The Railway Card Project: ‘B’ surname cards

By Katherine Slay, Archives Assistant

In our latest blog post, Katherine Slay explains more about our on-going project to catalogue the tens of thousands of employee cards of the Southern England Railway company. These are gradually being made available whilst being indexed at the same time. Family historians will be able to find out more about their railway ancestors from this invaluable resource.

It has been quite a while since the last blog about the project to gather information from 72 boxes of railway employee cards. Unfortunately the Record Office had a major problem with its cataloguing software earlier this year, and it could not be used. Luckily this didn’t affect the volunteers, who continued work on the cards using Excel spreadsheets.

The good news is that the problem has been solved, and the railway employment cards for employees whose surname begins with the letter ‘B’ are now online in the Record Office collection catalogue. When searching our catalogue, make sure to Click the ‘Advanced Search’ button, then type the surname you want in the Any Text field and ‘SEREC into the CatalogueNo field.

Railway employee crosses the track at Midhurst Station.
Midhurst (LB&SCR) station, looking eastward towards Pulborough, c1923. The west portal of the tunnel under Chichester Road is visible in the background. This image (Shephard/1/62/11) comes from the Ronald Shephard collection of railway photographs, held at West Sussex Record Office.

The railway employee cards contain not only a wealth of genealogical data but some also reveal fascinating stories about the individuals who worked on the railways and associated maritime services. Herbert Breuilly started work as a Deck Boy at Southampton in 1916, shortly before his 15th birthday. He was presented with the Royal Humane Society’s Certificate and a gold cigarette case for a ‘gallant rescue’ at Guernsey on 9 October 1931. Unfortunately the details of this rescue are not recorded.

By the start of WW2 he was alternating Acting Chief Officer and Acting Master. When he returned from his war service in 1945 he was Lieutenant-Commander, RNVR. He had been mentioned in dispatches for ‘duties performed in connection with landing on Normandy beaches’ during the D-Day operations.

Three railway employees stand in front of a huge steam engine.
Bodmin Wharf c 1899. Wharfinger, Sam Worth, stands in front of 2-4-0WT No.248 which was fitted with a cab in April 1893. (Shephard/1/7/3)

More generally, the earliest year of birth among the ‘B’ cards is 1858, and the most recent is 1952. The earliest start date of a ‘B’ card employee is 1875, and the most recent is 100 years later, in 1975.

Nationalities (where given) of the ‘B’ card employees are Jamaican (14), Indian (9), Anglo-Indian (7), Barbadian (5), Nigerian (4), Polish (4), Irish (3), West Indian (3), British West Indian (2), German (2), Guyanese (2), Italian (2), British Guianese (1), Canadian (1), Latvian (1), Pakistani (1), Spanish (1), Swiss (1), Yugoslav (1).

An early locomotive on display behind railings.
Old ‘Invicta’ Locomotive on plinth in Dane Johns Gardens, Canterbury. Now on display in Canterbury Heritage Museum. The loco was named after the motto on the Flag of Kent, ‘Invicta’ meaning undefeated. She hauled the inaugural train into Whitstable Harbour Station on 30 May 1830. (Shephard/1/10/6)

Although the railway cards are from the Southern Region, not all the employees began their railway employment with the obvious railway companies. The majority of the ‘B’ surnames started work with British Rail / British Railways, Southern Railway, or London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. The remainder are withLondon & South Western Railway;South Western Railway;South Eastern & Chatham Railway;London, Chatham & Dover Railway;London & North Eastern Railway; London, Midland & Scottish Railway;South Eastern Railway; or the company is unspecified.

Among the more distant places that the ‘B’ card employees started work are Scotland (Aberdeen, Kirkaldy, Glasgow), Wales (Cardiff, Merthyr), Jersey, and the northern half of England (Manchester, Wolverhampton, Loughborough, Birmingham, Darlington, Middlesbrough).

Follow us for new blogs about the railway employee cards – they’ll be posted once every month as more cards are added to the online catalogue.

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