This month I decided to cover a little bit on railway workers and the sort of records that you can search on ancestry to do with the railway. My great grandfather Bernard Barnard worked on the railway at Shepreth, Cambridge and Tottenham.
There were many types of jobs within the railway community and the roles varied. To work as an employee for the railway it was run a bit like the army in a such there was strong discipline within the workforce and employees had to obey rules and regulations at all times. Offenders were sacked without hesitation and although it was a strict place to work it was a job for life.
Here are a list of the typical jobs:
- gangers who maintained the track
- ticket collectors
- white collar workers(who worked behind the scenes who counted money and organized timetables
When searching the records on ancestry the most common type available are the staff registers, station transfers, pension and accident records (which can include death date), apprentice records (which can include father’s name), caution books, and memos. There are also salary and wage registers which are interesting to browse. In going through some of these this is where I found my grandfather’s records and it stated that he worked as a railway shunter.
For some occupations, railway work was very dangerous job. The most perilous task was being a shunter, working in a train shed hopping between engines to move them around with the ever present risk of being run over. Porters on platforms, too, would often have to undertake the hazardous jobs of connecting or disconnecting carriages, not infrequently resulting in the loss of fingers or hands. Hundreds of workers were killed each year – for example, in the three years 1874-6, 2,249 workers were killed and more than 10,000 injured – and the names of the victims might be found in local newspapers. For many years the companies refused to take any responsibility for the deaths of workers and argued that it was an “act of God”. It took many years before improvement and pay rises which involved many campaigners.