This page tries to explains the relationship between the railway and religion, and the part that religion played in the early days of railway trade unionism on the Brighton railway. 


The Railway Mission 

Founded 1881

MISS/1/10/10 - Railway Mission Total Abstinence Association Member's Card.

The Railway Mission was founded in 1881 to improve the spiritual and physical well-being of railway workers. It soon joined in the national battle against alcohol, the temperance movement. 

The railway had a widespread of drunkenness amongst the railwaymen and the awful consequences of mixing drunkenness with the operation of heavy machinery. Imagine what could and did happen when drink was mixed with the work of railwaymen.

Drink was seen as a moral and social problem afflicting the working class, and drunkenness among railwaymen was of major concern. Stories of accidents, of fatal collisions and accidents caused by intoxicated railwaymen, added fuel to the movement. The Railway Mission adopted many novel ideas to combat the prevalence of drunkenness among railway workers, including the establishment of coffee houses near to railway stations in an effort to prevent railwaymen from going to public houses during their free time.

Next to these they built their Mission Halls where prayer meetings, bible classes, evening lectures, vocational training and entertainments were held. In its heyday the Railway Mission had about 250 Mission Halls in railway communities around the United Kingdom and missions were established around the world in countries as far away as South Africa, Australia and Japan.

While many members were supported in their abstinence through these meetings and lectures some were encouraged to sign Abstinence Pledge Books to demonstrate their commitment to the temperance movement to fellow workers and certificates of abstinence were also distributed.

MISS/1/8/1/3 Page from The Railway Signal Railway Signal Volume 3 (1885).



From the Industrial Revolution onwards the churches had generally failed to successfully 
evangelise the working classes, from whom the railways recruited most of its rapidly 
increasing work force, which was in the region of 350,000 at the time of the formation of the Railway Mission in 1881. There were however professing Christians among this work force including three, in particular, at Brighton station. These three, Messers Weller, Maple &Thynge (a ticket collector and two porters, respectively) met together on Sunday afternoons in the Porter's Room for 'a little Bible study and a sing'. The three railwaymen wanted to have a Gospel Service for the men on duty each Sunday and one of the porters invited a Miss Parkinson to lead this meeting. She agreed but then personal illness and the death of her brother intervened and she approached another lady, Mrs Elizabeth Gates, to substitute for her. Mrs Gates was already a well-known speaker at Christian meetings for women, who with her husband, George (a Brighton solicitor), and young family (there were eventually 11 children) had moved to Brighton from Steyning c.1861.

(It is interesting to note that the original invitation went to a woman, and had come from men. Was this a reflection of the unpopularity of local clergy, and did it reflect a different attitude of the working class males to middle class women, from middle class men?)

Mrs Gates considered and, it is understood, 'reluctantly' accepted the invitation. the first 
Sunday meeting, with a congregation of three, was on 19th March 1876 in the waiting Room at Brighton Central Railway terminus station, curtsey of Brighton Superintendent Mr 
Anscombe. However, the attendance soon began to increase and within six years the meeting had moved to a larger venue. This was found in the Reading Room/Library of the Brighton Locomotive Works which could accommodate up to four hundred people. This was thanks to Mr J P Knight, the then General Manager of the L.B. & S.C.R. The arrangement was to last for eleven years and Mrs Gates stated that the directors had treated them with every kindness and had placed the room at their disposal without charge.

In 1882 three meetings were held each week in the Reading Room/Library, on Sunday at 3.15pm for 'Men and Wives', on Wednesday at 8.0pm for men only and on alternate Thursdays at 3.30pm for wives. In addition conversational Bible Readings were held at the Coffee Palace, 67 Queens Road on the third and fourth Tuesdays at 8.00pm, with tea, for men, their wives and friends.

By 1893 the Reading Room/Library was required by the railway company for other purposes, and after a search for suitable premises, Mrs Gates apparently privately advanced some £2,500, whilst, in parallel, heading a public fund-raising effort, to secure the purchase and adaptation of the Primitive Methodist Church in Viaduct Road (opened on 16 September 1876) , which was being vacated for larger premises in London Road.

