Railway Jack was a dog. To be honest Railway Jack was several dogs but this item will be about the original one who was based in Sussex. The Victorians loved their pets and they loved their railways so they were particularly sentimental about railway dogs.
Railway Jack was a fox-terrier who entertained and amused passengers and staff on the London and Brighton Railway. He was described as ‘white, black and brown, big of bone and not overly well-bred’
He was based at Lewes living originally with Mr Robert Skinner of 6, Eastport Lane but would spend his days hopping on and off trains across the whole of the south-east railway network. He would often accompany the guards of trains who would no doubt ensure that he was fed and watered. Remarkably he often seemed to get back to Brighton in time to catch the last train to Lewes where his bed was. He would invariably be up early to catch an early train.
Jack first came to notice in 1879 when he was often seen at stations as far away as Horsham but he seemed to get more adventurous and travel further. There was a report of him in November 1880 spending a whole week away from Lewes when he was spotted at Sutton Station returning to Sussex a few days later on the 10.30 Eastbourne train from Victoria. In 1880 he was presented with a silver collar inscribed ‘JACK – LONDON B AND S COAST RAILWAY COMPANY’. That same month there was a report in the Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express. “Railway Jack arrived from Brighton by train reaching Steyning at 10.50, there he got out for a minute but went by the same train to Henfield. Here he left the train and went to a public-house not far from the station where a biscuit was given to him. He later caught the train to West Grinstead where he spent the afternoon before returning to Brighton in time for the last train to Lewes. “
Sadly it appears that the silver collar was stolen so in June 1881 he was presented by a new one by Mrs Knight of Brockley the wife of one of the L.B & S.C. Railway Managers. The collar was inscribed “I AM JACK THE L.B & S.C RAILWAY DOG – PLEASE GIVE ME A DRINK AND I WILL THEN GO HOME TO LEWES”. After this Jack took a shine to Mrs Knight and would often stay over and take breakfast with the family before accompanying Mr Knight back to the station to return home to Lewes.
Jack occasionally visited Eastbourne where he would wander across the road to get a drink and some food at the Gildredge Hotel in Terminus Road. In June 1881 there was an item about him in the Evening Standard detailing his trips around London. A few weeks later he was back in Eastbourne where he even turned up at a Dog Show!
On 30th October 1881 William Bryant, a member of Eastbourne railway staff died and was buried at Ocklynge Cemetery. The local paper reported:
“The internment took place on Thursday of Mr Bryan, for many years the platform inspector at Eastbourne Station and who died under somewhat painfully sudden circumstances a few days ago. Besides a large number of railway staff from Eastbourne, Polegate, Hailsham and other local stations, members of the Eastbourne Fire Brigade, to which the deceased was attached and a large number of tradespeople attended. A singular mourner was the railway dog ‘Jack’. This remarkably sagacious animal has not been seen in the town since the dog-show in September but on Thursday he arrived on one of the trains at mid-day and took up position next to the hearse. He not only accompanied the corpse to the cemetery but entered the chapel and in keeping with the other mourners took a look at the coffin after it had been lowered into the grave.”
In January 1882 poor Jack suffered an accident at Norwood Junction, he was crossing the lines when he was struck by a mail train and one of his legs was crushed. It had to be amputated by a local vet whilst poor Jack was knocked out with chloroform. This event was reported in many newspapers across the U.K., one railway manager saying that there was a vast amount of concern for the poor animal and there would be no less sympathy than if the accident had occurred to one of his staff. Jack was returned to Lewes where he was looked after by the station master Mr Moore, who received over 50 telegrams and letters wishing the dog a quick recovery. In Lewes Jack was attended by Mr Robert Stock the vet at Malling Street, Cliffe who considered making him a false leg. Someone in Hastings even wrote a poem about him!
One of his visitors at Lewes was Sir Henry Hawkins who was a High Court Judge and would call in on Jack on the way to and from attending the Quarter Sessions at Lewes Assizes. He had his own dog called Jack and once bought him to Lewes to see the injured Railway Jack. In July 1882 he bought Jack a new silver collar inscribed “I AM RAILWAY JACK – TREAT ME WELL AND SEND ME HOME TO THE STATION MASTER AT LEWES”.
Although it seems to have been a strange venue, a dog-show was held at Brighton Aquarium in November 1882. 143 dogs were entered from all over Sussex but the most popular dog was Jack who hobbled around on his three legs. Although he was not entered into the competition he was still awarded a silver medal!
By July 1883 Jack was being described as ‘the old railway dog’ but he still had lost none of his charm. That month the Prince and Princess of Wales paid a visit to Eastbourne and on arrival at Eastbourne station the royal couple were presented to Railway Jack (or was it the other way around?) The future Queen Mary took a shine to Jack and was presented with two framed photographs of the famous dog.
It appears that Jack’s exploits encouraged several other travelling dogs around the country. In December 1884 it was reported that Railway Jack had died and was buried in a trackside grave at Loughton in Essex. However this was another Railway Jack and several people reported that the original Jack was alive and well at Lewes although was too old to go on many adventures.
When Mr Moore the Lewes Station master retired he moved to Mayfield and Jack spent his final years in rural quietude. He died on 27th October 1890 aged 13 years. His death was reported in the Daily Telegraph.
There were other later Railway Jacks. There was a ‘London Jack’ who collected money at Paddington Station between 1884 and 1900, ‘Station Jim’ was based at Slough and Prince, a German Shepherd collected money at East Croydon. There were even several ‘Railroad Jack’s’ in the U.S.A. Perhaps the most famous of the later railway dogs was the Labrador based at Waterloo in the 1920s which collected money for the railway orphanage at Woking, Surrey. When he died the poor creature was stuffed and continued to raise money by being displayed in a glass box. In 1967 the second Railway Jack was purchased by the Bluebell Railway where it still can be seen on display.
Railways and dogs work well together. The North Eastern Railway Police at Hull were the very first police force in the U.K. to use police dogs. Today the British Transport Police are proud that they are the pioneers of using police dogs and also have dogs that are training to sniff out drugs and currency. I doubt however that any serving police-dog has as much freedom as Railway Jack!