Lichfield’s first station master

In this post I will consider the life and career of Lichfield’s first Station Master, William John Durrad (1817-1889). All the information in this post is gleaned from public sources – registers of birth and death, census records, employment records and the local press. Whilst these can describe a life in broad terms, they cannot really give a proper picture of the person’s character and personality. But in the case of William Durrad, they do show a typical Victorian progression from humble origins to gentleman status, brought about through a mixture of patronage and effort, and cast some light on the life of Lichfield in the nineteenth century.

For the sake of readability, I have not given any sources of information in the text below – should readers be interested in where the detail comes from, please email me on c.j.baker@bham.ac.uk for further information.

Early years

William John Durrad was born in 1817, the second child John and Ann Durrad of the village of Welford in Northamptonshire and baptised in the parish church. To avoid confusion with others, I will generally refer to him as William John in what follows. The Durrad name has a long history in that area, with a John Durrad of the nearby village of Misterton (d1726), being part owner of the Lordship of the Manor and a considerable donor to local charities.  William John’s father, John (b1780), however seems to have been of humbler stock and is described at William John’s baptism as a weaver. William John had one elder sister and four younger brothers, at least two of whom died in childhood. Their relative lack of prosperity can be judged by the fact that in 1851 his elder sister Mary was a servant at a household in Lancashire and his younger brother Richard was a butler at a house in Surrey (where he was later to marry the cook). His father John died in 1826, and William John’s mother Ann married again in 1827 to William Sanders, an agricultural labourer, and had several other children. We will meet one of these, Stephen Sanders (b.1831), again in what follows.

William John next firmly appears in the historical record as an employee of the London North Western Railway in the mid-1840s. It is possible however, at least provisionally and with some conjecture, to piece together some aspects of his early life. The first clue comes from his obituary in the Lichfield Mercury in 1889 where we read

“Being brought into intimate relations with the late Archdeacon Moore, he was fortunate enough to secure the good wishes and kindly offices of that dignitary of the church, and by his influence obtained a situation under the London and North Western Railway Company in the early days of railway enterprise”.

The Venerable Henry Moore (1795 – 1876) was Archdeacon of Stafford from 1856 to his death in 1876. He was born at Sherborne, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and ordained in 1819. In the 1840s he was vicar of Eccleshall near Stafford and Penn near Wolverhampton and was made Archdeacon of Stafford and Prebend of Handsacre in 1851. The pictures below show the sketch by the artists Henry Armistead for this effigy in the cathedral, and the finished monument.

The second clue comes from the rather unusual name of Durrad. From as early as 1839 to the end of the century and beyond, there was a store in Eccleshall trading under the name, firstly, of William Durrad, and later of Joseph Durrad. The early mentions of this firm in the press in 1839 were as an agent for the selling of “Woolriches Improved Diuretic Horse Balls”, “Simpson’s new antibillious pills” and “Wesley’s Family Pills”, but from 1841 it is referred to as “Stationers” and from 1844 onwards as “Booksellers”. The firm acted as a publisher of postcards and political pamphlets, and as the local agent for many weekly subscribing magazines. One of these pamphlet from 1847, “A Political Sketch of the Relative Position of England and France” by Herbert Rice Esq. can be read on Google books by anyone interested in that sort of thing.  A photograph of the shop from 1897 can be found here.

The 1861 census identifies the owner of the bookstore as William Durrad, born in Leicester in 1821, and described as “Painter and Bookseller, organist, distributor of stamps”. This younger William was the son of a James Durrad, born in Welford in 1798. It seems very likely, given that they were both born in Welford, that James Durrad was related in some way or other to the William John’s father John, possible a younger brother or nephew. Note William’s age however – in 1839, when we first hear of the firm, he would only have been 18 years old.  Unfortunately, none of the sources give a middle name that can be used to identify him more precisely, and we will refer to him as the younger William in what follows. There is however a tantalising reference to W. J. Durrad from 1843 in a press advert for  Wesley’s famous product.

The third and final clue is that in the London North Western Railway records, William John’s profession before entering the service of the company is given as “bookseller”.

