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Railway Work, Life and Death

This project is making it easier to find out about railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland in the early 20th century.

Working on the railways 100 years ago was incredibly dangerous, with hundreds killed and tens of thousands injured each year. The Railway Work, Life and Death project explores who was involved, what they were doing on the railways, what happened to them and why.


  • To better understand railway employees' working lives and how and why they fell victim so many accidents, we wanted to bring the data together into one resource.
  • Initially cover the period 1911–1915, then look at adding post-1918 in a second phase.
  • Work with The National Archives to bring in lots more records. This may take some time, but once it's complete we'll have material from the late 19th century up to 1939.
  • We also expect it to reveal other relationships and impacts not yet known to us, so has the potential to generate new research directions.
  • Additionally, will be a useful resource for family historians and subject specialists, who are a key demographic to our research centre, Search Engine.


  • We have successfully completed a previous working-from-home volunteer project, so when this opportunity came along, we were in a good position to be able to offer resource.
  • From the academic perspective, worker accidents are under-researched, especially given the number (nearly 30,000 in 1913 alone, for example) and the importance of the industry to the British economy at this time (it was the third largest employer in the country)


  • Lots of interest generated, making people more aware of the subject area
  • Improved volunteer knowledge and understanding of the area, and we have benefitted from their general railway knowledge and enthusiasm
  • Allows greater participation from people who would like to volunteer in museum but live too far to make this practical

Project partners

This is a joint project with the University of Portsmouth. It will also involve working closely with the National Archives and the Modern Records Centre, Warwick.