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Hampshire county accidents

This week sees the release of the podcast we recorded for the Hampshire Archives Trust, focusing on Hampshire’s railways and what the project can add to our understanding. To support that, we thought it worth using this week’s blog to take a county-based approach to our project database, looking at what we might – or might – not be able to tell from the data.

In the database, we have 203 Hampshire accidents, from the state accident investigators reports covering 1900-1939 (with a gap, due to the First World War, between mid-1915 and mid-1921). We’ll delve into how we might think about those in a moment, but it’s firstly worth saying something about the Hampshire county and railway context.

The county was relatively rural. The 1911 Census showed a population of around 862,000, around half of which lived outside the major conurbations of Bournemouth (78,000), Southampton (119,000) and Portsmouth (230,000). Industry and manufacturing was focused in these areas, though the military also had a strong presence in the county – the navy at Portsmouth and army at Aldershot.

Major railways lines ran from London to both Portsmouth and Southampton, as well through the county (for example, down to Exeter). However, the route mileage for the county was limited, focused on reaching the bigger towns and their manufacturing or trade connections. The London & South Western Railway dominated, with much smaller route mileages for companies like the Great Western Railway and the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway.

As a result, there were – compared to those counties which were more densely served – fewer opportunities for staff accidents. Yorkshire, for example, with its coal, steel & manufacturing industries, plus port towns, had a much greater route mileage, and a much higher number of accidents that were investigated by state officials (upon which a large portion of our current database is based).

So what do we see in the database? We can find out a bit more about the distribution of accidents. Unsurprisingly, they tended to be concentrated in the areas where there were more lines and more freight movement – accepting always that the database only reflects those accidents which were investigated by the accident inspectors, and a great many accidents happened which weren’t formally investigated by the state. So, we see locations like Portsmouth and Southampton producing sizeable numbers of accidents – including separating out Southampton docks as a separate location.

Bar chart showing Hampshire accidents by location.
Hampshire accidents by location


Some larger counties had a great many more accidents than Hampshire, meaning that there were far more roles appearing in the database for those counties. Nevertheless, a range of railway occupations in Hampshire made their way into the database:

Barchart of Hampshire accidents by grade
Hampshire accidents by grade.


You’ll notice a single big bar – ‘grades with single cases.’ This is purely a convenience for the chart, as there were a large number of railway roles appearing which had just one accident in Hampshire. This reflects two things. Firstly, the wide variety of roles on the railways – they had some really specific staff doing very niche – but important – things. Secondly, that different railway companies gave slightly different names to people doing essentially similar things. That means we might find one company using one name for the role, and another company using another name – producing two single cases that might (if we were at this distance able to reconcile job roles) being joined. Either way, each of those individual cases lumped together for convenience here is fully detailed at the individual level in the database.

So how did the county picture compare with that of the wider UK, in terms of outcomes following an accident? Broadly similar, though with some variations in contusions and the rather vague category of ‘other’.

Barchart comparing Hampshire accident outcomes with the national picture.
Comparing Hampshire accidents against those in the whole database gives us an indication of a location or county’s typicality.


We’ve already mentioned the railway companies serving the county. Their accident records were related to the route mileage the companies operated – for example, the Great Western had a relatively small limited route mileage, and consequently appears only once in the database. The London & South Western Railway, by contrast, features rather more heavily:

Pie chart showing railway companies having staff accidents in Hampshire before 1923.
Railway staff accidents by company, in Hampshire, before 1923.


This chart stops in 1922, unlike the others, as the c.120 railway companies in Britain were merged into 4 major concerns starting from 1923. After that point, as far the Hampshire-based accidents went, everything happened on the Southern Railway (at least in our database!).

The one thing we haven’t done today is look at any of the individual cases. Trends are important and can allow us to put the individual in a wider context – but we must lose sight of those individuals. Each one of the 203 Hampshire accident cases was a person, with family, friends and part of a community. We’ll return to some of those individuals in future posts, of course!

Given the range of details and insight we can get from such a wide variety of reports found in the database, we hope that you’ll make use of it in your Hampshire research. This example has focused on Hampshire, but the sorts of analysis used here could easily be put to use in other counties.

What we’ve given here has been largely statistical – we know relatively little about the people named as individuals, which is a shame, but something we’re gradually working on. There’s huge potential here for crossover with local and family history – and we’d like to see that potential realised! In the meantime, do be sure to check the Hampshire Archives Trust podcast for more on the project and its Hampshire connections.


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