Project extension – No 1! Or, many & varied railway jobs

We’re delighted to be able to say that we’re extending the project!

We’ve blogged in the past about the impact of accidents and trying to find out what happened to injured workers after they had an accident – see this post on the Great Eastern Railway’s Benevolent Fund book, covering 1913-23 and held at Search Engine. Thanks to the brilliant National Railway Museum & their fantastic volunteers, we’re going to be including the book in our resources. This is a welcome addition to the project, and starts to extend our coverage, both in terms of dates and in terms of types of material we’re able to include.

What does this mean – and what will we get from it? It’ll answer questions about the individual impacts of accidents, for those who survived them, as well as contributing to understandings about medical practice and treatment in the early 20th century and company paternalism and behaviour. The book includes details of around 580 Great Eastern Railway employees, though a number of those names appear more than once – typically as the aid (e.g. an artificial limb) with which they’d initially been supplied wore out and they requested a replacement.

No doubt the book will raise at least as many questions as it answers, however. For example, in the extract below – the only entry listed under the letter ‘O’ – we see that G Orman (hopefully – the writing is hard to read!) of Oakington Station in Cambridgeshire had an accident on 23 March 1916. Sadly this is just outside the period of the reports which are found in our existing database, so we don’t learn anything new there – though we already know there are a few cases which appear in both sources, and hopefully there will be more that the volunteers uncover. What we learn from the Benevolent Fund book is that whatever happened in the accident, Orman ended up with ‘crushed toes, etc’: what exactly was the ‘etc’ here?! More intriguingly, when the Committee met to consider claims, it decided to allow only half of the doctor’s bills, amounting to £4.6.0: why only half? We may never know the answers to such questions – though we will of course try to find out.

GER Benevolent Fund book, entry under ‘O’.
Courtesy NRM

There are some practical challenges with this source, which Orman’s entry makes clear: primarily reading the writing! Understanding the abbreviations used is another matter: what grade Orman was and which Department he belonged to are also indistinct (but we welcome your suggestions). Deciphering this sort of thing is fun detective work – and the cursive script gives a real sense of connection with the past, as well as sometimes being quite beautiful in its own right, as the montage of departments listed in the book, below, shows.

Some of the departments featured in the GER Benevolent Fund book

When might we expect to see the results? We know the volunteers are quick, but we also don’t want to rush them. Accuracy, and a close check over the completed data, are more important than speed. So, it won’t be for a little while yet, but as soon as the information is available we will be putting the word out – watch this space!

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