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Transcription Tuesday: John James’ story

UPDATED 17/12/2019 – The Transcription Tuesday data is now available! Find out more here.

Ahead of tomorrow’s Transcription Tuesday, which we hope you’ll join in with, we’re posting one more case from the opening pages of the volume that is being transcribed. It’s another helpful example, as we’re able to combine sources to get a picture of what happened and its impact.

This case was that of goods guard John James. The ASRS volume tells us that James belonged to the Bridgend branch of the union. The date of the accident is given as 31 January – though this might not have been accurate, as we shall discover – and the location ‘Barry sidings’, found in South Wales. James was ‘knocked down whilst turning hand points’, with his arm crushed and later amputated. He was awarded 15/5 compensation per week, and found ‘light employment’ – something which we suspect we’ll see a lot more of in the volume, as it was a common way that the companies dealt with the injuries produced by railway work. To secure this outcome cost £7.7.0 in legal fees to Meyrick and Davies solicitors.

Porthkerry sidings, to the west of Barry, from the 1915 map. Courtesy National Library of Scotland maps.

We have more detail on the accident from the investigation by the Railway Inspectorate, the state body responsible for enquiring into accidents. This gives the date as 1 February 1901, though notes it happened at 11.30 in the evening, which might account for the difference in date between the 2 sources. It also gives a more precise location: Porthkerry sidings, near Barry. We learn that James was 33 years old, and that his head was also injured in the accident, though presumably not permanently.

James was responsible for a train of 30 coal wagons, coming from Bridgend and heading to the docks at Barry – a staple traffic for the area. The train was to be divided, with 16 wagons left in siding number 4, whilst he held the points so the engine could cross one of the lines, and prepare to make the return journey to Bridgend. As this was happening, another engine had picked up the remainder of the original train, to move it to siding number 6. Inspector JJ Hornby concluded that James forgot about all the movements that were going on, and whilst walking between two of the tracks, he got too near the edge of one and was hit by the engine that had just brought his train in from Bridgend. Unfortunately he fell against his brake van, which the second engine was moving at that moment, and his left arm was crushed under the wheels.

A similar case, as featured in a 1924 accident prevention booklet.

Hornby attributed the accident to ‘misadventure’, though noted that James had ‘acted unwisely’ in walking where he did and that the area was well lit with electric lamps (certainly not always the case in smaller locations). And that was the end of the report, saying little about the life-changing injuries that James’ suffered. The ASRS volume helps us understand this a bit further, though it would be fascinating to know more, including what ‘light employment’ James was given. Nevertheless, previously we didn’t have this sort of detail, about what happened after an accident, so the Transcription Tuesday volume is going to prove immensely valuable – and your efforts in helping with the transcription will make a real difference to our understanding of the impacts of railway work at an individual level.

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