Signalman James Thackray

(who thrice showed quick witted promptitude)

(Originally published in Journal 64, December 2015, of the NLRHS)

by Peter Bloomfield with help from Margaret Foote

James Thackray was born about 1830 to John and Elizabeth Thackray and christened on 26th March 1830 in Godmanchester, then in Huntingdonshire. By 1841 he was living with his parents and younger sister in Coronation Street, St Andrew The Less, Cambridge (1841 Census). From then until January 1863 when he joined the NLR nothing seems to be known of his whereabouts. Even his entry in the NLR Staff Register is blank regarding previous employments. Even less is known about his wife, Emily Bangle, whom he married on 4th April 1863 in Paddington Holy Trinity Church, but this could be suspect as in the marriage register his profession is shown as “sadler,” by this time James had been a porter for three months.

On 12th January 1863 he joined the North London Railway, initially as a porter. In June he was at Hampstead Road Junction signal box, as on the thirteenth of that month he picked up fine of six pence for not working his signals properly. He was a gateman at Acton, where he was for nine months earning 21 shillings a week. From there he moved to Kew Junction, pay 23 shillings and in July 1865 arrived at Kentish Town Junction, with a pay rise to 25 shillings a week. He was to stay there for the rest of his railway service, with pay rises to 30 shillings 16th June 1871, to 31 shillings 2nd April 1882, and finally to 33 shillings 24th May 1897. He was disciplined three further times for incorrect signalling procedures and also suspended for four days with loss of pay for being absent from duty without leave.

On the 31th December 1872 the 8 am down Chalk Farm train overran Camden Town station and ended up fouling Kentish Town Junction, with the signal for the the 8 am up Kew express already lowered. A collision was avoided by Signalman Thackray throwing the signal up, against the Kew train, and setting the points for No 1 up line on which the express travelled as far as Dalston. The driver, fireman and both guards were each fined one day’s pay whilst Thackray was rewarded for his promptitude in preventing a collision by being awarded a fortnight’s pay (£3) and an expression of approval of his conduct by the Locomotive, Traffic and Stores Committee.

Just over two years later, on Tuesday 12th January 1875, he appeared before the The Royal Commission on Railway Accidents. He had a good grilling, answering 244 questions. He started his evidence with a brief resumé of his twelve years as a signalman. He went on to explain: the manning of his signalbox, his hours of work and shift pattern; the working of the box and positions of points and signals; volume of traffic; and accidents in general.

On the 25th March 1878 he again showed his promptitude in dealing with crises when the driver of a London and North Western light engine, having started against the signals fouled the junction as the 9.55 am up Kew train and a down North London down coal train were approaching. Having noticed the occurrence threw the signals to danger against the up Kew train and turned it on to the No 1 line thus avoiding a serious collision. The driver of the North London coal train having also observed the mistake on the part of the London and North Western driver, brought his train to a stand clear of the crossing, although the signal was off for him to proceed. Thackray was commended for the promptitude and presence of mind on the occasion and a gratuity of £5 was awarded to him by the Locomotive, Traffic and Stores Committee. The coal train driver received £2.

On the 1st November 1884 he was awarded one day’s pay for his promptitude of action when some cattle were loose on the line.

In May 1899, at the age of sixty-eight with thirty-six years service, he retired with a good conduct retirement allowance of 11 shillings a week, a third of his wage. He was also granted a gratuity of £15 and a yearly allowance of £20 (7s 8d pw) by the Railway Benevolent Institution (RBI).

He died on 29th January 1909, his wife having predeceased him in December1901. They do not appear to have had any children.

His death certificate and the Report of Royal Commission on Railway Accidents records his name as Thackray.
Some NLR documents show it as Thackery
Command Paper Report of Royal Commission on Railway Accidents, 1877, C.1637, pp 133-137.
RAIL 529/132/227 Folio 47 RBI Case 771, Jun 1899, RAIL 1166/83, f207.
RAIL 529/44 30 May 1871, Loco Com Min 1259 RBI Case 69, Jun 1900, RAIL 1166/84, f561.
RAIL 529/45 4 Feb 1873, Loco Com Min 1687. 1841 Census [HO 107/85, Book: 8, Folio: 6, Page: 7]
RAIL 529/49 2 Apr 1878, Loco Com Min 3330 1871 Census [RG 10/236, Folio: 40, Page: 2]
RAIL 529/51, 4 Apr 1882, Loco Com Min Min 4736. 1881 Census [RG 11/212, Folio: 12, Page: 7]
RAIL 529/30, 20 Apr 1899, Board Min 5682 1891 Census [RG 12/132, Folio: 150, Page: 43]
RAIL 529/32, 4 Feb 1909 Board Min 6947 1901 Census [RG 13/134, Folio: 104, Page: 86]