Tag Archives: trains

Going underground

Looking at the various resources we have about London Underground is a good way of demonstrating the different ways Special Collections can be approached.

DSC00417 - CopyMaybe you’re interested in secondary sources on the history of transport in London, or the Underground, or one particular part of it? For that The East London Line and the Thames Tunnel: a brief history could be the pamphlet for you. Don’t forget that we have related primary sources, such as a diorama of the Thames Tunnel (currently on display in the Eastern Gateway Building) and some personal letters from Gilbert Blount, who worked on the building of the Tunnel. Many of the maps of the London area in Special Collections feature the lines of the Underground too.



Or perhaps you’re looking for more information about construction and engineering techniques? DSC00418 - CopyCassell’s Railways of the World (1924) includes details on the invention of the Greathead Shield, which made construction of the deep level tunnels possible. It is still known as the Tube because of the circular nature of those tunnels. Our home railways has a feature on the history and use of electricity on the Metropolitan line (the oldest tube line and the first underground railway in the world). How the Underground works is a small book containing a lot of information about the basics of operation, including construction, track, signalling, power supply, staff and stations. As part of the Channel Tunnel Association Archive, we also have advertising from tunnelling and construction companies.

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If politics is more your thing, then the pamphlet Funding London Underground: financial myths and economic realities (2000) published by a campaign on behalf of the London Underground Unions, is worth looking at. Or primary sources, such as a Bill for purchase of land in Camden and Islington around King’s Cross station.

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These aren’t the only approaches you could explore. We haven’t discussed creative writing  here, as we already have several blog posts about creative writing using Special Collections.

More information about using Special Collections for your dissertation research is also available.


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

Next week…

we’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the official opening of the Channel Tunnel by the Queen and President Mitterand on 6th May.

Look out for our display on the ground floor of the library, featuring images of items from the official opening.

 Further details about our Channel Tunnel Association Archive are available on our webpage, and there is a description of the collection on Archives Hub. Look out for further updates on our blog next week!

A school prize

School prizeBooks in Special Collections aren’t here just because of their subject matter. Many of them are unique because of their ownership history or how they have been used in the past. Every-day life on the railroad, a book belonging to our Transport History Collection, has an inscription inside revealing that it was originally purchased in 1901 to be awarded as a school prize for “perfect attendance and perseverance” to a boy called Armstrong.

From him, it somehow made its way to the railway historian, David Garnett, and formed part of his bequest to the library in 1984. Garnett was born in 1909, so I wonder at what point the book passed into his hands?

Railroad life

The book itself was published by the Religious Tract Society, and seems a strange choice of subject matter for a religious group. The Society originally published evangelical material, but from the 1860s onwards also published material aimed at children and women. The majority of this book covers the history of the railways in Britain, and only the appendix is religious, entitled Christian work on the railway, about the work of the Railway Mission (something which featured in our blog post last year about the Up and Down Lines poster).

As well as books, the Garnett Collection, includes many  railway maps, particularly those produced from 1869 by John Airey, an employee of the Railway Clearing House (RCH), and subsequently by the RCH itself. It also includes Ordnance Survey maps and railway maps produced by the various railway companies and catalogues and research notes made by Garnett himself.

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?!

Ever heard of a passenveyor?

A blog post by Nigel Buckley, graduate trainee 2012-2013, who catalogued the Channel Tunnel Association Archive over the summer.

Model of the passenveyor

Model of the passenveyor

I must confess a dirty secret: I’m a Channel Tunnel enthusiast. You need to believe me when I say I’m struggling to accept it myself. It’s very new to me, and I assure you all that if you spend even a few hours with this collection you will look at tunnels and trains, maybe even planes or just transport in general, in a whole new iridescent light. Modes of transport are fascinating things: I recently moved to South London where the air is full of planes circling around, treating the space above the houses and gardens like their car park, waiting for a place to pull in. Around this area it is easy to spend whole afternoons admiring the giant iron wonders of construction and precision in the sky, and their unimaginable ability to stay afloat on the particles of oxygen, nitrogen etc… So that’s my confession – but believe me; I haven’t always been this way.

