This month the Railway Work, Life & Death project once again has an exciting new set of data being entered into the project’s database. With the support of the RMT Union, on 27 March 2023 we’re adding around 25,000 cases from its predecessor unions, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) and the National Union of Railwaymen.
The records come from the RMT’s archive, held by our project partner, the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick (MRC). Dating from the 1880s to 1910s, they offer a range of new insights into accidents, compensation and legal claims as well as the operation of the orphan fund. With cases across Britain and Ireland, details include accounts and details of membership for the ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ of the railway unions. They also give some details of members’ families and how they were affected by the accidents. The data incorporates ‘non-worker’ injuries and fatalities that happened in this period – those cases where the accident involved someone not employed on the railways, but which involved union members. This offers avenues for investigating how these cases were dealt with.
To offer some insight into the cases within this new data release I wanted to highlight an intriguing example where clear evidence for compensation, external to a trade union claim, was present following an incident to a railway worker. It raises questions about hours of duty as well as other avenues of compensation that were being offered in the late 19th century in the event of a railway accident.
The case is taken from the 1889 October AGM General Secretary’s Report. It will be found within spreadsheet entitled ‘Union death claims 1889 -1919’ when it enters the project database on 27 March. It is evidently a fatal accident that occurred at some time within the year prior to the AGM. A Mr Broughton, en-route to his work at the goods yard at Ardwick (near Manchester), was killed in a railway accident. However, there were a number of factors that made this case somewhat of a controversy – or at least a matter of debate in terms of the compensation claim.
Mr Broughton was on on his way to work, where he would have taken charge of a goods van, and thus was not yet then on duty. However, at the time he had ‘a copy of the Christian Herald in his basket’ – a newspaper that had promised its regular readers £100 in the event of ‘death by railway accidents’. This had one significant caveat however: the exception of ‘railway servants on duty’. The Christian Herald thus refused to provide the £100, claiming that in being on his way to work and at such a close proximity to his workplace he was on duty, and that it was through his Union membership that compensation should be found. The ASRS supported his case against the newspaper, making clear the differentiation between being at work and on his way. The outcome – uncertain to some extent, as no monetary contribution is recorded within the data from the Union at this time in this source. This is not to say that no compensation was recovered, however, as is shown in other aspects of our new data.
A Mr ‘J’ Broughton of Ardwick branch is also recorded within the ‘Union orphan Fund 1888-1919’ new data set. As a ‘Jas Broughton’, he is recorded within the 1889 May Quarterly report to have had four children, receiving between them 5s 6d a week in support from the ASRS. An annual total payment of £3.17.0 is recorded to have been paid in the accounts of the 1889 July quarterly report. As ‘James Broughton’, a goods guard from the ASRS Ardwick Branch and working for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, a more detailed picture is given. The date of the accident in this source is given as 26 March 1889 and a more precise location of ‘London Road’ – what’s now known as Manchester Piccadilly.
The four children he left behind after his death are also named; the eldest Ada born on 10 June 1880, Betsy born on 23 July 1882, James Oliver born on 11 February 1886 and the youngest Thomas born on 12 August the year before his father’s death and would have not yet had his first birthday.
From just this one example of an individual recorded within the union data coming soon to the RWLD database, a plethora of research opportunities and further questions follow. Why was the Christian Herald making such advertisements of compensation for railway accidents? What was the link between Christian movements as at this time and the railway, particularly in the event of accidents? How widely was this advertisement for compensation circulated and were there ever any payouts on this promise? What happened at and after the accident and who else was involved? Were there any other injuries or witnesses? What happened to James’ children and wife? What support was given to the family while they were waiting for compensation for his death and wondering where it might come from?
It‘s an intriguing case, that spans different original source materials and helps to exemplify how one individual can be traced and further details found just from within our project database. Furthermore, it exemplifies the breadth of research that can sprout from it and the intrigue these cases present. We hope that this new data release is of interest to a range of new or familiar users of our project’s work and that it can lead to further investigation into the work, lives and deaths of those who worked on the railway and their families. We would be keen to hear from you, if you have any questions or if there is something of particular interest that you are researching for or have found in the database.
I would also like to thank the work of the volunteers in assembling and transcribing this new data, the RMT and MRC for providing the original historic documents, and for all those who have supported or contributed to this project thus far. We’re looking forward to launching this new compilation of historic information at the end of March 2023 – look out for more in the coming days!
I’m a Research Assistant on the Railway Work, Life & Death project and a current PhD student at the University of Portsmouth, looking at shipwrecking in Britain and Sweden.