Frank Barlow Burnley

The Woodlesford station ambulance team posing with their stretcher and ambulance stores on the Up platform in the spring or summer of 1911. Frank Barlow Burnley is second from the left on the back row. Sitting immediately in front of him is Frank Jackson who had just joined the staff that year. The tall man in the centre of the photo is the station master Edwin Deverell and the man on the far right in the dark uniform is most likely the senior clerk, Frank Ferrett. Between Deverell and Ferrett is John Hatton, the station goods checker. Sitting on the far right of the bench is another clerk. Edwin Deverell is wearing a distinctive cap which has both MR for Midland Railway on it and the Wyvern “logo.” Just visible is a silver band around the base. His waistcoat is not a Midland one. On the bench are two porters in their corduroy uniforms. The man standing on the left may be a signalman. The badges on some of the men’s jackets denote that they have had some form of first aid training. (Research by Peter Witts of the Midland Railway Society). See bottom of page for list of other station staff in 1911.

Frank Barlow Burnley was a clerk at Woodlesford station before and after the First World War. From his youth he was an active socialist and later in life he served for a year as the Lord Mayor of Leeds.

The son of an innkeeper from Batley who became an insurance agent and commercial traveller, Frank was born in Hunslet in 1887. He went to schools on Jack Lane and Bewerley Street before attending Cockburn High School. One of his early memories was watching, “with a kind of horror,” uniformed children being marched to the workhouse on Hillidge Road in Hunslet.

When he was 15 he joined the Midland Railway working as a clerk in the District Superintendent’s department at what he described later as the “old offices” of the company in Leeds.

It’s not known when he transferred to Woodlesford but by 1909 he was an active unionist in the Railway Clerks Association in a period of great militancy on the railways as the unions fought for better working conditions and higher wages.  

The unrest climaxed in the first ever national railway strike in August 1911. It only lasted two days but forced the Liberal government led by Herbert Asquith to set up a Royal Commission to look into the conciliation procedures between the unions and the railway companies.  

During the strike the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, authorised the use of police and troops to keep the trains running. The worst incident was in Llanelli in South Wales which led to the deaths of six men after troops opened fire on the strikers.

Closer to home the military were called in to protect the strategic junctions at Holbeck and 100 railway police were drafted from London to the Leeds stations. At Castleford strikers, angry at police intervening to allow a dray of flour to be delivered from the goods yard, threw stones at the North Eastern station and signal box.

The impact of the national strike on Woodlesford isn’t recorded but the Midland Railway claimed they were able to run half their trains during the strike. 

Frank Barlow Burnley in 1952. 

Many years later Frank Barlow Burnley recalled encouraging porters at Woodlesford to strike for an increase to their pay of 16 shillings a week. Few of them were in a union and he claimed to have marched them to Leeds to enroll them, but it’s not clear if he was talking about 1911 or an earlier strike.

Frank was one of three general clerks on the books at Woodlesford. As well as issuing tickets to passengers they also dealt with all the invoices and waybills associated with goods traffic, duties which must have increased significantly when Water Haigh colliery started producing coal in 1911.

The Railway Clerks Association had negotiated an improved scale of pay in 1910 and Frank’s activities in the union would have been appreciated by his colleagues as agitation continued for a limit to the excessive hours without overtime pay they sometimes had to work. Their demands included a 41 hour week and a fortnight’s holiday at a “seasonable” time. The general manager of the Midland Railway, Sir Guy Granet, agreed to meet a union deputation in December 1912.

By 1914 the senior clerk at Woodlesford, Frank Ferrett, earned £105 per year, Frank Barlow Burnley was on £90, and the junior clerk, Frank Jackson, who was to remain his lifelong friend, was on £55.

In 1912 Frank married Clara Bevan, the daughter of a miner from Dawley in Shropshire who had brought his family to Yorkshire in the 1880s. Before her marriage Clara had been an elementary school teacher for the West Riding County Council, most likely at Woodlesford school, and initially the couple lived on Eshald Place in the village.

In November 1915, at the age of 28, Frank volunteered for service in the First World War. Initially he was placed in the Army Reserve but the following July he joined the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers and was posted as a sapper to No.5 Company at their base at Longmoor in Hampshire.

When he left home Clara was pregnant and in September she gave birth to a premature baby boy who was named William Thomas Eric Burnley. On 25 September 1916 he died of heart failure when he was just 8 days old. Coincidentally it was the same day that Frank embarked with his unit for France. Documents in his army record show he was allowed home on compassionate leave.

It’s not clear from Frank’s partially destroyed record if he was sent close to the front line in France but he rose to the rank of Company Quartermaster Sergeant, survived the war, and was awarded the Brtish War Medal and Victory Medal.

After the war Frank returned to his job at Woodlesford where he and Clara lived near her parents on Quarry Road behind the Midland Hotel and then in a newly built council house on North Lane.

His political and union activities continued and in 1920 he founded the Oulton and Woodlesford branch of the Labour Party. A year later he was elected as the only socialist member of the parish council and Clara gave birth to another son, John Douglas Burnley.

In 1923 they all left Woodlesford for Normanton where Frank continued his railway service at Normanton station. He also became a councillor on the Normanton Urban District Council and was elected as its chairman in 1934.

Probably to further his political activities, in 1935 he moved with his family to live in Leeds on the Allenby estate in Beeston. A year later he was elected as a councillor for South Holbeck on the City Council.

Tragically John Douglas, who was serving as a wireless operator with the R.A.F., was killed in a bombing raid over the port of Rostock in the Baltic in April 1942. His mother died a year later.  

