The rail­wayay porter

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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

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