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Railway Worker's Records (Occupations)

Nature of Source

Records of those employed on the rail network. The rail network saw a massive expansion from the 1830s with a near complete network having been built by the 1860s. The railways proved popular with the general public who, for the first time, had the means to travel and visit towns and resorts across the country. The rail network also provided an efficient means to transport freight over large distances.

The rapid expansion led to hundreds of railway companies competing for passengers and freight which proved unsustainable. The Railways Act of 1921 also known as the 'The Grouping Act' reorganised the 100 plus rail companies in 1923 into the so called 'Big Four' comprising Southern Railway (SR), Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) and the London North Eastern Railway (LNER). A map of the new structure Grouping System Railway Map of the British Isles 1923 is sold by Bloomsbury Publishing Shire and Old House imprints along with other rail related maps. After 1923 a railway worker ancestor was probably employed by one of these companies. The records of these companies were eventually transferred to The National Archives having first been held by the British Transport Commission. The records of the pre-1923 companies are also housed at TNA.

Nationalisation took place in 1947 with the creation of British Railways later renamed British Rail in the 1960s.The National Archives does not hold the records of railway companies post-1948 nationalisation with these records still held by the individual company.

The most useful records include staff registers, salary/pay registers, personnel records, apprenticeship records, pension records, company minute books, accidents and sickness reports, staff magazines and railway journals. The companies employed many women mainly in catering and clerical duties.

It is essential to know which railway company the person worked for and the type of work undertaken. The variety of employment included maintenance, signal duty, station porter, ticket staff, luggage attendant, hotel worker and many others. The National Railway Museum could help find the company the person worked for and rail maps will show which companies operated in a particular area or region. The Railway Clearing House maps offer the best resource for showing the areas worked by each company and are available from David Archer Maps.

The staff records at The National Archives are not indexed and are arranged by individual companies. More detailed information is most likely to be found for those in more senior positions.

Also see
Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade
Apprenticeship Indentures, Parish
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Friendly & Fraternal Society Records
Great Western Railway Shareholders Index
Occupational and Labour Records (Includes links and guidance on calculating historical wage rates and the cost of living)
Trade Union Records

Where Found

The National Archives (Series RAIL, Records of the pre-nationalisation railway companies, pre-nationalisation canal and related companies, the London Passenger Transport Board, and successors. The series includes the records of the 'Big Four' group of railway companies, the pre-1923 railway companies and the British Transport Commission/British Railways Board as well as staff records, minute books, maps, photos, company/staff magazines etc. Named individuals of railway staff and their families can be found in series RAIL 1166 amongst the records of the Railway Benevolent Institution, 1858-1982)
The National Archives (Series AN, Records created or inherited by the British Transport Commission, the British Railways Board, and related bodies)
The National Archives (Series ZLIB & ZPER, Publications formerly held by the British Transport Historical Records Office library)

Summaries of accident reports held in series RAIL 1053 covering 1840 to 1975 can be searched at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘RAIL 1053’.

Names extracted from the North London Railway Company staff records, 1848-1912 held in series RAIL 529 can be searched at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘RAIL 529’.

Employment details of 5000 clerks who worked on the Great Western Railway from series RAIL 264 can be searched at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘RAIL 264’.
County Record Offices (Local and material collections. ARCHON Directory: Find the details of a UK archive from a searchable list of over 2,500 archives The catalogue can be found on the TNA Discovery home page)
London Metropolitan Archives (Records of London Transport)
National Railway Museum (National Railway Museum. The collection includes over 1,000,000 objects from over 300 years of railway history. The Library And Archive Centre known as Search Engine holds drawings and papers from railway works and companies, records of individuals and families, company histories, timetables, books, magazines including staff magazines, accident reports, photographs and postcards. A selection of online photos can be found here with many available to purchase from the online shop)
London Transport Museum (London Transport Museum. The Museum Library collects items that reflect all aspects of the history of public transport in London from 1800 to the present day including vehicles, signs, photographs, posters, drawings, uniforms and architectural material. The Museum holds a unique series of staff magazines dating back to 1913 which may name individual employees. For more information see Family History at London Transport Museum and Staff Records and Family History. The Library houses a collection of over 12,000 books, journals and special collections. The Photographic Collection can be searched here and the Poster Collection can be searched here)
STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway (The museum tells the story of the men and women who built, operated and travelled on the Great Western Railway. The Library and Archive includes reference books, documents and ephemera, periodicals, postcards, photographs and plans. Images are available to view and purchase online at
Modern Records Centre (Trade Union records)
National Records of Scotland (Railway records. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
University of Aberdeen Library (The O' Dell Collection)
LSE Library, also known as the British Library of Political & Economic Science (The Library holds a pamphlet collection with a section on The Railways)
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)

Period Covered

1830 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Employee' name, position, date of birth, addresses, place of work, references to the person's character, rates of pay, reasons for dismissal or resignation and career details including promotions and transfers.

