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Seeking current railway staff with ancestors in our database!

This week’s post is a one of two halves. We’re starting with a request – hopefully you can help!

We’re really keen to hear from anyone currently working in the rail industry and who has an ancestor in our database. This is particularly the case if you’re a member of the RMT Union, given the recent update to our database came from records produced by the RMT’s predecessor unions, the ASRS and NUR.

It would be wonderful to find those connections between past and present, especially if they give you more information about your family and professional history. We also know from past experience that family members are able to share a much more rounded view of their ancestors, giving personal insight into the official records. What’s been really special for us, as a project, has been how willing people have been not just to share those insights with us, but also to write them up for the project blog, sharing them with a much wider audience. One of the reasons for that, we’ve been told, is that authors have wanted other people to know about their family members, to make better known someone who might not otherwise have been noticed in formal histories.

The rail industry has long been one in which children follow parents – not for nothing is the idea of the ‘Railway Family’ strong. Sometimes this is metaphorical, of course – that strong sense of community that exists between colleagues who aren’t actually related; but sometimes it is very literal. And that’s what we’re hoping you’ll be able to share with us.

If you can help, please get in touch via our project email (railwayworkeraccidents[at]gmail[dot]com) or via the comment function on this page (all comments are moderated before appearing publicly, and no contact details are shared). Thanks in advance!


Photo at Unity House of project and RMT members, in front of project banners and ASRS stained glass window.
At the Unity House launch; note ASRS stained glass behind. L-R: Sarah Friday (RMT), James King (Modern Records Centre), Karen Baker (National Railway Museum), Mike Esbester (University of Portsmouth), Chris Jolliffe (Modern Records Centre), Alex Gordon (RMT), Mick Lynch (RMT), Stephen Lamb (MRC), Daisy Turnbull (University of Portsmouth), Jonathan Havard (RMT), Eddie Dempsey (RMT). Image courtesy RMT Union.

Launching the trade union data

Before we can make that connection between past and present, we needed to launch the new dataset – which we did last month, with the support and help of the RMT. We’re grateful for this, as they’ve really engaged with the project and what we’re trying to do. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given health and safety has always been core to the railway trade union movement. However, it is pleasing, as there’s always the danger that work like ours, which is looking at the past, can be seen as too far removed from the present to be worth time and attention. However, the fact that we’re seeing lots of the same issues coming up in the project work, about the period before 1939, as are still around today, shows the importance of understanding the past.

The launch took place at Unity House, RMT head office, on 27 March 2023 (more in the RMT’s press release). We were able to take a number of the project volunteers and representatives from the University of Portsmouth, the Modern Records Centre (MRC) and the National Railway Museum (NRM). Hosted by Alex Gordon, RMT President, we were met by a large number of RMT representatives, including Sarah Friday and Jonathan Havard (H&S Officers), members of the National Executive Committee and the National H&S Committee, and the General Secretary, Mick Lynch. They were all really interested in the project and the new data – not least as it is a part of their history – and how we might work together to use the project’s work to change things for the better today.

What was particularly welcome was that in discussing the project and the data, all of us present were able to contribute, drawing on the work we’ve been doing. It was really important to us to be able to get beyond a hierarchy and ensure that all voices were heard. A few of the comments included those of Cheryl (MRC volunteer), who noted that the records were ‘a hidden gem which I hope I have had my part in making available to anyone who wants to check if their family members were affected by a bad accident or death of the wage earner. I have been very impressed to see the long term support provided by the Union to families at a time when there was no other help.’

Chris (NRM volunteer coordinator) summed up what the project offers volunteers, including

  • the opportunity to continue pursuing a lifelong personal interest in transport and industrial history;
  • the joy of discovery: I have learned a lot, especially about the history of railway lines and operations in parts of the country with which I have been less familiar in the past;
  • similarly, I have gained a growing appreciation of the range of jobs which went into operating and maintaining the railways from the late 19th and early 20th centuries through to the post-grouping era. Whilst the records focus on safety incidents and ways of preventing them, in describing what the people concerned were actually doing – and why, how and where they were doing it – the Project is building up a detailed picture of the jobs, trades and skills needed on a daily basis: the permanent way platelayers and linemen, the bridge painters, the goods porters and capstanmen, the shunt horse lads and rulleymen, as well as the more well-known footplate crews;
  • the satisfaction – from positive feedback received already – that the database will have significant and lasting value as an important additional resource for researching railways, their infrastructure and their workers.


