Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Railwaymen's Friend

The image on the plaque is accurate rather than flattering: an elderly woman with strong features carries a small basket and holds a pamphlet. The words below are full of affection, though. Miss Emma Saunders is described as 'the railwaymen's friend', her memorial 'erected by railway workers and friends in grateful remembrance'. 

Emma Saunders was born in Manchester but as a small child, moved with her family to Bristol. She spent  her life in charitable work and in 1881, aged 40, took on the work which occupied her for the rest of her life. Miss Louisa Stevenson, head of a mission to railwaymen, became ill and asked her to take over. Henceforth she devoted herself to working with rail staff in Bristol. She and her team visited staff with religious literature and small gifts - her basket holds the small bunches of flowers she sometimes gave to men; other presents included hand-made lavender bags. She also visited their families - often out of general concern but sometimes to break news of men's deaths. 

Saunders believed in temperance. Her missionary role expanded when she became concerned about young workers coming to Bristol and facing the temptations of public houses. She worked hard to provide a range of alternatives in her Bristol and West of England Railway-mens' Institute, including a canteen, billiards and skittles facilities, and engineering classes. Her efforts were recognised in 1921, when she was presented with an illuminated address, settee and armchair for her eightieth birthday. Over 5,000 railway staff had contributed to the gifts. 

In 1927, Saunders died. Over a thousand railwaymen attended the funeral and wore a daffodil in her memory. 

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