Why do I love the tunnel so much now? Well, it’s the tenacity and determination of people, since 1802, who (sorry for the cliché) dared to dream. Mr. Albert Mathieu, a French engineer, proposed the construction of a tunnel, linking France with England, through the chalk under the Channel and using an artificial island on the Varne Bank to provide oxygen for horses and really just a pleasant resting stop. However this was largely impractical because Mathieu had little idea about construction and didn’t understand the geology at work under the sea bed. Napoleon, however, kind of liked the idea as a symbol of the friendship of the two countries during the Peace of Amiens. However, he had to scrap it when all hell broke loose yet again.

 The following year an Englishman called Mottray suggested that a submerged tube would maybe be a better idea but all plans were short lived because hostilities were high. It wasn’t until 1872 that the Channel Tunnel Company was born in London and it took until 1878 for tunnelling to commence due to lack of funds. Tunnelling began on both sides of the Channel, at Sangatte and Shakespeare Cliff near Dover. Work was halted in 1882, when the tunnel had reached 2,000 yards under the sea, because military strategists imagined a French army marching while the English were defenceless on the over side of the tunnel.

 Plans in the early years of the twentieth century had to be postponed due to the First World War, but during the 1920s the project was revived but ultimately not passed in parliament in 1930, despite a Royal Commission turning out in favour. It was in the 1970s that real work began but by 1975 work was abandoned due to escalating costs and not until 1984 did it begin again thanks to funding from Eurotunnel.


Not everyone was thrilled with the prospect of the tunnel, it was, of course, quite pricey and some groups had their own interests to think about. Here’s a funny (well, I think so!) poster from Flexilink, an organisation specialising in road transport.

But, building the Channel Tunnel did lead to excellent investment in the infrastructure of London: the Victoria Line (my personal favourite) was built to handle the large number of people needing to travel between north and south London.

Oxford Circus

 Among the collection can be found very serious items, detailing the construction and engineering of tunnels and ticket halls, as well as military reports.

But there are also whimsical, interesting and charming moments of relief to be had:

tale of 2 tunnels

Pay particular attention to the porter!

tale of 2 tunnels 2

In addition to the charming pieces, there are also just the out-and-out curious items.

Ever wondered what a passenveyor is?

Ever wondered what a passenveyor is?

The endSo that is just a brief introduction to the collection. There is a description available on Archives Hub, and a finding aid available in Special Collections, which details fully the contents of the archival boxes. The book collection is currently being catalogued. Come to the third floor of the library and take a look and discover something interesting. Next year (2014) will mark the twentieth anniversary of the tunnel – come and see how it all began and admire the determination of some remarkable individuals.

‘The Up and Down Lines’ – a Railway Mission Pastoral Poster

A post by Ginny Dawe-Woodings, Special Collections placement student/volunteer.

My job as placement student in Special Collections at Brunel University has focused around a map listing project. Most of the maps are railway maps, part of the Transport History Collection, many in black and white, and there have been many photocopies and multiple editions. So when I came across a brightly coloured, cartoon style map I was delighted and a little surprised. In amongst a selection of original maps of tramlines and railways in Wales I found a map entitled ‘The Up and Down Lines’ which depicts railway and pastoral scenes, with references to passages of the Bible. upanddownlines The poster is a brightly coloured pastoral setting, featuring scenes of farming, horse racing, railways, and industrial buildings. Each scene is accompanied by a map reference, for example there is a boxing match scene (by the horse racing) which is labelled with Rom.3.14-17 – “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” The poster isn’t in the best condition, with considerable wear around the edges, but it is a beautiful example of 19th century railway imagery. DSC00217  Initially I wasn’t certain where the map was supposed to be depicting, but with further research using our Transport History Collection I found out that this kind of map is a fictional setting, using railways as an allegory for a life journey. They were produced by the London based ‘Railway Mission’ which provided Christian counselling to railway workers and their families, and were particularly popular during the late 19th century (there is another example of a similar map from 1895). The Railway Mission produced their own monthly publication called the Railway Signal, where poster prints like ours would have been found. The title ‘The Up and Down Lines’ plays on the railway directional terms, where an up line goes towards a major location (eg. London) and and down line goes away from the major location.  DSC00221  The Transport History Collection consists largely of material relating to British railway history and the Channel Tunnel. It includes many items, including books, maps, timetables and journals, which are all housed in the Special Collections in Brunel University Library. A description of the collection was recently added to Archives Hub.

All images used with the permission of the Railway Mission, which published Railway Signal and still exists today.