Over the course of the railways’ 200 years, many magazines and journals have been produced that commented on the industry, but which were not written by the companies themselves. Today your local newsagent will present you with a plethora of titles of this type. Amongst these are RAIL magazine for the more industry-minded individual, The Railway Magazine, for those interested in all aspects of railways, past and present, and there is Backtrack, for people interested in the history of the railways. However, the history of railway journals and magazines is a long one that stretches back to the very origins of the railway network. Particularly in the Victorian period, who was interested in the industry and how it was perceived was reflected in the nature of the publications that were started at different points.
The earliest publications that commented on the railway industry were aimed of those people who had the biggest interest in the railways, the shareholders. As such, many of the titles were appropriately named, for example the Railway Record and Joint-Stock Companies reporter (1844), the Railway News and Joint-Stock Journal (1864) and Herpath’s Railway and Commercial Journal (1843). These were joined by the Railway Chronicle (1846), the Railway Times (1835) and the Railway Gazette (1835). These magazines’ primarily focussed on the economic aspects of the railway industry. Thus, articles on the shares, new schemes, income, directors and economic health of the railway companies dominated. This wasn’t surprising given the amount of money investors in Britain were pouring into the vast number of railway projects that were started in this period. Thus, these publications were a conduit through which shareholders could make sure that their investments were secure, or, as in many cases during the railway mania of the mid-1840s, investors could find out if their investments had been washed away.
While these types of magazines continued through into the 20th Century, in the late 1900s professional journals started to become available for railway employees. Amongst these were the Railway Fly Sheet and Official Gazette (1870), which was aimed at railway officials and administrators. It later changed its name to the Railway Official Gazette (1882). Further, there was The Railway Engineer (1880), for engineers and locomotive men, as well as The Railway Herald (1887) that was started for all railway employees.
Whereas in the early years of the industry publishers had focussed on what was the important issue in the railway industry, the building, performance and financing of companies, by the late Victorian period they published these journals for the vast numbers of railway professionals that were helping to keep the industry working. The change that drove the creation of these magazines was that the emphasis inside and outside of the industry was no longer the establishment of railway companies. Rather, it was the quality of their operation. Therefore, these magazines contained articles on new innovations within the industry, changes in management procedure and practice, and news of changes within the industry. Thus, their aim was to become staff magazines, but which were published by external actors who were taking advantage of an increasingly professional and mature industry.
The last set of railway magazines to be established were those created primarily for individuals who were not investors or employees, but who had an interest in the industry. The two most notable publications were the Railway Magazine (1897) and The Railway and Travel Monthly, (1910) which was started by one of the former’s disgruntled journalists. Both were very similar publications in that they contained articles on aspects of the industry for individuals who wished for a ‘light’ read. So, the September 1912 issue of The Railway Magazine carried articles on ‘Theatrical Traffic on the London and North Western Railway’, ‘British Locomotive Practice and Performance’, ‘The Central London Railway: Its Extension East and West’, ‘The Melbourne to Adelaide Express’, ‘Rambles on the Caledonian Railway’ and ‘The Smallest Railway in America.’
Essentially, these publications reflected the fact that the industry had passed the profitable and mature phases of its history, and was now ingrained in the fabric of the nation. The railway industry was something that everyone interacted with every day, which employed thousands of people and which was vital to the country’s economy. It is, therefore, unsurprising that these later publications were designed to bring what went on within the industry to the general public in a highly accessible manner, and which showed them how they could benefit from it. It also kept the public up to date with any changes that they should be informed of. The whole nature of the publication was summed up than in the section in The Railway Magazine called ‘The Why and the Wherefore,’ in which readers could write in and ask questions about the industry. Thus, these publications reflected the public’s new interest in the railways that viewed the industry as a public service.
The magazines published about the railway industry changed over the Victorian period, but reflected the nature of the industry at the time of their establishment. They can, therefore, tell us something about how the railway industry was viewed throughout its history.
