Researching Railways

A short guide to the published sources and archives relating to the rail industry in Derbyshire.

A very brief history

The Stockton-Darlington line, the world’s first public steam railway, opened in 1825. The Livepool-Manchester line, the world’s first public passenger steam railway opened five years later. From this point onwards many railway companies were formed, often only running one or two lines. There were many amalgamations and takeovers and our old Guide to Railway Records (available in the Local Studies collection) includes notes about the history of companies that operated in Derbyshire, and we are working to add this information to our online catalogue.

The 1921 Railway Act resulted in the formation of four large railway groups from over 120 smaller companies:

  • London and North Eastern Railway (LNER)
  • London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR): including Midland Railway
  • Great Western Railway (GWR)
  • Southern Railway (SR)

During the Second World War, railways were placed under government control, and nationalized by the Transport Act of 1947 which also established the British Transport Commission (BTC), responsible for running of British Railways (BR).

Between 1963 and 1975, a radical restructuring exercise, colloquially referred to as The Beeching Cuts, led to the closure of many branch lines and the withdrawal of services.

British Railways was restructured, and railways were privatized in 1993, and Railtrack was established as a state-owned company to manage the track, signals, land and stations. The latter went into administration in 2001 and was replaced by Network Rail in 2002. The former became a residuary body under the Transport Act of 2000, when most of its functions passed to the Strategic Rail Authority.

Records held at Derbyshire Record Office

Railway Companies

Due to the nature of railways, as well as the complications for records of company amalgamations, nationalisation and privatisation, records for individual lines and certainly individual companies, tend to spread across lots of different archives services, usually but not always with an obvious geographic connection to the line.

A full list of the archive collections we hold can be found in our online catalogue. The most significant of these are:

  • D3220 – British Rail: London Midland Division, and predecessors, including the Midland Railway and the London Midland and Scottish Railway, c1849-1970s. The collection includes plans for stations and railways in various locations, employment records for the Carriage & Wagons and Chief Mechanical & Electrical Engineer’s departments as well as the Carriage and Wagon Works, Litchurch Lane, Derby and Locomotive Works, Siddals Road, Derby.
  • D4107 – British Rail and predecessors, 1901-c1965, primarily consisting of plans for various lines, stations and workings in Derbyshire, plus some records for Derby Engineering Works
  • D5333 – British Railways Board selected property files relating to the closure of Derbyshire railway stations, lines, leases and sales of properties
  • D5598 – British Rail: London Midland Division, a small selection of different records including a Book of rates per ton of merchandise carried between Great Britain and Ireland 1924-1953 and a Supplementary rate book used for notices relating to passenger services, mileages and fares 1951-1963
  • D5786 – Plans, with some architectural drawings for various locations and buildings around the county, from the late 19th century to 1964

Acts of Parliament

A new railway or extension to an existing line requires an Act of Parliament. There are a number of Acts of Parliament relating to railways across various collection, but we also hold a complete set of Published copies of Public General, Local, Personal and Private Acts of Parliament from 1798 (ref: ACT). You will usually need to know the date of the Act, and even the chapter number so that we can get the right book out for you. Chronological lists of all the Acts since 1797 can be found online at

Deposited plans

From 1792, it was necessary for plans of public works, such as canals, turnpikes and railways, to be deposited with the clerk of the peace for every county through which the intended works would pass before an application was made to Parliament to for an Act permitted the work to take place. Plans will normally be accompanied by a book of reference, which will include a schedule of land and landowners affected by the proposed works, together with related papers such as orders, notices etc. Plans can therefore be found in Quarter Sessions archive under series Q/RP up to 1888, after which time Derbyshire County Council became responsible. It is important to remember that not all works were carried out. Further deposited plans for the Glossop area also available in collection D666.

Withdrawal of services

The Beeching cuts of 1963-1975 which resulted in many services being withdrawn were highly controversial and there were many protests against individual decisions. A small number of records are held relating to the proposals to cut services, along with related papers including opposition to such decisions and souvenirs from Miller’s Dale Station are described in the catalogue. Many more references to the changes will be found amongst the books and other publications in the Local Studies Library, which is not yet fully indexed online.


Derbyshire Record Office holds a number of employment records for local works and stations in other parts of the United Kingdom, as per the summary below. Please see the full catalogue under reference D3220 for further details.

Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer’s (CMEE) Department  
D3220/10Salaried staff records[c1880-1970s]13 Boxes
D3220/11Wages – staff record cardsc1900-1970s7 Boxes
D3220/12Wages – Electrical, staff record cardsc1900-1970s2 Boxes
Carriage and Wagons Department[c1923-1960s]19 Boxes
D3220/5Record cards of workshop grade staff[c1923-1960s]19 Boxes
D3220/6Register of people leaving the Department[c1906-1925]1 volume
D3220/7Workmen’s register[c1909-1924]1 volume
D3220/8Staff at stations record books, Aberdeen-York1923-19467 boxes
D3220/9Newton Heath register of staff, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway1914-19231 volume
Carriage and Wagon Works Litchurch Lane, Derby 
D3220/13Weekly paid staff record cardsc1900-1970s20 Boxes
D3220/14Salaried staff record cards arranged by surnamec1900-1970s2 Boxes
D3220/15Staff record cards, possibly salariedc1870-1960s1 Bundle
D3220/16Staff record cards possibly salariedc1900-1960s2 Boxes
D3220/17Miscellaneous staff record cards, probably weekly paidc1900-1970s 
Locomotive Works, Siddals Road, Derby 
D3220/18Staff record cardsc1900-1970s4 Boxes
D3220/ULWages Book for Bradford Stationc1873-c18911 volume
Summary of records relating to railway employees held at Derbyshire Record Office

As with the company records, employee records may be held in any one of a number of repositories, including The National Archives. Some railway employment records between 1833 and 1956 held by The National Archives are now available to search online.

