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Transcription Tuesday: William Travis’ story

UPDATED 17/12/2019 – The Transcription Tuesday data is now available! Find out more here.


Continuing the build up to next week’s Transcription Tuesday, we’ve selected another case from the volume we’ll be working on. This time it reveals what happened to W Travis, a member of the Oldham branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS).

Travis worked for the London & North Western Railway, as a ‘porter brakesman’ – a kind of catch-all grade for small stations, who might shift luggage and do general platform duties, but also assist in the goods yards, applying the brakes on wagons being moved. On 30 January 1901 he was run over by a coal wagon at Grotton station in Yorkshire and died.

There was a coroner’s inquest on 1 February 1901, at which he was represented by Mr Wear from the union and the solicitor. There was also a state accident investigation to determine the cause – which we can marry up the sources, as the report survives. At the Board of Trade enquiry on 7 March 1901 Travis’ interests were once again represented by Mr Wear.

Under the ‘dependents’ column there’s a sad entry of ‘one child’ – in other cases where a widow was left entries recorded this, so presumably Travis’ wife had already died. The unnamed child was awarded £207.14.0 in compensation, with a further note that ‘money invested by Registrar to be paid to Mrs Roughorne (who take charge of the child) at a rate of 2/- per week until further.’ This volume doesn’t reveal what became of the child, but if Travis was a member of the Union’s Orphans Fund, then it’s possible that the child may appear in those details – something that would hopefully be uncovered as our project extension with the other Union records continues.

We have more detail on the accident itself from the Railway Inspector’s report – including details not found in the ASRS volume, like Travis’ first name, William, and his age, 34. Some of the details differ, slightly, too: Travis’ occupation was given simply as ‘brakesman’, which implies something a bit different from the title in the Union volume.

The accident took place at night – which was significant in this case. Travis was assisting in shunting, with shunter Fred Kidd; between them they tried to call to the signalman to change a pair of points, but he didn’t hear them and the points weren’t changed. According to Inspector JJ Hornby’s report, Travis called the engine driver to move the train, and walked in between the rails of the line next to the one he believed the wagons were going to move into. Unfortunately for him, the train continued on the line he was walking along, until ‘he was knocked down by them and killed.’

1932 Accident prevention booklet, admonishing workers for walking with their backs to oncoming traffic.

Hornby put the ‘mishap’ down to ‘misadventure.’ At the same time, he noted that although Travis should have checked that the points were set in the correct direction, he was unable to do so easily ‘as the place was in absolute darkness’. He could have done so – but it would have taken extra time, something that the railway companies were not keen on. Hornby noted that the station was relatively busy at night, ‘yet there is not a single fixed lamp provided’. As a result, he recommended that the company should ‘for future safety […] provide sufficient light to enable the men to see to do their work’ (1901 Quarter 1, Appendix C). Whether or not the company did this isn’t known.

Together these sources give us more insight into the working practices and lives of railway staff, as well as the stories surrounding their accidents and their personal lives. With your help, Transcription Tuesday is going to be an excellent way of making more of these stories accessible.


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