Thus, we can conclude that in the early 1840s William John and the younger William, who were probably cousins, were owners of a bookshop in Eccleshall, with William John, at least at first, being the senior partner. It is likely that the W. J. Durrad mentioned above from 1843 refers to him. It was there that they met Henry Moore, then the vicar of the parish, who could be expected, given his background, to be something of a bibliophile. From that meeting, the influence of the clergyman was enough to find William John a position in the London and North Western Railway. The bookshop was presumably left in the hands of the younger William and was eventually taken over by his younger brother Joseph (b1838) in the 1860s, after Joseph had worked as an assistant in a bookshop in Leicester, when the younger William retired.

Of course this leaves the question unanswered as to how William John came to be in Eccleshall in the first place, where he obtained the education that was presumably required to operate as a bookseller, and how he obtained the necessary resources to open a shop at all. It is unlikely that these questions will ever be answered.

Station Master and family man

We first read of William John in the London North Western Railway records as being, in 1845, the Lichfield agent for the company. As the company wasn’t in existence until July 1846, he was presumably an agent for one of the companies that ultimately came together to make up the LNWR – probably the Trent Valley Railway. His duties were thus to represent the interests of the railway during its inception phase. He was paid either £100pa or £130pa – the sources are contradictory. By the time the station opened in 1847, he was the designated Station Master, on a salary of £120pa. He was also at that stage a married man, having married Elizabeth Lowe, at Tettenhall in April 1846. There is no indication of how or where they met.

The employment records note that William John joined the railway when he was 21, which seems like an error, as that would be in 1838, 5 years before parliamentary approval was given for its construction, and too early for the bookshop to be left in the hands of the younger William. However, his obituary of 1889 says that, before coming to Lichfield, thanks to the good offices of the Archdeacon, he worked for some time at Edge Hill station in Liverpool. This had been in existence since 1831 as part of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. It is just about possible, given the constraints on his timeline, that he worked there in 1844 or 1845 before moving to Lichfield. However, there is another possibility. In the LNWR records we find reference in the mid-1840s to Stephen Sanders, William John’s half-brother, calling himself Stephen Sanders Durrad, as being employed at Lichfield under William John’s supervision and later at Edge Hill as a clerk. This might possibly be the cause of the confusion.

I have described the original Lichfield station in another post. Basically, it was situated on the west side of the Lichfield / Burton road which the railway crossed on the level, i.e. on the opposite side to the current station. The picture below shows the rather grand style that was adopted by the architect John William Livock. The station building contained not only the passenger facilities and offices, but was also the Station Manager’s House, for which William John paid £15 a year in rent. To the east of the station and the Burton road, from 1849 the railway was crossed by the South Staffordshire Railway (now the Cross City line). This had a station to the north of the crossover entitled Lichfield Trent Valley junction. The South Staffs Railway was leased to the LNWR in 1861 and absorbed into the company in 1867. Clearly having two stations was inconvenient for passengers and both stations were closed in 1871 and a new station, with low level and high-level platforms, opened at its present site.

William John was the Station Master for the entire life of the original Lichfield station, with a wide range of responsibilities for the passenger and freight traffic, and for a significant number of staff. It is difficult to be precise about staff numbers as only the clerks and the porters tend to be mentioned in the records, when in reality there would have been a range of others associated with the adjacent freight yard that William probably had some responsibility for.  That being said, in 1847 there were seven named staff – Stephen Sanders Durrad mentioned above in a temporary post, plus six porters.

William John’s and Elizabeth’s children were born at regular intervals over the first decade and a half of his tenure as Station Master, and all were baptised at St Michael’s church, the station being situated in Streethay, a township at the northern end of the parish. William Henry was born in 1848, Arthur James in 1850 (confusingly named as Alfred on the census return of 1851), Walter Richard in 1852, Emma Helen in 1853 and Bertram George in 1860. With them in the house there were a succession of young servant girls which indicates that the family were comfortably off. William John’s salary steadily increased – to £130pa in 1853 and £135pa in 1859.

