Last in Class

I have it fairly good authority that the following story is true. And if so, I’m a little bit concerned it might give the railway companies of today some ideas that were put into operation by their forebears. This is a story about class which immediately takes us to the Victorian era. But, is this another story of the upper classes putting down the lower classes? Actually, no. In fact, it is a story that turns all this on its head.

First Class at it’s Best

    Train travel in Victorian times had different classes aimed at different levels of society. Today, we have standard class and first class. And to be honest, there’s not too much difference between them unlike air travel. However, the Victorians had three classes; first, second and third. And you could see a difference between them straight away. First class was like sitting in a comfortable lounge. Second was bench style seating in often overcrowded carriages. However, in third, you would be lucky if you had a roof on your carriage. Often, you would be in an open-topped wagon.

Third Class as it’s Worst

    Parallel to this of course, was the difference in prices. The railway companies made most of their money from the rich and titled in first class whilst those in third travelled cheaply and consequently, the companies, their directors and their shareholders made very little profit. But this is where things go a little off script. The companies began to find more and more of their premium passengers were opting to travel cheaply in third class rather than paying a lot for first. Their case was that if they had a seat and could either read a newspaper or fall asleep, why should I pay extra?

    The situation got a lot worse forcing the rail companies to come up with a method of deterring them from third and back into the profitable first class. What they did was this. They recruited four chimney sweeps and when the guard noticed there were some well-dressed people in third class, a sweep would be instructed to enter the carriage and then to shake one of his sacks full of coal dust into the carriage.

    Now, because the normal third-class travellers were people who were used to being dirty doing their jobs, this act had little effect on them. Which was more than could be said for the interlopers. Their nice suits soon became filthy and they started to take the hint and move back into first. This exercise worked so well that on future journeys, especially around London, the companies would ensure that pigs and other animals such as sheep would often be kept in third class. It was enough. First class became popular again. So, if you see a pig or a sheep sitting opposite you on a train, it might be best to pay for a more expensive ticket!

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