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It's a railways dog's life

“Laddie”, now in York Railway Museum

They say that there are 2 million more dogs in the UK now than there were a year ago. Now they’re workers and companions – on the railways they were much valued charity workers. It started in 1882 when a railway guard had the idea of training a dog to carry a collecting box to collect for railway orphans. A collie called “Help” was trained up and worked for nine years collecting over £1,000 (over £140,000 at today’s values). At first, they were called “begging dogs” but later the more respectable term “collecting dogs” was used. Airedale “Laddie”, pictured above, worked at London Waterloo station for seven years from 1949 collecting for the railway servants’ orphanage and home at Woking. When she died, she was stuffed and put in a glass case at Wimbledon station to continue her work. She now lives in the National Railway Museum at York.

When I worked at Slough station in the 1960s, one of my silent colleagues was “Station Jim”. He was a mongrel in poor health who had collected for the Widows & Orphans Fund for two years from 1894. He was trained to beg, bark, play dead or stand on his hind legs to acknowledge a donation in his collecting box. Another trick was to wear a railway hat and hold a clay pipe in his mouth. Like a lot of his colleagues, he was trained only to use the footbridge to cross the running lines. A complex character, he liked climbing ladders, putting out lighted matches and growling at the Salvation Army band. On his death he was stuffed and put in a glass case where he remains to this day on Platform 5 at Slough station.

“Station Jim” at Slough

Royalty and VIPs were good targets for collecting dogs. Irish terrier/Airedale cross “Tim” at Paddington always received a sovereign coin and a pat from Queen Victoria who frequently passed through the station. King Edward VII and King George V are also recorded as donors to later collecting dogs. Millionaire Mr Astor gave “Tim” £200 in 1900 as a reward for his hard work. In 1896 thieves tried to upturn “Tim” to get coins to fall out of his collecting box – he bit back and they failed!

A painting of Paddington station’s famous “Tim”

Collecting dogs sometimes got onto trains whether they were supposed to or not. As celebrities, they were always recognised and sent back to their home stations. In 1905, one adventurous dog “Jim” working at Kingswear station in Devon managed to board a cargo ship in the harbour which had brought coal from Tyneside. He was found on the ship when it was on its way back to Tyneside. “Jim” had to wait aboard for the next load and came back to Devon the week after. Four years later, his fame brought him a sovereign from the Prince of Wales who was visiting the Royal Naval College at nearby Dartmouth.

There have been many other collecting dogs such as Bill, Lassie, Charley, Prince, Rover, Roy, Jack, Gip, Smut, Spot, Taff, Vic and Nell who have padded British railway platforms over the years. One St Bernard at Waterloo, “Mariegold of Clairvaux”, also raised money by starring in adverts for conditioning powders for dogs! Whether the name was aristocratic or normal, all of them worked in the name of charity and made real contributions to railway welfare funds over decades raising thousands of pounds.

Mike Peart

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