From Mile End to Iria Flavia: John Trulock (1856-1919), a British Railwayman in Galicia

Galicia’s landscape is speckled, crisscrossed, sometimes torn by echoes of a British presence that goes back hundreds of years (think John of Gaunt), but became more intense during the nineteenth century. From cemeteries and memorials to railways, battlefields and mines, traces of the British soldiers, sailors, engineers, entrepreneurs and even missionaries who passed through the country remain visible today – if we know where to look. But the men and women themselves, even when their names are widely known, often remain in the shadows.

John Trulock with his grandson in 1916. Source: Fundacion Cela (via El Mundo)

John Trulock with his grandson in 1916. Source: Fundacion Cela (via El Mundo)

Of these shadowy figures, one of the most familiar is John Trulock, for some forty years, manager of the West Galicia Railway that ran between Santiago de Compostela and the southern Galician city of Pontevedra. Trulock has achieved lasting fame as the grandfather of Galicia’s Nobel prizewinning novelist Camilo José Cela, and his later life in Galicia is well known, but the many (many!) references to his biography that appear in accounts either of Cela or the railway are puzzling, fragmented, and often contradictory. On 31 May 1889 at the British Consulate in A Coruña, he married Josefina Catalina Aida Bertorini, the daughter of his business associate Camilo Bertorini and Bertorini’s Welsh-born wife Maria Jones. John and Josefina would go on to have seven children, including Camila, whose Nobel prizewinning son – full name Camilo José Cela Trulock – ensured the Trulock name remained in the public eye long after John’s death. The family’s adopted hometown of Iria Flavia is now home to both the literary foundation that celebrates the grandson and the railway museum that commemorates the grandfather.

But who was John Trulock, and where did he come from? None of the many references I turned up had a concrete answer, although the idea that he was from Cornwall seems to have gained some traction.[1] A little bit of digging through local records courtesy of Ancestry, Find My Past and, as ever, the British Newspaper Archive, and it turns out that John was no Cornishman, but a Londoner. More precisely, he was an Eastender, with a family story worthy of his 21st-century television namesakes.


John Trulock was born at 34 Tredegar Square in Bow, East London, on 31 December 1856 [2], in a house that is still standing today. He was the eldest son of another John Trulock (1814-69), a corn merchant from an old Bow family and Henrietta Glascott (1833- aft. 1901), the daughter of a brass founder from Whitechapel. John (senior) and Henrietta married on 31 July 1855 at Mile End Holy Trinity, Morgan Street and would have six surviving children: John, Alfred, Arthur, Henry, Kate and Ellen.

John’s early life was comfortable. His father’s family had been established in east London since at least the early 18th century, first as butchers and later as corn merchants. His father and grandfather were well known in Hackney and Bow, as much for their civic presence as for their professional activities. For the first thirteen years of his life, John lived with his parents and five siblings at various locations in East London, including Bromley by Bow, Woodford Green, and South Hackney. Since I have discovered Google Fusion tables and am now totally obsessed with them, here’s one showing you John’s London stamping grounds (click the map or this link for the live version):

map_Trulocks in London

By 1869, when John was thirteen, the family were living in an elegant three-storey terrace at 10 Groombridge Road, South Hackney. But that summer, their comfortable life fell apart when on 24 August John Trulock (senior) died at the age of 55. He was buried a week later at All Souls, Kensal Green in North London. Within 3 weeks, all of the family’s possessions were sold off at auction. This newspaper advertisement lists the contents of their house:

GENUINE HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, comprising 2 four feet mahogany wardrobes, mahogany tallboy and other chests of drawers, French, Arabian, and other bedsteads, feather beds and bedding, rosewood drawing-room suit, six and a half octave cabinet pianoforte in mahogany case, extending dining and other tables, a six feet mahogany pedestal sideboard, and other effects [3].

Within a year, the family had been dispersed. On the night of the 1871 census, Arthur was at the Mackenzie Street British Orphan Asylum in Windsor; Alfred and Henry were at the City of London Orphan School in Lambeth, and Kate and Ellen were at the Wanstead District Infant Orphan Asylum. Only John, now 14, was living independently. The census shows him working as a warehouseman in an umbrella factory in Holborn and boarding at 13 Finsbury Square. Of their mother, Henrietta, I can find no sign.

So how did an orphaned, teenage, East End umbrella factory worker end up as manager of a Galician railway company and grandfather of a Nobel Laureate? In truth, I have no idea. John Trulock disappears from British records after the 1871 census and I don’t yet know how, when or why he travelled to Galicia. According to F de Valois’ history of the Ferrocarril Compostelano, Trulock was named company spokesman [vocal] in February 1875 (when he would have been eighteen) [4]. The first contemporary mention I have found of his presence in Galicia is in August 1876, when ‘el jóven Mr Trulock’ [Young Mr Trulock] is listed as a member of the board [Consejo] of the Compañía del ferro-carril Compostelano, representing the company’s British financier Credit Foncier [5]. By March 1883, the Spanish railway industry newspaper refers to him as the manager [6], a position he would hold until his death in Iria Flavia on 9 June 1919, at the age of 62.

John Trulock’s journey from the East End of London to a riverside town in Spain’s Atlantic north west is just one of the individual threads that make up the rich network of Anglo-Galician connections during the long nineteenth century. Like many who made the long sailing across the Bay of Biscay, he was leaving behind a challenging past, but unlike most of them, his achievements are still visible almost a century after his death. This ‘1925 in 2010’ mashup by Flickr user ‘Amio Cajander‘ says it better in pictures than I ever could in words:

"La Señora del Paso a Nivel" by Amio Cajander [1925 in 2010]

“La Señora del Paso a Nivel” by Amio Cajander [1925 in 2010]


The cover photo of the train on the blog main page is 141F-2111 by José Camba, showing the ‘Mikado’ locomotive housed in the Museo do Ferrocarril de Galicia in Monforte de Lemos.

[1] See, for example, DW McPheeters, Camilo José Cela (Boston: Twayne, 1969), p.15; Janet Pérez, Camilo José Cela Revisited (Boston: Twayne, 2000), p.1.

[2] Date and place of birth given on record of John’s christening, which took place on 1 February 1857 at Mile End Holy Trinity, Morgan Street.

[3] East London Observer, 18 Sep. 1869: 8

[4] F de Valois, ‘Suspensión de pagos,’ Ferrocarril Compostelano, 17 Aug. 2013.

[5] El Diario de Santiago, 21 Aug. 1876: 1.

[6] Gaceta de los caminos de hierro, 25 Mar 1883: 10.

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