I posited some weeks ago that by using a process of elimination, the document-deprived railway historian could use the files of more than one jointly owned railway to determine whether an operating procedure or management technique originated within one of the larger owning companies. This is possible because many of these joint railways had conferences constituted by the owning company’s officers to coordinate company operations. In the files of the larger companies who owned the joint railway, usually only the minutes of the board and board committees have survived. Thus, the officers’ conference minutes are records of the sort of decisions taken at lower levels within the joint companies that cannot usually be found within the files of the owning companies. Thus, we can be more certain in the case of joint companies of actual operational procedure, where at times these details are unavailable in the larger companies.
But, using the more readily available details of operational procedure found within multiple joint railways, can help determine operational procedures in the larger companies. It goes like this: Joint companies operating procedures will always be amalgams of the procedures used by the companies owning them. However, there will exist within the joint railways two types of operational practice. The first type of operating practices will be those common to all the owning railway companies. So, if all the owner companies get their employees to stand on one leg at 11 am each day and shout “wibble,” this will almost certainly be present within the procedures on the joint railway. However, there will also be aspects of operation that were only undertaken by a number of the railway companies that owned the joint railway. Subsequently, if an operations practice is found within the committee or conference minutes of a joint railway, that isn’t found in the main files of, say, ‘Company A,’ then either it was in line with the practice of ‘Company A’ but the evidence has not survived to show that, or, it was a practice introduced by one of the other co-owning companies and was not something ‘Company A’ did within its own operation.
But there is a way to determine which of these statements was true. This would be to look at the files of another railway company that ‘Company A’ jointly owned, followed by a comparison of the two joint railways’ operating procedures. Preferably, the second joint company would be a concern that ‘Company A’ co-owned with another company that was not involved in the other jointly owned railway. If the procedure found in the first jointly owned company is found in the files of the second, then it increases the likelihood that it did originate from the practice of ‘Company A.’ But, if it was not found in the files of the second jointly owned company, then it is more realistic to believe that it did not originate from ‘Company A.’ Thus, the presence of the procedure in the first joint company was result of it either being a local response to a problem, or that it originated from one of the other owning companies. Through this course it is, therefore, a way to determine from where procedure came. Phew…I hope you understood that.
It is with this in mind that I had some progress while at the archive today. I have written before about how the London and South Western Railway’s (L&SWR) two main jointly-owned concerns were the West London Extension Railway (WLER), which was co-owned with the London and North Western (L&NWR), Great Western (GWR) and London Brighton and South Coast Railways (LB&SCR), and the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR), which they owned with the Midland Railway (MR). I have found within the WLER Officers Committee minutes evidence that it worked out in detail the costs of its cartage and delivery services from its stations, and that it altered its service based on the results of this costing. I have to confess that I was quite surprised to find this, as detailed costing of the cartage and delivery services was something I’d never seen on any other railway; certainly I hadn’t seen it on the L&SWR. However, when I initially found evidence of this costing on the WLER there was no evidence to say within the L&SWR files (or elsewhere) that it didn’t originate from practice on the L&SWR. This was because lvast swathes of its company’s files had been lost, including the Officers Committee Minute books (and if you find them, let me know).
However, while at the archive earlier I thought I’d use the method above to see if I could come closer to the answer as to whether the costing on the WLER came from the L&SWR. Thus, I dipped into the files of the S&DJR to see if parcels and delivery costing turned up in its officers’ committee minute book. Alas, in 6 years of officers’ committee minutes between 1875 and 1881 it was not found. Therefore, parcels and Delivery costing was not a common practice on the WLER and the S&DJR, and thus, it is unlikely that it was undertaken within the operations of their common owner, the L&SWR. Subsequently, this increases by a large degree the chances that the delivery costing found on the WLER was either introduced to that railway by one of the L&SWR’s co-owners, or that it was a local response to circumstances surrounding the WLER. I may be wrong, of course, but the chances are very high.
The case was different before the turn of the century. From my research I get the impression that new managers were simply promoted clerks based on their ability to perform their pre-management jobs and any management qualities that their superiors judged they possessed. The little classroom training that they did receive was subsequently not strictly for their own advancement, but at improving their ability to do their jobs. This training was usually limited to the instructing the clerical staff in Pitman’s system of shorthand, invented in 1837 by Sir Isaac Pitman.
