1880



THE FORMATION OF 

THE ASSOCIATED SOCIETY OF LOCOMOTIVE STEAM 

ENGINEMEN AND FIREMEN

Established FEBRUARY 1880

The information below has been gathered and adapted from various 

A.S.L.E.& F. publications 


The railway boom produced by the industrial revolution brought both benefits and hardships for the workers employed on the railways. The decade of the 1870s had been an atrociously hard time for railwaymen. There had been many fatalities and accidents to men and boys in the service, and all were ‘wage slaves’ in a real grim sense. The system that brought vastly increased wealth to commerce, banks, mines, and all financial interests, was only a durance vile for the men who ran the system.

Of all the grades in the railway workforce, the engine driver enjoyed the highest pay and status of all but the chief engineer and stationmaster. On the other hand, no other industry brought together such a potentially lethal combination of heavy machinery, fire, steam, accelerating speeds and exhaustible labour. The result was an industry in which death and injury rates exceeded those of every other with the occasional exception of coal mining.

With the establishment of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1871. This was an all-grade union and, at first, enginemen and firemen joined it enthusiastically. Within a year it had more than 17,000 members. But, in practice, it proved sadly ineffective and its membership soon began to fall. Moreover, its all-grade structure did not suit the precise requirements of locomotivemen with their own highly specialised skills who were exposed to their own particular dangers.There was some dilution of membership but the A.S.R.S. was regarded as too conciliatory by many enginemen and eventually the demand for a more militant and focused union to represent their views.

Something was about to happen to break the suppression, and the great venture was launched by the drivers and firemen. Seven men of Monmouthshire, stirred by the arbitrary attitude of the Great Western, breathed the great inspiration. The same project was being confidentially whispered at Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol, and Leeds, and in 1880 it broke out spontaneously under the letters A.S.L.E. & F.

When the Great Western Railway restructured pay scales in October 1879, its longest serving enginemen and firemen found their wages cut and their working hours extended. 
The Great Western enginemen realising there was not protection and got no support from the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (A.S.R.S.) with its friendly society attitude, and at that time, believed that disputes should be settled through arbitration, and never through costly, irresponsible and disloyal strike action. 

So the Great Western enginemen framed a petition to theboard of directors protesting against the new and worse conditions. Sir Daniel Gooch, the G.W.R. Chairman. Examining their petition, he is said to have exclaimed: “Damn the signatures! Have you got the men to back them up?”

If locomotivemen banded together for protection in a trade union that avowed itself ready to 
use the strike as a weapon of defence, every means would be taken to smash it – and them. Yet those fellows left that room with only one thought in their minds. Charles Perry, Evan Evans, Tom Harding, Tom Roderick and others started from scratch. The only funds they possessed were those they themselves would provide, but between October and December 1879 they contacted colleagues in Sheffield, Bristol, Pontypool, Newport and Birmingham.
They had lit the fiery cross which, in the coming years, was to burn steadily, its flame a 
beacon to guide us and a light illuminating the path of our craft, and so also of every railway 
worker in Britain.


William Ullyott of Leeds and 55 colleagues formed the first registered lodge of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen in Sheffield.

A.S.L.E.F. COLLECTION


Meanwhile, the movement for a locomotivemen's union was gathering steam. The organising committee issued a set of rules in February 1880, drafted by Charles Perry, setting out the costs and benefits of membership.

Enginemen Charles Perry, Evan Evans, Tom Harding, Tom Roderick and others spent the next two months contacting their fellow ennginemen and firemen in Sheffield , Bristol, Pontypool, Newport and Birmingham. On Saturday 7th February, 1880, William Ullyott of Leeds and 55 colleagues formed the first registered lodge of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen in Sheffield. 

A momentous decision which prompted Charles Perry of York Place, Griffithstown, 
Pontypool, one of the men who was instrumental in forming this trade union, to write to him 
two days later:

'You will allow me in the name of our men to congratulate you on your energy and, I may 
hope, your complete success, in the formation of a branch and, at the same time, to inform you that the M&S men are the first founders of the Society. Your men have the honour of being the first members. Trusting the flame you have lighted in Sheffield may never be extinguished, and that soon enginemen and firemen may take their proper place in the front rank of skilled labour.'

The pioneers spent months in quiet branch building, exchanging views, creating basic rules 
and communicating with each other, and looking forward when all enginemen and firemen 
would be paid fairly and would be above the fear of dismissal for having dared to make a 
reasonable request.  



