A blue plaque has been unveiled commemorating Britain’s first black train driver at King’s Cross station in London.
Wilston Samuel Jackson, who died in September 2018 at the age of 91 and had “dedicated his life to the railway”, was honoured during a ceremony attended by his relatives and industry leaders at the station on Monday.
Born in Jamaica, Jackson began maintaining trains shortly after moving to London in 1952 as part of the Windrush generation. He went on to become a driver a decade later and had a long and successful career on the railway, including driving the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive and The Elizabethan.
His daughter, Polly Jackson, told the ceremony: “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.”
Known as Bill, Jackson worked his way from a maintenance role to a position managing train boilers, which saw him spend the day shovelling coal in hot and filthy conditions. He would then return home to study for his driver exams.
His journey to becoming a train driver came at a time when many black people had their applications blocked due to racism, and Jackson’s appointment in 1962 sparked a furious reaction from some of his white colleagues, who unsuccessfully attempted to prevent white men from working under him.
Two years later, Jackson broke both his legs when his train crashed into the back of a stationary goods train near Finsbury Park, north London, after a signalman mistakenly gave a green light.
After his recovery he returned to the railway, before later emigrating to Zambia where he taught people how to drive trains.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, tweeted: “Today a plaque was unveiled at King’s Cross station to commemorate Wilston Samuel Jackson, Great Britain’s first Black train driver, who overcame horrendous racism in his early career & went on to drive iconic trains like the Flying Scotsman. A fitting tribute. #BlackHistoryMonth.”
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, called Jackson “a real trailblazer”. He 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.”
Recent figures from the train drivers’ union, Aslef, revealed that only 10% of Britain’s train drivers are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: “We are incredibly proud to have had Wilston as one of our own, a dedicated driver with an illustrious and groundbreaking career.”
A recent Guardian analysis found that only 2% of blue plaques across London on the English Heritage scheme are dedicated to commemorating notable black figures.