Box Historic Person of the Month
September 2018

Mark  Cogswell

Early Railway Policeman

Mark Cogswell (centre) and family at Brookwell
taken between 1894 and 1905
(courtesy Sheila Bartlett and Cogswell family)

My great-great grandfather, Mark Cogswell, was one of the first Railway Policemen. He worked for Great Western Railway (GWR), which also ran the Bristol & Exeter Railway and the Wiltshire, Somerset & Weymouth Railway. He and his family lived for many years at Brookwell, Box Hill, a cottage now demolished.

Career with GWR

Mark had a broad training with the railway company. He was based for a time at Wellington near Taunton, Somerset, where two of his sons were born, Frederick in 1846 and William in 1848. According to the 1851 census, he was at Bristol as a Switchman (a rank within the railway police) and was working at Warminster in 1853, where his son Harry was born. By 1861, Mark was based at his home village of Box, where his occupation was Pointsman and Signalman (both of which were part of the railway police). Mark and his wife, Elizabeth, remained in Box for the rest of their lives and had two further children, Mary and Kate. From 1863 they rented Brookwell Cottage from Thomas Henry Allen Poynder of Hartham Park at an annual rate of £10. They remained as tenants at Brookwell until Markís death, when their son, William, took over the tenancy.

Railway travel was still very new when Mark was working for GWR from the mid-1840s. The line from Bristol Temple Meads to Bath opened in August 1840 and the line from Bristol to St Davidís Exeter in May 1844. Mark must have been one of the first Railway Policemen on the Bristol & Exeter Railway. Railway Policemen were appointed to preserve law and order during the construction and maintenance of the railways, to protect the line itself and to control the movement of railway traffic. In addition to his uniform (probably a top hat and tail coat), he would have been issued with a watch, flags, a lamp and probably a truncheon bearing the GWR insignia. The watch was to ensure there was a suitable delay between the trains entering each section of track, thus avoiding collisions.

In the early days, Mark would have used the flags to communicate with the engine drivers, red for stop, white for all clear and later would have operated signal switches and stop blocks. His job might have also included using the telegraph and issuing tickets. So Mark would have had a lot of responsibility for ensuring that the railway line ran smoothly and safely on his patch.

Life in Retirement

I think that Mark retired in 1885 at the age of 65, as this would tie into his Sick Allowance payments. He certainly retired before spring 1891 as the census for that year says GWR servant retired on pension. Although employment records for GWR have brought forth nothing on Mark, the GWR Provident Society did. This Society was a benevolent fund which covered sick pay and pensions for its servants (employees).

Although the records are not necessarily complete, it would appear that, from the age of 60, Markís health had its ups and downs. However, he had many years in retirement before he died on 27 April 1905 at the grand age of 86, from senile decay and heart failure, having suffered influenza for three weeks before his death.

The Wiltshire Times for Saturday 6 May 1905 carried the following obituary for him:
On Friday the death occurred of Mr Mark Cogswell, an old and much respected resident, at the age of 86. Deceased was formerly in the service of the GWR Company, but had for many years lived in quiet retirement. He was one of the oldest members of the Loyal Northey Lodge of Oddfellows and early in its history was secretary for a considerable period. On his death, the GWR Provident Society paid a Funeral Allowance of £10.

Family of Railwaymen

Mark came from a family of railwaymen. His brother, James, born in Box in 1815, was also a Railway Policeman. Markís son, Frederick, started out working as a gardener in Wellington but by 1871 was an Engine Fitter based in Bristol and by 1881 had moved to the Swindon works. Frederickís son, Mark Edward (known as Edward) born in 1869, was apprenticed as a Fitter for GWR in Swindon on 15 March 1883. It should have been a seven-year apprenticeship but he absconded on 25 July 1887 after four and a half years. We have yet to discover why he left or where he went, or what loyal GWR servant Mark thought of such behaviour!

Barbara Davey, great great granddaughter



Railway Policeman with dog at entrance to Box Tunnel, 1846