A.S.L.E.F. COLLECTION

Letter from Mr. C.H. Perry of Newport to Mr. W Ullyott of Sheffield, having reference to the formation of the Society

The general register of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen shows 
how William Ullyott was the first member to join, at Sheffield, on Saturday 7 February 1880. 

Charles Perry led the way a week later, when Pontypool opened its branch on Sunday 15 
February. Tondhu followed on Sunday 4 April, Liverpool on Friday 23 April, and Leeds on 
Saturday 24 April. Neath came in on Sunday 30 May, Bradford on Monday 28 June, and 
Carnforth on Sunday 4 July.

The founding delegate conference of the new Society was held in the Falstaff Hotel, Market Place, Manchester on January 3, 1881. Charles Perry was instructed to submit his draft rules to the register of trade union and friendly societies.

To save on wages and travelling expenses, conference decided to vest authority in a single branch to elect a local committee to run the Societies affairs.

The executive committee met for the first time on Sunday 6 March 1880. It usually sat on 
Sundays from 9.30am to 9.30pm. An attendance allowance of one shilling could be claimed – or, as Griffiths notes, 'forfeited when ten minutes late' – and union rules provided for loss of wages expenses, with a quarterly stipend for the treasurer. Executive Committee members 
would be fined two shillings for missing a meeting without a satisfactory apology.

Around the country Enginemen and Firemen at different locations on different Railway Companies deciding to form their own Branches.  A.S.R.S. begun to see many of their Enginemen and Firemen members transferring their membership from A.S.R.S. to the newly formed A.S.L.E.& F. Branches. In some locations the entire A.S.R.S. branch would transfer over to A.S.L.E.& F. This was because many Enginemen and Firemen had become very dissatisfied with the A.S.R.S. and wanted a trade union to represent the views of enginemen and firemen. 

ASLEF COLLECTION

A.S.L.E. & F.’s first emblem


A.S.L.E. & F. branches were soon appearing on the London and Brighton Railway 

and their formation and activities will appear on forthcoming pages.

A manifesto for the Associated Society of Locomotive Steam Enginemen & Firemen, dated 
February 1880, says: 

'We propose that a society be formed, consisting of enginemen and firemen only. 
Enginemen to pay 5 shillings, firemen 2 shillings. 


The first eight branches were established at 

Bradford, Carnforth, Leeds, Liverpool, Neath, Pontypool, Sheffield, and Tondu.

'It was decided for reasons of economy that the affairs of our Society should be conducted 
by a committee elected from the Leeds branch, Leeds being chosen as the most convenient 
position for the movement, and the men at Leeds were vested with directing authority in 
January 1881.'


The first rule book of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen was issued to members in 1881 as 'registered under the Trade Union Acts, with registered office at the Commercial Inn, Sweet Street, Holbeck, Leeds.'


PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN


Within a year, A.S.L.E.& F. had established a Central Executive –based for convenience on the Leeds branch – and had registered under the Trade Union Acts, its head office being the Commercial Inn, Sweet Street, Holbeck, Leeds. Leeds was chosen because of its size, the calibre of leading members and – crucially – its location on the lines of many of Britain’s major railway companies.

Its first general secretary Joseph Brooke.  By 1884, membership had exceeded 1,000 and in 
the course of the next two decades, the union’s membership grew from the hundreds into the 
thousands. 

A. S. L. E. & F. BRANCHES ON

LONDON & BRIGHTON RAILWAY

A.S.L.E. & F. branches were soon appearing on the London and Brighton Railway the first branch being formed was  

Battersea and Longhedge in 1887
Brighton on the 25th August 1891
New Cross in January 1892
Portsmouth in 1895
(Incorperating L.B.&S.C.R. & L.&S.W.R. members)
Horsham on the 24th April 1898
(Incorperating Midhurst, Littlehampton & Bognor)
Eastbourne on the 25th February 1906
St. Leonards on the 25th February 1906
(L.B.&S.C.R. members)
Tunbridge Wells on the 25th February 1906
(Incorperating Three Bridges)
West Croydon in January 1908
Purley & Stoat’s Nest on the 21st March 1909
(Incorperating S.E.R. & L.B.&S.C.R. members)
Peckham Rye on the 12th January 1912
Newhaven on the 16th July 1912
Three Bridges in 1913
Littlehampton in 1917
Selhurst in 1920
Epsom in 1920
Bognor Regis in 1925
London Bridge in 1928
Brighton No. 2 in May 1934
(Incorperating West Worthing)
Seaford on the 18th august 1935
Ore on the 1st December 1935
Norwood in 1936
Barnham in May 1995

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