Further References

Bradley, Simon. The Railways: Nation, Network and People: Profile Books, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon

Bradshaw's Railway Map Great Britain and Ireland 1852: Mapseeker Publishing, 2013

Buy Now on Amazon

Bryan, Tim. The Great Western Railway: Shire, 2010


Cobb, Colonel Michael H. The Railways of Great Britain: A Historical Atlas: Patrick S Cobb, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon

Coleman, Terry. The Railway Navvies: A History of the Men Who Made the Railways: Pimlico, 2000


Conolly, W. Philip. British Rail Pre-Grouping Atlas and Gazetteer: Ian Allan Publishing, 1997


Dewick, Tony. Complete Atlas of Railway Station Names: Ian Allan Publishing, 2002


Dewick, Tony. Rail Atlas 1890: Ian Allan Publishing, 2005


Drummond, Di. Tracing Your Railway Ancestors: A Guide For Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2010


Edwards, Cliff. Railway Records: A Guide to Sources: PRO Publications, 2001


Emmerson, Andrew. The London Underground: Shire, 2013


Gittins, Sandra. The Great Western Railway in the First World War: The History Press, 2010


Guy, Andy & Rees, Jim. Early Railways: Shire, 2011


Handbook for Railway Steam Locomotive Enginemen: Ian Allan Publishing, 2014


Hardy, Frank. My Ancestor was a Railway Worker: Society of Genealogists, 2009


Hardy, R. H. N. The Railwayman's Pocket Book: Conway, 2011


Hawkings, David. Railway Ancestors: A Guide to the Staff Records of the Railway Companies of England and Wales 1822-1947: The History Press, 2008


Maggs, Colin G. Train Driver's Manual 1900: Amberley Publishing, 2014


May, Trevor. The Victorian Railway Worker. Shire Publications, 2003


Railway Traveller’s Handy Book 1862: Hints, Suggestions and Advice for the Anxious Victorian Traveller: Old House Books, 2012


Richards, Tom. Was Your Grandfather a Railwayman? A Directory of Railway Archive Sources for Family Historians: FFHS, 2002


Roden, Andrew. Great Western Railway: A History: Aurum Press, 2012


Smith, Paul & Turner, Keith. Railway Atlas of Ireland Then & Now: Ian Allan Publishing, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon

Wolmar, Christian. The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How it Changed the City Forever: Allen & Unwin, 2012


TNA Research Guides:
Railway workers: further research

Websites (Your Archives, Category:Rail. Digitised articles from TNA's library) (Looking for records of a railway worker) (Looking for records of a railway company) (The National Archives: All change!’ on Britain's railways. Railways have brought, and continue to bring, great changes to peoples’ lives. Since the 19th century they have changed the environment, standardised time and revolutionised holiday habits. Explore 20 key dates in the history of railways) (Victorian Times Project: Sections include Transport, The development of the railways)
(‘All change!’on Britain's railways: The site developed in partnership with the National Railway Museum has a railways timeline, documents relating to the development of the rail network and industry and podcasts) (My Ancestor was a Railway Worker - understand the new railway records on (Research sources - Railways)
(Midland Railway Society: The society is for those interested in the Midland Railway; its predecessors, successors, joint lines and working arrangements. They help run the Midland Railway Study Centre which houses the largest publicly accessible collection of Midland Railway ephemera and documentation. They also publish books and pamphlets on historical aspects of the Midland Railway) (Warwickshire Railways: This site is created for the railway enthusiast, local historian and railway modeller by fellow enthusiasts. It is dedicated to the research, study and recording of the history of Warwickshire's railways from 1837 to circa 1970. He site includes an introduction and background to the rail routes and companies operating in the area and a list of stations, junctions, goods depots) (The Great Western Archive. The site includes a History of the Great Western and a selection of Great Western Stations with histories, track plans and signalbox diagrams) (The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society)
(Great Eastern Railway Society. Site dedicated to the former Great Eastern Railway, its predecessors and its successors including  a section a Genealogy) (London and North Western Railway Society. Site includes staff circulars, WW1 Roll of Honour, staff records, photos & a staff history research guide) (Irish Railway Record Society: The society has a library and archive dealing with all aspects of the Irish Railway. The society holds some meetings some in London)
(Railway Ancestors Family History Society) (Tracking Railways Archives Project. Site includes a master list of railway companies, researching family history & other resources) (Head of Steam, Darlington Railway Museum)
(National Railway Museum Caution! Railway Safety Since 1913) (The London & North Eastern Railway [LNER] Encyclopedia) (List of early British railway companies) (The Loco Shed Index: The site includes a List of British Railway Companies) (Rail UK - British Railways 1823-2008),_key_dates_in_the_history_of_British_railways (Key dates in the history of British railways) (Photos of disused stations, abandoned railways and old buildings) (Outline History of the British Railway System) (Railway Britain: Celebrating Britain's Railways: Past, Present And Future) (National Railway Museum: Family history) (The Railway Clearing House maps and others) (The Railways Archive, scanned images of documents relating to the development of the industry including accident reports and publicity material)
(Mike's Railway History Page. The website has facts and stories about railways, trains, locomotives and the railway engineers, who built and ran them. All of the items on these pages date from 1935/6)
(Railway history: 200 years of the steam locomotive: Archived catalogue descriptions of rail related material) (Transport for London: Culture & Heritage Research Guides: Sources for Genealogical Research) (Transport for London: Corporate archives) (Railway genealogy forums) (Ancestry Message Boards: Occupations)

