Welcome to the website for the Railway Work, Life & Death project.
We’re a joint initiative between the University of Portsmouth, the National Railway Museum (NRM) and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick (MRC). We’re also working with other institutions including The National Archives of the UK.
We’re making it easier to find out about railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland from the late 1880s to 1939. We’re providing data about who was involved, what they were doing on the railways, what happened to them and why. Although today most people don’t realise it, working on the railways 100 years ago was incredibly dangerous, with hundreds killed and tens of thousands injured each year.
We’re entirely dependent on the hard work and dedication of our brilliant volunteers, so we want to recognise their important contributions, without which the project wouldn’t function. So far we’ve been able to make publicly available the work produced by the NRM volunteers. They’ve been through reports produced by the state-appointed Railway Inspectorate between 1900 and 1939, detailing investigations into railway worker accidents, and through the record book of the Great Eastern Railway Company’s Benevolent Fund 1913-23. They’ve extracted the details found in the documents – things like names, ages, roles, companies and details of the accident – and entered them into our database. We’ve added to this details from one of the railway trades unions, covering 1901-1905.
This database is now available, free, on this website, so that anyone who’s interested can easily learn more about work and accidents on Britain and Ireland’s railways from the later 19th century until the Second World War.
We’re currently working on further extensions of the project, which we expect to add 60,000 additional cases to the data – a lot of work, so it’s going to take a while! Altogether, we think this work will be of great interest to all sorts of people: railway enthusiasts, family historians, railway museums and heritage centres, archives, the current railway industry and academics.
You can download the project information sheet here. Please feel free to spead the word widely.
The project is led by Dr Mike Esbester (Portsmouth), Karen Baker (Librarian, NRM) and James King (Senior Assistant Archivist, Modern Records Centre) with the assistance of Chris Heaton (Volunteer Administrator, NRM). It draws upon Mike’s research, funded in the past by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK, and Karen, James and Chris’s wealth of experience. We warmly welcome your thoughts and questions, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.