Kenneth Morison is hardly remembered today, yet in his own way, he helped shape British railway history.
He was born on 7 March 1806, in a house on South Beach next to the Patent Slip. His father’s connections with Lord Macaulay’s family were instrumental in getting the young Kenneth work and he soon moved to London to take up a post in the counting house of Macaulay and Babington. Early in his career, he went to India to work in the Company’s Calcutta offices but returned to England after only a short period.
His genius for figures was soon recognised and he was placed in charge of the audit department of the London and Birmingham Railway. At that time, the booming railway companies were faced with the problem of clearing tickets, passengers and freight between the different systems. Kenneth was called upon to work out a new method of compensation, allowing passengers to travel on one company’s trains with tickets issued by a rival company.
Kenneth Morison’s new system was to serve the Railway Clearing House when it began its operations in 1842. Morison was made Secretary and Manager, with a staff of four clerks, and continued in this role until his death on 26 October 1861. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London.
Within fifty years of first opening, the Railway Clearing House had expanded, increasing its staff to 2100, 1650 of whom were based in the London Offices and 450 who were stationed at railway junctions throughout the country. These people recorded the wagons, passengers, carriages and freight as they passed from one Company to another, and back again. The extent of the whole operation is seen in the increase in railway mileages from 1600 to 20,000, and in the increase in passenger numbers from 35 million to 850 million. That Morison’s system coped so well with such a huge increase in volume, is a tribute to his genius.
The influence of the Clearing House was to decline over the years, the result of railway mergers and of nationalisation in 1948.
When Kenneth Morison’s daughter died in 1933, her last will and testament made provision for a portrait of her father to be presented to Stomoway Town Council.
It is interesting to note that Morison’s first cousin, Alexander George Downie Morison, became an Inspector for the Railway Clearing House on the Scottish and Irish Railways.
Frank G. Thompson
Kenneth Morisons House Shell Street
** Photograph © William Foulger