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Names still spoken – our new data release

Over the years, many people have toyed with the idea that we don’t fully die until we are forgotten.

Head and shoulders photo of EJ Levett.
Ernest John Levett, from the company magazine which noted his death in an accident at Ipswich in 1921. An earlier accident he had appears in the new data release.

We hope that with our free new data release, detailing around 17,000 British and Irish railway worker accidents between 1900 and 1939, those individuals’ names will be spoken and the men, women and children remembered.

Almost certainly they are all now dead. Likely few, if any, did the exceptional things that mean they are widely known. But each one of them had family and friends. They belonged to a place – places, more usually. They were part of their communities. That’s no less important or significant. If our project can help share their stories and experiences, and help us understand everyday life on the railways in the past, then it does something valuable. The everyday was, after all, far more typical than the exceptional.

We’d like your help in this, too. Our brilliant volunteers have done the hard work of transcribing and summarising the official accident reports from which our database extension draws. This project wouldn’t be possible without them, so our grateful thanks to all for the thousands of hours of work they have put in. But this is only part of the story – and now it’s over to you.

We’ve produced this data for you, so the best thing you can do now is use it! We want to see you using the new data in your research, so please download the spreadsheet and search it. Let us know what you do with it, and what, where or who you find of interest.

Over the coming days and weeks we’ll seek to highlight some of the stories found within the new data, here on the blog and on Twitter and Facebook. So what sort of thing might you find in the data?

Well, the new data adds the remaining railway staff accident reports produced by the railway inspectors employed by the British state. Our initial coverage included 1911-1915; we’ve now filled in the gaps, to cover 1900-1910, and 1921-1939 (there’s a gap in coverage due to the First World War; nothing before 1900, and after 1939 the reports change and aren’t publicly available). Even with the 17,000 cases, this is only a fraction – around 3% – of all railway staff accidents at this time; most weren’t investigated by the state officials.

The accidents were spread around the UK and Ireland: nearly 13,000 cases in England, just over 3,000 in Scotland, about 900 in Wales and a little over 300 on the island of Ireland; not forgetting the sole case from the Channel Islands!

Around 4,500 of these incidents were fatalities; the rest injuries, varying considerably in extent and harm inflicted. Men feature more heavily than women – indeed, only 34 accidents to women were investigated by the state inspectors. The ages covered range from 7 to 82. And whilst most people included were railway employees, by no means all were: nearly 800 cases were investigated in which a non-employee was harmed.

The database can be searched in a wide variety of ways, whether by name, place, railway company, or more. When you do so, you might find the stories of men like James Waring, who lost an arm at Croes Newydd in north Wales in 1925, but returned to the job in time enough to have another accident in 1928, in which he died.

A 1932 image from an accident prevention booklet, showing one of the dangers of crossing tracks.

Or you might find the stories of women like 70-year old Jane Canham, who had been employed as a charwoman for 17 years before 1923. She tried to cross railway lines at Neasdon, London, whilst using an umbrella and was hit by a train. Fortunately for her it ‘only’ broke her wrist, cut her head and left her with bruises.

Posed image, showing track staff at work on railway lines, with a look-out man watching for trains.
Posed accident prevention image, produced in the wake of the Stapleton Road accident.

There are incidents which involved a pinched thumb, through to cases with multiple fatalities, as was the case at Stapleton Road in September 1921 or Wilmcote in March 1922. You might find accidents involving staff coming on duty and yet to have worked, through to the case of James Hammond, who had worked for 40 hours – albeit with rest breaks – until he was hit by a train and killed at Brixton in 1906.

Sadly, with over 17,000 new cases to choose from, you have plenty of options. Take your time to explore the database, too – even if your precise person, place or company isn’t featured, then you’ll still find plenty of similar locations, actions and people that will provide you with great context for your own area of interest.

We welcome your thoughts, contributions and research, so do please share what you think, who and what you find in the database, and your own research: we’d love to know more. We’re always open for guest blogs, too. We’d also appreciate your feedback on the project work, via this short form – thanks in advance, and happy and productive researching!



A note.

All of the volunteers who have helped on this data release have done amazing service, and we’re truly grateful. Whilst I hesitate to single individuals out, there was additional support from two people not formally a part of the NRM volunteer team, so I’d like to mention Chris Jolliffe and James Huang who have assisted – often at short notice – with the data cleaning phase. I’d also like to thank Chris Heaton, who has taken over coordinating the NRM volunteer team.

There’s one more name to mention: Craig Shaw. Craig was our NRM volunteer coordinator from the start of the project and he oversaw the production of the new data release, including through increasing ill-health. Sadly Craig died last year, and so didn’t see this data released – but it bears his imprint, and we’re grateful – I’m grateful – for the years that Craig worked alongside us on the project. He was a powerhouse, complete with wry observations, and this new data release stands as a testament to his dedication.


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