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.


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.  


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. 


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.'





On January 3rd, a delegate meeting of the members of the locomotive societies was held at the Falstaff Hotel, Manchester. Although these are in various parts of the kingdom a large number of these organisations, there only thirteen delegates to consider the societies and of the Associates Societies of Engineers and Firemen. The result of a week's deliberations was, that they left the whole matter in abeyance for the present, but they agreed to employ a solicitor to put into shape what they had agreed upon, so that their conclusion might be published.




Sir, -- I have read "A Sheffield Member's" letter on "Imperial Journalism," and note the charming morality of your contemporary. My object in writing is to call attention to its inconsistency, and to a which which members will regard as a betrayal of the past confidence respond in your contemporary by the society. I give two articles cut out from your contemporary 's issues of February 6th 1880 and December 17th 1880, both bearing on the same subject. One Article was written before Mr. Dixon bought the paper, and the other since it has been his journal.

(From the R.S.G. of February 6th 1880)


We have received a copy of the rules of a society, or proposed society, called the "Locomotive Enginemen and Firemen's National Union." This is probably the embodiment of the ideas of those gentlemen who have been lately trying to form an association for enginemen only, distinct from the Amalgamated ..... Union or disunion ----which do railway servants prefer -- which is it their interest to prefer? Even if their personal sympathies and wishes be enlisted by friends on the side of disunion under the belief that they are really achieving unity, it is well that they should see that so far as their interests go they are progressing in favour of disunion, and that, therefore, they do well to abjure separate associations and stick to the all embracing Amalgamated. Its arms are open to all railway servants from the enginemen to the platelayer, and the sooner our friends the enginemen in this term we include firemen -- give up any idea of forming a separate association the better, collateral effort, working entirely with the Amalgamated, the efforts of enginemen as represented in these rules were crowned with success, and the separate union of enginemen acquired considerable strength, what is the use of going to the expense of keeping up collateral agencies when the old one is sufficient? The past history of railwaymen's efforts shows a variety of failures to form and carry on permanently societies intended for their protection. The Amalgamated is the only one that succeeded well, and unquestionably this success is due no less to its broad basis than to its excellent leadership. It would, consequently, be a very regrettable circumstance if railway servants, who are already ably served and protected by their general society, were to set about the formation of minor associations, intended to embrace the members of this or that rank of the service. With all respect to the promoters of this attempt to form a "Locomotive Enginemen and Firemen's Union," whoever may be (and we know not), we cannot think that enginemen generally wish for any such efforts to be made. A few of them may second the attempt out of loyalty to any effort which seems at first sight to be intended to benefit them (ass indeed we cannot doubt the present effort is), but our readers will see on reflection that they cannot derive any benefit from their force being split up into fragments. Instead of being, as they now are, one united army, they would become a variety of divisions of any army, each division acting under separate commanders, independent of each other, and therefore (notwithstanding the excellence of their intentions) in constant risk of collision with each other, as well as with the enemy

(From the R.S.G. of December17th, when it had become Mr. Dixon's Journal)


We have just received a copy of a circular from the committee, who invite enginemen and firemen to join them in forming a new society. We print the circular in another column. It will be eagerly read by many, especially by this who belonged to the now defunct Enginemen' Society, sometime called the 1867 Society. That there is ample room for such an association is evident from the way in which the committee has been met by large numbers of enginemen and firemen. Large numbers who were members of the old society, but for some reasons or another would never join the A.S.R.S., have responded to this invitation, and are working with a will to establish on a sure footing a society after their own heart. Indeed, it is not only now, or for a few weeks, that the promoters and their friends have been quietly and steadily working; they have been many months feeling their way and sowing the seed which will, doubtless, soon bear fruit which will fully reward them.

