Online course in History

Working Lives on Britain's Railways: Railway History and Heritage

Discover Britain's industrial heritage and learn about the lives of British railway workers from 1840-1914.

Working Lives on Britain's Railways: Railway History and Heritage

  • Duration 4 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Learn Free
  • Extra benefits From $54 Find out more

Explore British railway history and learn what work on the railways was like

On this course, you will investigate the professional lives of the men and women working on the British railways from the 1840s until the First World War.

Using archival materials from the National Railway Museum, you will learn about the mental and physical hardship endured by railway workers, as well as the risks and pleasures that came with working in this new industry.

From Irish Catholic navvies to female office clerks based in industrial cities, you will discover the surprising diversity and complexity of the railway workforce.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 secondsThis course wants to focus on the lives of the people who made the railways work. Some of the groups that we'll explore on this course, you may already know about. Drivers have long held a fascination for members of the public. You may know about the technology of signalling, and by extension, the signalers who operated it. If you've travelled by train in Britain, you'll have passed through the landscapes created by the hard work of the navvies who reshaped this country with little more than a pick-axe and a spade. It's not just about the machines and the technology, It's about the human relationship to that technology. Join us to explore the history of the people who made the railways work.

What topics will you cover?

You will learn about four categories of railway worker:

• Engine-drivers

• Signallers

• Navvies

• Clerks

You will compare their differing experiences, investigate the physical and mental labour involved in their job and consider some of the following questions:

•What did they do on a daily basis?

•How did this change during this period?

•What were the key responsibilities and risks in their work?

•What were the key pleasures?

You will look at the ways in which railway workers represented their own work, using autobiographies and other primary historical materials.

You will also study how these professions were represented by those with no direct connection to railway labour.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now
    This course started 30 Sep 2019

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Discuss the range of activities involved in working on the railways in the long nineteenth century, and how these changed during the period covered by the course.
  • Assess representations of working lives on the railways and railway artefacts and discuss how they relate to wider questions of class, gender, and professional identity.
  • Explore written material on workers’ lives within the appropriate historical and material contexts.
  • Perform searches in the online resources of the National Railway Museum and other archives for material relevant to railway history and workers’ lives.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone with an interest in railway history and heritage, working-class history and culture, industrial heritage, the Victorian period, or museums and their holdings.

Who will you learn with?

Kirstie Blair

Kirstie Blair

I am a Chair in English Studies at the University of Strathclyde and currently lead the research project 'Piston, Pen & Press: Literary Cultures in the Industrial Workplace.'

Oliver Betts

Oliver Betts

Dr. Oliver Betts is the National Railway Museum's Research Lead. He oversees the academic and research profile of the museum and has a deep love of all things Victorian and Railways!

Karen Baker

Karen Baker

I'm the Railway Museum's Librarian and my role is to help orientate all levels of researcher to find the answers to their railway-related questions.

Who developed the course?

The University of Strathclyde is a leading international technological university located in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, committed to useful learning.

Home to iconic locomotives and an unrivalled collection of engineering brilliance, The National Railway Museum celebrates the past, present and future of innovation on the railways

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  • Access to this course for 6 weeks


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Available until 31 October 2019. T&Cs apply.