Finding staff, preventing accidents

People are absolutely central to our project. Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers, we’re able to get at the individuals behind the big figure statistics of British & Irish railway staff accidents in the later 19th and early 20th century (something recently discussed in relation to Covid-19 in this media comment). Our database is comprised of many thousands of people, but through it we can learn more about 14 year old James McGreevy, or Julia Cashen, or any of the others named.

Ideally, we’d also like to know about the staff who didn’t necessarily have accidents – certainly those who received some sort of safety education material, like the Great Western Railway’s ‘Safety’ Movement booklet or equivalent. And to assess this, we’d appreciate your help.

GWR accident prevention booklet cover.

Cover of the GWR’s ‘Safety’ Movement booklet, including F Cross’ name.

This style of material was introduced from 1913 and was designed to show workers ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of doing their work, typically using photographs and engaging language. Hundreds of thousands of copies of booklets like these were issued before the Second World War, and no doubt similar numbers were issues in BR years. From copies we’ve seen, some staff, like F Cross in the image above, wrote their name on the covers when they received their copy. This sparked a question: did any of those people appear in our database?

Given so many copies of the booklet were issued, we know a great many will have survived in the possessions of family members descended from railway staff who originally owned it, or in the hands of collectors. So, if you have a booklet like this that features either a name or (best of all) underlinings or added comments, we’d really like to hear from you. Please let us know, either via the project email account (railwayworkeraccidents[at]gmail[.]com) or our Twitter account (@RWLDproject).

Why are we interested in those underlinings or user-marks? They might tell us something about how far people responded to the booklets, and what they made of it. Did they write rude comments about the advice given? Did the highlight particular points to remember? Did they cross out things they disagreed with? Or did they not make any marks at all, dutifully reading the booklet but never returning to it? We can only speculate in many cases, but it all helps build a picture of what railway staff actually thought and felt about this sort of accident prevention material.

And what does it matter if someone who had a booklet also had an accident at some point in their career? It helps us understand how far staff might either have needed this type of educative material, or how much attention they actually paid to it in practice. On the latter, our hunch is ‘not a lot’, but it would be interesting to see if we can get a bit more detail behind that. All very unscientific, but interesting speculation – and it would be greatly aided by getting lots more examples from you that we can draw from.

North Eastern Railway booklet cover.

Cover of the NER version of the ‘Safety’ Movement booklet.
Courtesy Rob Langham.

This search came about after a recent conversation on Twitter (see here). We noticed that Rob Langham’s NER copy of the booklet also had a name added – though like our GWR copy, neither F Cross or Henry Woodgate so far appear in the project database. However, we think we’ve got more luck in the case of R Eggaford.

Cover of booklet with Eggaford's name added.

Cover of R Eggaford’s c.1961 accident prevention booklet.

The name appears on the front of the 1961 British Railways Your Personal Safety. Signal Engineering Staff booklet. In the data we’re working on cleaning at the moment, covering the inter-war period, a Robert Durwood Leslie Eggaford appears, working as a linesman’s assistant – a signal and telegraph role. So, two good indicators of a match: name and broad occupational role on the railways. He was 27 at the time of his accident – that would make him 61 or so in 1961; perfectly plausible that he was still at work.

On 15 October 1927 Eggaford was working at on the lines near Briton Ferry Road, in Swansea, on the Great Western Railway. Also at work cleaning and oiling point and signal equipment was linesman Alfred Chilham Miller, 48. A train approached them unobserved, killing Miller, who was between the tracks, and striking the platform Eggaford was on, knocking him off. His ankle and leg were cut and bruised and he was noted as suffering from shock. Inspector Cooke put the accident down to Miller not keeping a lookout and working away from Eggaford, in a place where danger was likely.

Do we learn lots new by being able to connect the booklet and the earlier accident? Perhaps not – though it is very interesting, and, importantly, it humanises the names and cases in our database still further. We know a little more about the Robert Eggaford; and we get a real sense of personal connection via the booklet: we can handle something that Eggaford actually touched. There’s a different response to this, I think, beyond the empathy that we might feel upon reading about his case in the database. It becomes more emotional, more instinctive (something we’ll be reflecting on in a future post). Those feelings might be difficult to put into words (and difficult for some academics to take seriously), but they are important, and help with a different form of understanding. It would be wonderful to be able to see this replicated for many of the people in our database – so, do please let us know about your accident prevention booklets.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes