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The Railwaymen's Friend
Emma Saunders

A plaque outside Bristol Temple Meads Station (illustrated) commemorates a "Miss Emma Saunders, the railwaymen's friend".

EMMA SAUNDERS, a pioneer member of the Railway Mission, founded in 1881, was born in 1841 and died in 1927. After early experience working with girls in a Bristol industrial home, and with children in a "Ragged School", she took over visiting rail staff and their families in the Bristol area in 1881 from Miss Louisa Stevenson, who had had to give up because of ill-health.

Miss Saunders' original "patch" covered the Clifton Extension Railway, the Severn Tunnel and the loop line at Pyle Hill, but developed over the years to include every line out of Bristol, including the sail and tarpaulin sheds, wagon sheds, carting depots, waterside cranes, coaling and repair sheds, the old and new locomotive sheds and the Harbour Railway.

She was assisted by a team of women who parcelled up the religious literature and little gifts she distributed and some of these, including a Miss Hickman, assisted her with the visiting. In an effort to prevent young railway staff who came to Bristol as strangers succumbing to the "temptations associated with licensed premises", she set up the Bristol & West of England Railwaymen's Institute, the forerunner of today's British Rail Staff Association at Bristol, which provided a canteen, bagatelle, billiard rooms, skittle alley and a room for engineering classes and religious meetings.

On her visits to railwaymen she always carried a small basket containing posies of flowers which she would give to the men to whom she spoke. She, and her companions on visits, held "tin passes", authorising them to travel on all locomotives, and in goods brake vans. On March 2, 1921, her 80th birthday, she was presented by H. R. Griffiths, the Great Western Divisional Superintendent, with an illuminated address, a settee and an armchair, to which more than 5,000 GWR and Midland railwaymen in the Bristol area had subscribed.

She died on February 27, 1927, and her temperance movement was taken over by the Social & Educational Association, later absorbed into the BRSA. The memorial tablet to her at Temple Meads Station was erected, as it records, by railway workers and their friends.

Sat 28 Jul 2001