From the MRC’s perspective, co-lead James mentioned the importance of making the details contained within the records more easily available. This makes research more straightforward – and aids MRC staff with enquiries. And Karen, NRM co-lead, discussed how the project and this data release will feed into the Museum’s work:

As a museum telling the story of the nation’s railway history, this project is key to helping us move the narrative in different and often overlooked directions. There are big plans afoot at the Museum – we in the midst of a complete site overhaul – we will have new spaces and new interpretation across the site. This dataset, made richer with the inclusion of Union record information, will allow for the interrogation of individual work journeys and macro employment trends, giving us enhanced opportunity for research and collections interpretation, in our new and redisplayed Museum spaces.

So, a wide range of aspects!


And what of the response to the new data? We’re delighted that it’s been very positive. The first week alone saw over 7,600 views of the project website, and nearly 1,200 downloads of the database. Visitors came from all continents bar South America.

Rather more important than these numerical indicators has been the feedback we’ve had. We’ve already had people getting in touch to say that they’ve found ancestors in the new data. What’s even better is that many of them will be writing guest blog posts for us (we’re always open to these – more here!). We really appreciate this, as it helps us to understand the individuals in a much wider context, including that of their family and the impact the accident had on them.

Amongst the comments people have offered us, we’d like to highlight just three:

‘An amazing resource … I found the number of deaths from influenza in the 18-19 pandemic very moving.’ – Michael

‘If you have railway ancestors this is a definitely a resource to check out’ – Shropshire Family History Society

‘Just took a look through it: what an amazing piece of work to make available. My family worked at Horwich Loco works right back to it being built. Searching on that as a location put so many names and stories on the risks I was told about. Thank you for doing this.’ – Ray

Perhaps the most unexpected response came from Steven Henman. He saw one of our Tweets about the data release, and one case within it – that of Elizabeth Calladine. He was intrigued as she died locally to him. He did some further research, including visiting her grave. We’re really grateful to Steven for this small act of remembrance, which he’s written about here. If our project can bring the people found in the database to our attention and ensure they’re remembered, then that’s a huge thing.


If you find someone or something in the database that is of particular interest to you, please let us know. We’re especially keen to hear from you if you’re in the rail industry today and find an ancestor in the database. Please feel free to email us on railwayworkeraccidents[at]gmail[dot]com

1 Comment

  1. Peter Robinson

    Hello I am Peter one of the RWLD Project volunteers, while entering data from a compensation non fatal report in Huddersfield 21/04/1905 to driver William Cliffe due to a serious collision he had injured his back and side. So I researched a newspaper report on the accident.
    Railway Accident at Huddersfield on 21 April 1905
    On Good Friday 1905, a passenger train from Bradford collided with a large shunting engine near to Huddersfield Railway Station, killing two people.
    On the afternoon of 21 April 1905 at around 2:30pm, driver Frederick William Haigh of Hillhouse was shunting London & North Western Railway (L&NWR) carriages and a goods van on the lines to the north of railway station. Apparently unused the type of large engine he was driving, he possibly failed to see a signal which indicated that the line was not clear and began to reverse onto the main line.

    © Kirklees Image Archive
    The 1:50pm Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (L&YR) train from Bradford — comprising seven carriages and a goods van at the rear — was approaching the station “at a gentle speed” from the north and was unable to avoid colliding into Haigh’s heavy shunting engine. The first three carriages of the passenger train crumpled and “telescoped” into each other. The L&YR engine was badly damaged, which caused the crash site to become enveloped in hot steam. Debris from the collision fell down from the viaduct onto Fitzwilliam Street.
    Dr. George W. K. Crosland of New North Road, along with railway station and staff and several police constables under the direction of Chief Constable Morton, were quickly on the scene and began to help injured passengers from the crumpled carriages.
    At around 3:45pm, the body of 29 year old slater’s labourer Ralph Greenwood Farrand, a mason employed by the L&NWR who resided at Blackburn Road in Birstall, was discovered amongst the wreckage. It appeared that he had been killed instantly. His body was reportedly not removed until around 5pm.
    Farrand was engaged to Miss Florence Parkinson[1] of Longwood and had been due to be married to her the following day. Several newspapers initially incorrectly reported that she had been awaiting his arrival at the station and had witnessed the crash first hand. Instead, when her fiance had failed to arrive, she set out to see if his train had arrived, only to discover that his name was being reported as one of the deceased.