Shorthand training seems to have been provided within a number of railways companies in the late 19th century. The first company to train any of their clerks in shorthand was the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (later to become the Great Central Railway) in about 1860. This was the initiative of the company chairman Sir Edward Watkin, who saw the potential benefit for the work of the company. He employed Henry Pitman to teach a class. Watkin in 1863 also took his idea to the other railway company of which he was Chairman, the South Eastern Railway, where clerks were taught by Fred Pitman. It seems from this point on, the teaching of shorthand began to spread. By 1870, Pitman's partner, Mr Carson, was teaching shorthand on the London and North Western, Great Northern, Midland, and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways. In later years shorthand was taught on the Great Western and the London and South Western Railways. The L&SWR started classes in 1888 at the wishes of the new General Manager, Sir Charles Scotter.
In 1869 Sir Isaac Pitman published a book entitled ‘The Railway Phrase Book - AN ADAPTATION OF PHONOGRAPHY TO THE REQUIREMENTS OF RAILWAY BUSINESS AND CORRESPONDENCE,’ in which were listed many of the principal words employed by railway staff. In the introduction to the 1889 edition Pitman wrote that ‘the use of Phonography to expedite business by the clerks employed on our principal lines of railway is now becoming general.’
It is clear, however, that it became more widespread of the industry because of the transferral of an idea. For example, Sir Edward Watkin transferred it from the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway to the South Eastern. However, in addition to this, Sir Charles Scotter, before becoming L&SWR General Manager, worked for the MS&L R. Thus, in a speech in 1887 to the South Western staff specifically cited that he had seen the benefits of shorthand while at his former employers and this was why the L&SWR’s classes started. Thus, you can trace a clear link between the first classes in the industry in 1860, and those at the L&SWR years later. Shorthand, subsequently, can be seen as an idea that spread because of informal links within the industry, and it would interesting to do a study of how other ideas developed within Britain's railways.
It had been quite some time since I had visited a model railway show. It is not for lack of wanting to go to some of the local ones, I just haven’t had the time. The virtue of the Woking show being quite small, while at the same time being rich in content, is that the contrast between the different types of layouts come more into focus. Now, I can hear a cry that all layouts are different, that no two alike. I beg to differ, layouts can be the same in ways that go beyond the aesthetic level. In some ways layouts are, in my head at least, divided into those that are innovative and interesting, and those that are formulaic, boring and don’t try and do anything new.
Firstly, there were a number of layouts at the Woking show that I only gave a passing glance to as they were simply long ovals of track, small ovals of track, Great Western (far too much of that) or their scenery was very sparse. I’m sorry, but I honestly have seen layouts of this type far too much in my life. Take for example one layout that was simply a long oval of track, with a junction at one end and the obligatory station with a yard. If I could count the number of times this layout format has appeared at shows, I would be counting all day. While it may satisfy the children, as they are mesmerised by the whizzing trains, I get the impression that kids are generally enticed by any form of train-related movement. Therefore, in my head at least, the layout in question was aimed at no one. It was a club layout that really should have stayed at home or in the club room.
In my opinion, it is simply too easy to do a layout that is uninteresting. The layouts that really encapsulate me, which make me stay and watch for a while, are those that try to innovate and try and do something different. I have roughly sorted the categories out. First there are the ‘time-shift’ layouts, those that try and model an era of railway history that is under-represented. So, for example there are very few pre-grouping layouts doing the rounds. Modelling the period before 1923 when there were 100+ railway companies seems to me to be an attractive prospect. But, alas, there are few modellers that’ll commit to such a task given the time needed to invest in such a project.
This said, there were two such layouts present at Woking, Ogden Fold (shown) and Hope-Under-Dinmore, that both modelled the London and North Western Railway. The second era that I think has had little attention, and which wasn’t represented at Woking, was the when British Rail went ‘Blue.’ However, given the lack of colour, for me this is a bit of a turn-off. I do hope to also venture into this period when I get the time, modelling the London and South Western Railway in the 1880 and 90s.