For others records (where they have survived) you will usually need to know the company the person worked for, and it is also helpful to know their birth and death dates, when they worked for the company, their place of residence or employment and what type of work they did. Sometimes, if you know which area they worked in you may be able to determine the company although there were often several in each area.

Associated groups and organisations

  • The Railway Servants’ Orphanage, known as St Christopher’s Railway Home from 1948, was established in 1875 at London Road, Derby, a new site on Ashbourne Road was purchased in 1877 and when the new building was completed in 1887 it could accommodate 300 children. In 1881 it amalgamated with the Railway Benevolent Institution. In 1977 the old building was demolished and two smaller houses were built. One was for children and one for the elderly; both closed in 1993. A good collection of records survives from 1875, including admission registers and admission cards for the children up to the 1970s.

A full catalogue can be found under reference D3732, but access restrictions apply to most records dated within the last 100 years.

  • The Midland Hotel was set up to serve the interests of those who used the Midland Railway and was only the second purpose-built railway hotel. It opened May 1841 and came under the ownership of British Rail in 1948 along with the railways themselves. It then passed to British Transport Hotels Ltd who sold it to a private, local firm in 1982.

A small collection of records from 1884 was transferred from the British Railway Records Centre twenty years later, see D5648.

  • Friendly Societies, sometimes known as mutual benefit societies, are non-profit organisations, owned by their members. They were usually set up to provide financial help for subscribing members, for example in the event of sickness or death. We hold a small number of records for two such societies specifically for railway employees.

D2054 Midland Railway Friendly Society

D1195 London Midland and Scottish Railway, Midland Friendly Society

  • Like other large organisations, Trade Unions and Associations often have a central archive but local branch records may be deposited in a county record office, and there are many such collections here, including relating to the rail industry.

See the catalogue for further information.


Some of the collections already noted above include a number of photographs. There are also thousands of photographs relating to the rail industry available on Picture the Past, from people to trains:

Personal papers

There are lots of unofficial records held across various collections, particularly the archives of local family and solicitors or land agents, including:

  • D3265/1 Railway ganger’s logbook (photocopy), probably of George Wilkinson, ganger at Weston-on-Trent, 1897-1912 and additions by Mr Lakin, ganger, 1958
  • D4491 Notebooks, retirement papers of George Richard of Chaddesdon, railwayman, 1969-1972
  • D239 Fitzherbert family of Tissington archive, including a number of items of correspondence about travelling by rail, 1830-1844
  • D331/1/13/1-2 Diary extracts of assistant to Land Agent and Surveyor of GNR regarding railway strike, 1911.

The best way to find these items, including photographs and printed material is, to search the catalogue using terms such as railway, rail, station and train – remember to use the ‘Refine Search Criteria’ option if you want to search all of these terms at once.

Records held elsewhere

The National Railway Museum at York has a large collection of material and is a major reference source for studying railway history, including printed books, periodicals, timetables, government publications, photographic collection, archive collection, engineering drawings and pictorial collections.

Records of the British Transport Commission, British Railways Board and the Railway Executive Committees of World War I and World War II are held at The National Archives. They also have records relating to many of the pre-nationalised companies as well as books and periodicals relating to railways. The research guides relating to records of Railways and Railway Workers are the best place to start searching for relevant material.

The largest collection of research material relating to the Midland Railway is held at the Midland Railway Study Centre based at Derby’s Museum of Making.

Further Reading

There are hundreds of books, articles and other items in the Local Studies collection relating to the history of the railways in Derbyshire and the country, including relating to specific stations, companies and lines, individuals and of course trains. Some of these items are already described in our online catalogue and you can search for more using alternative terms and entering LS* in the Reference Number field; and we continue to add local studies descriptions on a weekly basis.

2 thoughts on “Researching Railways

  1. Thanks Sue, especially for the recommendations, there are so many I wasn’t quite sure where to start, so this is really helpful

  2. As a railway child (my dad worked in the Wages Office at Derby Loco Works), I remember travelling from Friargate station in Derby for holidays in Wales, and how Dr Beeching’s cuts stopped that, and stopped anyone being able to travel to Bakewell on the train any longer. The goods trains chuffing past our school at Etwall (the very last days of steam) lasted a bit longer, and the test track at Mickleover until the early 90s. Kids from St Christopher’s railway orphanage attended my Brownie pack in Derby; I remember how mean it seemed that their Matron only made them jam sandwiches for outings!
    For railway reading, I can recommend Mark Higginson’s “Friargate Line” and Gratton and Band’s “Ashover Light Railway” as being really readable and not at all just for train fanatics.
    Also interesting are the books on Sir Arthur Heywood’s narrow gauge estate railway in Duffield, which sadly no longer exists, though bits of the rolling stock do, here and there around the country. And someone from New Mills library wrote a little book about E Nesbit basing her famous “Railway Children” in that area…

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