The equivalent of a stone laying ceremony was the first blow to take down an internal dividing wall between the Front (Main) and Back Halls, to enlarge the meeting area, on 15 May 1894. Present at this ceremony were Mrs J P Knight, widow of the former General Manager of the L.B. & S.C.R., Mr and Mrs Sykes, Dr Morgan and Mr George Gibbins, a Brighton architect who had donated his services. The official opening of the Brighton Railway Mission was held on 4 July 1894 with £2, 250 of the £2,500 purchase/adaptation cost being raised by public subscription by that date. The work continued to grow and in response to the need for a Sunday School work additional property was purchased behind the church in 1895; the new classrooms being opened on 16 February 1896. There were initially 15 children, but by 1901 the average Sunday attendance was 194 children and the West side passages from ?Viaduct Road and Stanley Road were pressed into service. The roof over the Back Hall was now removed and an Upper Hall with seating, library and offices, together with a connecting stairway to the ground floor, constructed and opened on 20 December 1902 at a cost of £1,100. The house next door to the church in Viaduct Road (No. 71) was purchased in June 1906 to accommodate the senior scholars. By 1909 the Sunday School work had grown to 50 workers looking after 364 children.

Mrs Gates worked hard among the railway workers and their families, and as the ticket collector, once commented "She had some hard nuts to crack, I can tell you. But she was the means of converting hundreds and hundreds of men and women too". Mr Weller was still alive well enough to attend the 64th anniversary meetings of the Mission in 1940, at the age of 93 Mrs Gates died on 23rd July 1911, and the local newspapers were full of her praise for her faithful ministry. Pastor Charles Spurgeon, son of the famous Charles Haddon Spurgeon (of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London), conducted the service.

The National Railway Mission was founded in Brighton in 1881 (and in its early years had its headquarters in Brighton). In 1888 approximately 3,000 people attended each of the the two anniversary meeting at the Dome. By 1900 the Brighton Mission was one among 270 groups of converted railwaymen and their families throughout the country registered with the Railway Mission, many with their own premises. the Brighton mission still exists as ‘Calvery Evangelical Church, but along with other former Mission Halls no longer formers part of the Railway Mission, which has gradually shed its properties concentrating  on the provision of chaplains to the railway industry.

Extracted from an article

Written by Chris Fry

The Railway Mission is located at the bottom of viaduct road in Brighton





On Tuesday evening the annual meeting and distribution of prizes in connection with the Railway mission (South London branch) took place at All Saints' Institute, Priory grove, Wandsworth Road. The Hon. Arthur Kinnaird presided.

Mr. H. Elliot Walton made a statement as to the nature of the work pursued by the mission among railwaymen. From the a very small commencement in 1874, the mission had grown till now they possessed new premises at Southville, Wandsworth Road. The object of the mission was to care for the social and religious welfare of railwaymen. There were recreation and reading rooms, library, educational classes, and Gospel services in connection with the movement, and the most gratifying results had the efforts made. So numerous was the attendance at the Sunday services that the used as a meeting place would soon be inadequate to accommodate the large numbers who came to the gatherings. Most satisfactory, too, had been the mission among the railwaymen in North London.

Mr. S. Gurney Shephard, in addressing the meeting, hoped that it would not go forth that railwaymen and their wives and families were worse than other people, and consequently required a special mission of their own. The fact was that railwaymen passed their lives under exceptional circumstances, and were often deprived of what was called the means of grace, and of the opportunities of meetings together for Divine service.

Afterwards a number of book prizes, awarded in connection with the mission work, were distributed and then the chairman briefly addressed the meetings.

A deputation of young railwaymen then presented Mr. H. Eliot Walton, founder chief secretary of the mission, with a token of their esteem and regard.

Other speakers addressed the meeting, and during the proceedings a choir sang several pieces of sacred music.




