Synopsis: Mock epitaph recording the failure of the 1887 Midland Railway strike.
From the men of Holbeck Leeds a nicely got-up folding mourning card was received with black-bordered edges, on one side of which was the following:- In everlasting disgrace of the late RAILWAY BLACK SHEEP, who departed from good society on Friday, August 5th 1887 aged seven days for three days pay. With the family's kind regards” on the other side were the following lines
“Good-bye dear friends, 'tis sad to relate,
We do not know our future fate;
'Stand firm' was our cry; 'we'll win the day'
But we've gone in for more labour and less pay
How much we have suffered, heaven knows,
But we hope to be free from all our woes,
We've cabs and coppers on every hand,
To guide us to a better land” (great laughter).
The Midland Railway strike began at midnight 4th/5th August 1887. The lines “'Stand firm' was our cry; 'we'll win the day' / But we've gone in for more labour and less pay” seem to be about a failed attempt to improve conditions of employment.
Mourning cards came into popular use in the early 19th century. Toward the end of the century folded memorial cards were commonly used; typically with a scene on the front, and the deceased's name and information printed inside. As this type of card became popular, all four sides contained information about the deceased, and included poems, photos, and artwork
Many railway companies cut wages during the economic depression of the late 19th century.
R. P. Brooker says that “The majority of enginemen and firemen had for years been represented by two rival societies, The Old Enginemen’s Society having its headquarters in Birmingham…..and the Leeds Society of Enginemen and Firemen composed of more ardent spirits” and that Railway Review afforded “the means of...ventilating grievances.”
[Ref: The British Rail Strike of 1887, Labour History No. 11 (Nov., 1966), pp. 54-61].
“Coppers” presumably means policemen. In this context “cabs” may have a non-standard meaning.