. His wife died, aged 85, in 1956.



Family records


Parish register, LMA, P88/MRY2, Item 008, p11.

Parish register, LMA P88/MRK Item 037.


1891 Census, RG 12/316, f115, p4.


RAIL 529/134/652 Folio 223 (Staff Register).

RAIL 410/1831 (LNWR) Staff records: Broad Street Station 1865-1920.

RAIL 529/54 10 Oct 1888, Loco Com Min 7076.

RAIL 529/54 3 Jul 1889, Loco Com Min 7373.

RAIL 529/55 5 Feb 1890, Loco Com Min 7573.

RAIL 529/56 2 Dec 1891, Loco Com Min 8263.

RAIL 529/56 2 Nov 1892, Loco Com Min 8632.

RAIL 529/57, 4 Oct 1893, Loco Com Min 8976.

RAIL 529/57, 31 Jan 1894, Loco Com Min 9100.

RAIL 529/58, 30 Jan 1895, Loco Com Min 9435.

RAIL 529/58, 30 Oct 1895, Loco Com Mtg Min 9697.

RAIL 529/61, 5 Jun 1902, Loco Com Min 11727.


Albert E Ashlin – who appears to have an elusive second fore-name

Albert was born on 20 March 1876 and, like his elder brother George, was baptised a few weeks later at St Mary’s, Bromley.

After leaving Marner Street Board School, he joined the NLR where he spent all his time as a train register boy: starting at Broad Street on 23 January 1890 on six shillings a week which went up to eight shillings after a year; he moved to Poplar Central in 1892 (nine shillings); and his final move was to York Road (ten shillings) on 28 January 1893 before resigning for some unknown reason on 17 March 1893.

After leaving the NLR he married and had three children; worked as a flour packer in a flour mill, an engineer in a piano key works, a fitter and turner, and a millwright. Shortly after the outbreak of the Great War, he joined the Army Service Corps (Mechanical Transport), served in France, and was discharged in March 1919 from what by then had become the Royal Army Service Corps. He died in October 1944, leaving £1027 16s 6d. His wife predeceased him, having died in 1936.

Finally, typical NLR confusion. Birth and death registrations record A. E. Ashlin as Albert Edmund, baptism register records as Albert Edwin, and marriage registration and Army attestation paper as Albert Edward. The NLR remained neutral and showed him simply as Albert E. Ashlin.



Parish register, LMA, P88/MRY2, Item 008, p74.


RAIL 529/135/7 Folio 4.

RAIL 529/55 5 Feb 1890, Loco Com Min 7573.

RAIL 529/55 4 Feb 1891, Loco Com Min 7951.

RAIL 529/57, 1 Mar 1893, Loco Com Min 8761.

RAIL 529/57, 11 Apr 1893, Loco Com Min 8795.


1901 Census [RG 13/345 Folio: 87 Page: 8]

1911 Census [RG 14/9607]


Army Attestation Paper.

National Probate Calendar, 1936, via Ancestry.

National Probate Calendar, 1944,via Ancestry.

Plus information from family records.

Elizabeth Jane Lappidge – (despite a severe physical handicap had two sons and a step son who became railwaymen)

Family lore has it that Elizabeth was blind from birth. This could be supported by the fact that the 1861 census shows her as blind and the 1871 census notes that she was blind from from what appears, in not very good hand-writing, to be measles. If so, Elizabeth could have been both blind from measles and from birth. If her mother contracted rubella during her early pregnancy, she could have been born with any number of disorders (including heart problems, deafness, and, of course, blindness).

For her second and third marriages, Elizabeth signed the registers with an X, but for her first marriage in May 1857, she signed the register by writing her name straight along the line. This clearly took some effort and the letters are not well shaped, indicating that she was either already partially blind or had her hand guided during the signing ceremony. Or maybe she was illiterate, but had rehearsed her signature just enough to sign the register. The 1861 Census records her as being blind, and it is likely that she had become completely blind by at least this date.

Between her second marriage to John Schmutter and her third to William Almeroth, she was employed as a charwoman. Because of her blindness she may well have been doing this for a neighbour. It can only be a guess but it is possible she was part of a supportive working class community. And/or she may have been on Parish Relief (like her mother was in 1851, when widowed), and for receipt of Relief she had work arranged for her that fitted her abilities/disability.

Elizabeth was born in Hackney, the daughter of Thomas, a labourer, and Elizabeth Lapidge of Homerton, the youngest of six children. Her year of birth is not clear, varying between 1829, calulated from the age given on her death certificate, and 1832, the year of her baptism.  At the age of eighteen or nineteen, she was living with her mother, who existed on Parish Relief, and was employed as a servant [1851 Census]. This could, of course, mean that she was ‘mother’s help’ as was sometimes recorded for the oldest unmarried daughter living at home. Her mother, who would have been in her early sixties, died during the winter of of 1854/1855.

