A few ASRS cases from our new dataset

Just over a month ago, we released our third dataset – the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) legal book, covering 1901-1905. It contains over 2000 cases in which the ASRS had an interest, around half of which were accidents. The data came from the 2019 ‘Transcription Tuesday’ event which the project took part in, and we’re pleased to say that so far there’s been a positive response to having more data available.

The volume gives us a fresh perspective on how the ASRS Union defended its members, as well as the personal circumstances of those named – particularly those involved in accidents. So for this blog post we thought we’d pull out a few cases that appear in the transcribed data and see what they might tell us.

On 15 July 1905 goods guard Taylor – no first name or initial is recorded, sadly – had an accident at Southwick in County Durham, on the North Eastern Railway. He lost his right arm as a result, though (as is often the case with the volume) the precise circumstances aren’t set out. As a member of the Gateshead branch of the ASRS, the Union was involved in securing compensation and presumably also the return to work arrangements, which are recorded in the volume. He was awarded 15/1 per week. It was also recorded that he returned to railway work on 6 April 1906, as a left luggage attendant at Durham station. Presumably this was a part of a phased return to work, but was it too much for him? He had a month off (covering most of July). Or perhaps it was a period of training, ahead of starting as a signalman at Redheagh on 2 August. By that time he received a wage of 22 shillings per week and 4 shillings compensation.

Posed 1930s accident prevention image, showing dangers of pinch points.

A posed accident prevention image, from the 1930s.

Sometimes the Union would defend the interests of its members if they were implicated in causing an accident in which someone else was hurt. So, on 21 October 1905, goods guard Beveridge of the North British Railway, a member of the Dunfermline branch, was involved in an accident at Falkirk. We know from the volume that a colleague with the surname of Baird was killed – the Board of Trade enquiry (noted in the ASRS volume) reveals this to be guard William Baird. He was crushed between the engine steps on which he was riding and a wagon which had been left foul, by Beveridge, of the line on which Baird was travelling. Not only did the ASRS record that Mr Muir had represented Beveridge at the Board of Trade enquiry, but also the inspector’s verdict that if the yard had been lighted then the accident would not have happened. This kind of note was a part of keeping a check on the railway companies.

Sometimes the details of individual cases are tantalisingly scarce – though they can still, in aggregate, help us to ask new questions. How were the appropriate amounts of compensation decided, for example? To take just one page – page 40 of the original volume – of the 18 cases recorded, 4 appear to involve fatalities and compensation payments to reflect this. But why did shunter John Moore’s sole dependent, a child, receive £202.9.0, following Moore’s death in 1903? In contrast, Guard WE Hocking’s death on 3 February 1903 only produced a little more compensation – £224.2.8 – for his wife, mother ‘of 6 children and 1 partially’ (presumably meaning she had a child from a previous relationship)? The line immediately above details goods guard E Dinnis’ death, on 12 February 1903, at Consett station; his wife and four children were awarded £257.0.3. Finally, the family of passenger guard Blake were granted £222.9.5 – for the widow and son. Why these variations?

Incidentally, John Moore’s case was – it turns out – quite complicated; project volunteer Chris Jolliffe explored the various sources that document Moore’s life and family circumstances, and came up with a fascinating story – told in this blog post.

The value of the ASRS volume is enhanced where we can cross-reference the accident mentioned with other sources: sometimes like Baird/ Beveridge’s case above it’s the Board of Trade accident reports. This set of records, for 1900-1901, is the focus of our next project extension, which the National Railway Museum team already have underway. Sometimes it’s newspaper reports (see this blog, for example). Hopefully one day it will also be possible to link to personal testimony, staff records, civil registration documents (as in John Moore’s case) or family history accounts.

As we and you delve deeper into the cases found in this volume we look forward to bringing you more examples of this kind of collaborative, multi-source approach – do feel free to get in touch if you’ve researched any of the people involved and want to contribute!

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