We give talks on railway history which are suitable for Family History, Local History, Civic, Industrial Archaeology and Railway Societies.

Railway NavvyOur current talks all concentrate on the varied resources that are available to research railway ancestry. We are listed in the Federation of Family History Societies Speakers Directory.

Each talk last for 1 hour including questions, and our standard national fee is £50 plus travelling expenses to a maximum of £25, but for small Local History and Community Societies in the Swindon Area we offer a discounted rate of £35.

Download a list of where we are giving talks in 2017

  • Mayhem on the Midland - an Accident, a Suicide, and a Murder - This talk was developed for our own local FHS branch, and we have found it to be very popular with FH Societies as the research methods and sources used are of general application. The talk takes an in depth look at three particular incidents from the mid to late Nineteenth Century: an early accident, a suicide and a murder, and we use these to show how one small snippet of information can be built up to make a detailed story through the use of common records such as national and provincial newspapers, Assize records, census and parish records, railway staff ledgers, military records, maps, on line sources etc.

  • The History of the Midland Railway and its Staff records - This is a good starting point for research into railway ancestry - using our knowledge of the Midland Railway to provide examples. We provide a brief history of the Midland Railway and then a more in depth look at the various types of records available for researchers: - Staff records held at the National Archives and elsewhere, Board of Trade Accident reports, Directors and other Minutes, Local and National newspapers, census records, photographs, maps and illustrations etc. Researchers can then adapt our techniques to researching their own particular railway ancestor on any British railway. With sufficient notice we can also include a short section on your local area's railway history and staff records if you wish.

  • The Working Life of the Railway Navvy - Our third talk covers a different aspect of nineteenth century railway social history. Navvy ancestors are notoriously difficult to trace due to the transient nature of their work, but this talk we hope, will give researchers with navvy ancestors a flavour of their life and working conditions during the peak of the early railway building mania, and also later on in the nineteenth century, together with leads on tracing the movements of the navvies using the census, local newspapers and other sources.

  • "Riots, Randies and Women not their Wives" - Following on from our talk on the Railway Navvy's working life, this talk focuses on the social and living conditions, recreations and pastimes, the plight of the navvy wife and her chidren, social attitudes towards them and efforts made by authority and church to control and aid them.

  • The Railway Navvies; A Contract from Hell: Building the Woodhead Tunnel 1838 - 1845 - Our latest Navvy talk concentrates on the working and living conditions endured by the navvies whilst working on one of the most infamous of contracts – building the railway tunnel on the summit of the line linking Manchester and Sheffield through the bleakest part of the North Pennines. We have gone back to many of the original sources, director’s minutes, contemporary newspapers, maps, engineer’s reports, parish death registers, 1841 census and the resulting Chadwick Report and Government Enquiry to show not only the engineering triumph but also the conditions endured, the indifference of the contractors, and we have managed to identify many of the 30 or so navvies killed whilst working on the tunnel, and the deaths and illnesses, and privation suffered by their families in shanty towns in the remote Dark Peak.

  • "The Railway Navvies – Their Finest Hour – building the Crimea railway" - Using contemporary sources and illustrations we tell the story of how the efforts of two patriotic and well organised railway contractors and their navvies came to the rescue of the British Army bogged down in the Crimea, taking just three months to build a railway from the coast to Sevastapol in the Spring of 1855.

  • "Ticket to Ride: the perils and pleasures of early Victorian rail travel" - We take railway travel for granted today, but for our Victorian forebears the railways opened up undreamed of opportunities for not only the middle classes but also the ordinary working man and his family to travel not only for work but also pleasure, creating a much more mobile society. However the new mode of transport also brought with it many dangers and perils. Using contemporary newspapers and illustrations we show you how the Victorians took advantage of the new railway system.

For those interested in social and local history we also do two illustrated talks:-

  • The Life and Death of a Country Policeman - which relates the history of Judy’s ancestor Enos Molden who was the first policeman to be murdered on duty in Wiltshire in 1891, and the trial of his murderer, and is of general interest to local and family historians as it covers police history, assize records, census and BMD records, and local newspapers. The story has all the ingredients of a Victorian melodrama - it is the story of a doomed love affair, the revenge of a jilted lover on his betrayer, and the all too familiar story of the death of an innocent man doing his duty who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • North and South the history of two Wiltshire properties - Using two bundles of legal documents in our possession, giving the history of the successive owners and tenants of two properties in Wiltshire from the 1820s to the 1960s we have tried to illustrate an alternative entry into family history of the period and the social and economic background. The two properties in two different towns (Swindon and Trowbridge) have aspects of their history in common and cover the period of the industrialisation and development of two country market towns. Although built 70 years apart, the history of both properties followed a roughly parallel path as both were part of a terrace of houses, both were the result of speculative building development on land belonging to two large landed estates, both were itemised as being part of marriage settlements, both had road name and number changes, and both had a series of owners and tenants, before becoming business premises in the later part of the 20th Century. Augmented by relevant census material, local maps, newspapers, parish register entries and business directories the documents for both premises also delivered a series of surprises as to ownership, and the ups and downs of people’s fortunes.

Download a list of where we are giving talks in 2018