Her first marriage to Henry Elsom, a porter on the Eastern Counties Railway and ten years her senior, produced four children. After a period of service in the Army, their eldest son, Henry James Elsom, joined the NLR where he stayed until he retired in 1922. Elizabeth’s first husband died at the end of 1864.

In November 1867 she married John Schmutter, again 10 years her senior, who was a steam boiler maker who had been blinded in an accident. They had a boy and a girl. The boy, John, was with the NLR for at least eight years. Elizabeth’s second husband died during the winter of 1880/81.

Her third marriage was also to a blind man about 10 years her senior, William Almeroth. His son appears to have settled for a railway career. His job was that of a railway goods checker, an employment not used, nor indeed required, by the NLR. Their last recorded address was in Leyton for the 1901 Census. Also living with them, was Elizabeth’s sister Mary, who presumably acted as their carer. Mary was the widow of their cousin John Lapidge, who also did a stint on the NLR. Elizabeth’s third husband, William Almeroth, died in 1903 and Elizabeth died the following year on 3 November 1904 at home at 7 Oliver Terrace, Leyton, of acute bronchitis syncope.

One common factor in all her three marriages was that Elizabeth’s address at the time of each wedding was the same as that of the groom’s. Also, was there a social factor in play? Why were two of Elizabeth’s marriages to men who were also blind?



LMA Hackney St John, Register of Baptism, P79/JN1, Item 033.

LMA Saint Thomas, Bethnal Green, Register of marriages, P72/TMS, Item 009.

Guildhall, P91/LEN/A/01/Ms 7498/78.

LMA Saint Luke, Hackney, Register of baptisms, P79/LUK, Item 001.


1841 Census [HO 107/698, book 7, f14, p20]

1851 Census [HO 107/1506, f205, p19.]


1861 Census [RG 9/207; Folio: 61; Page: 18]

1871 Census [RG10/484 folio 58 pages 20/21]

1881 Census [RG 11/495 Folio: 15 Page: 23]

1891 Census [RG 12/322 Folio: 66 Page: 18]

1901 Census [RG 13/1617 Folio: 60 Pages: 20/21]

WHO/EPI/TRAM/93.5 (updated 2004 )


Henry Elsom

Henry Elsom was born on 10 July 1857 at 23 Warner Place, Bethnal Green, where his parents were living when they married on 10 May 1857. His father, Henry, was a porter on the Eastern Counties Railway and his mother Elizabeth Jane née Lapidge, had two cousins, John and William who both worked on the NLR. His birth certificate shows his name as Henry James Elsom, this appears the only time that his second name James was  recorded, and was the name of his paternal grandfather. John Schmutter, his half brother from his mother’s second marriage, also worked for the NLR for a few years from 1886.

Henry joined the NLR as a porter on 21 February 1884 on 18s a week. Prior to this he had been a solider. On 8 October 1885, from a porter at Dalston, he started off on what was to become his career as a signalman and was promoted to watchman at Devons Road on 21s a week.

It was at this point that on the 14 February 1886 he married Miss Lydia Patten, a painter’s daughter, in the parish church of St Stephen, Bow. They had six children, one of whom died in childhood.

His first box as a signalman was Broad Street No 1. From there he progressed up the scale including Mildmay Park, Dunloe Street, Shoreditch, Western Junction, and Barnsbury. His last box was Canonbury.

During his thirty-eight years’ service he received the usual punishments for the usual signalmen’s offences: two trains in one section (the first time in 1887 cautioned, second time in 1904 and seen by the Traffic Superintendent, suspended three days with loss of pay); and in 1898 cautioned for causing a delay of two minutes to the 9.16 ex Poplar passenger train. On the 5 November 1892, however, as the signalman in the Shoreditch cabin, he was seen cautioned for committing a rare, if not unique, offence of quarrelling with Signalman Brown at Dunloe Street, the next cabin up the road. Signalman Charles Brown was also seen and cautioned at the same time.

In mid-1922 he retired, aged sixty-five, with a Good Conduct Retiring Allowance of £1 1s 8d per week.

He died in June 1942, leaving £184 9s 4d. His wife predeceased him during the winter of 1938/39.


RAIL 529/52 4 Mar 1884, Loco Com Min 5392

RAIL 529/52, 3 Nov 1885, Loco, etc, Cttee Min 5988.

