Friday, 27 January 2012

Thomas Wenham's Little Brown Book (1856 GNR Rule Book)

Believe it or not, this 1856 Great Northern Railway (GNR) rule book is now my favourite piece of what is called 'Railwayana.' Astoundingly, on a Sunday night, which, allegedly, is the best time to sell anything on ebay, I purchased this gem for a mere £10.00. "Ten pounds" I hear you say...yes, I too was flabbergasted. The item is important to me as it is an example of a rule book before they were standardised across the industry by the Railway Clearing House in 1876. Thus, it tells of a period when railways were far more individual in internal structure, operations and practice. But in addition to this, it also contains rules for railway employees other than the run-of-the-mill railway workers, for example clerks and porters, and also holds information for numerous classes of managers. Thus, it shows a railway company's management structure in the industry's early years. Lastly, it is clear that the book belonged to two individuals, John Wallis and Thomas Wenham, the latter of whom acquired it in 1870 when working as a porter and was promoted to the position of Goods Guard a year later.

A search of the census shows that Thomas Whenham was born in Deeping in Lincolnshire in either 1848 or 1849. In 1871, the year he was in possession of the rule book, he was living in Crown Street in Peterborough, was married to Mary and had one daughter, Jane. Also residing with him were two lodgers; John Snell, an engine cleaner, and Charles P. Amos, a harness maker. I have to say that it is quite an odd feeling to know where Thomas lived and about his family. It makes the rule book, which has his handwriting all over the inside covers, a really tangible part of history, a part of someone's life, an object that has been used and read. It is a feeling I rarely get, as most of what I study in my PhD does not have a very human element. However, this item truly allows me to touch a piece of a Victorian railway worker's life, and that just makes me warm and fuzzy.

N.B. I will be digitising this item soon for distribution.

1 comment:

  1. I understand that " Warm and Fuzzy " feeling. I get it too when I am able to put some history and sometimes some names to the "people" postcards that I collect.

    The rule book is such a great find. I am not a railway enthusiast by any means but I am glad this book has found a safe home.