This week is ‘Explore your Archive’ week, an initiative of The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association. It’s designed to raise awareness of the UK and Ireland’s rich archival holdings and encourage us to make more use of them – something the Railway Work, Life & Death project is keen to support.
Our project wouldn’t have been possible without the archival holdings underlying our spreadsheet of railway worker accidents between 1911 and 1915 which were investigated by state inspectors. Those reports are held by the National Railway Museum and at The National Archives, amongst other archives, and make for fascinating reading. They open our eyes to the (often grim) realities of working (and dying) on the railways around the time of the First World War.
Whilst there’s no substitute for visiting the archive and seeing the original documents, on the project we were aware that this just isn’t possible for everyone, and that a good many people who would be interested in the worker accident reports simply weren’t able to access them. As a result, we wanted to make the material better known and used.
Our solution was – thanks to a dedicated team of NRM volunteers – was to pull the information from the reports and enter it, in a standardised format, into a spreadsheet, now freely available to all. We’ve captured all the key details of the accidents and those involved as set out in the state reports. So, we’ve now got a virtual archive, of sorts, containing 3,911 cases that we’re keen to see being used.
However, our spreadsheet isn’t simply a substitute for the full report. It is also opening the reports up to further study, giving us something that hasn’t ever been available before: an easily searchable and highly detailed index to accidents between 1911 and 1915. With this powerful tool it’s now possible to pick out anything ranging from a single particular case you’re interested in (whether it be an individual, a location, or a date) to a series of incidents (for example, all those cases at a particular location, or in a company).
We think our work, including this website and its resources, contributes nicely to the ‘Explore your Archive’ aims of celebrating ‘the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together and tell amazing stories.’ Just have a look at the hard work of our volunteers and the spreadsheet they’ve produced, with its nearly 4,000 accident cases – each one a human story – and you’ll find something of interest. And we’re also proud that our wonderful volunteers have between them contributed well over 1,000 hours of effort, and helped to demonstrate the value of crowd-sourcing this type of archival research.
So, for the rest of the week we’re aiming to get a new post up each weekday, mixing the content between case studies drawn from our project and broader discussions like this one: be sure to check back each day! And keep an eye on Twitter (@RWLDproject), where we’ll be continuing our daily #onthisday posts, giving brief details of an accident that occurred on that day between 1911 and 1915.