Menu Close

Railway accidents and deaths: archives at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

This week’s post comes from a guest contributor, Helen Ford, Manager of the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick – and a staunch supporter of our project. In the post Helen reflects upon the project, the topic of railway worker accidents and the sources at the Modern Records Centre, home to all sorts of gems including many of the railway trades unions records.

We’re very happy to feature this post, as not only does it bring up a significant portion of the potential trades union sources available, but flags up one area we’re looking to collaborate on to expand the project. And, as always, it’s a reminder that we’re keen to feature guest posts; if you’re inspired to contribute, just get in touch: railwayworkeraccidents[at]


A few years ago I met Mike Esbester at the NRM in York and heard about plans for what has since become the Railway Work, Life and Death (RWLD) project. I have followed the development of RWLD with interest, and over the years we have discussed how the resources held at the Modern Records Centre (MRC) could be included. As the main archive for trade union records in the UK we have a great deal of information which might supplement or enhance the railway records held elsewhere.

Cover of ASRS orphans fund report for 1906.
Courtesy Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

Our main railway union collections are the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS, 1876 -1913) and the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR, 1914-1989). We also hold records for ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen) and the General Railway Workers’ Union 1890 –1913.

The archives contain a mixture of membership and operational records which include details of accidents and deaths on the railways – often from the financial perspective as the union paid out compensation for injuries as well as death benefits to widows and orphans. Although these details can make grim reading they do provide a large amount of data on the extent and nature of the accidents and deaths within this industry. The union journal The Railway Review also contains many detailed descriptions of accidents and their causes which could be useful for the project.

One volume in the ASRS collection contains a record of accidents, inquests, Board of Trade enquiries, and legal cases between 1901 and 1907.

c.1905 page recording accidents in which the ASRS had an interest.
Courtesy Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

Among the most helpful sources are the Annual Proceedings and Reports of the ASRS and NUR. This series starts in 1876 although the early reports have slightly patchy coverage of compensation payments, accident and death claims. After 1914 the volumes contain regular quarterly reports for March, June, September and December with tables for each of the following categories:

  • Death Claims/Accidental death claims
  • Inquests
  • Compensation Cases
  • Board of Trade Inquiries
  • Disablement claims
  • Orphan Fund payments

Of course not all payments are for accidents and injuries which occurred on the railways; disablement claims and death benefits include illnesses, non-railway accidents and deaths from old age.

Disablement claims awarded by the ASRS in 1905. Courtesy Modren Records Centre, University of Warwick.

The type of information found in these tables differs from the information given in the official Board of Trade/ Ministry of Transport Returns being used for the RWLD project, although there is clearly some overlap: name, date of accident or death, grade (occupation), railway company/employer, nature of accident and sometimes the location. But the tables in the union volumes usually include the branch of the member concerned, the date he joined and his age as well as a union membership number or compensation case number. Sometimes the number of years of membership is included. The range of information varies depending on the type of table – funds paid for orphans for example, usually state the number of children affected but give less detail about the accident or death.

Tables for compensation payments are divided into Fatal and Non-Fatal with the latter also providing a date of return to work. The early volumes contain detailed descriptions of Board of Trade Inquiries and Inquests and from 1917 onwards these are also tabulated. The various tables will provide all or most of the following data:

  • Case/membership no
  • Name
  • Branch
  • Grade/job
  • Railway co.
  • Date of death or accident
  • Cause of death or accident
  • Age at death
  • Place/nature of accident
  • Number of children
Some of the death claims received by the NUR in 1918.
Courtesy Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

This table (below) shows some of the information from the Death claims and the Board of Trade Inquests tables (final row, for E Moss). Denny’s accident is also recorded in the Fatal Compensation tables with a little more information.

Surname First name/initial Branch Grade/job Railway Date of death Cause of death Age at death Nature of accident Location
Little B Crook Bankrider N.E. 18 Nov 1917 Accident 46
Denny M. Port Glasgow Platelayer Caledonian 11 Feb 1918 Struck by engine on head 67 Knocked down Port Glasgow
Highton P Cromford Goods guard L&NW 14 Nov 1917 Cerebral haemorrhage 68
Moss E. Pontypool Foreman G.W. 4 Feb 1918 Accident 40 Run over by waggons Near Panteg station

Sometimes conflicting information is given. The case of F.H. Shellard is a good example. He appears in a table of Death Claims and a table of Inquests in the same volume but with slightly different information about his branch and grade:

Death Claims Inquests
Case No: —— 5322
Name: F.H.Shellard Shellard, F
Reg. no (union no.) 1509 ——
Branch: Nine Elms 1 Nine Elms 2
Grade: Inspector Shunter
Railway City & S.L City &S.L.
Date of accident/death Dec 18 1917 —– (left blank here but usually given)
Location ————- Clapham Common Station
Cause of death Accident Knocked down
Age at death 67 ——–
Date joined society 27 Apr 1875 ———-
No. of years in scheme 42
Source Reports & Proceedings 1918: Death Claims table p.46 Reports & Proceedings 1918: BoT Inquests table p.29

Reliability can therefore be problematic. How can we verify whether Shellard was an Inspector or a Shunter? The union admission registers are also held at MRC and have been digitised and indexed on FindMyPast. We know from the death claims entry that he joined the union in Apr 1875 so it’s possible to check the registers to see if they help. Unfortunately, although he appears in the registers, he is described as a Driver! This is where joining up with the RWLD project could be very useful. It may be possible to cross check in other sources and establish which version of Mr Shellard is the accurate one?

Work is now underway to identify where the different data sets overlap or fill gaps and we hope to be able to add some useful information to the RWLD project in the future.

Railway Review, 16 July 1880, p.6.
Courtesy Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick.


Helen Ford

Helen has been an archivist for over 30 years working variously in local government archive services and business archives. She’s been the manager at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick for 12 years and has recently been involved in getting some of the thousands of trade union membership records added to FindMyPast. Raising awareness of the value of union records for historians is an important and enjoyable part of her job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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