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2020 plans & possibilities …

… and a case from our new data release, for good measure!


As we start 2020 it seems like a good time to look ahead to what’s to come this year – and the answer is: lots!

Some of it is bespoke: unique events to which we’ve been invited to contribute. We’re always pleased to do these, as they bring the project to a variety of new audiences and hopefully encourage people to use our resources. We’ve got a few lined up already. If you can get to any of these events, do come along and see what we’ve got to offer in person!

The first two both come in March. We’ll be speaking at The National Archives’ Gerald Aylmer seminar, on Wednesday 11th March. The seminar brings together historians and archivists to discuss topics of mutual interest, particularly the nature of archival research and the use of collections. The seminar is jointly organised by The National Archives, the Royal Historical Society and the Institute of Historical Research, the leading organisations for promoting historical scholarship in the UK. This year’s theme is co-production and collaboration in the archive, and we’ll be part of a panel looking at what makes effective co-production, drawing from project experience. What’s particularly nice about this, of course, is that as a project we’re working with The National Archives, to bring railway company records into our database – so we’ll be able to thank our colleagues, including the volunteers, at Kew.

The second March event is a presentation at the British Association for Local History’s ‘Unexpected source for local history’ seminar, in Taunton on Saturday 21st March. This will be fun to do, as it’ll help focus our minds more on place implications of the project data – very often we’re thinking more about the people involved. The whole day looks to be very interesting, and it’ll be a great opportunity to bring the project to the attention of local historians.

We’ve got a bit of a breather then, until May, when on Saturday 2nd we’ll be giving 2 talks at the Society of Genealogists. One will be looking at railway records and genealogical research in general, and another will be looking at the project and accident sources more specifically. Hopefully it’ll be a useful introduction to the sheer variety and potential of railway – and particularly railway staff accident – sources.

Also in May, we’ll have a book chapter out in a collection edited by a firm friend and supporter of the project, David Turner. The volume is looking at the cutting edge of transport and mobility history, and we’re particularly pleased that our contribution discusses the methodology of crowd-sourcing and public engagement with research. Throughout all of this we’ll be continuing the write for a variety of outlets, for as many of our communities as possible – you’ll always get the latest on these from our Twitter feed.

On which note – we’ll be continuing to keep our Twitter account an exciting and varied feed, with detail from the project, updates, news, events and all the latest, as well as things from others that touch upon the broader range of issues the project is exploring. We’ll be blogging regularly, including featuring guest authors – and we’d certainly encourage guest submissions, so do get in touch to discuss ideas with us. We’ve prepared some notes to help potential authors here. And we’ll be promoting the existing data that we’ve been able to release: we want to see (and hear from!) people using it.

During 2020 we’re hoping to release more data – we’ve currently got data from The National Archives, the Modern Records Centre and the National Railway Museum teams that is being cleaned. We’re looking at perhaps 20,000 cases, so it’s going to take a while, but we’re working on it!

And of course, the process of transcription continues! Our excellent volunteer teams are carrying on with their brilliant work. Notably, the NRM team have just finished transcribing the state reports for the interwar period, and from the end of the month will be moving on to fill in the last remaining gap in this dataset, covering 1900-1910. There are a lot of cases in that period, so it’s going to take quite some time to do; we’re grateful that they’re willing and keen to carry on.

As we’ve shown in past blogs, one of the values of our work is that it allows researchers to bring a range of sources together, that would otherwise be hard to link, to find out more about the people involved, their work and their accidents. We know that there will be links in the 1900-1910 state accident reports and our existing coverage – including to the new dataset we released just before Christmas. So, looking at the 7 days from 6-12 January that were found in the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) legal case book for 1901-1905, we find 20 cases. To finish this blog post, we’re going to take just one of them.

Clovenfords station in 1897.
Clovenfords station area, and detail of the station, as it appeared in 1897. The loading bank where the accident happened is above the ‘489’ height marker, right of centre, in the detail below. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland maps.

Detail of the accident site.


From the ASRS volume we know that in 1902 goods guard T Black worked for the North British Railway, and belonged to the Portobello branch of the Union. On 7 January 1902 he had an accident at Clovenfords, in Selkirkshire, in which he was killed. Being a fatality, there was a state inquest, held under the Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) system – this means that the more detailed investigation (possibly including witness testimony) may survived. We’ve an eye on the FAIs for the future – we’d love to bring them into the project, and we’re exploring that possibility, so watch this space. For now, though, the ASRS volume simply records that the inquest took place.

There was also a Board of Trade enquiry – of which, more in a moment. Mr Muir represented the ASRS and Black’s interests at the enquiry – Muir’s name occurs frequently in this capacity in the legal volume, appearing at over 50 such enquiries. Finally, the volume records that Black’s dependents (sadly no details given) were awarded £234 in compensation (ASRS legal, case 672).

So what happened to Black? We can marry up the ASRS volume with the Board of Trade enquiry – one that will feature in the new NRM transcription about to be started!

It tells us that Black’s first name was Thomas, and on 7 January he was working as second guard on a goods train from Hardengreen to Galashiels. At just past 12.30pm it reached Clovenfords. As Black and the others were shunting, the signalman (un-named in the report) changed a pair of points, derailing an empty coal wagon. In the attempt to get the set of wheels back up on to the rails, Black and head guard, George Campbell, ‘put some packing, consisting of a sleep and a sprag [a wooden pole designed to keep wheels from moving], in front of the [derailed] wheel[s]’. The plan was that the engine crew would pull the wagon forwards, and the wheels would ride up and back on to the rails. However, ‘when the wheels had mounted the packing they passed over the rails, and the rear end of the waggon [sic] swung sharply towards the loading bank.’ Unfortunately Black was in the way, and he was crushed.

The inspector investigating, JH Armytage, put the accident down to the curve of the line at this point. He also commented ‘no doubt Black, who had been a goods guard for seven years, would have acted more wisely if he had stood further away from the waggon [sic] … but he evidently did not realise the danger of his position’. As a result he attributed the accident to misadventure (1902 Quarter 1, Appendix B).

So, once again we can see the value of putting different sources together – sources that the project is opening up and allowing for these connections to be made.

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