    The other fatality was 49 year old[2] Catherine Augusta Yeats-Milne, of 54 Belgrave Street, Leeds.[3] She had been trapped in the wreckage under one of the carriage wheels, with her right foot nearly severed. Despite efforts to extricate her, she died at around 4:45pm. Newspaper reports stated that she had remained conscious and had seemingly kept the full extent of her injuries hidden, since she insisted that the rescuers attend to the other passengers first.
    Several of the injured were taken to Huddersfield Infirmary or to local doctors, including:
    • Geoffrey Brooke of Mirfield, son the late George Brooke, had been travelling in a first class carriage and was thrown out onto the rails. He was taken to Lockwood where he was attended to by Dr. MacGregor.
    • George Watson of St. Peter’s Street, Huddersfield, was suffering from “severe shock” and had been travelling in third class.
    • Arthur Nicholson (aged 24) of Miriam Street, Fartown, had been the fireman on the shunting engine and sustained bruises.
    • Mrs Frances Shillito (28) of 7 Barnby Street, Wilson Road, Wyke, sustained a fractured scapula.
    • Miss Emily Brearley (33) of 8 Hallroyd, Shipley, sustained a head injury.
    • Joe Balmforth (32) of Roundhill, Cleckheaton.
    • Frank Moore (27) of Craven Lane, Gomersal, received bruises.
    The driver and fireman of the L&YR train — William Cliffe and J. Hough (both of Mirfield) — sustained minor injuries, including cuts and scalds from a burst steam pipe.
    The clearing of the wreckage and repairs to the line were completed by the early hours of the following morning.

    The inquest into the accident began the next day under coroner E. H. Hill, who took evidence to confirm the identities of the two victims. It emerged that Mrs. Yeats-Milne had married army surgeon George Yeats-Milne circa 1878, but had been living apart from her husband for some time. She left behind two sons and two daughters, and was identified by one of the sons, George Cecil Yeats-Milne[4]. The inquest then adjourned in order to allow time for the accident to be investigated fully.[5]
    The adjourned inquest resumed on 4 May and, after hearing evidence, the jury returned a verdict that the accident had been caused by the neglect of driver Fred Haigh. However, they did not believe that the deaths had been caused through criminal neglect.[6]
    Prior to the inquest concluding, engine driver Frederick William Haigh had been fired from his job. By 1911, he had found work at the town’s gasworks.

    One of the fatalities was 49 year old Catherine Augusta Yeats-Milne, although she was trapped by a wheel of a carriage and her foot almost severed she insisted that rescuers attended to other passengers first.

    Catherine Augusta Yeats-Milne (1857-1905) née Hutchison
    Catherine Augusta Yeats-Milne was one of the two victims of the Railway Accident at Huddersfield on 21 April 1905, along with Ralph G. Farrand.

    It is believed she was born Catherine Augusta Hutchison on 4 June 1857 at Abernethy, Perthshire, Scotland, the daughter of John Hutchison and his wife Margaret (née Menzies). Her first name is sometimes recorded as “Katherine”.
    She married ship’s surgeon George Yeats-Milne — possibly in 1877 — and the couple had two daughters and two sons, including:
    • George Cecil Yeats-Milne (c.1878-1910)[1]
    • Cambria Wallace Yeats-Milne (1880-1972)[2]
    • Gladys Eleanor W. Yeats-Milne (1885-1963)[3]
    It seems she then moved to Leeds and lived apart from her husband.

    On Good Friday 1905, she was travelling on the 1:50pm Bradford to Huddersfield train. At around 2:30pm, the train collided with a shunting engine on the viaduct to the north of Huddersfield Railway Station and the first three passenger carriages “telescoped” into each other. She was found trapped under the wheels of one of the carriages, with her right foot nearly severed. She remained conscious throughout the rescue attempt but insisted that the other injured passengers were attended to first. She died at around 4:45pm, before the wheels could be lifted off her.
    At the subsequent inquest, an emotional George Cecil Yeats-Milne identified his mother’s body.

    Catherine Augusta Hutchison
    Birth4/6/1857 – Abernethy, Perthshire, Scotland
    Death21 Apr 1905 – Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England
    MotherMargaret Menzies
    FatherJohn Hutchison
    Born in Abernethy, Perthshire, Scotland on 4/6/1857 to John Hutchison and Margaret Menzies. Catherine Augusta Hutchison married George Yeates Milne and had 2 children. She passed away on 21 Apr 1905 in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England.

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