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British Railway Workers, 1825-1921 - CED00009M

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  • Department: Centre for Lifelong Learning
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. David Turner
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Explore the careers and lives of British railway workers between 1825 and 1921
  • Discuss how recruitment in the British railway industry changed over this period
  • Examine railway employees working conditions, for example their hours of work, working conditions and pay, and contrast them with those of other British industrial workers
  • Show how the primary (clerks, managers) and secondary internal labour markets (porters, cleaners etc.) developed within companies
  • Examine how railway employees activities were controlled and organised by management through formal instructions, circulars and rule books, and how such forms of control developed over time because of changes in railways operating conditions
  • Show how railway employees actions were also controlled through disciplinary measures
  • Discuss how paternalistic railway companies were towards their staff and what such policies set out to achieve
  • Analyse the establishment and growth of the railway unions, and how they were increasingly able to influence railway companies policies, as well as the opinions of politicians
  • Contrast the growth of the railway unions with the development of unions in other British industries.
  • Discuss why strikes were called by the railway unions in 1911 and 1919, and what they achieved for railway employees
  • Examine the employment of women on Britains railways between 1825 and 1921
  • Continue to instruct the students on the appropriate academic skills for essay writing, such as critical analysis, argument, referencing, and research
  • Offer opportunities for students to respond and comment on the arguments of previous scholars, as well as critique the opinions of peers.

Module learning outcomes

By the conclusion of the module the student should be able to:

  • Explain what it was like to work within the British railway industry between 1825 and 1921
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how railway workers were disciplined, controlled and organised in this period
  • Contrast the establishment and growth of unions within the British railway industry with their development in other industries and trades.
  • Express an opinion on the role unions had in shaping elements of British railway history after 1870.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the shifting relationship between railway employees, the unions, government and the companies managements.
  • Demonstrate research skills by engaging with both primary and secondary source material
  • Select and organise appropriate information effectively so as to develop coherent opinions and arguments
  • Consider and solve problems, including complex problems to which there is no single solution
  • Write work that is sustained offering a measured, convincing and scholarly argument.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

The tutor will give regular individual feedback throughout the module on work submitted.

The assessment feedback is as per the university’s guidelines with regard to timings.

Indicative reading

Reading lists, and the availability of texts/journals electronically, are subject to change: please check with Lifelong Learning/teaching staff before making any purchases prior to the start of the module.

Required Reading

  • Howell, David, Respectable Radicals: Studies in the politics of railway trade unionism, (Aldershot, 1999) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Howlett, P., “The internal labour dynamics of the Great Eastern Railway Company, 1870-1913,” The Economic History Review, 57 (2004) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Kingsford, P.W., “Labour relations on the railways, 1835-1875”, in Channon, G. (ed), Railways Volume II, (Aldershot, 1996) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Kingsford, P.W., Victorian Railwaymen, (London, 1970)
  • McKenna, Frank, The Railway Workers, 1840-1970, (London, 1980) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Revill, G., Railway Derby: occupational community, paternalism and corporate culture 1850-90, Urban History, 28 (2001) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY

Recommended Reading

  • Drummond, Di, “’Specifically Designed’? Employers Labour Strategies and Worker Responses in British Railway Workshops, 1838-1914,” Business History, 31 (1989) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Esbester, M, “Organizing work: Company magazines and the discipline of safety”, Management and Organisational History, 3 (2008) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Kirk, John and Wall, Christine, “Tracking the Place of Work Identity on the Rails”, in John Kirk and Christine Wall (eds.) Work and identity Historical and cultural contexts, London (2011) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY
  • Savage, M, “Discipline, surveillance and the career: Employment on the Great Western Railway,1833-1914,” in McKinlay, Alan and Starkey, Ken (eds.), Foucault, Management and Organization Theory: From Panopticon to Technologies of Self, (London, 1998) – SUPPLIED DIGITALLY

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.