Thomas Henry Aggett was known as ‘the Railway Poet of the West’, being employed as a porter at Teignmouth railway station.
Born in Saltash in 1863, his father worked under Brunel on the Royal Albert Bridge. On the completion of that work the family moved to Torquay.
In October, 1880 at the age of 10, Thomas gained employment as a farmer’s boy for five years. He then moved to the Isle of Wight where he served as a footman for two years in the household of an invalid widow lady, who spent most of her time in her own room.
Left pretty much to his own resources, he spent a great deal of his time in the house library “in spite of the constant watchfulness of an elderly lady’s maid, who apparently thought that it was her bounden duty to preserve the bindings of the books by preventing them being read… However… substituting another volume on the shelf when he had occasion to take one away for private perusal. Thus he first became acquainted with the works of Burns and Byron.”
Thomas left the Isle of Wight in August, 1882, and the following October obtained an appointment on the Great Western Railway,
While employed at Teignmouth railway station in 1889, he wrote Vagabond Verses, and the Demon Hunter, a Legend of Torquay. The title-poem, along with The Parson and the Clerk, The Mayor of Bodmin, and others, deal with local legends.
“I do not aspire to genius, neither do I pretend to have written anything exceptionally good, and if the reader derives the same amount of pleasure in reading as I have in writing the poems, I shall consider it sufficient recompense, and feel justified in having printed them; if, on the other hand, they are found incapable of affording any pleasure, I can only excuse myself, by saying they never would have been printed had it not been for the hope of benefiting the Widows and Orphans’ Fund of the Great Western Railway.”
As an example of Thomas’ work, here’s an excerpt from ‘Epitaph on an Old Maid’
To win a husband long she tried,
Nor in despair at last she died,
She heard that marriages were made
In heaven, so this world she bade
Good-bye, to try, since hopeless here,
Her fortune in another sphere.