The railwayay porter
In the past, railway por ters were much more numerous and had far more diverse tasks to perform than simply he elping with passengers’ luggage. Most trains wouldw carry parcels and other small goods in the guard’s van. The porters had to unlo oad these and load on anything being forw warded from their station. Mailbags and newspapers appeared every day. They’d also expect t to be involved in the workk of the goods yard, helping g with the shunting of th he various wagons into th e correct order. This was both complex and dangerous, as they controlled the moveme ent of the trucks and coupl led them together by hand d.
The porter had to be preparedd tto tturn hi his hand to a variety of jobs, from cleaning the statioon to collecting tickets at the barrrier. The senior porters would also haave the responsibility of checking thhat the train was safe to move awway: all doors properly closed and the luggage van and guard’s van fully y loaded and unloaded. He would then indicate to the guard that all was reaady and the signal could be given to the driver to move off.
Pay was generally low, but suupplemented by tips from passengers. Wily porters would offten position the youngest recruits by tthe first- class carriages, where too ofteen they found themselves carrying the heaviest bags for the smallest tips. As an o old porter at Harrogate station put it: “Folk like them didn’t get rich by giving it tot ffolklk like us.”
A railway porter in London, c1926-1927