The Railway Man

Rowland John NEEDS was born on 23 September 1866, 8 David Street, Crab Tree Shot Road, Peckham (St Georges, Camberwell, Surrey, England, United Kingdom) 1. I always record locations in this manner, as I have learnt over the years how often place names are repeated across the world. This is particularly true of British place names, which were exported as part of our empire building. In searching for Crab Tree Shot Road (which is now Sumner Road, Camberwell) I came across a useful website for Old London Street Names.

Rowland Needs

Rowland Needs

Rowland’s father was John NEEDS, Railway Clerk, his mother Jemima NEEDS formerly COLE 2. I started to realise the railways were a strong theme in the NEEDS family. As good practice dictates I had started my research on my NEEDS family tree by starting with my Grandmother May Doris NEEDS (Rowland’s daughter). At her marriage I noted that Rowland was a Railway Clerk. In supplementing my research with the United Kingdom Census I noted Rowland on the 1891 Census (taken on the 5 April) as a Clerk 3. In 1901 4 (taken on the 31 March) he was listed as a Railway Company Clerk, plus the same occupation on the 1911 Census 5 (taken on the 2 April).

Further resources for locating ancestors outside of the Census include trade directories. These sometimes list individuals and residential addresses as well as trades. A search of Wards Croydon Directory 6 listed Rowland at 10 Walter’s Rd, South Norwood, Surrey, England, United Kingdom in 1930. This lead me to review the electoral registers where in 1920 – 1929 Rowland is listed (not always the same spelling of first name though).

Ancestry hold UK Railway Employment Records and we find Rowland listed in the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) records; List of staff at Willow Walk Station, Goods Department, as at 31 December 1891:

  • Rowland Needs, Outwards Invoice Clerk, age at next birthday 26, wages weekly 5s 7.

Further records show him remaining at Willow Walk Station, confirming the date he entered service (January 1883) and who he was recommended by (Hunt & Co). His weekly wages increase over time 8:

  • £1, 12s, 6p, Date: 01/01/1903
  • £1, 14s, 0p, Date 10/06/1905
  • £1, 17s, 6p, Date: 01/01/1908


Willow Walk Station, otherwise known as Willow Walk Goods Depot was established by LB&SCR in 1849. These facilities were enlarged in 1854, 1865 and 1902. In 1932 the depot was merged with the Bricklayers’ Arms depot by Southern Railway 9. The LB&SCR became Southern Railway in 1922 10. The site today is covered in housing and industrial estates. Interestingly my father worked at the site (following its demise as a railway depot) with the Royal Mail in the 1980’s.

Rowland married twice, his first registered in September 1889 11, and his second registered in March 1924 12. My cousin had told me that her mother had been told by her father that Rowland celebrated 25th wedding anniversaries with both of his wives. We had no way of confirming this, until the research I conducted into the family history showed that Rowland’s first wife (Alice) died in 1922, and that Rowland had married his second wife Lily (Lillian) in 1924. Rowland died in 1962 at the age of 94.

Rowland Needs & Lily Burden

Rowland Needs & Lillian Burden

The research I conducted into Alice’s death throws up some sobering information on burial in the United Kingdom. I noted whilst searching the Croydon Advertiser Newspaper 13 for burial notices, that Alice was buried on 9 December 1922 at Mitcham Road Cemetery, Croydon, Surrey, England, United Kingdom. I decided to trace the grave, and this is when I realised there may be more to our ancestors grave than we realise. I contacted the cemetery by email, and a few days later received the following details:

I have found the record of your grandmothers grave and she was buried here on 9th December 1922 in a public grave (which means it was owned by the council), there had been a previous burial in the grave of a Mary Bishop which is likely to be unrelated. Since Alice was buried the grave was purchased several years later after the burial of James Thoroughgood by Florence Thoroughgood who has since also been buried in the grave.

It is a sobering thought that when we pay our respects at the grave of an ancestor, we are also probably looking down on multiple graves in the same plot.

My cousin had informed me that Rowland retired at 60 years of age to Wendover Dean, renting 2 Cotton Square at 3 shillings and sixpence weekly 14. Apparently he commented that this was a ‘rip off‘. Other family members remembered this as a house behind a pub. Rowland was always an immaculate, smart gentleman known locally as ‘The Squire‘. Following this lead in 2008 I contacted Buckinghamshire Archives by email. A few days later their reply lead me to 2 Cotton Square:

We hold the archive of Electoral Registers for the county and have checked a couple of these. Mr NEEDS does appear on an Electoral Roll for 1947, residing at 2 Cotton Square, Wendover Dean. Wendover Dean is located south of Wendover, off of the London Road. The 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map dated 1899 shows Cotton Square just behind the “Halfway House” public house. This pub is now called “The Firecrest” on the London Road (A413 between Wendover and Missenden). If you would like an extract of the map, please let me know a postal address and I will send it on to you.

