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Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 82
Last updated: 11 March 2011

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you are searching for records of railway staff before the railways were nationalised in 1947. Personnel records for staff post-nationalisation (from 1948) normally have not been retained.

For staff record cards containing summary accounts of employment contact county record offices for each of the British Rail regions (as these are dispersed across regions).

For details of people employed by privately run railway companies operating since railway privatisation in 1994, and employed by these companies since 1 April 1994, contact Network Rail.

For the possible locations of staff records for the privatised train operating companies, contact the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC).

If you are looking for railway records other than staff records such as records on accidents, please consult our guide on railways.

2. Essential information

2.1 Records available at The National Archives

Comprehensive staff records have survived from only the larger railway companies. These records cover a broad range of occupations connected with the railways, such as:

  • engine drivers
  • warehouse workers 
  •  typists, office managers

Please note that only a few records have survived for:

  • men who worked on the construction of the railways
  • the navvies
  • casual employees

For more specific information on the kinds of railway staff records available at The National Archives, see section 3.

Most records for staff who served since the Second World War remain with the railway industry for pension and other purposes.

2.2 How to search for records

There is no unified index of the names of employees covering the various companies. In addition to the name of any individual you are researching, you will usually need to know:

  • the name of railway company for which they worked
  • the type of work undertaken
  • their place of residence or employment

It may also help to know:

  • date of birth (or date of death if applicable)
  • or time of employment

Only a limited number of staff records can currently be searched and downloaded online. Search by name for staff records of a number of railway companies (1833-1963) at ancestry.co.uk (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.). Most of these records date from before 1949. A list of the selected records of the railway companies available online can be found on their website.


Browse RAIL 1156 if you are looking for records of senior officials who served on the railways at the end of the 19th century and at the start of the 20th century. They include small biographies and photographs of senior officials.

Otherwise, you can try:

If you still cannot locate any records, try:

3. Types of records available

3.1 Salary registers


Salary registers cover clerical staff rather than railway operatives.

Salary registers seldom provide personal details other than date of birth, but they can record career changes.
Their primary purpose was to record details of:

  • accident registers
  • regular salaries
  • salary increases
  • benefits
  • bonuses 
  •  fines

3.2 Staff registers

The basis of most staff registers is financial.
Most types of staff registers include:

  • full name
  • occupation
  • place of work

An entry may include:

  • the starting pay and any increases, bonuses and allowances
  • detail fines for misdemeanours
  • periods of absence and ill health can also be described, as well as any payment during ill health, or following medical discharge or retirement.

There can be a name index, either enclosed or in a separate volume.

3.3 Personnel records


Personnel records can vary in both format and content.

Some companies maintained administrative files on individuals or groups.

Files can also cover subjects, such as pensions, with papers relating to an individual's circumstances.
Such papers may be bound or filed with material covering a variety of subjects.

3.4 Other records


These records can cover both clerical and operative staff.
They can include:

  • attendance logs
  • discipline
  • fine registers
  • complaints files
  • registers of joiners and leavers
  • records of those receiving pensions or of members of staff associations

4. Searching by a person's name

You can only search our catalogue by name of individual in the records of:

  • Great Western Railway
  • North London Railway

Use the advanced search in our catalogue and search by name within:

  • RAIL 264 for the service registers for clerks employed by the Great Western Railway (1835-1962)
  • RAIL 529/130-138 for the names of 4,586 members of staff who worked on the North London Railway (1848-1920)

Alternatively you may wish to browse RAIL 264 and RAIL 529/130-138.

5. Searching by occupation

If you cannot locate records by the individual's name then you should try searching our catalogue by occupation or browsing the series by railway company name instead.

To do so follow these steps:

Step 1: Establish the company

Before you search for records, you need to know which company the individual worked for. If you know this piece of information, go to step 2.

If you do not know, consult:

Step 2: Establish if staff records exist and the series reference for the company in question

Consult Appendix 1 for a list of surviving staff records by company, with their National Archives record series reference at the end of this guide. Where a company has amalgamated with or been taken over by another company, the staff records of both companies may need to be checked.

Step 3: Establish catalogue search terms

Staff records can be arranged by:

  • place of work
  • staff number
  • the department or office for which the individual worked, such as Carriage Works

If these are known, then it is relatively straightforward to choose the relevant document reference from Appendix 1.

However, there are alternative terms commonly used in the catalogue descriptions for each occupation so you may need to check for various terms.

