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A hard working life for navvies

Melksham and District historical association’s February meeting at Melksham Assembly Hall was titled “The Railway Navvy, his working life.”

Judy and Chris Rouse gave a very interesting account of the  very hard life the railway navvies had during the early 1800s, building the network of railways in England. At its peak there were over 100,000 “navvies” building the railway network and contrary  to what we assume, only a small proportion were from Ireland, who came over here for work during the potato famine.

The navvy’s tools were a pick, shovel and a wheelbarrow, all carried on his back between jobs. Needless to say they were very strong men, who worked hard and played hard, also drinking large amounts of beer.

Gangers (foremen) sold beer to the workers; it was illegal at the time, but as it kept the workers happy, a blind eye was turned!

A lot of these navvies, previous to working on the railways, worked on the canal network around the country and they would roam the country with their wives and families looking for the next project to work on.

In our modern world, it is hard to imagine how hard a life it was in those days building the railways and canal networks that we take for granted today, when there was no mechanical diggers or cranes to move earth and all had to be done by hand, with help from horse drawn trucks etc.

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 15th March, at Melksham Assembly Hall, 7pm for a 7.30start. Gill Cardy will give a presentation titled “Listed Buildings of Melksham.” All welcome. Members free, guests £3.

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