Locomotive Building in Wolverhampton

The Armstrong Family

Joseph and Sarah's Remaining Children

Seven of Joseph and Sarah's children outlived them. There were four boys, Thomas, John, Joseph and Irving, and three daughters, Jane, Sarah and Dorothy.

Thomas Armstrong

The eldest son Thomas, was born at Chester in 1849, and was a pupil at Tettenhall College, after the family had moved to Wolverhampton. 

The Early Years of Tettenhall College

When Thomas left school he became a pupil at Swindon works under his father. Whilst at Swindon he became interested in the local detachment of the Volunteers and became a lieutenant. After his father's death he left the Railway and became a travelling salesman for a Newcastle-on -Tyne based wire rope manufacturer. He later became a travelling salesman for the Ebbw Vale Coal & Iron Company, and the Bessemer Steel Company of Sheffield. He married Elizabeth Davrance of Sheffield and their only son George was born in 1878. Thomas died at Felixtowe on 6th February 1908. He was buried at St. Mark's Church Swindon. Many representatives of the GWR were present at the funeral, including G. J. Churchward and W. H. Stanier. Thomas's son George became a Major in the army and was wounded in the Boer War. He was killed in action in the first world war in 1915.

John Armstrong

John was Joseph and Sarah's second son, and was born at Chester on27th August 1851. Like his elder brother he went to Tettenhall College, where he was very successful and obtained the Mills Prize for achievement. On leaving school in 1866, he joined his family at Swindon and became a pupil at the works, under his father. After his father's death he became Assistant Divisional Locomotive Superintendent, under William Dean, in 1878. He became a well-known athlete and was champion sprinter of the GWR. He even won a 100 yards sprint against Kibblewaite, who was the professional 100 yards champion of England. John also played for the Swindon Cricket Club and was captain of the Swindon Rugby Football Club for seven years. John married Caroline James of Newlyn, Cornwall, and they had 1 son, Ralph, in 1880, and 3 daughters, Elsie, Ruby and Enid.

In 1882 John was promoted to Divisional Locomotive Superintendent of the Paddington Division, at Westbourne Park Locomotive Depot. One of his duties was to look after the royal train, which was in his care. He saw to all of the arrangements for its journeys, and on each occasion used to travel on the footplate of the engine. John's son Ralph was educated at the Wycliffe College, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, and in 1896 began an apprenticeship at the Westbourne Park works under his father. His apprenticeship was finished at Swindon, and in 1902 he entered the works drawing office.

In London, John played for the Sutherland Gardens Cricket Club until he was 45. When he gave up cricket he founded the West Acton Lawn Tennis club. He played doubles with his son Ralph, who was club captain,  and they won the doubles championship of the club. John was also a keen cyclist and in 1900 he toured the west of Scotland on bicycle and came home via the family's old home in the north east.  He also became Chairman of the Grand Council of the GWR Temperence Union, which was founded at Paddington in 1883. In 1894 he was elected a member of the Paddington Vestry, coming out at the top of a poll for the Harrow Road ward. He became its first Alderman. Like his father he was a prominent Wesleyan Methodist and was an office holder at the Sutherlands Garden Church, Paddington. He later went to Ferndale Road Church where he founded, and became superintendent of its Sunday school.

The family moved to Ealing, where they lived for four years, and then to Acton. At Acton John became a senior class leader at the local Sunday school, and wrote a book of sacred songs and hymns for the Wesleyan Church. It was called "Rhymes and Songs", and published by Morgan & Scott, Ltd.

Two days before his retirement he was asked to go to Windsor by the King, who talked to him about his career, and his 50 years of service with the railway. He retired on 30th September 1916, and a few days later was summoned to Buckingham Palace where he was made a member of the Victorian Order. He had a long and busy retirement. Caroline died in 1925 and John survived until 1931. He suffered from ill health during the last three years of his life, and died in March 1931 at the age of 80. His funeral service was held at Acton Hill Wesleyan Church, and he was buried with Caroline at Acton Cemetery.

Ralph was eventually promoted and left Swindon to become the Inspector of Purchased Material at Cardiff and Birmingham. In 1906 he came to the works in Wolverhampton as Locomotive Inspector. While here he accompanied the breakdown train that gave assistance in the Shrewsbury rail disaster in 1907. An L&NWR train was derailed at speed as it entered the station, and 30 people were killed and 60 seriously injured. In 1909 he followed in his father's footsteps and was appointed Assistant Divisional Locomotive Superintendent, under William Stanier. He stayed at Swindon until 1912 when he was appointed Assistant Divisional Locomotive Superintendent, at Bristol. Ralph married Frances Mary Brash and they had a daughter, Mary, in 1915. Frances had a brother, Alexander, who married Ralph's sister Enid. In 1916 Ralph was transferred to the London Division at Old Oak Common as Assistant Divisional Locomotive Superintendent.

