Category Archives: Transport History

First passenger hovercraft

55 years ago today the world’s first passenger hovercraft entered service. The very first service ran across the Dee Estuary between Rhyl in North East Wales and Moreton Beach, Merseyside.


The first hovercraft was invented and patented by Christopher Cockerell in 1952, although several other inventors before this had experimented with technology along similar lines. The Patent Office was initially unsure whether to class the new invention as an aircraft or a boat, and the hovercraft seemed like a sci-fi dream come true when it first appeared. In 1959 one crossed the English Channel to huge enthusiasm from the public. Sir Christopher was knighted for services to engineering in 1969.

The crossing of the Dee Estuary was revolutionary, as previously the journey, by road, had taken more than two hours. The new hovercraft passenger service was scheduled to make 12 trips per day, taking 30 minutes per trip, at a cost of £2 for a return ticket. The hovercraft involved, a Vickers VA3, weighed 12 tons, and was run by British United Airways.


Unfortunately it soon ran into problems, despite launching in the summer, weather problems meant it only operated for 19 days out of a scheduled 54, and rarely managed the proposed 12 trips a day. Eventually disaster struck and the engines failed halfway through the journey. Passengers were taken off and attempts made to moor the hovercraft, but it broke free and drifted out to sea, eventually smashing into the promenade wall at Rhyl.

If you want to find out more about the invention of hovercraft, design, construction and their impact on passenger transport then our Transport History Collection is the place to look!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 objects 46: register of parcels going through Padstow station

Everyday administrative records can give valuable insights into aspects of life in the past, and often become more interesting with age. This book is a register kept as part of the standard records at Padstow station in Cornwall, from 1921 to 1952.

This station, the terminus at the western end of the North Cornwall Railway, was opened by the London and South Western Railway in 1899. As railway companies changed and merged the station changed ownership, and when it closed in 1967 it was owned by British Railways. The station was served by the Atlantic Coast Express, which ran direct from London Waterloo.

As the port at Padstow sent out a great deal of fish, the station had a separate fish loading platform. This was closed in 1950s as the trade in fish declined. This website gives more details on the freight trains, including the dedicated fish service running to Nine Elms.

The register’s full title is “L. & S. W. Ry – Register of traffic forwarded or received unentered account to follow: [blank] station”, and each page comes with instructions and ready-labelled columns to complete. This was a standard printed LSWR book issued to their stations. “Padstow” has been filled in on some pages of this one.

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The register keeps note of parcels or goods being sent by train for which there is some anomaly or for which a payment is due. The information filled in by hand or stamp for each individual transaction varies in detail and legibility, and the precise directions are not always followed, but the entries as a whole give snapshots over a thirty-year period of the range of goods being sent, the stations to and from which they were sent, and the costs involved.

Many of the entries are for fish or other foodstuffs, but there is also an entry for a corpse, sent in December 1940 to Stepps in North Lanarkshire: perhaps a fallen soldier? Kept in the pages for 1940 is a loose memo, written in pencil and dated 20th September 1940, concerning a delayed delivery and noting that “during the current emergency” (that is, during World War Two, owing to the disruption to rail services) the special charges for fish sent to London Waterloo would also apply to fish sent to Paddington.

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50 Objects 44: Chris Wookey’s railway photographs

Chris Wookey was born in 1957 and was a student at Brunel University from 1975 to 1979, graduating with an honours degree in applied biochemistry. He went on to teach chemistry at a school in Walton-on-Thames until his untimely death in 1989.

Chis entered fully into student life, a writer for the student newsletter Le Nurb under the pen name “Big K”, an active member of the Christian Union, and captain of a five-a-side football team. His other great interest was railways, and his football team was named “Locomotive Brunel”. He was chairman for two years of the Brunel University Railway Society, and was a keen railway photographer.

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King’s Lynn station

 

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Brundall signal box

 

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Brundall Gardens station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1989 Chris Wookey’s railway photographs and notes were given to Brunel University Library by his widow and parents, to form a lasting memorial. The collection comprises photographs of British railway stations and signal boxes, mainly from the 1970s, and research notes with diagrams of railway routes. It provides a unique record of operations and the lineside scenes at this time.

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Diagram from Wookey’s research notes

Chris Wookey was a meticulous and knowledgeable worker, and his photographs are very clearly labelled and referenced. There are hard copy finding aids to this material: for more information please contact us.

Readers wanting to learn more about his activities while at Brunel should consult the University Archives, which may have relevant documents.

50 objects 43: Travellers’ Aid Society poster

Special Collections at Brunel holds a range of material useful for studying the changing role of women in society, and for more general women’s history. One item giving a window onto women’s lives in a different time is this framed poster warning women to make sure they have respectable, safe, accommodation before travelling to a new town – advice still relevant for everyone today.

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The Travellers’ Aid Society was set up in 1885 by the Young Women’s Christian Association in collaboration with organisations such as the Girls’ Friendly Society and the National Vigilance Association. The aim was to have accredited workers meet female passengers on arrival at stations, to help them travel safely and find safe accommodation and work. The Society could vet potential employers or accommodation providers on request. At this time there was a constant stream of young women travelling from rural locations to London to seek jobs in domestic service, many of them vulnerable to exploitation.

From 1939 the Society was run by the National Vigilance Association, and it was wound up in 1952.

