Tag Archives: timetables

Railways of the Great War

Are you looking forward to watching Railways of the Great War with Michael Portillo tonight on BBC2? Railways were crucial to the war effort, keeping the Western Front supplied with munitions and food, as well as transporting home wounded and dying men.

War timetableYou can find out more about the railways of the First World War in Special Collections. Our resources include railway timetables from the period, indicating the effect the war was having on railway movements.

We also have a range of books published around the time on various aspects of the war and railways.

Rise of rail power German v British railwaysThe rise of rail-power by Edwin Pratt looks at the railways between 1833 and 1914 and shows how they were able to meet the enormous strain placed on them by the outbreak of war.





Pratt’s earlier book, German v. British railways, published in 1907 compares the situation of the railways in Germany and Britain, whilst Darroch’s Deeds of a great railway (1920) tells the story of the London and North-Western Railway Company during the First World War.

Pratt’s two volume British railways and the Great War (1921) is a comprehensive history of all aspects of British railways during the First World War.

Find out more about First World War resources in Special Collections by reading our blog posts tagged First World War. Over the next few months we’ll be highlighting a range of our sources in more detail.

Deeds of great railway British Railways and the Great War


Railway timetables

Our Transport History Collection includes a large number of timetables. These include working timetables, which were used by the rail industry to timetable all train movements, including empty trains, movements in and out of depots and freight trains. As working timetables were only intended to last for a year or two at a time, and were intended for internal rail industry use only, they weren’t made to last, so can be quite fragile.

Our two railway history volunteers have been working away on creating a collection list of our timetable holdings. This is now available on our website as a pdf document.


We also have a run of Bradshaw’s Guides dating between 1848 and 1957. Bradshaw produced the world’s first compilations of railway timetables, which meant, in the days of over 150 rail companies, that passengers could more easily find the information they needed to travel around the country. You will find references to the Guides in 19th and early 20th century literature, including Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and even Dickens.


Special Collections also houses a collection of railway clearing maps. These were published by the British Railway Clearing House and used to help work out the allocation of the revenue collected by the various railway companies from their fares along routes that followed more than one company’s railway lines.


These collections aren’t just of interest to the railway enthuasiast. They can provide context and background for historians and creative writing students. Or help to answer those burning issues: was it possible for Bates in Downton Abbey to make a  journey to London from York and still make it back on the same day by a particular time?!