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.


Union of Railway Signalmen

Safe passage for the railway traveller

Badge of the Union of Railway Signalmen

In the aftermath of the 1924 rail strike acrimony existed between the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) and within the NUR itself.

The National Signalmen’s Movement, a pressure group within the NUR, were unhappy with the pay deals achieved by the NUR for signalmen. A.E. Rochester, a NUR signalman, sent an article critical of the NUR leadership to the NUR journal ’Railway Review’. The journal refused to publish it, so Rochester took the article to ASLEF General Secretary John Bromley who made money available to publish the article as a leaflet. The NUR responded by threatening Rochester with legal action and ordering him to appear before the Executive Council.

George Richards, a prominent member of the National Signalmen’s Movement, met the ASLEF General Secretary and was told ASLEF would loan a substantial amount of money to any signalmen who decided to form a breakaway union.

Thirteen men met at the home of a Mr Charles Breton and formed the Union of Railway Signalmen (URS). The URS received £1,000 from ASLEF followed by a further £2,000.

The National Signalmen’s Movement issued a manifesto proclaiming loyalty to the NUR and condemning sectional unionism. Support for the URS was so poor that by 1925 it could only claim 250 signalmen out of all the signalmen in the country.

The NUR continued to represent the vast majority of signalmen and in 1931, probably in response to the URS, introduced national signalmen’s conference.

In 1945 a Charles Holloway formed the Federation of Power Signalmen, which due to the fact that it could only attract 30 of the 1500 power signalmen in the London area was very short lived.

Holloway later surfaced as General Secretary of the URS.

The URS membership hit an all time high of 8333 in 1950 organised in to 180 branches or 32% of all signalmen. The URS declined after that, 3690 in 87 branches in 1960 and 2075 in 16 branches in 1970.

In 1970 a closed shop was introduced in British Rail and all signalmen were required to be members of the NUR. URS membership fell to 150 by 1973, even though there was no reason signalmen could be members of both unions.

Like many breakaway unions the URS acted partly as a home for those signalmen who wanted to avoid strike action. The URS membership climbed to 220 half of who had joined during the signalmen’s strike of 1974. Membership dropped to 70 in 1975 and to 18 a year later.

The last return lodged with the Registrar General of Trade Unions and Employers Associations was in 1978 when the membership was four.

In May 1979 Charles Holloway, the URS General Secretary for the previous 10 years, died and the URS died with him.The NUR later received a cheque for £6.60 from the Co-operative Bank. The bank, unable to contact the URS had closed the URS account and forwarded the cheque to the NUR. The NUR sent the cheque to the URS’s auditors and the Union of Railway Signalmen was no more.