IN Glasgow’s Riverside Museum stands a remarkable engine with a long and celebrated history.

The Caledonian Single No 123 was first displayed at Birmingham Moor Street Station and Michael Dunn remembers being taken to see it, aged nine.

“It was love at first sight,” he says, smiling. “I have had an admiration for the Caledonian Railway ever since….”

Now 72 and a retired engineer, Michael has written a beautiful book all about the company, which was based in Glasgow.

Caledonian Railway Miscellany is a remarkable collection of more than 400 photos and fascinating stories about the formidable firm which ceased to exist 100 years ago.

Glasgow Times: A freshly painted engine from St Rollox at Glasgow CentralA freshly painted engine from St Rollox at Glasgow Central (Image: Caledonian Railway Association)

“I have had a lifelong interest in railway history and when I retired, I decided to specialise in the Caledonian Railway in particular,” he explains. “I set about collecting old photographs, artefacts and documents from the company - not easy, as little survives.

“Knowing that the 100th anniversary of the Caley's demise would be this year, I decided this ought to be marked by a book.

“In times gone by, the company was well known to almost everyone in Glasgow but is now recalled by only a few. 

“Fortunately, others agreed, including the members of the Caledonian Railway Association - the essential organisation for anyone with a love or interest in the old company.  The book could never have been written without the unfailing support of the CRA.”

Glasgow Times: Author Michael DunnAuthor Michael Dunn (Image: Michael Dunn)

The Caley was based in Glasgow, with its headquarters at Buchanan Street Station and its vast works at St. Rollox, so a great many of the pictures were taken in Glasgow. 

At its peak, in the years leading up to the First Word War, the Caley employed around 22,000 staff and owned or operated about 1100 route miles of railway.

“The emphasis has been on the people who worked for the company, rather than the nuts and bolts of the organisation, and I've tried to paint a portrait of what life was like for the people it once employed,” says Michael.

Glasgow Times: Buchanan St goods depotBuchanan St goods depot (Image: Michael Dunn)

“Except for a few famous names we still speak of, the staff who kept the Caledonian in business have largely been overlooked by the history books and their names and occupations are now virtually forgotten.

“The vast majority were men, firstly because the conventions of the time dictated that this was so, but also because most of the work required extreme physical strength over long periods. However, women were employed in some clerical or domestic roles and their number rose rapidly during World War One.”

In the foreword to the book, Michael explains: “Provided you took care and stuck to the regulations, a job in the railway was for life… staff were part of a ‘railway family’ who looked out for each other. Working for the Caledonian engendered a fierce loyalty – if you were employed by the railway you were a ‘Caley man’ for once and for all.

Glasgow Times: Approach to Central StationApproach to Central Station (Image: Michael Dunn)

St Rollox in North Glasgow was the hub of operations, with more than 3500 staff. Even after the demise of the Caledonian it continued to operate, closing eventually in 2019.

The book is a fascinating insight into the lives of railway workers in Glasgow at the time.

Michael writes: “The vast majority of people in pre-industrial Scotland lived in abject poverty… life expectancy was low and infant mortality high.

“It was against this backdrop that a job on the railway became an attractive proposition, and why recruiting staff was easy.

“By mid-Victorian times, the Caledonian was providing staff housing of a quality undreamed of by those who had come from remote crofts or the tithe houses of the landed gentry."

He adds: "I should not want to paint a picture that is too rosy: the railways demanded long hours in arduous conditions and, especially in those early days, the jobs could be dangerous.

“However the employment to be had with a company like Caledonian was still infinitely better than what had been available before.”

Glasgow Times: Caledonian Railway MiscellanyCaledonian Railway Miscellany (Image: Michael Dunn)

The photos in the book, which include atmospheric shots of Glasgow Central, and striking images of workers at St Rollox and Buchanan Street, paint a picture of an age which has “vanished so utterly and completely”, says Michael, it has hard to believe it once existed.

“At least the photos prove it was not a figment of the imagination,” he adds.

Caledonian Railway Miscellany, published by Michael Dunn in conjunction with Kidderminster Railway Museum, is out now.