Some common variants are in the following table:

Occupation Common catalogue index term
Guards; Porters; Signalmen Traffic; Coaching
Engine drivers; Enginemen; Firemen; Cleaners; Wagon repairers; Workshop staff Locomotive; Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon
Staff handling collection, delivery or merchandise Goods Handling; Commercial
Track maintenance staff (platelayers); Staff engaged on bridge and station construction and maintenance Signal; Signal and Telegraph
Management and clerical staff Accountants; Audit Office; Headquarters; Divisional Superintendent; Secretary's Office; Clerical Staff

Further details of search terms for staff trades and occupations can be found in Appendix 2 of this guide, below (see also Appendix 6 of D T Hawkings' Railway Ancestors).

Step 4: Search our catalogue

Using our catalogue, try searching using the index terms outlined in Step 3, restricting your search to the appropriate  record series as detailed in Step 2.

6. Railway staff overseas

Little information is held on British railway staff working overseas, and there is no specific railway staff index to the surviving material. Searches will be speculative and time-consuming.

Occasional references to individuals may, however, be found amongst the records of the Colonial, Dominions or Foreign Offices (The National Archives' department codes CO, DO or FO).

The best period for finding such career information is the 1920s and 1930s. This was a time of general retrenchment in the colonial service and appeals against being laid off or for compensation often includes career details.

For more information on how on these records read our guides:

7. Records in other archives

Appendix 3 of Railway Records: A Guide to Sources by CJ Edwards provides a guide to which record offices might hold the records of which railway companies.

The Cheshire Record office provides an index to railway staff registers for:

  • Cambrian Railway
  • Great Western Railway
  • London and North Western Railway
  • London and North Western
  • Great Western Joint Railway

To identify other archives which may hold records do a keyword search on A2A (Access to Archives).

Use the Search Engine at the National Railway Museum, York, which holds staff magazines of the major railway companies of the 20th century, and which feature staff promotions, retirements, awards and photographs.

8. Online resources

Consult the 'Railway records across the land' resource on 'All change!' on Britain's railways.

Browse the Railway Ancestors website - the Railway Ancestors Family History Society can help you research your railway ancestors (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.).

9. Further reading

Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Cliff Edwards, Railway records: a guide to sources (Public Record Office, 2001)

David T Hawkings, Railway ancestors (A. Sutton, 1995)

Tom Richards, Was your grandfather a railwayman? A directory of railway archive sources for family historians (Federation of Family History Societies, 2002)

10. Appendix 1 - Staff records by company

The table below provides the document series reference for every railway company whose staff records have been preserved at The National Archives.

These records can include staff registers, salary registers and personnel files as well as:

  • apprenticeship indentures
  • photographs
  • accident books
  • pension records

* The covering dates given in the table below should be treated with caution. Sometimes the opening dates refer to the date of birth of the oldest member of staff whose service is covered by the records.