If any other proof were requires to show that there is ample room for such society as this, it need only be remembered that comparatively small number -- we believe not one sixth -- of the railway servants of the United Kingdom will join the Amalgamated Society. We have often regretted this; we have frequently been somewhat at a loss to know why so many thousands of railwaymen would not join the society. It has done much for them, it has held its doors open to receive all who would come, it has sent travelling and other secretaries about the country to its various branches to hold public meetings and induce non members to join, but still a large majority, who all the time watched its proceedings, would not become "society men." However much this has been regretted, we all know that this is a land of liberty, and that every individual can do as he likes about any matter of this kind. It has been said that a travelling secretary of the Amalgamated Society wished to coerce non members and compel them to join his society. We find it hard to believe that any sane man would think of doing such a thing, and no one will for a moment believe that the society had any notion of that being done.

On the contrary, we think the Amalgamated Society will be glad to see those railwaymen, who could not come within its palling, unite and go to work for their common good. Knowing as we do that our readers, like other classes of men cannot all see things from the same point of view, we rejoice that those who have for so long kept apart from the society are now going to work on the same idea, viz: -- that in unity is strength. We wish the new Society of Enginemen and Firemen, god speed.
The second of these articles was written after a correspondence with Mr. Charles H. Perry, of Pontypool, in which the editor disclaimed for Mr. Dixon's journal any special attachments to the A.S.R.S., and offered to advocate Mr. Perry's society notwithstanding that it was avowedly established in enmity to the A.S.R.S. 

It would be impossible for one and the same journal to be the organ of several societies having conflicting interest. Mr. Dixon has chosen that his journal should be the organ of the avowed enemy of our society. Therefore it becomes our duty to support and trust the journal which we are now assured is our organ, i.e., The Railway Review.

  Yours obediently




Mr. Evans's letter, which appeared in The Railway Review of the 4th instant, was an effective exposure of the tactics adopted by Mr. Dixon and his journal towards the society and its chief office. In the sorry reply attempted in our contemporary last week the writer was careful to skip over the facts advanced by Mr. Evans and to ignore his pointed corrections of some of the baseless assertions that had appeared in Mr. Dixon's journal. A reiteration of disproved statements, assisted by fresh in accuracies, scantly clad in the guise of truth, served for the foundation of the lame rejoinder. We are innocently assured that "the prime movers of the Enginemen's Associated Society avow their friendship and goodwill to the A.S.R.S.!" Has the writer of this palpable misstatement pressed the circular by Mr. Chas. H. Perry, of Pontypool, signed "The Committee," and whose recent letter was too libellous even for the columns of our contemporary? Let him do so, and glean some knowledge of the subject he writes on for the instruction of others. "Dozens of correspondents" who were not present at the Cardiff meeting are relied on as authorities on the transpired there, against the evidence of those who were present. Any nail is good enough to hang up a dog. We have an advantage over Mr. Dixon's journal in this matter, inasmuch as The Railway Review was represented by a reporter at the Cardiff meeting. Our MS. report enables us to deny the assertion advanced by Mr. Dixon's journal on the authority of "dozens of correspondents" who were not present, and to say that Mr. Evans gave no such pledge as that attributed to him; and, further, that no delegate put a question to him on the subject, and therefore could not "extorted" an answer.

The newly installed editor of Mr. Dixon's journal is ingenious, and possibly is not a novice at general newspaper work. but he labours un the disadvantage of both ignorance of the society and a railway work, and of the past history of what henceforth we shall term Mr. Dixon's journal. What wonder that statement should be inaccurate, or misrepresent past events in the society! They, however help to fill up space, bring pence to Mr. Dixon's pocket, and puzzle the "constant reader." It is amusing to note the effrontery with which the editorial "we" is flourished before a supposed narration of the facts the writer knows nothing about. The gushing style adopted is however, a pleasing change from the heavy,  


Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers & Firemen, held their first Executive meeting was held on the 6th March 1881. Society registered 
under the Trade Union Acts with Head Office at the Commercial Inn Sweet Street, Holbeck, Leeds. First Rule Book issued, with provisions for the creation of strike and victimisation funds in addition to Friendly Benefits. 





