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Opening up life on the Great Western Railway

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Opening up life on the Great Western Railway

Charles Spagnoletti. Catalogue reference RAIL 1014/37/2/79

Charles Spagnoletti. Catalogue reference RAIL 1014/37/2/79

27 November 2008

Do you have an ancestor who was a clerk in the Great Western Railway (GWR)? If they worked there between the mid 1850s and the 1870s, finding information about them has just become much easier. Thanks to a recent project, the details of almost 5,000 clerks are now available in the Catalogue.

You can search by name under RAIL 264. Once you have found the person's name you can see how old they were when they joined the GWR, when they worked for the company, the date of their last salary increase and, where known, their reason for leaving.

Spagnoletti

Among the names now online is Charles Ernest Spagnoletti (1832-1915), an electrical inventor who joined the GWR as a clerk in 1855. He became telegraph superintendent, and transformed the way the railway network operated. In addition to the system of controlling the movements of trains by electric telegraph, he designed electrical bells, bridges, clocks, and a fire alarm.

Outside of the GWR, Spagnoletti advised on the use of electricity at the Crystal Palace and on the City and South London Railway which, in 1890, became Britain's first electric underground railway.

Intriguing glimpses

A look beneath the facts and figures reveals some intriguing glimpses into the lives of these clerks. The number who died very young seems shocking to us today; and we can only speculate about those who 'absconded' from the company, or the life of the Stourbridge station master who 'died by his own hand' in 1865.

During a six-month period in 1858, a succession of five clerks were dismissed from the goods office at Paddington for incompetence and inefficiency, perhaps revealing more about their manager than the clerks themselves. A combination of careful Victorian record-keeping and modern technology has ensured that information about their lives is still available to us today.

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