Wilston Samuel Jackson: A Plaque For The UK's First Black Train Driver's At King's Cross Station

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 8 months ago
Wilston Samuel Jackson: A Plaque For The UK's First Black Train Driver's At King's Cross Station
Britain's first black train driver: a Black man leans from the cab of a steam train
Wilston Samuel Jackson - Britain's first Black train driver, is remembered with a plaque at King's Cross

Wilston Samuel Jackson became Britain's first Black train driver in 1962 — and there's a plaque dedicated to him at King's Cross station.

'Bill', as he was known to friends and family, moved to London from his home in the Jamaican parish of Portland, in 1952. Working his way up through the ranks over a decade — as a cleaner, then a fireman, Jackson studied hard for his locomotive driver exams in his spare time.

Eventually, his dream was realised, and he went on to drive trains and locomotives including the Flying Scotsman and Mallard, which both regularly used King's Cross.

The blue plaque dedicated to Jackson, feauting a picture of the Mallard
The Mallard was among famous steam locomotives that Jackson drove

In a time when racism was rampant, Jackson's journey to achieve his dreams wasn't easy. On his first day as a train driver in 1962, one of his white colleagues refused to work under Jackson. This backfired for the fireman, who was threatened with the sack, after which he changed his mind and asked if he could stay. Jackson replied: "I don't have a problem with you, it is you who has a problem with me. If you do your job well, we'll get along fine."

In 1964, when a signalman mistakenly gave a green light near Finsbury Park, Jackson's train ploughed into the back of a stationary goods train. Jackson shouted to his fireman to 'jump' (which he did, and was saved) but Wilston himself was crushed and had to be cut from the wreckage.

Headline: train crash driver is sawn free
A newspaper report on the incident in which Jackson broke both legs. Image © Reach PLC. Image courtesy British Library Board. Taken from British Newspaper Archive

At the unveiling of Jackson's plaque, on 25 October 2021, Polly Jackson, his youngest daughter, 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."

Jackson passed away in 2018, aged 91, having emigrated to Zambia, where he taught locals how to drive trains.

His plaque features an image of the pioneering Mallard locomotive; you can see another nod to it at King's Cross station, with the statue of its designer, Sir Nigel Gresley.

ASLEF — Britain's trade union for train drivers — figures show that just 10% of train drivers in England, Scotland and Wales are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The plaque can be found on the brick archways by platform 4 at King's Cross station.

Last Updated 25 August 2023

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