The Firecrest

The Firecrest


I requested the extract of the map, and this arrived a week or so later. So I now had a map of the location of Cotton Square and an up to date pub name. It didn’t take me long to locate The Firecrest Pub, and I just had to visit! The pub is named after a local bird and details displayed inside the pub describe it as opening around 1827, it was named the Halfway House, The Office and finally The Firecrest. None of the staff at the pub knew much about its history or whether cottages had been part of the site or the current building. The pub had a huge car park at the rear. This I presume would have been Cotton Square, but some of the buildings shown on the map Buckinghamshire Archives had sent me are now gone. Another option was that 2 Cotton Square was attached to the pub. One of the staff I spoke to in the pub thought that part of the pub used to be rooms for accommodation, which were let out by the pub. These rooms, possibly could have been converted from cottages? I will never know for sure, however it was tempting to think as I toured the location of these ‘old rooms’ in the pub, I could have been walking in the footsteps of ‘The Squire’.

One final observation is worth making, a further link with the railway. The Firecrest is located perhaps 200 metres from the London to Aylesbury railway line, served now by Chiltern Railways. During the time Rowland moved to Cotton Square the line was operated by The Great Central Railway 15. Perhaps in retirement Rowland still wanted a connection with the railway. I walked up the road a little to stand on a bridge over the railway line, perhaps a walk Rowland completed now and then.

The Railway Line (Back towards The Firecrest)

The Railway Line (Back towards The Firecrest)

The Railway Service Journal in September 1926 records that Rowland NEEDS retired from the Willow Walk branch of the R.C.A (Railway Clerks Association) in September 1926 after nearly 44 years service on the London Brighton and South Coast Railway 16. The Railway Clerks Association had been founded some 29 years earlier in 1897 as the National Association of General Railway Clerks. This was after several aborted attempts due to the railway companies being strongly opposed to trade unions. It was renamed The Railway Clerks Association in 1899. Its current name (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association) was adopted in 1951. Branches of the union were formed so that staff with a grievance against their managers didn’t find themselves members of the same branch 17.

Also mentioned was his brother John who entered service at the age of eleven years in September 1873 and retired after nearly 53 years service! Another, unrelated member completed over 36 years service.

The article goes on to describe these two members retirement:

…it being just seven years since the Railway Clerks’ Charter was won, these members have looked forward happily to the day, when they could shake off the shackles of daily toil and enjoy the freedom made secure and comfortable by the efforts of the R.C.A. Given the literary ability, what chronicles could this trio relate of their personal experience regarding the early history of a Railway Company now but a section of the Southern System? These old campaigners take their leave after a life service in a company they helped to build, and whilst it took the younger element to show them how to organise, to fight, and to hold, they cheerfully joined the ranks, and created respect and admiration by their membership and the fine stand they made in the winter of their lives for the miners’ cause. They, indeed, risked much, and their reward is that in taking their departure they take with them the good wishes and high regards of all their Branch officers and fellow members.
Source: Journal cutting, The Railway Service Journal, September 1926, page 318

The mention of the miners’ cause perhaps reflects the 1926 general strike (4 May – 13 May) in response to the action the government was taking against 800,000 coal miners. Rowland and his brother John had joined 1.7 million workers from transport and heavy industry who had come out on strike in support of the miners who were facing wage reduction and worsening conditions 18. A good summary of the reasons for the general strike can be found here.


Further railway records can be found at The National Archives 19.


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, coaching, talks, and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories could your ancestors tell?


1 Source: Birth Certificate BXCA168838, 23 September 1866, Camberwell, Surrey

2 Source: Birth Certificate BXCA168838, 23 September 1866, Camberwell, Surrey

3 Source:, April 2015, UK 1891 Census; Ossery Road, Camberwell, Surrey

4 Source:, April 2015, UK 1901 Census; RG13/0646/~F156

5 Source:, April 2015, UK 1911 Census; RG14- PN3395 RD39 SD4 ED28 SN242

6 Source: Located at Croydon library, Local Studies; accessed October 2004

7 Source: Ancestry, UK, Railway Employment Records, accessed August 2015

8 Source: Ancestry, UK, Railway Employment Records, accessed August 2015

9 Source:, accessed August 2015

10 Source:,_Brighton_and_South_Coast_Railway, accessed August 2015

11 Source:, August 2015; Roland, Camberwell, 1d 1263

12 Source:, August 2015, Roland, Croydon, 2a 588

13 Source: Located at Croydon library, Local Studies; accessed October 2004

14 This doesn’t quite match with entries in Wards Croydon Directory, however the entries in these Directories need to be taken with a pinch of salt as entries weren’t always checked for accuracy on each new addition.

15 Source: Accessed August 2015

16 Source: Journal cutting, The Railway Service Journal, September 1926, page 318

17 Source:,, accessed August 2015

18 Source:, accessed August 2015