The Songs and Poems:

This section includes songs and poems about real events and also works of fiction. Songs about locomotive drivers can be divided into those that treat the driver as an heroic figure (e.g. bar097~Driver of the Train) and those that treat him as a figure of fun (e.g. bar033~Blinky is Driving Tonight). Most of the items in this section are Music_Hall¹ songs or monologues and most are comic items.
The earliest song to mention a driver is bar224~Llanidloes & Newton Railway. This is a surprisingly late date given the impact of railways and the social prominence of drivers. The social status of drivers made them a good catch for a young woman in search of a husband. See bar201~Johnny the Engine Driver and bar491~Young Man on the Railway

The poetry of Alexander_Anderson¹ is a significant element here. bar282, 683, 688, 691, 692, and 694 are all his work.

Main Themes and Motifs:

- Train crashes
- Accidents suffered by individuals
- The Driver as Hero


1840-49  510
1850-59  224
1860-69  201;491
1870-79  282*, 683*, 688*, 691*, 692*, 694*
1880-89  033; 097; 369
1890-99  081; 743
1910-19  108

Uncertain: 253; 465

* The earliest and latest dates for this item extend across decades. See item more information.

Historical Background:

Well into the 20th century, it was the childhood ambition many small boys to be an engine driver when they grew up. Drivers were the first group of railway servants to join the aristocracy of labour. By 1865 some of them earned more than 40 shillings per week, more than twice the income of most workers [i]. As well as high wages they had continuity of work, an unusual level of security for most workers during the 19th century.

Drivers had to be highly literate at a time when compulsory schooling lasted a mere 5 or 6 years. They had to be self-motivated to gain the level of literacy required to follow the books of regulations and understand the continuous flow of amendments like these issued by the Midland Railway in April 1856.
"some difficulty having arisen in carrying out rule number 64 in the Company's Book of Rules and Regulations, in consequence of misapprehension between drivers and Pointsmen¹ as to which line should, in some cases, be considered the Main line - and which the Branch, the following regulations have been drawn up for the guidance of drivers and pointsmen in the matter, and the particular attention of Drivers is called to the great importance of a strict observance of them.

In order that the Pointsmen may be at all times able to distinguish on which Line a train is coming. Drivers are instructed, on operating at a junction, by any of the lines branching therefrom, to give the same number of whistles they are instruct-ed to do, when approaching the Junction in a contrary direction, and wishing to be turned on that Line.
The Junction Pointsmen have instructions not to lower their semaphores for approaching Trains until the necessary signal has been given, by a Driver, and to report every Train that is stopped in accordance with such instructions.
These Regulations come into operation on 1st May 1856." [ii]


[i] Hobsbawn, Eric. Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour (London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1964) p280
[ii] Evans A.K.B. and Gough J.V. (Eds) The Impact of Railways on Society in Britain Essays in Honour of Jack Simmons (Ashgate, 2003) p.


3 across Articles in this Category: click a link

Blinky is Driving Tonight

bar033: Dates 1883~----|

Fantastical misadventures of train driven by Blinky

Moses Of The Mail

bar253: Dates 1887~1954|

A reckless driver derails a train.

I Stand and Watch the Trains Go Past

bar465: Dates ----~----|

A reflection on the hardships and dangers faced by railway workers.

Cabman's Railway Yarn, The

bar049: Dates ----~1920|

An incompetent driver gets lost on a branch-line network and ends up back at his starting point. 

Driver of the Train, The

bar097: Dates ----~1880|

The locomotive driver as hero.

Engine Driver's Story, The

bar109: Dates ----~1898|

A Driver loses engine and gets lost in the network. (Comic nonsense)

Engine Driver's Story, A Thrilling...

bar108: Dates ----~1913|

A Driver goes mad at the controls and the fireman saves the day by killing him (Comic)

Johnny the Engine Driver

bar201: Dates ----~1867|

A young lady looks forward to marrying her locomotive driver lover.


bar282: Dates 1862~1877|

Wild driver almost runs over his own son

Rival Steeds

bar369: Dates 1889~1889|

A train driver declares the superiority of his locomotive over the horse.

Scotch Express from Ireland, The

bar374: Dates ----~1933|

The hero prevents disaster by putting a halfpenny on line. The Scots driver stops the train to retrieve it.

Young Man on the Railway, The

bar491: Dates ----~1865|

A married train driver dallies with the affections of a young woman.

Death and His Brother, Sleep

bar081: Dates 1890~1890|

A driver falls asleep at the controls after working excessive hours - inspired by a real accident.

Behind Time

bar694: Dates 1862~1878|

A driver is killed and the Fireman takes over to drive the train

Rid of His Engine

bar683: Dates 1862~1878|

A Fireman's failure to see a signal set at red leads to a crash.

Jim Dally

bar688: Dates 1862~1878|

A Fireman tells the story of a driver who foresees his own death.

Blood on the Wheel

bar692: Dates 1862~1877|

A bride to be is killed by a locomotive driven by her prospective husband.

Bob Cruikshanks

bar691: Dates 1862~1877|

A driver tells of the emotions he feels when driving his engine.

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