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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

TurnipRail 2 year Anniversary - The Best of the Second Year

What a couple of years it has been. As I write, my Turnip Rail website hosts 213 posts on a range of railway history topics. However, despite what I have produced, the past year, and especially the last six months, has not been one of the easiest periods in my life. In September I began suffering from anxiety, which has affected my ability to work and, I think, the quality of my output. I also broke my toe around the same time - which I'll only say was annoying. Gladly, both these problems are mostly resolved. Nevertheless, in the last couple of months I have gone through a process of a work restructure. Therefore, I have been made redundant and will have to re-interview for a job in the coming months. Consequently, combined with an increasing work-load from my PhD (which has until late September to be submitted) I have been reduced to doing a post a week.

Despite these things, I hope I have turned out posts which you have found entertaining and interesting. I have certainly enjoyed researching and writing them. So, in this anniversary post I have randomly chosen some of my favourites from the past year. 

1. “When Victorian Beer Trains Crash” – In some sense, this post from April explored the link between the railways and the brewing industry.  Indeed, I looked at some of the interesting ways that crashed beer trains were reported. I was unsurprised that the newspaper reports always seemed to have humorous remarks, this being the funniest:  “Alcohol can thus baffle her Majesty’s mail as well as her Majesty’s Government.”[1] However, what was particularly interesting was that the majority of the accidents I found befell Midland Railway trains coming from Burton. This was logical though, Burton being the centre of the Victorian brewing industry.

2. “The York Tap - A piece of railway heritage restored”– OK, this is another beer-related post, but in a different way. A trip to York in early December meant I had the pleasure of going into the York Tap, a pub sited on the York Station platform. In the post I described how the building the Tap inhabits was opened in 1907 as the station’s tea room, and its recent conversion to a pub restored the building to its former glory. I love the Tap and would recommend a visit to anyone.

3. “Unlocking the Early Railway Manager – Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4” (The link is to Part One) – Using three directories of railway officials from 1841, 1847 and 1848, these four articles sought to investigate the validity of a long-held belief that early railway managers were mainly ex-military men, as well as look at early managers generally. However, rather than presenting four finished pieces of research as I normally do in posts, I set out to describe how this investigation progressed over the period of a few weeks. The results were startling and should change the content of railway history books in the future. Firstly, I concluded that ‘the notion that military men were the driving force in early railway management is erroneous,’ given that they constituted a tiny proportion of all railway managers. Secondly, in 1848 the three great engineers of the period, Brunel, Locke and Stephenson, directly controlled  the engineering affairs of 28.81% of Britain’s railway companies. Yet, even more impressively, engineering matters for 59.13% of all Britain’s total railway mileage was under their collective charge. These are important findings and I would like to do much more work on this subject in the future.

4. “A New High-Speed Line, an Old Victorian Assumption?”– I got some interesting reactions to this post which simply highlighted something I observed. The building of Britain’s second high-speed line (HS2) was being promoted by its supporters as adding capacity to the railway network, as the number of passengers using the railways is predicted to massively grow in the future. I suggested that if you talked to any railway manager before 1900 they too would have said that traffic growth was inevitable. Yet, the expected growth didn’t occur, and after 1900 the number of passengers using the railways levelled off and then began falling. All I did was compare the two situations, observing that this part of railway history shows us that passenger traffic growth can be hard to predict. I will state this now, I did not post this because I necessarily oppose HS2; I posted it only as a consideration. I will not reveal my position on HS2, because I don't think getting political is what my blog is about.

5. “‘Crabbed, morose and irritable’ - One Liverpool Man's Complaints Against the L&NWR in 1867” – This was a post that discussed of six long letters that ‘A CONTRACTOR’ wrote to the Liverpool Mercury in 1867 complaining about the station facilities of the London and North Western Railway. The station that received the most criticism was at Huyton Quarry, which he argued ‘might be a station in Chancery, so out-of-elbows does it look, or belong to some bankrupt company, who could not afford a few pounds to put in a tolerably descent condition.’[2] Generally, these letters were just interesting insights into how the public felt about railway managers at the time and the services they received.

6. Lastly, I have done three posts this year about the first sixteen female clerks to be employed at the London and North Western Railway’s Birmingham Curzon Street Station between 1874 and 1876. The first in August looked at how the company’s decision was reported in the press. Indeed, the newspapers detailed the basic facts of their employment, for example, whose decision it was, the company’s attitude, their working environment and their pay. However, on releasing digitised railway staff records, I was able to look these women up and do some detailed statistical analysis of their employment. In two following posts (HERE and HERE) I examined the women’s ages, promotional prospects, length of employment and pay. Indeed, on this latter point I found that up until their eighth year they received the same pay as the men, at which point it was curtailed. This was a very interesting finding, showing that the newspapers at the time were wrong when they said that the employment female clerks was immediately going to reduce company costs.

Overall, I cannot say these were my absolute favourite posts, yet, they are definitely near the top. I strive hard in my blog to pass on entertaining and interesting pieces of railway history, things I find, and elements of my PhD. In return I have received a lot of love, complementary comments and warmth. I just want to thank all my readers so much for your support this year. My blog wouldn't have been a success without you all reading, re-tweeting and re-posting, and for that I am eternally grateful.

[1] Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 10, 1873; Issue 1603
[2] Liverpool Mercury, Tuesday, November 12, 1867; Issue 6175

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