The second type of layout that really captures my interest are those that show areas of the rail network, past or present, that are different. I call these ‘snapshot’ layouts. My favourite layout at the show was Abbey Road. I have over the last few years become a fan of the underground. I don’t mean travelling on it; after all, that is a nightmare. What I do love is its unique and wonderful history. Therefore, this layout, that showed a mix of underground stock, with meticulous attention to detail at the line side, was a simply wonderful and unique layout (shown).
The second layout that held my interest was Lulworth Camp and Gas Works, a military layout which is set near an imaginary town in Dorset. Military layouts have appeared more frequently in recent years and this is a fine example of what can be done with a wartime setting. There are tanks, artillery pieces, trucks and men everywhere on this layout and it looks like a melee. However, it conveyed well the order that can be found in apparent chaos. Overall, we need more of these layouts and I am surprised that there aren’t more simply depicting ‘snapshots’ of railway operation. I have never seen a layout of a marshalling yard, and there are few that illustrate railway companies’ works or locomotive depots.
Lastly, there are the ‘journey’ layouts. These are divided into different sections which are all distinct from each other but interconnected. So, for example, a layout may have three sections, one being the works, one being the coal yard and another being the exchange sidings. The action on this layout takes place by trains going from one section to another and then to another performing a function. In essence, you, the observer, can follow an industrial process from start to finish or journey with passengers from one station to the next. A number of layouts that were present at Woking were of this ilk. These were Purbeck (shown), showing stone mining at that place and which contained some of the best modelling I have ever encountered, and Bourne Valley Railway, that was also narrow gauge. Of course, ‘journey’ layouts are much easier when using narrow gauge or the smaller gauges (such as N and Z). But, there seems to be no reason why with a bit of ambition there can’t be more of these layouts in the bigger scales.
Overall, if railway modellers want to keep people’s interest, if they truly want to draw people to the hobby, and if they want the public to turn up to shows and exhibitions, then there must be verity within the hobby. By trying to come up with innovative and interesting ideas for layouts within the three categories listed above, the railway modelling community can achieve this aim. Overall, I would like to just say that Woking Model Railway Exhibition was one of the best that I have ever been to. There was a very good range of layouts to keep everyone’s interest. The organisers clearly grasped the importance of not filling the halls with boring layouts.
I think, however, that I have found a way to uncover more details about the operations of my chosen company. The L&SWR had joint ownership of a number of railways in its sphere of influence. The two most notable were the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway (S&DJR) and the West London Extension Railway (WLER). It owned the first with the Midland Railway, and the second with the London North Western, London Brighton and South Coast and Great Western Railways. Thus, in both these cases the L&SWR would have had to merge their operational procedures with their co-owners of the railways for smooth operations. Some of these operational systems would have been the same and integration and combination would not have been a problem. This was the result of being in an industry where there was very little influence from external businesses and much inter-company communication through the Railway Clearing House. But, there would have been some areas where the companies operating procedures may have diverged and as such the owners would have had to reach compromises.
Subsequently, examining the operation of the jointly owned companies may show the process of negotiation each of the owning companies engaged in, thus revealing each’s operating procedures. This would, therefore, go some way to uncovering some of the mysteries about how the L&SWR and other owner companies operated their railways and made decisions. Up to this point, I have done some research on the West London Extension Railway and while I didn’t find any details of any inter-company negotiation regarding operations, I did find some very interesting (well for me anyway) information on how the WLER costed their parcels service. This data was found in the Minute Books of a conference that consisted of all the different companies’ officers. I won’t go into it here as I did write a blog entry about it a few months back.
There was one problem with this information, in that I couldn’t be sure from where the decision to cost the parcels service came from. I have found no information that it was done within the L&SWR, but this is may be because little information has survived below committee and board level. Indeed, if this was something that was discussed amongst the company’s officers, and not at board or committee level, then the information has been lost. Conversely, it may be that the L&SWR didn’t do parcels costing and, therefore, the procedure came from one of the other companies.
Up until the brainwave I will now describe, I was resigned to never knowing the answer. But, I had a thought. The Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway also had a committee of officers that would have been made up of officials from the S&DJR, Midland and L&SWR. The common co-owner of the WLER and the S&DJR was the L&SWR. If I fail to find an explicit series of negotiations over policy within the S&DJR files, and I do find within the S&DJR officers committee details of parcels costing, in addition to the fact that I have already found it on the WLER, then this increases the likelihood that the L&SWR undertook it within its own network because it is a common policy (or that this was a standard procedure within British railways).