Ralph was promoted in 1919 to Divisional Locomotive Superintendent, at Bristol. While at Bristol he became chairman of the GWR Radio Society, and equipped the first train to be fitted for radio reception, with headphones and loudspeakers in each compartment. He organised an experimental run with 200 members taking part. Reception from the BBC station at Cardiff was maintained throughout out the journey except when the train passed through the Patchway, and Severn tunnels, and when passing under Newport girder bridge. Music from six European countries was also heard during the journey, and transmissions were  made to local radio amateurs. At Cardiff the passengers were received by the BBC and Ralph was allowed to broadcast a message to his wife and daughter. Ralph was interested in the Bristol Operatic Society. He founded the Bristol GWR Male Voice Choir and became its president. He also founded the Bristol GWR Institute and the Athletic Club.

In 1929 Ralph was moved to Worcester as Divisional Locomotive Superintendent, and stayed there until his retirement in 1946. Like his father he had served on the railway for 50 years, and on his retirement he was presented with an oak sideboard. The family lived at Red Hill, Worcester, and during his retirement Ralph had many hobbies including philately. He spent some time as a reader to boy's classes at the nearby Red Hill College for the Blind. John and Frances's daughter Mary was Assistant Matron at Wycliffe College until she married A. G. K. Brown, a distinguished Olympic athlete, in 1939.

Joseph Armstrong

Joseph was the third son of Joseph and Sarah. He was born at Wolverhampton in 1856. Although the family moved to Swindon when he was only 8 years old, Joseph became a boarder at Tettenhall College. After leaving the College he moved to Swindon and became a pupil at the works under his father. He became known as Joe, or young Joe, to distinguish him from his father. He often suffered from ill health, and so on completion of his apprenticeship he was sent on a long sea voyage to Cape Town, to recuperate. Whilst on the voyage he learned of his father's death at the early age of 61. On his return he embarked on another voyage to the Mediterranean, after which his health improved. On his return he re-entered the works where he designed and developed the automatic vacuum brake. After successful completion of this project, Joe was promoted to Assistant Divisional Locomotive Superintendent at Swindon, and in 1885 was again promoted to Assistant Divisional Superintendent of the Northern Division and Works manager at Stafford Road Works, Wolverhampton, under his uncle George.

Joe Armstrong.

At Wolverhampton his health again began to suffer and he went for a course of treatment at Droitwich Brine Baths, during the Christmas of 1887. On his return he spent New Years Eve at the works with his boyhood friend, Locomotive Inspector Goodhall. After seeing in the New Year together, Joe decided to walk back along the line so that he could post a letter on his way home. At 12.30am on 1st January 1888, a down goods train had drawn up on Oxley Viaduct, and then slowly reversed along the old Shrewsbury & Birmingham line. When approaching the bridge over the Stafford Road, the guard felt that his van had passed over an obstruction and so applied the brakes. On stopping and examining the line he found the body of Joe Armstrong who had been run over by the train. Joe was only 31, and his death effected everyone at the works, where he was well liked and respected. An inquest was held into the cause of death and the jury returned with a verdict of suicide. He was buried in the family grave at St. Marks Church, Swindon.

Read a short account of the inquest

Irving Armstrong

Irving was the youngest son of Joseph and Sarah, and was born at Wolverhampton in 1862. Like his brothers, his schooldays were spent at Tettenhall College, and afterwards he entered the works at Swindon as an apprentice under William Dean, who was his father's successor. 

After completing his apprenticeship, he left the works and entered the Training College at Leeds, to train as a church minister. In 1888 he became a Wesleyan Minister and worked in many parts of the country. During the first world war he was Chaplain to H.M. Forces and after the war became an Honorary Chaplain. He married Annie Aspden of Morecambe, and they had five daughters, Dorothy, Vera,  Marie, Jean and Ruth. Irving retired in 1928 and went to live at Bexhill. In 1942 he went on a journey from Morecambe to Worcester to visit his nephew Ralph, before returning home. Whilst at Crewe station he suddenly died, aged 80.

Jane Armstrong

Jane was Joseph and Sarah's first daughter and was born in 1855. She married Benjamin Price, who was the head of a tube manufacturing firm in Birmingham. She died in 1936.

Sarah Armstrong

Sarah was Joseph and Sarah's second daughter and was born in 1858. She married the Hon. Martin Burrell, Minister of Agriculture in Canada. He later became Secretary of State and Parliamentary Librarian. She died in Ottawa, in 1952, at the age of 94.

Dorothy Armstrong

Dorothy was Joseph and Sarah's last daughter and was born in 1859. She married Southam Cash who had served his apprenticeship at Swindon before joining the Canadian Pacific Railway. Their son Bruce served his apprenticeship at Westbourne Park Shops, Paddington, before retuning to Canada. Dorothy died in 1928.


Return to the locomotives menu Continue