A small meeting of supporters of the Railway mission, an organisation founded with the object of spreading the knowledge of Scriptures among railway employees throughout the country, was held last Thursday evening at the residence of Mr. Arthur Hill, in Landsdowne road, Notting Hill. speeches were made detailing the progress made by the mission. Mr. Clarke, the hon. secretary, referred with satisfaction to the fact that the worked grown tremendously both on London and the suburbs, and in many country towns. The mission owed its origin to the need which had been realised by its promoters for a special effort with a view to reaching railwaymen, who, as a rule, were prevented by their duties from attending a church or mission hall on Sunday. One man whom he had conversed had never been off duty for one Sunday during a period of twenty one years. Owing to their action in this matter, the London, Brighton, and South coast Railway Company had within the last two years built thee halls, to be specially devoted to temperance and religious services for their men. Their official organ, the Railway Signal, a penny paper published monthly, had a circulation of 22,000 copies, and the men largely contributed altogether to their funds, it being found best to make the different branches of the mission as nearly self supporting as possible. Each of these branches cost only £30 a year beyond what was contributed by the men themselves. Lady hope, who afterwards spoke, pointed out the importance of the body of men among whom the mission was conducted. there were about 400,000 of them in Great Britain, or men than there were in the army, navy, and police combined. As special missions to the army and navy were in fashion it seemed reasonable that an attempt should be made to reach the larger class in whose hands we daily place our lives in travelling. several of the men themselves afterwards delivered brief addresses.


U.K. Railway Temperance Union


26TH MAY 1882



At a meeting held in the Arthur Street Temperance Hall, Battersea Park Road, Mr. Cook in the chair, the following resolution was passed:- 

"That we, the members of the Battersea Branch of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Total Abstinence League and others assembled, humbly beg to tender to the Marquis of Hartington our profound and heartfelt sympathy with him in the loss of his beloved brother, Lord Frederick Cavendish."

A further expression of opinion is contained in the following:-

"When the working men contemplate the past and remember that in every legislative effort for this last two hundred years tending to better the condition of our class, we find foremost in the fray a Cavendish, the brutal snd atrocious murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish, noble in heart and mind, has produced a feeling of deep sorrow in the breast of every one of us, which is shared throughout the nation."

This resolution was forwarded by Mr. W.S. Caine, M.P., to the Marquis of Hartington, and the following reply received:-

"May 15th, 1882. Sir, I am desired to acknowledge, with the Marquis of Hartington's thanks, your letter of the 11th inst., forwarding copy of a resolution of sympathy with himself and his family, passed at a meeting of working men employed on the Brighton and South Coast Railway, on the 10th inst."

I reman, yours faithfully, 

R.H. Hubert


28TH JULY 1882



On Thursday evening, the 20th., the opening of the New Cross branch of the league was celebrated in the schoolroom of the Wesleyan chapel, New Cross. An excellent tea was provided, at which 150 sat down. The tables were tastefully decorated with flowers kindly lent by Mr. Child, florist, Malpas Road. John Brown Esq., presided over the public meeting. A powerful address, in which the Gospel was blended with total abstinence, was delivered by Lady Hope (of Carriden). The company then sang "Hold the fort" in a heartfelt manner. Messrs. Payne and Jabez West also spoke. The opening ceremony was then gone through. The meeting closed with a vote of thanks to Lady Hope and the chairman. Several joined the League,  bringing the number in this branch to 190.

