My Great Grandfather Robert Smith married Anna Maria Hendry (Annie) in Belfast on 3 April 1896. Annie was born in 1876 (Newry, County Down) and was the daughter of John and Rachael Hendry (nee Allen). John was born in 1831 Dromore, County Down and Rachael was born in 1836 Lisburn County Antrim.
Robert William Taggart Smith was born in Donaghadee, County Down in 1873 to John Smith and Matilda Maud (Bryden) Smith. They ran a shop on the village High Street and John was said to have owned a schooner. On his wedding certificate Johns father (also named John) was listed as a Ships Captain.
Children of Robert and Annie Smith
- Thomas Frederick Smith – b: 1896 – d; 1964
- Florence Mary Kathleen Smith (Flo) – b-1898 – d: 1918
- Maud Carolina Smith – b: 1901
- Robert William (Bobby) – b: 1903
- Norman Edmund Alexander Smith – b: 1908
- Alma Smith – b: 1909
- Oliver Smith – b: 1911
- Isabel Smith (Belsie) – b: 1915
- Marion Annie Campbell Smith – b: 1918 d: 2002 (my Grandmother married Arthur Myall)
Note: Florence was married in 1916 and had one son Cecil Mark. She died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918.
Robert worked all his life for the Great Northern Railway (GNR) and started his career in 1887 at the age of 14 as a cleaner, before becoming a fireman, (an 8 year apprenticeship), before he became a fully fledged Engine driver. In the late 19th Century, Railway work was considered a secure and much valued form of employment, but its great curse was the length of working hours. At almost every level, drivers, firemen and signalmen, the responsibilities were considerable and the potential dangers of carelessness enormous. These men, including Robert had little formal education; however they were considered craftsmen, developing a technical expertise and great tradition of their own.
As a cleaner, Robert was paid between 12-15 shillings per week and worked during the night. With oily rags in hand and hanging out of his pockets, he took great pride in seeing his engines and footplate fittings of steel, brass and copper bright and shining, often staying after his shift to watch the trains he cleaned leave the engine shed on their first run of the morning.
Before every journey the fireman made sure the sandboxes were filled and working correctly, that the smoke box door was a good tight fit and that there were couplings at both end of the engine. Once these checks were complete, his main task was the gradual build up of the fire to generate enough steam to send the pressure gauge up to the point where the safety valve would start to blow. At the age of 23, Robert was registered as a Fireman and was paid between 21 and 24 shillings per week. He would have to shift over a ton of coal on an eighty mile journey in exceptionally awkward conditions. To fill the shovel and turn across to the engine side of the footplate, then shoot the coal faultlessly into the narrow fire hole, placing it in the right part of the fire called for great skill as well as a powerful pair of wrists and shoulders.
In 1907, Robert became an Engine Driver and was now earning 45-51 shillings for a 60 hour week. By now he would have full knowledge of the “Rule book”, and the stretches of line over which he worked. Beside knowing all his signals, he had to know every change of gradient on the track, where maximum power was needed, and when the engine might be eased and steam pressure recovered and of course the steep down gradients where the speed must not get out of hand. Above all his duty would be to run his train to time exactly according to the timetable, stopping where required and arriving punctually at his destination. A measure of a good driver was one who could work with his fireman to run his engine economically. Economical drivers would be assigned the express routes, and paid at a higher rate, but many drivers were complete failures on express trains.
The large mess room at Gt Victoria Street Station (Belfast) was never empty and there was great camaraderie amongst the railway men. The foreman assigned nicknames that would stick, which added to the humour A driver called King was known as “His Majesty”, Madden was known as “Major” and for reasons unknown, Robert was tagged with “the Boxer”.
An account of Robert written in 1976, in RM Arnolds book “The Great Northern Railway” suggesting that he would boast of his superior chest measurements to his colleagues, carrying a piece of string in case someone would challenge him. Often confusing his supervisor with the English language, using large words when only small ones were necessary, Robert considered himself a fashion trendsetter keeping immaculate appearance, he was a teetotaler and a non-smoker, and even managing to convince Annie that he invented the first picture postcard (a bit a joker if you ask me).
Driving a locomotive was a dirty job; however this was no reason to allow the “Smith high standard” of dress code slip. I can only imagine that his overalls had to be as clean as can be, and their condition was a topic of daily discussion, with protests when oil stains were not removed. Before he left the house his railway jacket would have to be well-brushed with the brass buttons shining.
Annie outlived Robert by 12 years, who died one day before his 75th birthday in 1948. During his retirement he contented himself maintaining his vast collection of clocks.
The Mitchell & Kenyon film company was a pioneer of early commercial movies based in England at the start of the 20th century. This is just one of the hoard of film negatives discovered in 1994 which led to the restoration of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection, the largest surviving collection of early non-fiction actuality films in the world. This collection provides a fresh view of Edwardian Britain and is an important resource for historians.
To find out more visit Mitchell and Kenyon wiki page
My book is a true story about the life and times of the Smiths eldest son (my Grandmothers Brother). He fought in two world wars with an impeccable record, reaching the rank of Captain. His life however was punctuated by self-inflicted complexities, like his decision to fight on the side of fascism in the Spain Civil War (1936).
|Chapter One||Searching for Tom|
|Chapter Two||The Trouble with Belfast|
|Chapter Three||Those Trenches “What a Bloody Nightmare”|
|Chapter Four||The Spanish Civil War|
|Chapter Five||Garnetts and Keegans|
|Chapter Six||Early Firearms and Methods of Ignition|