In our issue of Dec. 24th, in an article headed "Proposed Enginemen's Societies," we drew attention to bogus character of the then so called " Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen.' In that article we carefully analysed the cost of the benefits promised for a contribution of one shilling per week to men of any age. As there was no restriction on age we took forty years as a fair average, seeing that enormous superannuation was promised as the enticing benefit. Our exposure of the unsoundness of this Society's extravagant financial promises has had its effects and sobered the judgment of the novice society makers, who seemed to believe that to print big benefits on paper was sufficient to provide them. They have acted on our advice and revised the scale of the benefits. Small, indeed, they look to the former promises. The lowest contribution required to meet the claims under the first rules was an average of 3s. 8d. per week, or 2s. 8d. per week per member more than the contribution actually paid. to amend their error this society has now struck out altogether the promised lump sum of £60 to men incapacitated by mean of accident or old age, and withdrawn the superannuation allowance of 7s. 6d. per week for life to such members. It has further reduced the sick pay from 12s/ to 10s. per week, and excluded from sick and death benefits all and every enginemen of the forty and over who may hereafter wish to join. By this pruning process the benefits originally promised to members are reduced in value by an amount equal to 2s. 6d. per member per week contribution. This society, which began with so much bluster, is reduced to a mere copy of the Old Enginemen's Friendly Society, and of the Amalgamated Society, with its voluntary sick fund, without the immense organisation, activity, and influence the Amalgamated Society possess. A mountain has been in labour, and the outcome is a mouse. Some enginemen were lured by the exaggerated financial advantages held out to them by this society, and parted with their shillings. Now they bitterly complain of the deception practised on them, and wish to get back the money which they allege has been obtained from them on false pretences. There was no rational excuse for the misleading promises of the promoters of the scheme. They had had placed before them the knowledge of the actual value of superannuation, and in face of this knowledge issued a prospectus more grossly insolvent than any society in recent years has put forward. We cannot but sympathise with those enginemen who have been duped, and under the circumstances attending the starting of society we think the moneys of those who wish it should be returned, less a fair deduction for the expenses incurred.

Some of the men who started this unnecessary society were mainly actuated by hostility to the Amalgamated Society, and to the true spirit of trades unionism. They voluntarily did the meanest work of the enemies of unionism by loudly denouncing the Amalgamated Society as a swindle, its officers as rogues, and its members as fools. Indeed, we learn from Mexborough that two Sheffield drivers, Messrs. Mason and Ulyett, who visited a branch of the Amalgamated there to explain the objects of this new exclusive society, were more anxious to apply epithets such as we have recounted than to justify the existence of their pet scheme. What name will these men apply to a society such as their which held out delusive promises for fifteen months, and then abolish two thirds of the whole of the expected benefits, and shut the door in the face of the great body of enginemen who are over forty years old? The accusations and defamations against the old and tried Amalgamated Society put out by the promoters of the Enginemen's abortive union have, like chickens, come home to roast. In a year and nine months no single act, no expression or thought, no one influence has emanated from this society for the benefit of enginemen as a class, and see it provides no benefits which was not read and still is within reach of every enginemen and fireman, we fail to see any justification for its continued existence and the disunity it must perpetuate.   



THE Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen

Sir, In your issue of 16th ult. you gave a very good account of the above society. As I have had a little experience in the working of it. As I have a little experience in the working of it, and have been a member some little time, I can echo every sentiment of the report. A beautiful picture was shown in the shape of benefits to enginemen and firemen, more to the G.W.R., whom the promoter pronounced were lost for ever unless they joined the A.S.E.F. Will he come forces and inform the enginemen and firemen now that they could not do without such a society? If so, how? Why not come out and lend a helping hand in the none hours movement? They boast of capital and members, but I am afraid there is not much of either. I know it is not taking root on the G.W.R. unless among a few who never before had any thought of joining a society or assisting t get anything for their fellow men. They now join and turn on the old men, taking away from them the benefits which were held out. I should think this is a warning for all classes of railwaymen not to trust in any wild goose chase, but sink all little difference, work like men, and all join the A.S.R.S. 

Yours respectfully 
A. Victim 

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 



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.1 in May 1934
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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