After that Frank went back to work in Normanton where he was an air raid warden. He retired from the railway at the age of 60 in 1947. By two votes he narrowly missed being adopted as a Labour Party parliamentary candidate in Huddersfield. For his long membership of the Railway Clerks Association he was given a gold badge and when it became the Transport Salaried Staffs Association in 1951 he served on the national executive.

As a Leeds councillor he served on many key committees and was chairman of the Town Planning and Improvements Committee which changed the face of the city in the post-war years.

In 1949 he became an alderman and in 1952 he was elected Lord Mayor of Leeds causing quite a stir in Woodlesford when he turned up to visit his old friend and fellow clerk, Frank Jackson, in the official Rolls Royce!

On 11 November 1955 Alderman Burnley suffered a fractured leg when he was hit by a car in Leeds. He was taken to the General Infirmary but died there 18 days later.

An obituary in the Yorkshire Post said he had been much admired for his work on the council especially in the development of housing. “He was a devoted social worker, and though a man of a quiet and unassuming temperament, fulfilled the duties of his office with great distinction,” it said. During his time as Lord Mayor he had launched appeals for the Lynmouth and East Coast Flood Disaster Funds and the King George VI Memorial Fund.

The paper also reported his keen interest in sport noting that as a young man he had followed Leeds City and Leeds United football teams. In later years he had been an occasional visitor to Rugby League matches in his native Hunslet and he was a regular at Headingley when there was a Test or a county cricket match. He had also been chairman of the Middleton Municipal Golfers’ Club.  

A view of Normanton station looking towards Leeds in 1947, a scene which would have been familiar to Frank Barlow Burnley.

Other railway workers living in Woodlesford in 1911.

William Goward. Railway clerk. He was born in 1887 in house close to the Anchor Inn on the canal between Woodlesford and Hunslet. His father was canal labourer James Goward and his mother Sarah Ann Hirst. His grandfather, Thomas Goward, had been an agricultural labourer from West Hardwick near Wakefield but became a carter for one of the local stone merchants living at Chadwick’s Row on Quarry Hill in Oulton. William started as a clerk at Woodlesford station in 1901 earning £15 a year. Three years later he moved to Armley where he was a booking and parcels clerk. Later he moved to Wellington station in the centre of Leeds and in 1911 was living at home on Church Street with his widowed mother and two lodgers. In 1914 he was earning £95 a year. William was killed in action on 30 June 1918 whilst serving as a soldier during the First World War. He had risen to the rank of Lance Corporal in the 6th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment. His army records indicate he had possibly trained to be a pilot. He left £199 in his will.

James Andrew Fardell.  Platelayer, born Whissendine, Rutland in 1878. Son of a farmer. Boarded with Goward family at 11 Church St. Was living at 4 Church St. when he died in 1941. Left £618 to his son James Ernest Fardell, a railway shunter, and his daughter Elizabeth Gibson. James Andrew’s brother, Joseph Fardell, was an engine cleaner at St. Pancras in 1901. Moved to Chesterfield where he became a shunter.

Tom Backhouse. Platelayer. 17 Beecroft Yard. Born Castleford, Catlow St. in 1875. Had been a glass bottle “taker in” and glass blower in Castleford before railway. Married miner’s daughter Ellen Cockerham from Astley in 1896. They were living in Hunslet in 1901 where he was a glass hand.

Albert Hoy. Platelayer, 20 Alma St. Born at Little Canfield in Essex in 1881. Father was an agricultural labourer. Married to Ethel Mary Croft from Hastings, Sussex in 1908. 2 young children in 1911. After army service joined London, Brighton and South Coast Railway at Hastings Goods in March 1907. Dismissed in October 1908 “worse for drink and abusing superintendent.”

William “Willy” Tranmer. Platelayer, 46 Alma St. Born at Knottingley in 1871. Father was earthenware potter from Ferrybridge. William married Emma Hulme, daughter of a printer at Woodlesford in 1896.

John Hatton. Goods checker, born Tardebigge, Worcestershire 1881. Father was a platelayer. 48 Alma Hill. Married to Catherine Alice Fawcett from Horsforth.

George William Leaf. Porter, born Carbrook, Sheffield, 1885. Boarder 48 Alma Hill. Train recorder at Armley 1904 to 1906. Injured his ankle in a fall whilst porter at Holbeck station in 1908. Father from Kilkenny, was labourer in iron foundry. Died 1955 in Leeds. (Also appears to be on 1911 census living in Leeds with parents.)

James Robert Bushel. Horse driver, born 1884, Pentney, Norfolk, boarder, 48 Alma Hill. Was a van goods checker when he married Eleanor Wilkinson, daughter of carting agent John Wilkinson, at Woodlesford in 1915. Died 1960.

Percy Crowther. Porter, born Leeds, 58 Church St.

George Henry Leadbetter. Signalman, born Honeybourne, Worcestershire in 1872. Lived Park View. After working as a farm labourer he joined the Midland Railway at Bradford in 1891 as a carriage washer. Moved into Derbyshire where he rose up the ranks as a signalman at several stations. Married Mabel Jane Berridge at Burton upon Trent in 1905. She was born at Boreham Wood in Hertfordshire but her father was also a Midland Railway signalman from Derbyshire who had worked up and down the line, and she probably met George when she was living at Willington south west of Derby. A son, Laurence Sydney Leadbetter, was born at Woodlesford in 1907 but he died in 1913 after the family had moved to North Wingfield in Derbyshire. In 1921 George and Mabel were back in Yorkshire at Cudworth where he was a relief signalman. By 1921 they had retired and were living in Sussex.

George Hall. Signalman, born Worcestershire, 10 Kitchener St.