Name of company Covering dates* Series reference
Barry Railway 1886-1923 RAIL 23/46-60, RAIL 23/64-65
Birkenhead Railway 1849-1925 RAIL 35/24/5, RAIL 35/33-35, RAIL 35/38, RAIL 35/45, RAIL 35/46
Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway 1863-1884 RAIL 57/19
Blyth and Tyne Railway 1853-1856 RAIL 56/6
Brandling Junction Railway 1839-1843 RAIL 64/8
Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway 1880-1922 RAIL 65/31-35
Burton and Ashby Light Railway 1906-1920 RAIL 491/1038  
Cambrian Railway 1898-1944 RAIL 92/136, RAIL 92/140, RAIL 92/142-148
Cardiff Railway 1869-1923 RAIL 97/32-43
Carmarthen and Cardigan Railway 1865-1875 RAIL 99/57-60
Chester and Holyhead Railway 1862 RAIL 113/53
Cleator and Workington Junction Railway 1879-1923 RAIL 119/13
Cleobury and Mortimer and Dutton Priors Railway 1908-1919 RAIL 1057/410
Cornwall Railway 1854-1889 RAIL 134/16, RAIL 134/40, RAIL 134/60, RAIL 134/62, RAIL 134/149
Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway 1856 RAIL 149/27
East and West Junction Railway 1873 RAIL 56/6
East Lincolnshire Railway Joint Committee 1848-1850 RAIL 177/21
East London Railway Joint Committee 1884 RAIL 179/37
Eastern Counties Railway 1851-1857 RAIL 186/105
Eden Valley Railway 1858 RAIL 189/2
Furness Railway 1852-1922 RAIL 214/97-104
Great Central Railway 1857-1949 RAIL 226/178-179, RAIL 226/192-235, RAIL 226/386, RAIL 226/386, RAIL 226/508, RAIL 226/637
Great Eastern Railway 1855-1930 RAIL 227/445-490, RAIL 227/510, RAIL 227/514-535, RAIL 227/540-553
Great North of England Railway 1840-1847 RAIL 232/54-55
Great Northern Railway 1848-1943 RAIL 236/727-745
Great Western and Midland Railways Joint Committee 1865-1915 RAIL 241/28
Great Western Railway 1740-1967 RAIL 264, RAIL 253/454, RAIL 257/6-8, RAIL 270/1-30, RAIL 276/22, RAIL 278/5, RAIL 1014/22-27, RAIL 1014/33, RAIL 1014/36, RAIL 1014/37, RAIL 1014/48, RAIL 1014/49
Hampstead Junction Railway 1857-1860 RAIL 291/6-7
Hull and Barnsley Railway 1885-1927 RAIL 312/77-81
Hull and Holderness Railway 1859 RAIL 313/22
Hull and Selby Railway 1845-1875 RAIL 315/30
Isle of Wight Central Railway 1860-1933 RAIL 328/16-18
Lancashire and Yorkshire and Great Northern Joint Stations Committee 1907(?) RAIL 341/7
Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway 1853-1941 RAIL 343/725, RAIL 343/748, RAIL 343/750, RAIL 343/87-845
Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway 1904-1906 RAIL 344/56
Leeds Northern Railway 1847-1858 RAIL 357/29, RAIL 357/33
Liverpool and Manchester Railway 1845 RAIL 371/22, RAIL 371/23
Llanelli Railway and Dock 1873 RAIL 377/30
London and Birmingham Railway 1833-1847 RAIL 384/126, RAIL 384/284-291
London and North Eastern Railway 1897-1947 RAIL 397, RAIL 390/897, RAIL 390/992, RAIL 390/1107, RAIL 390/1177, RAIL 390/1201, RAIL 390/1202, RAIL 390/1206, RAIL 390/1214, RAIL 390/1220, RAIL 390/1226, RAIL 390/1236, RAIL 390/1237, RAIL 390/1238, RAIL 390/1243, RAIL 390/1247, RAIL 390/1262, RAIL 390/1264, RAIL 390/1280, RAIL 390/1289, RAIL 390/1294, RAIL 390/1577, RAIL 393/225-226
London and North Western and Furness Railways Joint Committees 1899-1906 RAIL 403/7
London and North Western and Great Western Joint Committee 1871-1897 RAIL 404/177-180
London and North Western and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways Joint Committee 1861-1913 RAIL 405/43, RAIL 405/44
London and North Western and Midland Railways Joint Committee 1861-1911 RAIL 406/16
London and North Western Railway 1853-1873
1831-1927
RAIL 410/1217-1219, RAIL 410/1797-1986, RAIL 410/1267-1268, RAIL 410/127-1271, RAIL 410/1402, RAIL 410/2212-2222
London and South Western Railway 1838-1944 RAIL 411/483-537 , RAIL 411/665-667, RAIL 411/673
London, Brighton and South Coast Railway 1837-1925 RAIL 414/600-611, RAIL 414/630, RAIL 414/636, RAIL 414/750-796, RAIL 414/863-873
London, Chatham and Dover Railway (formerly the East Kent Railway ) 1859-1918 RAIL 415/104, RAIL 415/108-111, RAIL 415/173, RAIL 415/279
London, Midland and Scottish Railway 1923-1947 RAIL 426/1-15, RAIL 421/13, RAIL 1015/8
London, Midland and Scottish, and London, and North Eastern Railways Joint Committee 1891-1938 RAIL 417/16
London, Tilbury and Southend 1871-1923 RAIL 437/44-57
Manchester and Milford Railway 1873
1880
1905-1911
RAIL 456/13, RAIL 456/15
Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway 1847-1926 RAIL 463/174, RAIL 463/176-177, RAIL 463/210-250, RAIL 463/305-315
Manchester South Junction and Altringham Railway 1905-1908 RAIL 465/55, RAIL 465/56
Maryport and Carlisle Railway 1861-1912
1917
RAIL 472/50-51, RAIL 472/53
Mersey Railway 1885-1907 RAIL 475/41
Midland and Great Northern Railways Joint Committee 1879-1893 RAIL 487/78-80, RAIL 487/115
Middlesborough and Guiseborough Railway 1853 RAIL 483/26
Middlesborough and Redcar Railway 1845-1857 RAIL 484/33, RAIL 484/40, RAIL 484/46
Midland and South Western Junction Railway 1891-1921 RAIL 489/21
Midland Railway 1864-1924 RAIL 491/969-1081, RAIL 491/1259
Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company 1801-1877 RAIL 500/43, RAIL 500/57, RAIL 500/65-68, RAIL 500/74, RAIL 500/80
Neath and Brecon Railway and Canal 1903-1921 RAIL 505/13
Newcastle and Carlisle Railway 1845-1848 RAIL 509/58, RAIL 509/96
Newcastle and Darlington Junction Railway 1847-1848 RAIL 772/121
North and South Western Junction Railway 1883-1916 RAIL 521/19
North Eastern Railway 1843-1957 RAIL 527/974, RAIL 527/977, RAIL 527/1043-1044, RAIL 527/1049, RAIL 527/1058, RAIL 527/1092, RAIL 527/1895-1965, RAIL 527/2272-2279
North London Railway 1854-1920 RAIL 529/130-138
North Staffordshire Railway 1847-1923 RAIL 532/58-67
North Sunderland Railway 1893-1948 RAIL 533/75-76
Otley and Ilkley Joint Line Committee 1865-1901 RAIL 554/24-25
Port Talbot Railway and Dock 1883-1918 RAIL 574/13
Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway 1882-1922 RAIL 581/36-37
Rhymney Railway 1860-1922 RAIL 583/41-65
Sheffield District Railway 1897-1916 RAIL 611/25-26
Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway 1848-1862 RAIL 617/29
Shropshire Union Railways and Canal 1844-1897 RAIL 623/66-68
Somerset and Dorset Railway 1863-1877 RAIL 627/6
Somerset and Dorset Joint Line Committee 1877-1928 RAIL 626/44-53
South Devon Railway 1858-1870 RAIL 631/28, RAIL 631/108
South Durham and Lancashire Railway 1858-1864 RAIL 632/61
South Eastern Railway 1845-1944 RAIL 635/196, RAIL 635/201-204, RAIL 635/206, RAIL 635/302-310, RAIL 635/399
South Eastern and Chatham Railway Companies Managing Committee 1850-1944 RAIL 633/343-382, RAIL 633/440-450
South Wales Railway 1844-1864 RAIL 640/30, RAIL 640/45, RAIL 640/47, RAIL 640/52, RAIL 640/55, RAIL 640/56
Southern Railway 1923-1957 RAIL 651, RAIL 649/59, RAIL 1017/2
Stockton and Darlington Railway 1835-1856 RAIL 667/1283-1291, RAIL 667/1451
Stratford Upon Avon Railway 1858 RAIL 675/24
Stratford Upon Avon and Midland Junction Railway 1873-1923 RAIL 674/11
Swindon and Cheltenham Railway 1884-1887 RAIL 1057/318, RAIL 1057/319, RAIL 1057/351
Taff Vale Railway 1890-1924 RAIL 684/94-120
Tees Valley Railway 1865-1870 RAIL 687/16
Trent Valley Railway 1845-1846 RAIL 699/5
Vale of Glamorgan Railway 1892 RAIL 1057/1014
Vale of Neath Railway 1851-1904

