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Volunteers’ Week 3: Coming Across My Great Grandfather in an Accident Register for 1917

We’ve been looking forward to featuring this post from Rosemary Leonard, one of the volunteers working at The National Archives on the railway company records. Rosemary mentioned the subject of this post, a remarkable coincidence, when we first met in a co-production session – so we’re really glad that she has ‘written it up’ for everyone!

This is our third post for Volunteers’ Week – the previous one is here – and so it’s excellent that once again it foregrounds the excellent work our volunteers are doing, and gives us a chance to say ‘thank you’ – to Rosemary and to all who are volunteering with the project.


I am one of the volunteers at The National Archives in Kew and was really pleased to be given, quite by chance, an Accident Register of the Cardiff Railway Company for 1917 to transcribe. I was born in 1957 and was brought up in Newport, only twelve miles from Cardiff and so am familiar with many place names in the Cardiff area.

The Accident Registers covered accidents in the Cardiff Docks which were owned by the Cardiff Railway Company.

In all, there are 57 registers to transcribe for the project. The Cardiff Railway Company registers have an index of names which is a great help, especially when trying to decipher the initial letter of a surname. Whilst working on this particular Register I was looking down the column of surnames beginning with “K” when I suddenly stopped. There in front of me I saw “Keast, Phillip”. I knew at once that this was my great grandfather. I was shocked. What was he doing in a railway accident book? He was a mariner! I felt quite apprehensive as I turned the pages to find the account of the accident.  What would I find? The address confirmed it was my great grandfather.

The accident occurred on 10 July 1917 and Phillip was recorded as being “Master of Hopper”. The details were:

“While shifting chain to renew platform and chain, the chain hook of the man who was assisting him, slipped and penetrated Keast’s right thumb.”

Philip continued working after the accident and since it was not reported to the factory inspector or company doctor it must have been seen as a minor accident. However, it was still upsetting.

Although the Cardiff Railway registers do not record ages, I know that Philip had just turned 70 at the time of the accident. This was during the First World War and so if he had ‘retired’ from his normal job as a mariner in the Bristol Channel perhaps he had come back to work in the docks as part of the war effort. I can’t help wondering how many others in the register were of a similar age.

What I find most amazing is that of the 57 railway registers, the first one that was assigned to me was not only for Cardiff but also that it contained details of my great grandfather, Philip Keast!


Rosemary Leonard

I applied to join the project in July 2018 and started as a volunteer on the project at the beginning of October. I had just retired, having spent the previous sixteen years teaching at an infant school in Northolt, Middlesex, before that I had been teaching in Inner London schools since January 1982.

I chose TNA as a place to volunteer as I live in west London and had used the archives to research my family history. Living nearby I sometimes I pop in for few extra hours, particularly on a Saturday morning when it is very quiet!


Read the next Volunteers’ Week blog post here!


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