For other records of the Travellers’ Aid Society and the National Vigilance Association, contact The Women’s Library which is based at the London School of Economics.

50 objects 38: bindings

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”, the adage runs, but covers and bindings can be a rewarding topic of study. The type of binding used can also tell you about the age and status of a book, the intended audience, and the owner.

These four books from our Transport History collections show developments in bookbinding technology enabling covers to be printed in several colours and with complex designs, to attract readers. You can see a lot more detail about the history of this type of binding via this blog from St. Andrews’ university library rare books staff.

 

These periodicals were bound in a standard Brunel style, to keep the issues together and to protect the pages more than the original covers would have done. The binding includes a gold stamp of the old Brunel crest, as well as of the shelfmark.

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The publishers of this series have sold space on the cover, as well as inside the book, to advertisers.

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The condition the binding is in can tell you about the amount and type of use a book has had. Bradshaw’s Guide (a collection of railway timetables) was an ephemeral publication, re-issued frequently with up-to-date details. Once you had the new issue, the old one was not useful for planning journeys, and so the volumes were not intended to survive very long, and had only paper wrappers.

The surviving issues are kept for historical interest and for research into railway history, but the paper is now very fragile and gets damaged with handling. To keep the books safe and minimise further damage, we are making new wrappers of acid-free card to fit each fragile volume.

 

This book has a blue binding with gold tooling on the front and on the spine. A previous owner has tried to protect this cover by adding a homemade brown paper dustwrapper, and has meticulously drawn an image from the gold tooling onto the spine of the wrapper as well as noting the title.

Many modern books use cover art as a way to demonstrate the type of content, or to attract readers, or to show how relevant they are to a particular activity or type of study. Examining the cover art and styles can show who the target audience for the book is, and what aspect of the book’s contents the publishers are trying to emphasise.

50 objects 35: Railway posters

Nostalgic images of railway travel have been popularly recreated on everything from calendars to mouse mats, but once this approach to advertising the pleasures of the railway was fresh and new. Our Transport History collection holds several beautiful posters that look back to this time.

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1897 poster promoting day travel to Ascot

Initially transport notices served a function, to give information about timetables or list rules of conduct. They were text heavy, with little in the way of images or embellishment. However, several things happened that changed the nature of these posters; the growth of tourism, increased competition amongst rival rail companies and the development of printing technologies. As railways networks grew and developed affordable travel was open to larger groups of people. Day trips and holidays further afield became a possibility and resort towns such as Blackpool flourished.

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1908 Print advertising the health resort of Tenby and its Golden Sands

Railway businesses proliferated in the late 19th century, in fact some locations had several lines running through them. The need to differentiate themselves and their assets became more important to railway enterprises in the drive to secure custom. The means to produce such enticements in the form of colour advertising posters with images was made more commercially viable with the development of colour lithography techniques that enabled mass production.

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Weston Super Mare’s intoxicating climate

 

Railway posters served not only to induce people to use a railway line, but to promote travel as a pleasurable end in itself.

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Great Western Railways poster on the delights of Cornwall

 

Attractive images played an important role to evoke the romance of the rail or the attractive aspects of the destination, with sunshine, coastlines and leisure scenes as important components. Several early artists and illustrators, such as Norman Wilkinson and John Hassall became specialists in the field.

As railway travel boomed these images became a common sight in stations, but the quality of their design and composition make them a lasting pleasure today.  

50 objects 30: Railway Regulations

rules3aAmongst our collections on transport history are numerous books of rules and regulations for railway staff. We have a range from different railway companies across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the British Railway rule book of 1950 which pulled these together and superseded the regulations set out by individual companies.rules1a

The different editions of the same company’s rules show changes over time, and some volumes are annotated or have extra sections pasted in, showing how an individual copy of the rules was used and updated by its owner. It’s also interesting to compare the rules across companies; differences may reflect differences in the work, or organization, of particular companies.

rules2aRegulations tell us a great deal about life on the railway, such as the type of work that was done; the equipment that was used to do it; the duties and responsibilities of different types of staff; the difficulties caused by bad weather; the dangers staff and passengers could be exposed to if things went wrong; the necessity of having synchronized time across the railway network.

 

Here is a selection of excerpts from various rule books.

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Many editions of these books were designed for issue to individual staff members, and contained a declaration to be signed showing that the worker understood, and agreed to abide by, the rules therein. Here is an agreement from the front of the Eastern Counties Railway rules and regulations of 1857, signed by John Mason. He has incorrectly had his name entered in the space for his job title.

 

 

In addition to these general-purpose books, we hold a few more specialized examples, including instructions from Great Western Railway to its staff who worked with horses. There are standard rules such as the requirements for staff to be on duty when rostered and to maintain their uniform in a good condition, and in place of instructions for maintaining the engines or signals in good working order, there is the insistence on proper cleaning and drying of harness and collars.rules4a

The welfare of the horses themselves was of course paramount, and there are detailed instructions on the care of the animals; the need to report illness, lameness, or unsatisfactory feed; the need to ensure good working conditions by limiting the amount one horse should pull, and by covering slippery ground with gravel; the instruction that horses at work must be kept “in a cool and quiet state”.

In addition this collection holds regulations concerning the telegraph system, the traffic around a shipping port, and other aspects of railway life.