Thomas Baillie

(1858 - 1937)

by Alan Baillie
Photograph of Thomas Baillie
© Alan Baillie | Used with permission
Photograph of Thomas Baillie
Taken 1907
© Alan Baillie | Used with permission
Thomas Baillie was a railwayman, born into a railway family. His father, and several brothers and cousins, were all railwaymen, though he was the only engine-driver among them. His career spanned the reigns of Victoria, Edward VII and George V.

He was born at 20 Bedford Street (Dean/Stockbridge), Edinburgh, on 14 October 1858, son of William Baillie (then railway clerk and later stationmaster) and Isabella Donaldson. He died at 45 Roseburn Terrace, Edinburgh, on 10 May 1937.

His earliest childhood must have been spent in or near Edinburgh, but between the ages of at least 7 and 11 he lived in Old Kilpatrick, Dumbartonshire, where his father was stationmaster.

He used to recount stories, probably from that period, of going out guising at Halloween, and of the traditional plays put on by himself and the others in the group, accompanied by special rhymes. One character which he used to play was “Wee Jock McGraw”, another was “Hookey Walker the Lion-Slayer”.

Even in later life at 45 Roseburn Terrace, he kept a “play” bowler hat under the spare bed, which he called his “Jock McGraw hat”. Part of one of the rhymes he recited to get pennies as a guiser (“Please help the guisers”) included the words “... pooches doon tae ma knees ... tae pit the bawbees” – or something similar.

He was initially left-handed, but became completely ambidextrous as a result of being forced to use his right hand at school. In youth, he dislocated the little finger of his left hand, but it was never set and so remained at an angle from his hand.

He left school young and worked first in a brick works. He said that his first job was in Castlecary, near Cumbernauld (the address of the Castlecary Fireclay Company, which made refractory bricks, was at Castlecary Station where his father might have worked, although it is not certain that the company was in operation by 1870).

In the 1871 census he was living with his parents in Kirkliston and described as “labourer in brickfield”. His future wife’s uncle James Newbigging was foreman at a brick works in Winchburgh, Kirkliston. Could that have been the beginning of his acquaintanceship with Elizabeth Simpson?

He then became a “grease-monkey”, fireman and subsequently locomotive engine driver with the North British Railway (NBR) and, for the last five years of his career, after amalgamation in 1923, the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).

Until early in the 20th century, when it was reduced to 10 hours, the normal shift for a railwayman on the NBR was 12 hours (in practice often longer, although not necessarily each successive day). It was only in 1918 that the 8-hour working day was achieved. In 1893 the Royal Commission on Labour reported that on one train in the Dunfermline area, the driver and fireman were on duty 18½ hours on 16 July 1892, 17¾ hours on 18 July, 22 hours 55 minutes on 19 July, 23 hours on 21 July and 18 hours from midnight on 24 July.

At the start of his shift the driver was given a hand-written list of orders for the day. Bad weather – foggy, rainy or stormy nights – could make the driver’s life a fearsome one. Railways were poorly lit and many sidings had no artificial lighting at all. The driver had a paraffin torch, his guard a hand lamp, and with this inadequate illumination they would reconnoitre the traffic in the sidings to assess how best shunting operations could be carried out. In stormy weather it was a miserable as well as a difficult job.

Train crews would take a “piece” with them in a tin box, often bread and cheese, or eggs, or kippers, and might toast these on a clean shovel in the firebox of the locomotive. They might have to sleep on the train between shifts.

Thomas claimed to have been driving the (or a) train following the one which was lost in the Tay Bridge disaster, on 28 December 1879. It is not easy to know how close his brush with death was – the bridge collapsed on a Sunday evening and it does not seem that any subsequent passenger trains were scheduled until the next day, or that goods trains would have been running at all on a Sunday.