RAIL 704/17
RAIL 1057/2951

Watton and Swaffham Railway 1875 RAIL 714/7
West Cornwall Railway 1833-1851 RAIL 725/6
Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway 1856 RAIL 744/9
Whiteland and Cardigan Railway 1876-1877
1883
RAIL 747/21, RAIL 747/37, RAIL 747/38
Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway 1845-1858 RAIL 750/14-16
Wirral Railway 1884-1926 RAIL 756/10, RAIL 756/11
Wrexham and Ellesmere Railway 1898-1901 RAIL 1057/632
Wycombe Railway 1858-1861 RAIL 768/14
York and North Midland Railway 1843-1855 RAIL 770/77-81
York Newcastle and Berwick Railway 1845 RAIL 772/60, RAIL 772/61, RAIL 772/62, RAIL 772/77, RAIL 772/79, RAIL 772/99, RAIL 772/106, RAIL 772/123-125

11. Appendix 2 - Search terms for railway occupations

Occupation Search term Occupation Search term
Accountants Office staff Adzers Engineering staff
Asphalters Engineering staff Auditors Office staff
       
Blacksmiths Engineering staff Boat Builders Engineering staff
Boatmen Engineering staff Boilermakers Engineering staff
Book carriers Cartage staff Bookers Goods Staff
Booking office clerks Station staff Booking office clerks Goods Staff
Brass finishers Engineering staff Bricklayers Engineering staff
Bus conductors Cartage staff Bus drivers Cartage staff
Busmen Cartage staff    
       
