As part of Explore your Archive week we’re going to be bringing you a couple of cases taken from the Railway Work, Life & Death project spreadsheet of railway worker accidents between 1911 and 1915. The spreadsheet was compiled by volunteers at the National Railway Museum, one of the project partners, drawn from reports produced by state inspectors investigating employee accidents. Whilst it’s possible to get hold of these reports in the flesh, at Search Engine or The National Archives, we wanted our spreadsheet to act as a virtual archive, opening up details of the original reports to people who might not otherwise be aware of them.
It’s hard to choose which of the 3,911 cases to feature in any given post, but this week we’ve had the task made easy for us: one of our Twitter followers, @TurnipRail, tweeted the illustration above at us, taken from the LNER Magazine during the 1930s. We said we’d try to find an equivalent case from our period, and – sad to say – it wasn’t too difficult.
The spreadsheet shows us that Temporary Goods Porter (over 18) J. Gillespie was working in Edinburgh Waverley goods shed, on the North British Railway on 19 April 1912. Ten hours and 50 minutes into his 11 hour shift, his right foot was crushed whilst he was helping with sheeting a wagon. As Inspector Charles Campbell’s report noted, when an engine moved some wagons into contact with the wagon on which Gillespie was working ‘having received no warning, [he] was taken unawares, and his foot caught between the buffer head and the casting.’
The report (1912 Quarter 2, Appendix C) went on to attribute the accident to ‘the lack of a proper system for giving warning.’ This is quite interesting, as it’s a deviation from the typical diagnosis, which tended to find the individual(s) concerned responsible for their accidents. It is rather less common to find the system of work being identified as at fault. Campbell went on to state ‘At present, when it is necessary to disturb the waggons in the shed, the shunter shouts from the entrance and then, assuming that this intended warning has been heard by all concerned’. Instead Campbell recommended that the Company should issue a general order that wagons not be moved until explicit permission to do so had been gained from ‘the man in charge’, who should make sure no-one would be affected by the shunting.
In this we get a glimpse of actual working practices on the railways and the relationships between companies and inspectors, as well as the detail of one individual’s case. This is just one case that features in our project spreadsheet, and is hopefully an interesting demonstration of the potential the archives hold on this and so many more topics – do explore the spreadsheet. We’d love to know what you make of it, and the project, so please get in touch.
And be sure to keep checking back, even after Explore your Archive week is over – we’re updating the blog every Monday, featuring cases from the spreadsheet, including more details and analysis.