Tag Archives: trains

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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

50 objects 24: Railway Riot

Railway riot : the new indoor & outdoor treasure hunt for all social and festive occasions

Amongst the transport history collections are ephemera such as tickets and posters, but also a game showing how universal railway travel and timetables must have been in everyday life.


“Railway Riot” front cover

“Railway Riot” is a game for up to twelve players, produced by Universal Publications in the mid twentieth century and costing one shilling. It’s a form of treasure hunt based on railway timetables, in which players must fill in a card with a route and times by finding and consulting the correct timetables.

The “directions for play” offer suggestions as to where to hide the cards – if indoors, inside the wardrobe or behind the bath; if outdoors, up a tree, under a car, “or some other similar absurd place”. Conveniently, perhaps to settle arguments, a sheet with correct answers is also given.



“Railway Riot”: part of the game

The set appears never to have been used : it still has two rounds’ worth of cards for twelve players intact and unmarked.

Universal Publications, established in the 1930s, produced a range of party games: you can see some more of them found in an archive collection elsewhere in this blogpost.

For other games based on railways, see the National Railway Museum’s “Using the Railway” section.  If you’re interested in games more generally, you can find many resources via Brunel’s Games Design libguide.

50 objects 22: tube tickets to the Queen’s coronation

A post by Subject Liaison Librarian Joanne McPhie.

A sample of the tickets

A sample of the tickets

The London Underground might be one of the most egalitarian modes of transport available, where everyone can tour London as long as they can crowd into the carriage. However, some items housed in Brunel Special Collections shed a light on an occasion when the tube was by appointment only.

On the day of the Queen’s coronation on the 2nd June, 1953, tens of thousands of people wanted to get to Westminster to witness the event. Well-wishers lined the route her carriage would take with an estimated 3 million eventually attending. In order to ensure distinguished guests, peers and civic dignitaries would be present, specially scheduled trains ran to transport them to the ceremony without interference from the masses. In the Transport History Collection some of the original tickets from these trains are preserved.

Detail of one of the tickets

Detail of one of the ticket for Peers’ train

Hierarchies were upheld even on the Underground with blue tickets granting entrance to the Peers only train, while orange tickets were good enough for the civic dignitaries. Obviously, even on this special day London Transport did not want to miss out on revenue as fares of 10d and 6d are still listed on the ticket, begging the question of what special treatment the Peers enjoyed for the extra 4d. Passengers would have had to get up early in the morning: tickets detail that trains left High Street Kensington at 7.15am, while those boarding at Mansion House had the even earlier time of 6.52am. These special one off routes were not available to everyone and in fact Westminster Station itself was closed to the public until after the ceremony.

These small pieces of history are only a tiny part of the organisation of a much larger day, but reveal much about the mind-set and mores of mid-20th century British culture.

50 objects 4: Railway anecdotes and fiction

Tales of the Rail

Tales of the Rail

Brunel’s extensive Transport History collection includes books covering British railway history from the earliest times to the 1980s, written for a variety of audiences and ranging from the very technical to the introductory on various topics. Within this collection, there are some surprising finds: books whose purpose is simply to entertain, not to instruct or persuade.

Tales of the Rail, by railwaymen was published in 1904 to raise funds for the Irish branch of the Railway Benevolent Institution. The content ranges from tiny anecdotes to short stories, with a number of writing styles, and the unifying theme is simply that they each have some, however tenuous, connection to railways.

The Railway Anecdote Book

The Railway Anecdote Book

By contrast, The Railway Anecdote Book was published simply for the entertainment of passengers on train journeys: the content is bite-sized, humorous or thought-provoking episodes on a wide range of general topics.

Probably more entertaining to today’s readers is 1905 detective novel The Tunnel Mystery and its solution by Arthur W. A Beckett. This purports to be written by a journalist with a history of solving mysteries in the course of his work, and describes his investigation into the murder of a woman found dead in a railway tunnel.

The Tunnel Mystery and its Solution

The Tunnel Mystery and its Solution


Several of our collections cover the period of the First World War, and we have already had a series of blog posts highlighting some of them. You can find out more on our blog, and keep checking back as we post more updates.

German v British railways