“Old Morality” and the rise of recreational reading

We have recently acquired some interesting publications from W.H. Smith & Son. You may wonder why as, on the face of it, the railway connection is rather tangential.

However, this famous stationers and bookshop has been part of the station landscape since 1848 when a young Smith submitted a successful tender to operate bookstalls from London & North Western Railway stations. His bookstall wasn’t by any means the first, but his was the most successful – in part due to securing a virtual monopoly with L&NWR and many other railway companies, but also because he also made railway bookstalls ‘respectable’. Previously bookshops had pandered to the travelling public’s lowest tastes. Smith did not want such publications in his bookstalls, earning himself the epithet “Old Morality” by Punch for keeping such a steady eye on the morals of his customers.

W H Smith's newsagents at Liverpool Street station, 23 June 1955.

W H Smith’s newsagents at Liverpool Street station, 23 June 1955.

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An early railway disaster in the parliamentary papers

Two of the main themes of the Parliamentary Papers are new railway lines and railway safety. The rapid spread of new railways during the 1840-1850 period led to a steep learning curve for engineers as they discovered that the increased weight and speeds of train meant that established construction techniques and materials were no longer adequate for the task.

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Researching at the Network Rail archives

One of the best things about researching exhibitions is getting to go to interesting places and see interesting things. Some times that involves lots of travel, but sometimes there’s brilliant stuff right on your doorstep. Like the Network Rail archive, which is just a stone’s throw from the Museum, at Clifton Moor in York.

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Prisoners of the Red Desert: Wartime Adventures of LNWR railwaymen

We have now added over 1800 new entries to our list of  railwaymen who died in the First World War, you can see our list of over 20,000 men on our website.

Our research demonstrates that not all railwaymen spent the war in trenches on the western front. During the First World War railwaymen served all over the world, hundreds served on ships (as our last posts have shown) and many experienced extraordinary adventures  in stark contrast to their jobs at home.

LNWR SS Hibernia at Holyhead c.1907

LNWR SS Hibernia at Holyhead c.1907. She was renamed HMS Tara for her war duties.

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Parliamentary papers and Railway Mania

In May, our Librarian Karen posted that we had acquired a set of parliamentary papers covering the years 1837 up 1906.

In the archives with the Parliamentary papers

In the archives with the Parliamentary papers

I’ve recently started working as the project cataloguer for the collection and I’ll be adding each individual paper and report onto our library catalogue over the next few months. There is some really fascinating material within the papers and as I work my way through each volume and year it is like viewing the formative years of British railway history in fast forward!

One of the key themes of the early volumes is the rapid expansion of new railway schemes and their promoters to criss-cross Britain with lines, and the enthusiasm of prospective investors in these schemes in their desire to profit from this new high-tech communications network. This mad desire to profit from the coming of the railway age became known as “Railway Mania”.

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Accidents from history – Penistone 1896

Our volunteers who do a wonderful job on the historic Lancashire and Yorkshire Signalling School – the oldest working model railway in the world – will be re-enacting a another railway accident this Saturday. They will demonstrate how mechanical signalling works, and what can go wrong if you don’t follow the rules.

A Manchester Sheffield and Lincoln 0-6-0 pictured in 1896  - very similar to that involved in this incident.

A Manchester Sheffield and Lincoln 0-6-0 pictured in 1896 0 – very similar to that involved in this incident.

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Tracks through the Landscape: Land Plans, Sections and Books of Reference

This blog is written by NRM archive volunteers Jack Garside and Tania Parker 

Marylebone Station

Our collection of land plans, sections has recently been made accessible through our library archive service, Search Engine.  The collection showcases construction of railways in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as providing fascinating insights into society at the time. You can see a list of the plans here.

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