From time to time we see mentions of him in the press. In 1855 he was a witness in the trial of William Marson, who was charged with stealing two trusses and a large quantity of cloth from a wagon that had arrived from Stafford last in the evening and not unloaded till the day after. This is interesting in indicating his responsibility for the goods traffic as well as the passenger traffic. In 1869 he was a witness at an inquest into the death of Charles Lees from Barton-under-Needwood, a goods brakeman for the LNWR, who was working on a train from Wychnor to Shrewbury. At Lichfield it was engaged in shunting activities to leave some wagons behind and pick up some others. This involved moving trucks down the rather steep incline from the old South Staffs station to the Rugeley sidings at low level. Acting very much against the company rule Lees uncoupled the wagons as they rolled down the incline, fell and his leg was crushed by the following wagons. His wounds were bound up as far as possible, and then William John decided to have him taken by train to Stafford, as this was the quickest way to get medical attention. However, he died of his injuries, although the inquest jury agreed that Durrad’s actions had been appropriate.

It has been mentioned that all William John’s children were baptised at St Michael’s parish church, and his obituary specifically mentions his ongoing involvement with the activities there.  A picture of the church after the ill-fated restoration of the 184s is shown below. The registers of the parish reveal a rather curious incident in 1869. Emma Helen Durrad, then aged 16, was recorded as having been baptised as an adult at a private ceremony, and this was entered in the registers. The incumbent at the time, James Sergeantson, must have been aware from a register entry of 16 years before by his predecessor Thomas Gnossall Parr that she had already been baptised as an infant, and thus this was certainly in breach of canon law. Why and where the baptism took place, and why Sergeantson agreed to enter it into the register is not clear. Perhaps she had become involved with a non-conformist body that insisted on adult baptism, and the parents were trying to regularise this and perhaps put the Rector under some pressure to make an entry in the register?

William John Durrad resigned from his post as Station Master in June 1871, by which time his salary was £150pa. Why is not at all clear – but perhaps the fact that he would be required to move into less palatial accommodation when the new station was built may have been a factor.  There was a collection for a testimonial in the town, announced in the press, that raised a considerable (but not specified) sum. In the census of April 1871 all his children were still living at home. William Henry (22) was cashier at Lloyds Bank in Rugeley ; Athur James (20) was an undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge (and presumably on vacation), Walter Richard (19) was also a bank clerk; whilst Emma Helen (17) and Bertram George (11) were identified as scholars. Both Arthur and Bertram attended Lichfield Grammar School and Loughborough School – and this may well have been the case for William and Walter too. William John’s brother Richard also lived close by – he and the cook he married when he was a butler in Surrey were now running an Inn in Rugeley – and when he died in 1874, William Henry was to act as one of Richard’s executors.

A Civic Official

After his retirement William John and his family moved to Misterton Cottage. This is on the corner of Trent Valley Road and Wissage Road and still exists – as Holly Lodge – in the grounds of the Samuel Johnson Hospital – see the map and photograph below. It may indeed have been newly built at the time, perhaps under the direction of William John, as it does not appear on the 1848 tithe map but is present in the 1880 Ordnance Survey map. Its name is of course an echo of the Durrad’s roots in Northamptonshire. It was a substantial property. When it was eventually sold in 1890 it is described as being comprised of

Entrance Hall, Two reception rooms, Kitchen, Scullery, Pantry, Cellar, Four bedrooms, dressing room and WC. Well laid out gardens and a quarter of an acre of land.

Shortly after his resignation from the railway, William John took up the post as High Bailiff at Lichfield County Court, based in St. John’s Street, which he was to retain for the rest of his life. In this role he was responsible for executing warrants and court orders. He also had ecclesiastical responsibilities that may have dated back to his time as Station Master. Firstly, he was Apparitor to Archdeacon of Stafford, with the responsibility to summon witnesses and execute the orders of the ecclesiastical court. The Archdeacon, up to 1876, the Venerable Henry Moore. Secondly, he was sub-librarian in the Cathedral library, so he obviously retained his bibliographic interests. Both of these positions would have supplemented the pension from the LNWR.

