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London & North Western Railway Society
LNWR Society Publications

LNWR Society Portfolio No. 16 - LNWR Company Houses

Portfolio no 16 Front page


One Spring day in the mid-1950s I was exploring by car the route of an old LNWR branch line which had been closed and lifted some twenty years previously. “Look” said one of my companions, pointing, “there is a North Western house over there, so the line must be somewhere near”. Although I was then aware that railway companies could be identified by the style of some of their stations, signals and signal cabins, this was the first time I realised that a line could be recognised by such other buildings as dwelling houses.
This gave me a new and literal meaning to the phrase ‘house style’ and was to develop into an interest in the whole subject of cottages and homes provided for their employees by the various pre-grouping railways. My first article, on the cottages of the Cheshire Lines Committee, was published in October 1979, and I have gone on to give many an illustrated lecture to railway and kindred societies. It was one such talk, presented to members of the LNWR Society at an annual meeting in Birmingham, that led to the suggestion that here was a suitable subject for a future ‘Premier Portfolio’.
In 1921 the London & North Western Railway possessed 4,325 houses and cottages for railway servants, not including those houses which formed a part of station buildings. So ran the official description of the time, servants is an old term for employees, and a cottage is taken to mean a dwelling smaller than a house and usually with doors and windows limited to the front and rear so that several cottages could be connected in line to form a terrace. Normally houses were free standing or joined to just one other to form a semi-detached pair, but there could always be exceptions, and quite often a house could be attached to one end of a terraced row of cottages.
Frequently I shall use the term ‘station master’s house’ to describe a dwelling specifically provided by the railway for their supervisory staff such as a shed foreman, goods agent or station master, whilst higher grades like a district engineer were entitled to live in a ‘villa’. Except for the lodge houses at the entrances to the park and recreation ground at Crewe and Wolverton, the word ‘lodge’ is used to denote a single-storey dwelling for a crossing keeper. The term ‘lodging house’, more often referred to by the men as ‘the barracks’, is used for the much larger buildings which provided accommodation for enginemen and guards on lodging turns.
The phrase ‘Webb standard cottage’ denotes the large numbers of standard cottages built between 1882 and 1903, when F.W. Webb was in charge at Crewe, while ‘pre-Webb’ denotes the years before the Webb standard was introduced – the 1870s and up to 1881 – and not necessarily the period before 1871 when Webb first became locomotive superintendent. For the purposes of this ‘Portfolio’ only, a classification system has been devised, as a means of distinguishing easily between the various types of Webb standard cottage, but it has no official significance. References to houses being ‘L’ or ‘T’ shaped refer to the shape of the plan of the house. Please also note that the spellings of place names are those adopted by the LNWR in 1922, its last year of independence, and in many cases are not in accord with present day usage – particularly so in Wales.
For much useful information and suggestions I am indebted to many Society Members and friends including Ted Talbot, who has acted as Editor and carefully checked all my text, Gordon Biddle, Peter Bishop, Harold D. Bowtell, Roy Etherington, Neil Fraser, Mary Forsyth, Clive Holden, Peter Michie, Roy Thomson, Mike Williams, and particularly John Lovell, who went out of his way to furnish me with details and photographs of all LNWR houses in the Northampton area and has enabled me to consider what happened in one typical large town served by the railway. My gratitude is also extended to Graham Coates for the use of the facilities of the Manchester Locomotive Society’s extensive library. Rex Christiansen and Tony Icke have both been minutely through the text and made valid suggestions as well as corrections. Design and artwork are by Barry C. Lane, who also assisted in the choice of illustrations and has redrawn all my sketched plans to a professional standard. Special thanks must also go to my wife, Kaye, who first suggested I used the 1881 census for the case studies, checked the manuscript and accompanied me on many of my excursions around North Western territory, becoming most proficient at recognising railway houses from quite a distance.
R.W. Miller