Now, I realise that this is not a full proof method for discovering those operational details that have eluded railway historians, but it may be a way of at least determining the likelihood that some operational systems were used by different railway companies in the Victorian period where explicit information does not survive within the companies’ own files. The shame for me is that the L&SWR didn’t jointly own many more companies. If I were to increase my survey to look for operational details within three or four railways, this would inevitably increase the chances of finding common policies, increasing the certainty that they were either used, or originated within, the parent company. However, for companies that jointly owned a multitude of companies, it may work to more accurately determine operational procedures.
The rule books that railway companies issued to their staff were probably the most important document that they had on their person. It governed everything that they did and any employee who broke the rules would be subject to some form of punishment, ranging from fines to dismissal. The rule book was, therefore, a way management established order over a large number of personnel.
Now that the railway companies of old have passed, the rule books of a company can show us the rate of change on the railways. Changes in procedure found in the books were, in turn, the result of the changing technology of the industry. So, the interval between new editions can indicate the level of this change that occurred within the industry. For my example I will use, unsurprisingly, the London South Western Railway’s rule books. From the information that I have gathered, I have determined that the L&SWR issued the staff with updated versions of the rule book in the following years:-
1) 1845 2) 1853 3) 1857 4) 1860
5) 1864 6) 1877 (suspected) 7) 1884 8) 1890
9) 1897 10) 1904 11) 1912 12) 1921
Between 1845 and 1864 the staff of the company was inundated with changes in the rules, with 5 new rule books issued in 19 years. This was an average of a new rule book being issued every 3.8 years. Clearly, the industry was changing rapidly in this period. Everything in the company evolved, from the way that the track was laid, right through to the locomotives that ran on it, and this was reflected by the L&SWR management issuing very regularly new rule books that contained updated and additional rules relating to the developments.
Naturally this meant that the rule book got longer and more detailed over the period. The 1845 rule book, which was called a ‘rule book for enginemen and firemen’, had in it a small section at the front with instructions for ‘Station Clerks’ (the first station masters). This section was only 2 pages long, with large text. However, jump ahead to 1864 and the section for station masters was 18 pages long and smaller text. Additionally, in 1845 there were only 8 rules directed at Station Clerks, whereas in 1864 there were 64. The frequency of issue and the changing size of the rulebooks, therefore show that in the period the industry was rapidly evolving.
Between 1864 and 1890 the number of rule books issued declined, and only 3 were produced (one every 8.67 years). This is indicative of the fact that the pace of change within the railway industry was slow. By the 1860s train operations, procedures for the transit of goods and passengers, and a host of other aspects of company operation, had been standardised. The British railway industry had by 1870 entered the ‘mature’ phase of railway operation.
Further, the lack of change is indicated again by the fact that the size of the rule book didn’t change. The 1864 book had a total of 302 pages in total, whereas the 1884 rule book (the 1890 rule book not being available) had only 297. Further, the instructions to station agents only increased in length by a page to 19. These rulebooks were evidently a product of a period in railway history when evolution and change was slow within the industry and procedure had become standardised.
However, after 1890 the railway companies of Britain were under considerable strain as profitability declined. It was with this in mind that they started to investigate many new innovations and make changes to operating procedures to keep costs down, provide higher levels of service to customers and improve the efficiency of traffic management. Some of these changes included pneumatic signals, electrification projects, marshalling yards, better coaching stock and higher capacity wagons. Thus, these changes are indicated by the slightly increased number of rule books issued in the period. Between 1890 and 1921 the L&SWR produced 4 rule books, an average of one every 7.75 years. While the level of change was evidently not as rapid or drastic as in the first period, as many new changes were simply adaptations of existing procedures and technologies, there is some cause to say that the companies produced more rule books to accommodate the increased number of changes that occurred in the industry.
