This post is one of a series exploring how the same source might be approached in different ways by different types of researcher, so we can better understand each other and work together more easily. There’s an introduction to this, and the associated posts like this one, here.
Having previously researched bus services in Northamptonshire between 1920 and 1950, I know how difficult it can be to extract information which is useful for an historian, so where I saw the sparse details of the report about E. Beaumont’s accident I put myself through a process. Often, the focus is on the rolling stock rather than the social aspect of the report and this report is no different. First, with a document such as this it is important to consider what it is, and what it is for.
The text from John P. S. Main provides a brief report of the accident involving E. Beaumont and from this we can extract a number of things. For example, from the information provided we know the accident occurred on the evening of 8 March 1911 at around 11.40pm. The report shows us that E. Beaumont was employed as a goods guard by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway company but the accident occurred on the Hull and Barnsley Railway at Cudworth, Yorkshire. We also know that the injuries Mr. Beaumont sustained were severely crushed toes and that the suggestion in the report was that the accident may be attributed to misadventure.
As a local social historian, documents such as this, which provide us with very little detail naturally create more questions than answers. The most obvious being: who was Mr E. Beaumont? We know what Mr. Beaumont did for a living. However, we don’t know any other details. There is no information on his first name or age so finding him on census returns can prove difficult. However, we do know who he worked for, so finding the employment records for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway company might be possible. The National Archives hold company records for the Railway up to 1904. Although these do not cover the period of the accident it may be that they could potentially include Mr. Beaumont’s employment records as we do not know how long he had worked for the company.
Another question this report poses is how common was this type of accident? Again, there may be reports on accidents which could provide this information in the records held in The National Archives. The local records office at Barnsley may reveal more information about how the railways impacted the area, particularly as maps from around the time of the accident show that Cudworth was a major junction for the railway lines. This also explains why Mr Beaumont’s accident occurred on the Hull and Barnsley Railway although he worked for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.
A different avenue to consider would be what the treatment and recovery time was for an injury such as Mr. Beaumont’s. For this, you would need to consider a number of aspects about the time. For example, this was before the NHS and also prior to the National Health Act 1911 gaining Royal Assent. However, Mr. Beaumont may have been a member of a voluntary organisation such as a local Friendly Society which could have covered his medical costs. However, many of these had strict rules and with the report suggesting misadventure he may have found himself ineligible. This can also lead us to other questions on a more local level such as was Mr Beaumont’s treatment provided by a local cottage hospital or a private medical practice. A quick search for accidents in the Cudworth area in the British Newspaper Archives shows that many patients during 1911 would have been sent to Beckett Hospital in Barnsley which was a charitable hospital opened in 1865, the records of which are held at The National Archives, although their databases suggests that patient information is not including in these records.
The report also doesn’t give any indication of what happened to Mr Beaumont after the accident. There is no record in the report of whether he was disciplined, or whether he remained in his position after his accident. For this we would again need employment records for the time. We don’t gain any information on where Mr Beaumont lived; was he from the Cudworth area? Or further afield? We also don’t know whether he had family around him or a support network to help him recover. These are things that we may be able to discover when we find out more about him, like his age or first name to allow us to search the census returns.
As can be seen, a simple report can prompt a lot of questions and lead a historian down various research paths. A local historian might consider where the accident happened, a social historian might consider why it happened and both would consider who it happened to.
Kathrina is a current PhD student at the University of Northampton researching philanthropy in the boot and shoe Industry in Northampton 1850 to 1950, specifically focusing on the roles women played. She has recently started her blog and is also the blog editor for the Women’s History Network.