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Inspecting the Inspectors

In this guest post, NRM volunteer Brian Grainger reflects on some questions that have occurred to him in the course of transcribing the state accident reports – first in our first dataset, then for the interwar period (currently being prepared for release) and now in the final run of data covering 1900-1910. The project is all about people, but so far the constants – the state inspectors who investigated accidents – have remained rather obscure. Brian has uncovered some new detail – and raises more questions yet to be answered.

If you know more about any of the inspectors or can answer any of the questions Brian has raised, we’d love to hear from you – please let us know!

And we welcome guest blog posts, so if you have an idea, please get in touch with us – we look forward to hearing from you!


Who were William Worthy Cooke, John PS Main and Amos Ford? What are their stories?


For the past 3 and a half years these names and those of the other Inspectors who have reported on the accidents within the Railway Work, Life & Death project have become familiar names to me and it would be intriguing to know more about who they were, their role and how that role was undertaken.

Some of the Inspectors were clearly long serving. John PS Main for example has for me appeared between 1911 and 1924, as has Amos Ford while William Worthy Cooke was Inspector on accidents between 1924 and 1933. Charles Campbell reported on accidents from 1911 to 1932. Of course these periods of service might be longer when all the reports are taken into consideration.

One immediate question is how the accidents were allocated to each Inspector. Presumably there was some form of administrative support and someone or body deciding which accidents to investigate. It is believed only 3% of all accidents were investigated so what were the criteria used to determine the accidents reported on by the Inspectors? One obvious point from examining the reports in Appendices B and C is the seemingly arbitrariness of the accidents investigated from fatalities to crushed fingers.

Looking at just one quarter (1924 Quarter 1 Appendix C) it is clear that the Inspectors worked on a geographical basis. Amos Ford reported on accidents from Kent to Yorkshire so essentially the east of England. Charles Campbell worked mainly in Scotland and south to York while William Worthy Cooke worked in Wales and the west of England. However there were exceptions; Amos Ford reported on accidents in Lancashire, Charles Campbell in Leicestershire and William Worthy Cooke in Lancashire. Why was that? Perhaps the allocation of accidents was based on railway companies although this does not seem to be the case. Further investigation is required.

Did the inspectors work alone or did they have assistants? Did they always attend the site of the accident? How long did each inquiry take and were they constrained by a time limit on each? It seems very little information exists at present on these questions but there may be answers hidden within various archives, including those of the Board of Trade held in The National Archives at Kew.

An insight can be seen in the 1911 Census. There is a John Palmer Scott Main recorded living in Reigate, Surrey, and identified as an Engineer Assistant Inspector born 1870 and probably dying in 1935. This suggests he was based in London and travelled out to the accident sites (assuming the reports weren’t desk exercises based solely on written witness evidence). But more intriguing is JH Armytage. His full name appears to be John Hawksworth Armytage with an occupation of Assistant Inspective Officer whose home address is given as London but at the time of the Census was boarding in Clifton Brighouse, Yorkshire. He was at the time undertaking investigations in that area. These examples perhaps suggest that the Inspectors were London-based and were allocated batches of accidents to investigate, boarding in the area in which they were working. This is clearly speculative and would require further evidence to substantiate.

Both JH Armytage and John PS Main have also been located in the 1901 Census, the former being single and boarding in Marylebone while Main was married and living in Brentford. So both appear to have been residing at home on 1 April 1901, the date of the Census.

Little is known about the Inspectors and their work, and perhaps will never be known, but this would seem to be a fertile area for further research. The thoughts of others reading this blog would be welcome.


Brian Grainger: An Architect (although now retired) with a lifelong interest in canals and railways, Brian has since 2016 been a home volunteer transcriber working on the Railway Work, Life & Death Project. Also a keen genealogist, he is currently researching the Nesmyth family tree.


  1. Arthur Moore

    I can add a little to Brian’s interesting discussion on the work of the Inspectors. I cannot tell whether they visited all sites, but they certainly visited many. I find, for example, that where a trip hazard caused an accident the Inspector says that there are similar hazards nearby and all need rectifying. It appears that the Inspectors might not have worked office hours, as there are sometimes reference to lighting being inadequate, or the light being blocked by intervening vehicles. I do not think you could easily judge this without a careful inspection of the site, possible even after dark.
    There are occasional comments that a person was still off work and could not be interviewed by the Inspector as he was unable to attend the enquiry. On one occasion the Inspector unusually went to the injured person’s home to interview him there.
    Hope that helps.

  2. Pingback:Allocating accident investigations - Railway Work, Life & Death

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