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A hand-bag?

The words uttered in stunned disbelief by Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s play, “The Importance of Being Earnest” remind us that baby Jack Worthing was found by “the late Mr Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition”.

The infant was in a “somewhat large black leather handbag with handles to it” given to him by mistake for his own bag at the Victoria station cloakroom serving the Brighton Line. The baby was given the name “Worthing” as the finder had a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. This is not, it seems, a particularly rare occurrence. Over the years, numerous babies were either left on train luggage racks, at left luggage offices, railway hotels or were actually born on trains.

There are countless instances where train guards had to do an urgent search of their trains for doctors or nurses to assist in delivering babies. There are also cases where guards of a passing train had to shout a message from the train to station staff. An alternative was for the guard to scribble a note to be thrown out at a station and to wave a flag vigorously to announce its importance. The aim was to get medical help or an ambulance to meet the train further on. Or the train could simply be stopped at a station where help would be available. In one case, a Victoria to Dover boat train was stopped in a siding for 40 minutes at Sevenoaks to enable a birth to take place before mother and baby were taken away by ambulance. In 1931, a station inspector at Liverpool Lime Street came to the rescue when a woman travelling to the city’s maternity home gave birth hours early. At Chester station in 1949, a railway policeman acted as midwife when a passenger for Ireland gave birth to a daughter on the Holyhead boat train. Two more reported cases of births on moving long distance trains ended happily as doctors and midwives were found among the passengers.

Births on moving trains sometimes gave Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages a problem when it came to stating the actual parish of the place of birth on the birth certificate. The middle of the 10,000 feet-long Tay Bridge between Fifeshire and Forfarshire was the place of birth for one child in 1903. A baby girl was born on a Bakerloo Line train somewhere in a tunnel on its London Underground route in 1924. It’s said that the Chairman of London Underground Railways even offered to be godfather! The second train-born baby of 1928 on the London, Midland & Scottish Railway appeared on a Liverpool to London excursion train in Northamptonshire. This was at Blisworth after the guard had thrown a message out at Kilsby station 16 miles to the north asking for a doctor and ambulance to meet his train. Regardless of parish, the baby born on the up “Flying Scotsman” express in 1929 could have been born in either Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire or Hertfordshire as the main line passes through all three counties in a short space of time. He was given the middle name “ELNER” as he was born on the LNER (London & North Eastern Railway). The LNER welcomed the publicity and the company presented the baby with a silver christening cup. But this remarkable tale had a tragic ending as the child died at the age of 10 weeks with his passing marked in national newspapers.

In 1908, the Southend-on-Sea stationmaster’s wife came to the rescue when the station’s carriage examiner found a baby in a luggage rack. The child was fed and warmed before being taken to the workhouse. Another luggage rack discovery in 1941 was the abandoned baby found in a Leeds to Doncaster train. At Doncaster the baby was taken to the Poor Law Institution and was later christened Ernest Scargill, the name of Doncaster’s Mayor at the time. Ernest was later adopted by a childless couple from Yorkshire.

Crewe station in 1931 saw a reunion between mother and her six-month old baby. The mother, a soldier’s wife, was on a cross-country troop train bringing soldiers on leave from India. The train was due to run from Southampton to the north with a first stop at Crewe. She got off briefly to go to a kiosk leaving the baby with soldiers, but the train set off without her. A message was telegraphed from Southampton to Crewe and the mother was advised to get an express to Waterloo and then another express from Euston to Crewe with the aim of getting there before the troop train. But mother got lost crossing London and missed her train. When she finally got to Crewe, she found that the train load of soldiers had done an excellent job in feeding and looking after baby and handing her over to Crewe station staff to await mother’s arrival. At Harrogate in 1952, a passenger from London on the down “Queen of Scots” Pullman got a porter to put her carrycot with baby on the platform while she was fetching her two-year old son and luggage. The train was crowded and moving to the door took time. Before she could alight, the train had set off. The Pullman conductor pulled the communication cord and the train halted at the nearby Bilton Junction. But with no platform there was no way that she could get off, so it was decided to proceed to Ripon station and make a special stop there. In the meantime, Harrogate’s stationmaster looked after the baby until her mother and brother returned.

It says something about the quality of the 20th Century permanent way and rolling stock that babies can be left in luggage racks and aren’t prompted to howl the carriage down….

Mike Peart

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