In his civic roles he appeared regularly, if briefly each time, in the local press in the 1870s and 1880 – at the Mayor’s luncheon, the Sheriff’s breakfast and the perambulation of the city. He was also active in the St John’s Freemasons Lodge end held office there – as Junior Deacon in 1870 and as Junior Warden in 1876.  He also featured on an annual basis in the published list of partners in the Lloyds Banking Company Ltd., together with his son William Henry, who rose to become a Bank Manager in Rugeley in this period.  Presumably again, this was an additional source of income.

Walter Richard was married in 1874 to Sarah Stevens from Hertfordshire, and in the same year Arthur James, having graduated from Jesus College, was ordained Deacon in York. January 1882 saw the death of William Henry in Rugeley, from “congestion of the lungs”. A muffled peal of bells was rung at St Michael’s after evensong on a following Sunday, where both William Henry and his father had been regular ringers. Just two weeks after William Henry’s death, Bertram George, the youngest child, having also graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, was ordained Deacon in Lichfield Cathedral. The following year William’s wife Elizabeth died from heart disease. Bertram married Margaret Wright from Marston Montgomery in Derbyshire in 1888. In 1881 Emma was a teacher and companion to the daughter of Frances Carver, a widowed farmer in Whaddon in Cambridgeshire.

Last days

William John died in January 1889. His obituary records that he had been ill for several weeks beforehand following an operation from which he was never to recover. The lead mourners were of course his family – Arthur James, by then Vicar of Ellerburne near Pickering; Walter Richard, Foreign Correspondent’s Clerk at Coutts in London; Bertram George, the English Anglican Chaplain in Berlin; Emma Helen; and Mrs W. Durrad and Lizzie Durrad. The latter were the second wife and daughter of his cousin, the younger William from Eccleshall. His first wife Louisa had died in 1879, without having had children, and having moved to London, he married Elizabeth Whittle, 24 years his junior in 1881. Clearly William John had maintained contact with that branch of his family over the years. The funeral was a full choral service and at the burial the choir gathered around the grave and sang the hymn “Now the Labourer’s task is o’er”.

William John, his wife Elizabeth and his son William Henry are buried together in one grave in the graveyard of St Michael’s church. They are also commemorated in floor plaques in the church at the front of the chancel beneath the pulpit, These are positioned (deliberately?) on the opposite side of the chancel to two similar plaques commemorating the lives of two of the 19th century Bishops of Lichfield (Selwyn and Lonsdale) – see below. I strongly suspect this placement was deliberate on the part of the family and church leaders. This is perhaps a final indication of the perceived importance of the Station Master in Lichfield society at the time. 

The Durrad Memorial tablets in St. Michael’s Lichfield
The memorials to Bishop Londsdale and Bishop Selwyn
The placing of the Durrad memorials in St Michael’s. When the memorials were installed, the main font would have been just to left of the Bishop’s plaques. (For those who can spot such things, the combination of the Advent Candle ring on the left and a container of sanitizer on the pulpit steps on the right marks this photo as having been taken in December 2020.)

The Durrad memorials contain a further point of interest, in the symbols at the bottom of each plaque beneath the names. On that of William Henry, it is a fairly conventional and formal fleur -de-lis. On Elizabeth’s, we have the snowdrop – seen as a symbol of both death and rebirth. On William John’s plaque we have the Speedwell, or Veronica, a symbol of sympathy and mourning . Perhaps these decorations were deliberate and say something of the families feelings and the characters of those commemorated. Alternatively they may just have been what was available from the manufacturer’s catalogue!

In his will, with Arthur James and Bertram George named as executors, William John’s effects are said to be worth £3138, a very considerable sum. What this refers to is not clear, but probably includes Misterton Cottage and its contents, some land off the Walsall Road as well as his personal effects and any other savings . The year after the funeral Emma Helen married Frances Carver of Meldrith in Cambridgeshire (for whom she had worked as his daughter’s teacher and companion), Misterton Cottage was sold, and the Durrad family finally severed its connections with Lichfield.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s