16TH JUNE 1882


The gratifying sight of upwards of 2,000 railway servants of the various companies having termini in London, gathered together for the promotion of their social improvements, was witness on the 8th inst. at the Conference Hall, Mildmay Park. Tea was served in the enormous marquee pitches in the pleasant grounds of the institution. Very few of the men wore their uniforms. At seven o'clock a meeting was held in the great hall, under the presidency of Mr. Samuel Morley, M.P., who was supported by amongst others, the Rev. L.D. Hankin (vicar of St. Jude's, Mildmay Park), Mr. J.W. Moore, Rev. Dr. Mackey (Hull), Captain Baring (late 17th Lancers), Messrs. T.A. Denny, J.E. Mathieson, S. Gurney Shepherd, J.H. Fordham, &c. - Mr. Mathieson made a short statement, in which he declared the meeting was thoroughly representative of the railway service of 12 lines running into London. There were railway servants from Derby, Ipswich, Ripon, Three Bridges, Stratford, Forest Gate, New Cross, Hitchin, and other places. He said he was very much pleased to see so many railwaymen wearing the "blue ribbon." Services would be provided for both men, in the north and south of London. The Chairman said he should like to tell the railwaymen that there was happiness, privilege, and immense advantage resulting from an honest desire to live in accordance with the Divine Will. There was a great discussion got on as the the reason why religion seemed to make so little way in the world. He believed it was traceable to the fact that those who professed it were wanting in fidelity. We ought to be more honest in our intercourse with the world - we ought not to be ashamed of the colours we wore. He held that the word of Christian did not mean Churchman or Dissenter, but Christlike. He was anxious to say to those who professed to be Christians, don't be ashamed of your colours - don't be afraid that it should be known by those with whom you associate - have always ready a word of kindly, gentle remonstrance, invitation, and suggestion for those whom you can influence in the direction you yourselves are taking. In this way they would be a power with those they were living amongst, and so religion in its best sense would make it way amongst the people. He was sorry he did not bring his "blue ribbon" with him. He was convinced that the drink was standing in the way of the people, socially, politically, and above all religiously, and hence he asked all to make the experiment to avoid drink. He had tried the experiment for the last five-and-twenty years. None of the probably worked harder, or at more exhausting work than he did, and he was able to do it comfortably and satisfactory on good honest water. Addresses were given by Captain Baring, the Rev. Dr. Mackey, and others.


28TH JULY 1882



On Thursday evening, the 20th., the opening of the New Cross branch of the League was celebrated in the schoolroom of the Wesleyan chapel, New Cross. An excellent tea was provided, at which 150 sat down. The tables were tastefully decorated with flowers kindly lent by Mr. Child, florist, Malpas Road. John Brown Esq., presided over the public meeting. A powerful address, in which the Gospel was blended with total abstinence, was delivered by Lady Hope (of Carriden). The company then sang "Hold the fort" in a heartfelt manner. Messrs. Payne and Jabez West also spoke. The opening ceremony was then gone through. The meeting closed with a vote of thanks to Lady Hope and the chairman. Several joined the League,  bringing the number in this branch to 190.


9TH MARCH 1883



On Monday, the 5th inst., the Battersea Branch of the League held a tea and entertainment in the Temperance Hall, Arthur Street, Battersea Park. A substantial tea was provided, to which nearly 100 sat down, and judging from the appearance of those that had partaken of it, it was fully appreciated. The entertainment consisted of songs and recitations, followed by the "Nubian Minstrels," conducted by Mr. Thomas Rose, locomotive inspector, New Cross. The songs and choruses were given in good style, and the jokes kept the audience in continual laughter. The room was crowded, and among those present were Mr. T. Rose, official representative, Mr. John T. Smit, general manager; Messrs. Eastmond, Hunt, Wood, Peters, and Tugwell, New Cross Branch; also Messrs. Wright, Saunders, Cook, Wells, Newman, and other prominent workers connected with the Battersea Branch.

S. Lang, Esq., chairman of the London, Brighton, and South coast Railway Company, has presented £5 to the Total Abstinence League connected with the Brighton line. 


2ND MAY 1884



On Wednesday, the 9th inst., the members and friends of the League celebrated their second anniversary. An excellent tea was provided in the men's mess room, New Cross Station. The tables were tastefully decorated with flowers, which gave a very pleasing and refreshing effect.

A public meeting followed at 7.30 p.m., at which the president of the League, J. W. Robyn, Esq., presided, who congratulated them on the progress made by the League during the two years of its existence, also that J.P. Knight, Esq., General manager, and Allan Sarle, Esq., secretary, had become patrons (loud cheers), and trusted that God's blessing would still continue on the efforts of the League. Letters of sympathy and regret were read from S. Laing, Esq., M.P., W.S. Caine, Esq., M.P., Mr and Mrs Knight, Rev. Morley Wright, Merssrs. Cash, Lucas, and others. The secretary, Mr. John T. Smith, then read the second annual report as follows:- At the commencement of the year 1883 the membership was 90, with two branches, whereas it now has 234 members with branches located at New Cross, Battersea, Brighton, Portsmouth, Willow Walk, and London Bridge. Only one member died during the year, and that was caused by an accident. 

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