For Railfans and Trainspotters: The Romance of Rumples Rig Railwayman

Front cover

Front cover. The Romance of Rumples Rig Railwayman Manuscript. [Wargrave, 1921]. (Cotsen)

A pleasant little amateur manuscript has arrived from England (item no. 6814899). As the cover indicates, this piece was probably created as a Christmas gift for Cecil by his father in 1921. Cecil, we can guess, must have been quite young considering the picture book format of the work. Although it’s immediately recognizable that the author is an amateur story teller and bookmaker, these qualities only add to the item’s charm.

It’s a funny story, involving chance encounters, romance, and upward mobility. The manuscript is bound, colored, and written by hand.  If you look closely, you can see that the author first wrote in pencil and then traced his own hand (varying often) in black ink.  Most impressively, there are 21 humorous and talented illustrations (including the cover, title-page, and 19 leaves) each one painstakingly hand colored with watercolor and ink.

With the scene set, let’s let the work speak for itself:






Cute story right?

But there’s one other interesting and mysterious feature of the manuscript. It’s bookplate:

bookplatePasted into the inside front cover facing the title page, this bookplate answers some questions about the history of this manuscript and raises a few more.  After a little bit of research I was able to piece together that the acronym stands for Great Western Railway and that Wargrave refers to a village in Berkshire county, southeast England. The now defunct G.W.R. (founded 1833, nationalized at the end of 1947, becoming part of the Western Region of British Railways) opened a railway station in the small town of Wargrave in 1900.  Though the platform still remains today, The station building was demolished in 1988.

At some point between 1921 and 1947, Cecil or someone he knew must have given the manuscript over to the station (though it’s still unclear what kind of library the station might have had if it even had one).

So why would Wargrave train station have this item?

It might be more than just its train centered theme.  If you look closely at the second page (the first illustration after the title-page), you can just make out “GWR” written at the top of one of the papers on Rumples’ office wall. I think it’s safe for us to assume that this close affinity with and knowledge of the GWR (and the railroad goods office in general) probably points to this story being somewhat autobiographical. This, at least, would explain why the author’s family would want to donate the item to the station.

My flimsy guess is that the author himself probably worked in the goods office at Wargrave station. At some point, he must have fantasized about kicking his boss in the bum, getting a boat and a bike, and providing a better home for his children (not uncommon fantasies I’m sure).  At the very least, a talented and doting father created a fantastic gift for his son Cecil during the Christmas of 1921.  Now, 93 years later, we are pleased to have had the manuscript journey through many hands and across the pond to us.