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Engine Drivers


Two sons of George and Jane Dunbabin from the Daresbury district joined the railway industry in its infancy.

Thomas Dunbabin was born in 1818 at Sutton Weaver. In 1841 he was an Engine Tenter (fireman) at Derby, headquarters of the Midland Railway. His first child was born at Brentwood in Essex in 1843 - he married the girl's mother Elizabeth Offler in Suffolk nearly two years later. Brentwood at this time was the temporary terminus of the Eastern Counties Railway, which later became part of the Great Eastern. The following year he was back in Derby. He then returned to East Anglia, re-marrying in Wisbech following the death of his first wife. By 1851 he was settled in King's Lynn, Norfolk, where he died in 1894.

His children didn't all escape the railways.

  • Thomas Valentine Dunbabin (1846-1920) became a blacksmith working at the Midland Railway's carriage shops at Wolverton, near what is now Milton Keynes. His children:
    • Thomas Charles Dunbabin (1875-1947) worked as a coach builder. At the 1921 census he was at the Metroplitan Carriage Works in Birmingham, but he soon returned to Wolverton.
    • Frederick George Dunbabin (1878-1953) also worked as a coach builder. Following his service in the Great War, he went to Salmon & Sons to build bespoke car bodies.
    • William John Dunbabin (1883-1967), having served his apprenticeship at Wolverton, moved to south London to build bodies for the motor trade. in 1921 he was at the London County Council's central tram repair depot at Charlton.
    • James Offler Dunbabin (1886-1953) started out at Wolverton, though by 1911 was working with motorcycles. After a spell as an engine fitter in the Royal Navy in the Great War, he returned to the engineering workshops, ending his career working at the Ekco radio factory at Southend.

  • Charles George Coulson Neal Shaw Dunbabin (1862-1928) was a fitter for the Great Eastern in King's Lynn. In turn his son Charles Thomas Valentine Dunbabin (1892-1976) followed him into the same workshop, but following a stint in the Royal Engineers' Railway Operating Division worked for a while at English Oilfields, to the south of King's Lynn.

Thomas's brother George Dunbabin, born at Moore in 1828, also went onto the railways. By 1851 he was an engine driver at Burton-on-Trent, where he married Selina Goodhead. He then started to travel the country. He is recorded at Fenton in Stoke-on-Trent, Lowestoft in Sufflok, Orpington, Canterbury and Sydenham (all in Kent), Fulham in Middlesex, Olney in Buckinghamshire, and ended up at Sharpness Docks on the Severn estuary, where he died in 1897.

Thomas's children were also employed on the railways.

  • Joseph Dunbabin (1851-1918) was a fireman by 1871, and in 1884 emigrated to Australia.

  • George Welch Dunbabin (1856-1945) worked as an engine driver on civil engineering projects. In 1877 he was working on the Welland Viaduct in Rutland. 1881 saw him at work on the Prince of Wales Dock at Swansea, and following its completion the family visited Pontefract in Yorkshire, then Rotherhithe on the Thames. 1884 saw them in Cardiff, and the following year George was working on the construction of Barry Docks. Another contract completion saw the family move to the Warrington area to work on the Manchester Ship Canal. I wonder whether he knew his father had been born just down the road? By 1901 he was back in Cardiff, but not for long, as the following year a son was born at "Dawson City", the settlement built for the workers constructing Heysham Docks. By 1908 he was working on the docks at Immingham. He eventually retired to Cambridge. Of his children:

    • George Dunbabin (1877-1952) was a locomotive fireman at age 15 and later drove a steam crane. In 1911 he was helping build a reservoir near Masham in Yorkshire. In 1920 he returned from a trip to Canada, and by 1939 was incapacitated in Cambridge.

    • William Alfred Charles Welch Dunbabin (1880-1947) was a general labourer at a reservoir to the west of Birmingham, then at the Masham reservoir. Of his children:
      • John William Dunbabin (1902-1959) was a crane driver.

    • Thomas Henry Dunbabin (1856-1928) started his engine driving career at Sharpness Docks, but by 1880 was on the Swansea Docks construction contract. A stay in Cardiff was followed by a move to Caldicot, to work on the Severn Tunnel, which opened in 1886. The following year saw Thomas at Barry Docks, and in 1890 he was working on the Manchester Ship Canal. In 1891 he went out to Australia to try his luck as a miner, but returned 10 months later. A spell in Warrington was followed by work on Hull Docks in 1911. By the age of 65 he was driving cranes rather than railway engines.

      • Joseph Dunbabin (1884-1961) was only a navvy at the Rosyth Docks in 1911, but by the time he joined up in 1917 he had progressed to engine driver. In the 1920s he was at work on the Scar House Reservoir in Nidderdale. In 1936 he was working on the Settle-Carlisle Railway south of Dent station, and eventually he settled in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

      • Thomas Alfred Dunbabin (1888-1922) was a crane driver on the Rosyth Docks when he married in 1911. His family stayed in the area but he carried on contracting. He died while building the Sennar Dam across the Blue Nile in Sudan.

      • Amos John Dunbabin (1902-1967) was a crane driver in Cambridge.

    • James William Dunbabin (1863-1938) was an engine driver at Sharpness Docks.