“The Royal Road” was a name used by the London & South Western Railway in publicity material, on the grounds that Queen Victoria regularly used the route for journeys to and from Osborn House on the Isle of Wight and for shorter journeys in Southern England starting from the company’s Windsor Station, where a suitably appointed Royal Waiting Room was provided.
In 1871, at the age of 15½, Sam Fay joined the LSWR as a junior clerk at Itchen Abbas, from where he moved to Stockbridge . After a 12-month period spent on the relief staff at various stations, Fay was moved to a clerical post at Kingston on Thames where, in 1881, he launched the South Western Gazette together with two other clerks . The profits of the magazine went to the L&SWR Orphanage Fund. Two years later, Fay wrote and self -published his first book, A Royal Road, which was a brief history of the L&SWR. If you were languishing out in the sticks as a railway clerk, it was seldom good enough to be clever and hard working to gain promotion to Head Office. One had to be “noticed”. With his magazine, and his book (the frontispiece was a portrait of the General Manager!) Fay achieved this brilliantly. Within a year of publication he was transferred to Waterloo as second clerk in the Traffic Superintendent’s office and after a few months he was promoted to chief clerk.
He became Assistant Storekeeper at Nine Elms Locomotive Works in 1891 (an odd move probably necessary to put him in line for promotion to Chief Officer status) and the following year – no doubt quite pleased to be released from the orbit of Dugald Drummond – he was seconded to the ailing Midland and South Western Junction Railway as Secretary and General Manager; at the time, the railway was in a poor condition, almost bankrupt and in the hands of a receiver. He now proved himself one of the most skillful railway managers of either century. Within a period of twelve months, he had turned the situation around and restored the company to solvency, taking the place of the receiver.
After seven successful years he returned to the LSWR in 1899 as Supt. of the Line only to be head -hunted by Sir Alexander Henderson to become General Manager of yet another ailing railway – the Great Central – at a salary of £3000 p.a. – over £171, 000 at today’s values.
Fay was never quite able to work the miracle he had achieved with the MSWJR on the GC but with the millionaire financier Henderson as company chairman he was able to fund the takeover of two smaller railways, the building of the vast marshaling yard at Wath-on-Dearne, run more and faster expresses with excellent carriages, and construct the new dock at Immingham. At the Royal Opening of this facility in 1912, the spectators were astonished when King George V commanded Fay to kneel before him and with a borrowed sword, conferred the honour of Knighthood upon him.
During the Great War the Government discovered that many top civil servants, and not a few senior army officers were just not good enough at their jobs. The deficiency was remedied by drafting in senior railway managers and engineers to run amongst other things Woolwich Arsenal and the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. At the beginning of 1917, Fay took over the post of Director of Movements at the War Office, an experience which he was to write about in his book The War Office at War published in 1937; he refused to wear a military uniform or to remove his beard, even though his post carried the honorary rank of major-general, with the GCR continuing to pay his salary as a patriotic gesture. In March 1918, he succeeded Sir Guy Granet, the Midland Railway General Manager, as Director-General of Movements and Railways, with a seat on the Army Council.
A remarkable career for a remarkable man, and it all began with this little book.
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