<p>Wilston Samuel Jackson driving the locomotive Neil Gow, which was in operation from 1924 to 1963</p>

Wilston Samuel Jackson driving the locomotive Neil Gow, which was in operation from 1924 to 1963

Blue plaque dedicated to Britain’s first black train driver unveiled

Wilston Samuel Jackson enjoyed a ‘long and successful career’ on the railway before his death in 2018

Kate Ng
Tuesday 26 October 2021 11:51

A blue plaque commemorating Britain’s first black train driver has been unveiled at King’s Cross station, witnessed by his children and grandchildren.

Wilston Samuel Jackson, who was born in Jamaica, moved to London in 1952 and began work maintaining trains shortly after.

He then became a train driver 10 years later, and went on to have a long career on the railway, including driving the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive.

Jackson’s youngest daughter, Polly Jackson, spoke during the unveiling ceremony of his plaque on Monday and said: “My father dedicated much of his life to the railway.

“He was never late or missed a day, and he was so proud of his work, despite the many challenges he faced.

“Today was a fitting tribute to his life and career.”

Jackson, who was known as Bill, was not the first black person who aspired to become a train driver in Britain, but racism saw applications from many other black railway workers blocked.

He worked his way up from his initial maintenance role to managing train boilers, which meant spending his days shovelling coal and nights studying for his driver exams.

When he was appointed in 1962, some of his white colleagues reacted furiously and attempted to prevent white men from working under him without success.

Two years later, Jackson broke both his legs when his train crashed into the back of a stationary goods train near Finsbury Park in north London, after he was mistakenly given a green light by a signalman.

After a long recovery, he returned to the railway and later emigrated to Zambia with his family. There, he taught people how to drive trains.

He died in September 2018 at the age of 91.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “I have been fascinated to learn about Wilston’s life and career.

"He was a real trailblazer for our industry and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his incredible service, made even more remarkable by the many obstacles he had to overcome.

"This plaque is a fitting tribute to his career, and I hope it helps to inspire the next generation of train drivers and railway workers from minority ethnic backgrounds, because despite some progress we know they remain under-represented in our industry."

According to train drivers union Aslef, only 10 per cent of train drivers in the UK are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: "We are incredibly proud to have had Wilston as one of our own, a dedicated driver with an illustrious and ground-breaking career.

"Aslef continues to campaign for change across the sector and for a driving grade that represents 21st century Britain. This blue plaque is fitting recognition of that.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in