Modelling the first rail strike of 1911

08 October 2022
As today, more than 100 years ago, workers on Britain's railway workers were striking – and a forum member has modelled the story.

Our forum, RMweb is a useful resource for sharing modelling and projects with fellow modellers around the world. This week, a diorama by user 'Mikkel' was brought to our attention, that tells the interesting story of the first national rail strike.

Taking place in 1911 owing to dissatisfaction between rail workers and companies, the unofficial strikes would take place in July and August, with troops dispatched to oversee that lines would keep traffic moving.  

'The Great Unrest' was a period of labour unrest during the years 1911-1914 which saw more industrial disputes than any before it. During the years 1911-14 there were 4229 officially recorded strikes in Britain.

Mikkel's diorama tells the story of Britain's first official national railway strike which took place from August 17-19, 1911.

1911 railway strike model diorama

The strike arose from dissatisfaction among railway workers with the lack of progress in Conciliation Boards that were supposed to negotiate worker’s conditions. 

In June 1911, railway workers in Liverpool joined dock workers and merchant sailors in the Liverpool Transport Strike, demanding shorter hours and better pay. The strikes in Liverpool gradually gained broader support and spread to other towns. With some delay the railway unions decided to back the strikes and expand them. A formal national railway strike was declared on August 17.

The unions sent telegrams to 2,000 railway centers across the country, urging all railway workers to abandon work and go on strike. According to sources, this increased the number of workers on strike to approximately 150-200,000 of the 600,000 railway workers recorded at the time. Action was most intense on the railways that connected with the North, including the MR, LNWR, NER, GCR and GWR. On the southern railways, few workers got involved in the strike.

The railway companies refused to accept the strike and met with the PM Asquith, who guaranteed that they would be able to continue railway operations. After a failed attempt to negotiate an arrangement with the unions, Home Secretary Churchill approved deployment of 58,000 troops around the country.

1911 railway strike diorama

Photos show horse-drawn wagons lined up in small convoys.

Mikkel's scene was inspired by a photograph in the 1911 edition of 'The Sphere', showing troops guarding GWR facilities. The army’s brief was to secure running of the railways and avoid interference or sabotage by the strikers. Numerous photographs from around the country show troops guarding stations, signal boxes, junctions and locomotive sheds.

Many of the deployed troops wore an unusual combination of field uniform and full-dress headgear. The army was also employed to assist the police escort horse-drawn deliveries. The disturbances fuelled sensationalist reporting in the media, but also led to debates about the salaries and rights of railway workers.

Related: Read how Mikkel created this diorama on his RMweb thread.


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What an excellent piece - thanks you. Funny Little Wars

Posted by Paul Wright on Thu 13 Jul 19:18:55