What is of interest, and is in contrast with the trends outlined, is that the rule books issued after 1890 actually shrunk. The 1904 one had 167 pages, the 1912 one had 164 pages, and the 1921 edition had 183. This is in part explained by the fact that the L&SWR reduced the font size. Additionally, some departments, such as Engineering, produced their own rule books for their staff which would have meant fewer pages in the general rule book. Unfortunately, I am unable to compare the amount of space given over to the instructions for station agents, as the section was not clearly identified in the three rulebooks cited.
Overall, it is clear that the number of rules in the L&SWR rule book in this period did not significantly change in volume. This demonstrates that in making changes to the company’s network it simply adapted existing systems and procedures. As such, the changes introduced weren’t as drastic as those made in the early years of operation. This said, the increased frequency of the issue of rule books shows that the L&SWR was making regular alterations to the network.
I have shown how the changes in the complexity of the industry, and of the L&SWR’s operations, can be charted through the frequency that rule books were issued to the staff. The railways moved from growth and increasing complexity, to maturity, and then to a period when they were under threat. Subsequently, if I can infer all this without actually reading the text of the rulebook, then who knows what a more detailed study of them allow me to discover.
The history of railwaywomen before World War One (and more generally) is hidden from view. While there has been a rise in the interest in the topic, (see Helena Wojtczak and Rosa Matheson’s books, and the work I have presented in this blog) much still needs to be done to answer the many questions about women's employment on Britain's Railways. A few questions outstanding are for example:-
· How widespread was female employment on the railways at different points?
· In a patriarchal society, how did women go about gaining employment on the railways?
· Did geographical region in which a woman lived or the local railway company affect what employment they received?
· What factors pressured railway companies in expanding women’s employment opportunities around the turn of the century?
· Did the attitudes and opinions of company directors affect women’s employment opportunities within railway companies?
· Did all types of jobs given to women on Victorian railways become available at the same time?
I could keep listing questions, but as can be seen there is still a lot of research that needs to be done in the archives. With regard to the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) I have answered some of the above questions in my blog entries. However, I have now come to a dead end with regard to that company as I have gone over every file with a fine tooth comb looking for data. So, the search needs to be expanded to the other railway companies operating in the period.
With this background in mind, I will now describe three important events in the history of women’s employment on the London and South Western Railway. I will, in each case, state some of the questions that are yet to be answered with regard to them. I will use as a reference point Helena Wojtczak’s excellent book Railwaywomen, to provide some context for my findings. However, I should stress that while her book is a very good overview, for the Victorian period it is not a detailed text on female employment within Britain’s railway companies.
1850 - The first recorded female employees – On the 21st June 1850, the Traffic Committee of the company entered the following in the Minute Book:-
‘Read letter from Mr Stovin [Traffic Manager] as to the employment of Platelayer's wives at certain Gates on the Dorchester Line
Approved. Mr Bass to alter the Gates as req.uired + Mr Stovin to carry out this resolution consulting with Mr Mills.’ (TNA, RAIL 411/227, p.494)
This is very early in the railway’s history, and only 12 years after the L&SWR started operating. The questions arising from this minute are many. Was the job of gatekeeper the earliest form of women’s employment on Britain’s railways? Wojtczak stated that three female ‘railway labourers’ can be found in the 1851 census as working on the building of the South Eastern Railway (Wojtczak, 2005, p.1). Therefore, there is some weak evidence that women were working in other capacities on the network. As such, the question does remain in what capacities did women work at this time? Additionally, was the L&SWR following trends set by other railways, and can other companies be found that started employing women at an earlier date?
1871 - The first recoded female telegraphist – The L&SWR for many years categorised telegraph clerks and junior clerks under the all-encompassing heading of ‘clerical staff.’ The distinction between the jobs was even less at country stations where telegraph clerks generally had other duties. But, those women employed on the South Western as telegraphists were strictly limited to telegraph work as far as I can gather. The first woman to be employed in this capacity was Miss Fifield, and her employment was confirmed as follows on the 30th November 1871:-
Mr Fifield's Daughter – Read letter from Mr Fifield Agent at Oakley Station requesting that his daughter may be appointed as Telegraphist at that Station at a pay of 7/- per week.
