NUR Orphan Fund

Fund raising flags

Fund raising flags

In 1875 leaders of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants were deeply concerned about the number of fatalities amongst their members in the course of their duties. They were also worried about the prospects of the children left behind as a result of the deaths of their fathers at work. The union decided to contribute £3,000 from its funds to set up a Railway Orphanage in Derby and initially the orphanage was maintained by voluntary contributions of the ASRS membership.

The Derby orphanage policy was to take individual orphans from their families, board them and provide their education until they reached working age. However in 1879 the union felt that it would be far better to keep families intact and give support to the mother on behalf of each child.

The ASRS decided to cut its ties with the orphanage and set up an Orphan Fund. A halfpenny each week was set aside from the contributions of every union member and union activists also began fund raising to boost the amount of money available to the widows. Both the NUR and the RMT have followed in that tradition, only the amount of money involved has changed.

Fundraising flags - reverse side.

Originally the union only made payments to the mother when their husbands were killed on duty but in 1883 the ASRS decided to include the families of all its members who died including those who had died of natural causes. In 1928 the NUR had 6,052 children on its books and 50 years later despite the rundown of the railways and a much lower membership was still responsible for more than a thousand children. Each branch of the union was responsible for its own “orphans” and branch secretaries had the task of visiting families and handing over the money they had received from head office.


"Help" the railway dog raised more than £1,000.

One of the very early methods of fund raising arranged by branches was the “meat tea” and the record attendance for one of these occasions was held by the Middlesborough Branch which managed to attract 1,717 people to the crypt of the Town Hall in 1897. Whist drives, rummage sales, concerts, football and cricket matches, flower days, socials and dances were all popular ways to boost the funds in the early days. The dog “Help” owned by a guard managed to collect over £1,000 from passengers between 1882 and 1889. Less well known was a monkey called Jacko a “member” of West Brompton Branch which was used to raise funds in 1894. Sponsored runs, raffles, car boot sales and the proceeds of fruit machines are more recent fundraising methods.

Money however came and still comes from all kind of directions, including the wills of sympathisers, strike pay donations and gifts from individual members. An interesting example is a donation in 1982 of £1528.19 from the Hull Railwaymen’s Silver Band, which ceased to exist in that year. The last two members of the band passed over the remaining band funds to the NUR Orphan Fund.

NUR silver badge

Badges have played a part over the years in helping to boost the fund. Orphan Fund Medallions in silver and gold were produced to be presented to members who were considered to have done exceptional work on behalf of the orphans. Silver and gold brooches were produced for women. The NUR Women’s Guild played a very prominent role in arranging fund raising events, outings and parties for children. The London Orphan Fund Committee have used a variety of badges to great effect to raise money and still sell them today. They also produced a button badge for identification purposes to be worn on their annual outings. In 2004 the London Committee took its youngsters to Skegness for their annual outing and held a Christmas party for them in the capital.

NUR gold badge

NUR gold badge

At some stage in the funds history an Orphan Fund Challenge Cup was introduced to be presented by the General Secretary each year to the branch raising the most money, and over the years there has been great competition between branches of the union in the annual bid to win the trophy. In 1968 to celebrate the TUCs Centenary at Belle Vue, Manchester, models of 1869 locomotives were made in the railway workshops and were manned by local orphan boys dressed in driver and firemen uniforms of the period. The young ‘locomen’ also took part in TUC celebrations in London and the TUC Cavalcade in Blackpool later that year.

RMT London Orphans Fund badge

RMT London Orphans Fund badge

Attitudes have changed and certainly the rules covering the orphan fund have change since its inception. In the early years a mother could be disqualified from benefits “for misconduct” and children “born out of wedlock” were not covered by the fund. Happily those sanctions were withdrawn many many years ago and all members or their partners who are parents of young children and lose their spouses are still assisted by the union in a tradition that has lasted over 130 years.