In the 1881 census, he was an engine driver lodging with Joseph Cunningham, also an engine driver, at 15 Caledonian Crescent (named after the nearby Caledonian Railway), Edinburgh. His usual residence before his marriage in 1884 was 9 Upper Grove Place, Edinburgh. In 1885, he seems to have been tenant occupier of a house at 6 Buccleuch Terrace. After that, he lived at 6 Downfield Place until at least 1895, then (until his death) 45 Roseburn Terrace, which he owned. In 1901 he was living there with his wife, three children and a lodger.

The various places he lived were all in or near Dalry, within easy reach of his work, which would start either in the sidings at Haymarket Station or the engine sheds at Haymarket Depot, which was resited to Roseburn after 1894.

45 Roseburn Terrace - on the other side of the tracks from Dalry, so to speak - was a first-floor tenement flat, comprising one small bedroom in which his daughter Emma slept, a kitchen with a bed recess in which he and his wife slept, a sitting-room with a bed-closet where his two sons slept, and a bathroom, just above a butcher’s shop (but where did the lodger sleep?).

In 1906, wages for NBR engine-drivers varied between 5s and 6s 6d per day, the highest rate being for main line passenger train drivers.

At one stage, Thomas regularly drove the Flying Scotsman (the train, which ran from 1862 to 1963, not the locomotive of the same name which pulled it from 1925 onwards). The train is usually thought of as connecting Edinburgh and London, but portions of it ran farther north, to at least Perth and Aberdeen, and possibly also Inverness. Since he worked for the NBR, it is likely that he drove the train only on NBR track north of Berwick – and perhaps only north of Edinburgh, since under an 1869 agreement between the North British and North Eastern Railways, all east coast main line trains to Edinburgh were hauled by NER locomotives north of Newcastle.

One engine he frequently drove in the later part of his career was the “Ellangowan” (built in June 1914, one of a series of 25 built at Cowlairs between 1914 and 1920, fitted with Robinson superheaters and known as “Superheated Scotts”, following on from the earlier “Scotts”, all named after characters from the novels of Sir Walter Scott; in Guy Mannering Godfrey Bertram was laird of Ellangowan in Dumfriesshire, possibly based on Caerlaverock). During the 1920s, the D30/2s (of which the “Ellangowan” was one) were used on all NBR express passenger services, including Glasgow-Edinburgh, and main line connecting services to the “Flying Scotsman”. Six of them were allocated to the Haymarket shed.

On more than one occasion, Thomas’s locomotive hit and killed a man, which made him very distressed (and apparently shook the locomotive quite noticeably too).

In later years, his engine-driving was confined to local trains - though at least as far afield as Linlithgow and Peebles, and still driving the “Ellangowan” - and shunting. He retired in 1928 when he reached 70.

As an older man, Thomas became something of a character, and was once seen practising the Charleston at an Edinburgh bus stop. Also, apparently, he once tried on a friend’s kilt and went outside in it – although he was wearing long drawers underneath, which he had rolled up but which kept on unrolling. He would tell tall stories, such as having been confronted by a lion, and having wrapped his “gravat” (scarf) round his hand, which he then thrust down the lion’s throat until he reached the tail. He seized the tail and pulled the lion outside in. Another story he told was of being out cycling in Edinburgh with his friend Davie Strachan and coming across a new road under construction. They asked the workmen what the road was to be called, and when the workmen said they didn’t know, Thomas said something like “Well, here’s my friend Davie Strachan, why not call it after him?” Some time later, he was astounded to see the sign “Strachan Road” up at the end of the street.

He died 12 days after suffering a stroke while riding his bicycle up Drum Brae, Corstorphine Hill, in hot weather and wearing heavy clothing. He had earlier suffered some injuries when his bicycle fell off Cramond pier.

His gravestone in Dalry cemetery mentions also his wife Elizabeth Simpson, whom he married on 22 July 1886 at 19 South Norton Place, Edinburgh (home of the bride’s father John), and their daughter Emma Harrison Baillie.
Friends of Dalry Cemetery