Callers off Goods Staff Canalmen Engineering staff
Capstan Men Goods Staff Carmen Cartage staff
Carriage cleaners Maintenance staff Cart drivers Cartage staff
Carters Cartage staff Carters Engineering staff
Chain boys Cartage staff Chainmen Engineering staff
Checkers Engineering staff
Goods Staff
Concrete makers Engineering staff
Cleaners Office staff
Station staff
Controllers Engineering staff
Clerks Goods Staff
Office staff
Station staff
Crane testers Engineering staff
Contracting staff Engineering staff Cranesmen Engineering staff
Crane attendants Goods Staff Creosoters Engineering staff
       
Deliverers Goods staff Dining car attendants Operating staff
Drainmen Engineering staff Draymen Cartage staff
Drivers Engineering staff
Operating staff
   
       
Electricians Engineering staff Engine drivers Engineering staff
Erectors Engineering staff
Fencers Engineering staff Firemen Engineering staff
Operating staff
Fitters Maintenance staff Flagmen (Steam rollers) Engineering staff
Foreman porters Station staff    
       
Gangers Engineering staff
Maintenance staff
Gas linemen Engineering staff
Gasmen Goods Staff Gatemen Engineering staff
Glaziers Engineering staff Goods Agents Goods staff
Goods Guards Operating staff Grooms Cartage staff
       
Handymen Engineering staff Hookers on Goods Staff
Hotel Staff Operating staff Housekeepers Cartage staff
Inspectors Engineering staff Inspectors Station staff
Invoice clerks Goods Staff    
       
Kitchen staff Operating staff    
       
Labellers Goods Staff Labourers Engineering staff
Lavatory attendants Station staff Lavatory attendants and cleaners Engineering staff
Lengthmen Maintenance staff Lime Washers Engineering staff
Loaders Goods Staff Lock-keepers Engineering staff
Locksmiths Engineering staff Locomotive cleaners Operating staff
       
Machine operators Engineering staff Machinists Engineering staff
Managers Office staff Masons Engineering staff
Messengers Goods Staff
Office staff
Station staff
Meter readers Engineering staff
       
Number takers Goods Staff Nurserymen Engineering staff
       
Office cleaners Engineering staff Office women Engineering staff
       
Packers Engineering staff Painters Engineering staff
Parcel porters Station staff Parcel van drivers Cartage staff
Passengers Engineering staff Passengers guards Operating staff
Paviors Engineering staff Pitchers Engineering staff
Plankeepers Engineering staff Plasterers Engineering staff
Platelayers Maintenance staff Platform inspectors Station staff
Plumbers Engineering staff Porters Goods Staff
Station staff
  Post firemen Operating staff
       
Quarrymen Cartage staff    
       
Railway police Operating staff
Station staff
Receivers Goods Staff
Refreshment room staff Station staff Riveters Engineering staff
Road roller drivers Engineering staff    
       
Sawyers Engineering staff Scaffolders Engineering staff
Scalesmen Goods Staff Screw cutters Engineering staff
Searchers Goods Staff Sheeters Goods Staff
Shippers Goods Staff Ships' crews (ferry) Operating staff
Shunters Goods Staff
Operating staff
Shunters and tallymen Engineering staff
Shunt-horse drivers Goods Staff Signalmen Operating staff
Slate counters Goods Staff Sleeper chairers Engineering staff
Sleeping car attendants Operating staff Slip boys Goods Staff
Stablemen/ostlers Cartage staff Station masters Station staff
Stone weighers Engineering staff Storekeepers Engineering staff
Storemen Engineering staff Strikers Engineering staff
       
Telegraph operators Office staff
Station staff
Ticket collectors  Station staff
Telephonists Office staff Timber measurers Goods Staff
Timber loaders Goods Staff Timekeepers  Engineering staff 
Timbermen Engineering staff Toolmen Engineering staff
Toolboys Engineering staff
Typists Office staff
Station staff
   
       
Van men Cartage staff Van settlers Cartage staff
Van washers Goods Staff    
       
Wages clerks Engineering staff
Office staff
Wagon berthers Goods Staff
Wagoners Cartage staff Warehousemen Goods Staff
Watchmen Engineering staff Weighers Goods Staff
Winchmen Goods Staff    
       
Yard inspectors Goods Staff Yard loaders Goods Staff
Yardsmen Goods Staff
Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 82

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