Lilian Y’s story

The railway age is often seen as a romantic one, with clouds of steam and breathless brief encounters perhaps eclipsing the reality of filthy hard work and clothes full of soot smuts. However, the community around railways could at least partly be described as romantic in that many people met their partners among the multifarious professions employed on and around the rails.

Lilian Y was one of these, as she came from a railway family, and married a railway man. However, where her tale differs is that she did not remain associated with the rails and instead became landlady of a pub.

She was born in Bristol, the second child of a railway platelayer – someone who inspected the conditions of the track – and his wife at the beginning of the 1890s. Six younger siblings followed, and the family grew up beside the harbour railway  in Bristol’s docklands, alongside boats working with tobacco, coal and other heavy industry.

In her teens her father moved to a similar role on the Strawberry Line or the Cheddar Valley Line, and the family went with him. Upon leaving school Lilian found work as a waitress in a restaurant, possibly in the station café, and boarded out of the family home.

By 1915 Lilian was in a Wiltshire market town with a strong railway industry, possibly due to her father’s next job. She married that year, to a railway guard who was more than ten years her senior.

Initially they lived behind the town’s brake and signalling works, and their first son followed later that year, with another born five years later. The gap in their children’s ages would perhaps suggest that her husband served in the first world war, but there is no evidence for this.

Things changed in early 1932 when they bought a pub – including all the fixtures, fittings and cutlery, and even including the 60 tulip bulbs in the garden – which was one of two frequented by railway workers and those employed in the next-door bacon factory. This had several rooms – a bar, smoking room, club room, drawing room, and kitchen with meat safes.

Her husband, who had long been employed on the railway, kept his job as a railway guard while being landlord at the pub. However, in practice with him employed down the road – despite gaps in trains arriving and departing the station, and the pub being only a stone’s throw away – it would have been Lilian who would have opened the bar for trade and served the beer, in addition to providing any food that the pub would serve and keeping the place clean and tidy. She was aided in her landlady’s role by her two sons, but they also had jobs elsewhere – one at the post office and the other at the bacon factory. Despite this huge amount of work, and her official role as landlady, the 1939 register tersely gives Lillian’s profession as “unpaid domestic duties at home”.

A year into World War II, her husband died – only in his late 50s – and Lilian ran the pub alone with the help of her sons. However, with pressure to join up and fight the eldest son went into the air force not long after his father’s death. He was killed in a nearby flying accident around nine months later, while awaiting his wings, leaving Lilian with two close bereavements within a year of each other.

She continued to run the pub, now landlord in name as well as action, sometimes with her remaining son, alongside a bar manager until 1957, when she retired and moved elsewhere in the town. She died around a decade later, and is buried alongside her husband and elder son in the grounds of the church in which she married.


To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.

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