Online Databases (Occupations Records; Railway Employment Records, 1833-1956: Indexed images of employment-related records from a number of historic railway companies in England, Scotland, and Wales extracted from collections held at The National Archives in series RAIL) (Railways Staff Database: Staff registers of four former railway companies: Cambrian Railway, Great Western Railway, London and North Western Railway and London and North Western and Great Western Joint Railway c1869-c1950) (England Railway Magazines including the Great Western Railway Magazine, 1838-1943; Railway Gazette, 1860-1930; Southern Railway Magazine, 1840-1942; The Railway and Commercial Gazetteer of England, Scotland and Wales, 1907)
(Railway Employment Records. Indexes of Railway Employment including records taken from Railway Company Staff magazines) (Cornish Railwaymen. The database lists the names of all the men employed by the Cornwall Railway at the time of its take-over by the Great Western Railway Company on 15 June 1889) (London, London Transport Staff Registers, 1863-1931. These staff records date from the opening of the earliest underground line, the Metropolitan line, in 1863, and cover underground, bus, tram and some clerical staff) (SoG Data Online: Index of names extracted from The Great Western Railway in the First World War by Sandra Gittins; Staff Cards for the London and North Eastern Railway, 1923-1960's; Index to Railwaywomen. Members of the Society of Genealogists are able to view these records for free via their existing membership. Non-members can carry out free surname searches but will need to join the society to view the full record details) (Derbyshire, Derby Railway Servants' Orphanage Registers, 1875-1912. The Derby Railway Servants’ Orphanage opened in 1875. The home came about in response to the hundreds of railway employees who died each year in the course of their work)
(Trade Union Membership Registers. Digitised images of original records books from 9 different trade unions from the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick. Search for an individual in the records including admission books, annual reports and membership lists and include details about individual members such as payments made, benefits received and the names of spouses. The unions include the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, 1872-1913 and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, 1872-1928) (London and North Western Railway Society: Site includes a catalogue of material and online access to staff records and the WWI roll of honour)
(University of Portsmouth and the National Railway Museum: Railway Work, Life & Death. Records of railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland in the later 19th and early 20th century. Details include names, ages, roles, companies and details of the accident)
(Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service: Crewe railway works, c1890-1928. This database is the result of a volunteer project to transcribe the 15 surviving registers of employees of the railway works at Crewe held at the Cheshire Record Office. These registers record: Staff employed at the works in 1890 and staff entering the works between 1890 and 1928) (Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service: John Ramsbottom presentation volume. Includes the names of all employees of the Locomotive Department of the London and North Western Railway in 1871. Please note that there is a charge for downloading images from the volume) (Manchester South Union Railway Shareholders for 1837) (Darlington Railway Museum: North East Railways in World War One Records: Details of over 9,000 railway men who enlisted in the First World War) (National Railway Museum: Railway Workers Who Died in World War One: Lists of over 20,000 railway employees who died in World War One combining information from items in the library and archive centre such as railway staff magazines and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) (The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society: Rolls of Honour: Downloadable document produced in 1915 of the names and departments of all L&Y employees then serving and those reported as lost or missing. The second document was produced at the end of the war and lists all L&Y staff who gave their lives in the conflict and those who were decorated for bravery)
(The Library of Birmingham Collections: Treasures from The Railway. The galleries contain a selection of beautifully illustrated GWR promotional material as well as a variety of railway tickets from the Wingate Bett Collection) (London Transport Museum: Photographic and film collection)

CD Roms

Your Old Books & Maps (Locomotive Journals - 1911, 1912 and 1913)
Railway Ancestors Family History Society (Various Titles)