RAIL 529/53 5 May 1886, Loco Com Min 6168

RAIL 529/54 11 Apr 1888, Loco Com Min 6887

RAIL 529/56 5 Oct 1892, Loco Com Min 8596

RAIL 529/60 2 May 1901, Loco Com Min 11381

RAIL 529/64, 5 Mar 1908, Loco Com Min 13555

RAIL 529/34, 29 Jun 1922 Board Min 9523

RAIL 410/1831, E (Double accounting of signalman by LNWR & NLR)

RAIL 529/134/437 Folio 64 (Staff register)

RAIL 529/134/437 Folio 143 (Staff register)

RAIL 529/131/362 Folio 77 (Staff register)


1861 Census [RG 9/207; Folio: 61; Page: 18]

1891 Census [RG 12/321 Folio: 59 Page: 9]

1901 Census [RG 13/1574; Folio: 98; Page: 49]

1911 Census [RG 14/9429, RG 78/507A, RD188 SD3 ED19 SN68]


John Thomas Schmutter

John Schmutter was born in Bethnal Green in 1871 to John and Elizabeth Schmutter. He was their second child, although Elizabeth had had three children by her first husband. After leaving school John was an errand boy for a short period before becoming a train register boy at Hackney Wick on 30 September 1886, where he earned six shillings a week. After a year’s service this was automatically increased to eight shillings. In the autumn of 1888 he was promoted to Canonbury with another pay rise to ten shillings. He was only there for a short period before transferring from the Traffic to the Telegraph Department as a telegraph clerk at Bow in early 1889, at the same time having his wages increased to twelve shillings. About May 1894, while employed as a telegraph clerk at Camden, he transferred to the Carriage Department. By the turn of the century he had left the NLR, had married a Minnie Brown, had a son and daughter and become a self-employed French polisher.



RAIL 529/134/228 Folio 70

RAIL 529/53 5 Oct 1886, Loco Com Min 6322

RAIL 529/53 11 Oct 1887, Loco Com Min 6682

RAIL 529/54 5 Dec 1888, Loco Com Min 7146

RAIL 529/54 27 Feb 1889, Loco Com Min 7231

RAIL 529/54 3 Apr 1889, Loco Com Min 7264

RAIL 529/55 5 Mar 1890, Loco Com Min 7604

RAIL 529/56 4 Mar 1891, Loco Com Min 7984

RAIL 529/57, 30 May 1894, Loco Com Min 9223


1901 Census [RG 13/1617; Folio: 98; Page: 40.]


For The Prosecution


Reuben Hart

Reuben Hart was a Prussian citizen, born about 1820 in Schubin, Bromberg, which is now in Poland. He was resident in England from 1839, and in 1860 gained “the light and capacities of a British born Subject” when he secured his Naturalisation Papers. In 1847, he married a Whitechapel woman, Amelia Cohen, and they had at least eleven children. He died in Hampstead, London, in early 1898. Throughout his adult life he worked in the jewellery trade in one form or another. Business was not always plain-sailing: in October 1870 he appeared before the London Bankruptcy Court, and subsequently became a commercial traveller. Then, on Monday 14 August 1876, he allegedly left a parcel containing eighteen watches in a Broad Street to Poplar train.


Jane Crouch

Jane Crouch was a single, unemployed domestic servant, living at 22 St Steven’s Road, North Bow, at the time of the trial when she stated that she had handed a parcel to Guard Lapidge. It is possible that she was born in 1852, the daughter of a chaff cutter, Joseph, and his wife Mary Crouch of Jerusalem Passage, Hackney.


Elizabeth Jones

According to The Times’s report of the trial, Elizabeth Jones was employed as a charwoman by the North London Railway Company at Poplar Station. Her evidence at the trial was that she saw Crouch pass a parcel to Guard Lapidge. No record has yet been found in NLR documents in The National Archives. Charwomen’s posts were filled by widows of railwaymen killed on duty or who had received injuries received on duty and were no longer able to work. No record has been found of a railwaymen Jones who could have been Elizabeth’s husband.



Reuben Hart:

Naturalisation [HO 1/96/3291]

1851 Census [HO 107/1546; Folio: 118; Page: 3]

The London Gazette, October 14, 1870, page 4490.

With thanks to Tadeusz Opyrchal for an East European history lesson.


Jane Crouch:

LMA. Hackney St John, Register of Baptism, P79/JN1, Item 036.

1851 Census [HO 107/1505 Folio: 171 Page: 9]

1861 Census [RG 9; Piece: 158; Folio: 44; Page: 12]

1871 Census [RG 10/321 Folio: 144 Page: 5]



Maybe Reuben Hart did leave the watches on the train, with some unknown third party having them away, and  that Reuben Hart and Guard Lapidge were both telling the truth. This would have meant that Jane Crouch and Elizabeth Jones concocted the story to get the rewards that Reuben Hart offered and explain why the General Manager was informed that two prosecution witnesses were being charged with perjury.

Roy Lapidge, great grandson of William Lapidge
Margaret Hanrahan, great granddaughter of Joseph John Ashlin
David Patten whose mother was a Lapidge and who did all the leg work
Barry Ennever who is cousinly related to Henry Elsom’s daughter-in-law
Peter Bloomfield, a collector of NLR staff details, who attempted to put it all together


I would like to acknowledge the help, advice, and patience from the staff of The National Archives, especially the late Bruno Derrick, Sue South and Chris Heather.   PB