Recommend this to the Board (TNA, RAIL 411/241, Minute No. 575)
Again, I turn to Wojtczak’s book to provide some context. It seems that the L&SWR was behind other railways when employing women as telegraphists. The Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee railway employed their first woman telegraphist at Edinburgh Waverly Station in 1858. Further, in the 1861 census Mrs Annie Bond appears as a telegraph clerk at Eastbourne on the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (Wojtczak, 2005, p.31). Again the questions are many. It remains to be seen why some railways were slower than others to employ women as telegraphists? Was there a preference for employing women as telegraphists at country stations only, as in the country jobs for women were limited? Did women receive the same starting pay as their male counterparts? Lastly, was the timing of when women were employed dictated by the attitude of the different companies’ directors?
1914 – The formalisation of women’s employment on the L&SWR – On the 27th March 1914 the Traffic Officers conference of the company introduced a formal policy for the engagement of female staff in clerical, telegraph, telephone and ticket sorting positions. The minute was as follows:-
Employment of Female Staff – Referring to minute No.528 of the Traffic Officer's meeting on the 24th instant, the proposal to employ female clerks in some of the company's offices on the conditions mentioned in Appendix A was approved and the General Manager was authorized to make arrangements for carrying it out. [Appendix A is shown] (TNA, RAIL 411/40, p.113)
It seems from Rosa Matheson’s work that the L&SWR was again slow in employing women en masse in this period. The Great Western Railway (GWR) started employing female clerks in 1908, and by 1906 the North Eastern Railway (NER) employed 94 women, while the London and North Western Railway (L&NWR) employed 250 female clerks (Matheson, 2002, p.137). While, clearly, the introduction of this policy by the L&SWR was a step towards increasing the number of female staff, the question remains as to why the company was behind the others, and what factors meant that the other railways started to employ female clerks earlier? Further, this policy was only applied to only single, unmarried women that were employed. It therefore begs the question as to why the other major group of women who worked on the railways at this time, the widows of company employees, did not receive any formal terms of employment at the same point? Lastly, there is again the question as to whether women received the same pay as their male counterparts? The answer to this question is obvious given the period of history I am dealing with. But, to what extent did women receive less, and was there variance between what the different railway companies paid them?
Overall, this piece has shown only a selection of the outstanding issues that need to be addressed in the history of Britain’s railwaywomen. As such, I hope as my career progresses to continually return to them. On a finishing note, I would like to say to anyone reading this that if they do archival work please send me anything you find on the topic (with reference details of course), as I am trying to obtain as much information as possible.
When I go to archives I carry many technological devices to aid me in my work (camera, laptop, leads, chargers and, of course, earphones). And I am not the only one. Increasingly, I am conscious of the fact that the National Archives is starting to look like a branch of Curry’s, or, if you do some mental blocking, an Apple Store (Genius bar excluded). The reason is that technology dominates historical research now. I wouldn’t even think of going to the archive without any of my devices and on the rare occasions when I forget one of them I am genuinely frustrated. I feel that I am unable to function as effectively without my whole raft of equipment. I suppose it is like when everyone got mobile phones. When we didn’t have them, we didn’t need them. But now everyone has one, we can’t live without them.
I think that now I am full ensconced in the technological age of research, that I ultimately forget the point from which I have come. In 2003 I was using the methods of research that had been used for hundreds of years. In conversation with Terry Gourvish, Britain’s leading railway historian, he described the process of writing an article in 1973 that was on ‘A British Business Elite: The Chief Executive Managers of the Railway industry 1850-1822.’ For this biographical survey of Britain’s railway CEOs, he had to travel from Norwich to London many times to gather the information. This, naturally, took time. His ultimate opinion was that the article wasn’t as detailed as he would have liked, and because of this it was open criticism years later. I have to confess, that I am one of those historians who currently disagrees with the piece. On expressing my disagreements, Terry quickly conceded that my more detailed, technologically aided, research may indeed contradict his, and he put this fact down to the era when he was working. There simply wasn’t the capacity, given his job, his location, and the data gathering constraints of the 1970s, to be as efficient and effective as I can be now.
