Wednesday 12 October 2022

Cheshire Railways: First Stop - The History

On 22nd August 1890, Richard Jones started work as a Wheelwright at Crewe Engineering Works. His name, date of birth and first day of employment were recorded in one of the works' large registers along with the names of thousands of others who were employed at the works over the years. Over 130 years later that register and piece of history still survives, along with many more railway records available to be viewed at the Record Office in Chester. Over the last couple of years, staff and volunteers have been working hard to catalogue this huge collection to make it fully accessible so the story of Richard Jones and many others like him can be discovered.

The history of the railway in Cheshire starts in the first half of the nineteenth century when Chester attracted the interest of various railway companies. The Chester and Birkenhead and Chester and Crewe Railways were the first to open their respective routes in 1840. This was followed by the construction of the Chester and Holyhead Railways which fully opened in 1850. Many more companies and lines followed. By the time Richard Jones started work several of these companies had merged and many became part of London and North Western Railway. 

In 1923, under the Railways Act 1921, the majority of railway companies were grouped into four main companies. It was the London Midland and Scottish Railway and the Great Western Railway who between them covered the Cheshire area. In 1948, with the nationalisation of the railways, these companies became part of British Railways under the London Midland Region and Western Region.

In 1986 it was decided by British Railways that the important archive records that told the story of history of railway in Britain would be put into the care of County Record Offices. Determining which Record Offices to house them in wasn’t a simple decision. Railways don’t stop at county boundaries. It was decided that they would be deposited in areas appropriate to the British Rail Regions and of the big four companies that came into being following the grouping of 1923. It was also decided that records of companies absorbed before 1921 would be offered to the County Record Office receiving the records of the absorbing company.

Cheshire Record Office received records of the following companies: London and North Western Railway Company, Great Central and North Western Railways Joint Committee, London Midland and Scottish Railway Company - Central Administration, Western Division (North), Western Division (South), London Midland and Scottish and Great Western Railways Joint Committee. It therefore follows that the area covered by these records often exceeds the boundaries of the County of Cheshire.

Over the course of future blogs we will explore two of the main series of records in the collection; employee records and railway plans. These have great research potential for local and family historians in Cheshire and beyond.

Look our for the Second Stop of this blog - Employee Records - coming soon!

These records and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.

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