I didn’t, however, make the technological jump from paper, pencil and photocopying, to laptop, camera and earphones, at once. My methods changed gradually. When I started doing research at the National Archives in 2003 on my undergraduate dissertation (‘Big Wing Theory’ in the Battle of Britain), I was quite satisfied sitting there with a pencil and pad in hand, copying down everything I found. However, recently finding my notes from that work certainly reminded me of the torture of a pencil wearing through to what I felt was the bones of my fingers. By the end of it, I was turning each page in dread of finding a document that was vital, but which was long. I did photocopy some things, but because of my limited budget I could only use the service selectively. As such, I was utterly sick of the sight of documents by the end of the dissertation. This didn’t, however, hinder me from undergoing the same laborious process when doing my postgraduate dissertation in 2005 (Pre-World War One British military aviation).
You see, technology wasn’t something that I thought of at the time as being necessary. Indeed, the majority of historians, especially in 2003, simply didn’t use it. The biggest indicator of this was that those who did use cameras and laptops at the archives were cast to the rear part of the reading room, segregated by a glass screen from us ‘hard-working’ historians who still toiled with the old methods. We struggled to get our necessary work completed before closing time; they cheated. Of course, I have embellished for dramatic effect, but sometimes it did feel to me like a ‘them and us’ situation.
It was only with my PhD in 2006 that I started to use technology. It seemed logical that I should now that laptops and digital cameras were cheaper, and I could see the benefits. With this in mind I went out and purchased the WORST LAPTOP EVER. Heavy, slow and noisy, it made me the centre of attention in the ‘silent’ reading room. But, it did the job I needed it to do until a year and a half later when I upgraded to a better model. This was superseded by a netbook in 2009, which I still use to this day. Small, compact (and strangely faster than my first laptop), it is really great. Obviously, the advantage of having a laptop is that rather than writing things out, I now create immediately accessible digital. As such, I avoid my own handwriting, which tends to leave me staring at a letter or entire word while to work out what the hell it is. It also means that I can tabulate statistical information quicker. Overall, I think that my work rate improved, but this wasn’t really a leap ahead in performance.
Two years later I added the digital camera, and this really was a massive step up. Whereas before I could copy data from a I00 page document in about 2 hours, now I could do it in 20 minutes. Hurrah, I am an archival speed-demon. Ok, my first camera was dreadful, and the number of documents that came out blurred is hard to count, but now I have a beauty that does everything excellently.
I feel now that my own shift in research techniques is not unique. Currently, the National Archives is dominated by historians who use technology to aid and speed their work. Indeed, when the main reading room was remodelled, the Archives did away with the physical barrier that divided the two groups of historians. Everyone is now mingled in. My only complaint, and I don’t know if this is a complaint to be aimed at the camera manufacturers or the historians, is that I wish that there wasn’t such a loud clicking sound when cameras take photos. But hey, I’m just being a grouch.
The last technology that has changed the way that individuals do research, aside from those that have been mentioned, is the internet and the digitisation of records. In the past if a historian wanted to look up a newspaper article from the distant past, he’d have to make the long trip to Colindale to the Newspaper Library. But now these are almost all available online. But newspapers aren’t the only things available. With my University of York log-in a plethora of resources are at my fingertips. While my PhD has been in progress, I have been blessed with a number of tools that have come available for researchers, such as 19th Century Newspaper and Journal collections, and the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers. There were also a number of other resources that were already available, such the Dictionary of National Biography, Who Was Who and Ancestry. Lastly, there is the multitude of other websites that provide me with information. The internet is now therefore an integral part of my work, speeding it up no end and allowing me to bypass the archive.
The point of this article has been to show how research, once a lonesome, slow and laborious process, has now been transformed into a quicker and simpler exercise through the application of technology. What can be produced is no longer subject to the restrictions of the past, such as time and location. This, therefore, hails a new era of historical research that should be recognised. We are now entering into a period in which the work that is produced as an end product of research, both in an academic and popular sense, should be more accurate and should be less impregnable to criticism. In addition, more material will be researched because of the speed of its collection, allowing more work to be produced. Hopefully, this will further and refine our knowledge of history by leaps and bounds. Of course, there is the potential for historians to become complacent, churning out article after article simply because it is possible. But if academic rigor is upheld and standards are maintained, I see no reason why this should occur. Therefore, because of technology I look forward to what the future will bring.