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!

Location York


  • @HamishMorrison

    Ah, clearly I mispoke in the video - sorry. Now I check, it was a debate in Parliament and not a formal inquiry (although they did consider one).

    Here is a little extract from once the damage had been repaired:

    "The Incumbent, who was naturally very indignant at the indecent manner in which the navvies, who were at first employed,...

  • I think this is a really interesting point to raise Cathy, and something that many Victorians we would now call disabled raised in the nineteenth century too! If you put the name of any big railway station into one of the historic newspaper databases and filter the results to just "letter to the editor" you'll find dozens and dozens of complaints about step...

  • @AdrienneCullen-Morgan

    Hi Adrienne, great question!

    We know very little, sadly, about how ordinary people felt about the coming of the railways. There are a few famous examples of those who objected though. One was the poet William Wordsworth, who in his 70s penned a sonnet "On the projected Kendel and Windermere Railway" in 1844:

    Is then no nook...

  • What a fantastic story! Thank you for sharing Susan!

  • @JudiBoutle What a kind thing to say Judi! That's made my day!

  • Thank you for digging these out Hamish! Shamefully I had forgotten I'd even written these!

    I'm afraid the Prezi was put together to accompany a talk I gave at the Museum, so lacks the context of my speech, but does give you some good images from Enginorum, so might be of interest.

  • A lot of great comments about the abbreviations! Almost certainly, as Kirstie says, these would have had a double-edged reason for inclusion: test practical knowledge (lots of low-level clerk work involved writing to people and using their formal titles) but also weed out people who weren't educated enough to know what a King's Council was.

  • I'm afraid FL is a little bit fussy with quiz answers. Marjorie put USA on the form herself back in 1930 and this was marked correct, but I'm sure United States of America would have been acceptable too!

  • A great question! I'm not sure - the quoted one was for an entry-level position. My guess would be that a lot of promotion took place from within, and more standard references would have been used for those entering at high levels from outside the railways!

  • One of these days it would be great to tell the Red Star story and look at c20th railway workers!

  • I certainly imagine there must have been some difficult clerical moments around the recent delays with the Suez Canal!

  • Hi All, exactly! Hats were both about marking status and about showing off. A bit like how they've made all the office juniors sit cross-legged at the front of the picture!

  • Hi All,

    Lots of great questions about why we've lumped engineers, draughtsmen, designers, etc in with the clerks here. Its a question we'll address in the final video, but the shorthand is:

    1. We were limited to four weeks for the course and clerks was a useful "catch-all" term that worked better than "back of house" or "office workers".

    2. Whilst...

  • @CaroleSturgiss Hi Carole, as other people have pointed out, it could have been a mishearing of "banksman" by the registrar. Railways did maintain their own brass bands, though, so it could be that too!

  • It was my absolute pleasure to show you Coppernob - one of our most beautiful locomotives but one which would have been a rough, tough, workaday machine at its prime!

    People have already helpfully linked the collections page for Coppernob, but just to pin it...

  • For those with a railway ancestor in their family history, Dr Mike Esbester's Railway Work, Life, and Death project is a great place to find out more about working conditions men and women faced on Britain's railways:


    There are few more poignant symbols of the danger of the job, to my mind, than the existence of...

  • He was certainly interested in railways (and technology more generally), and helped push Victoria into using the railways.

    Interestingly, though, we think it was her aunt (the then widowed) Queen Adelaide who was the first royal to travel by train.

    You can see her adapted early carriage...

  • Welcome everyone! Thank you for joining us - as Kirstie says, it's lovely to have such a mix of people.

    We'll try to answer questions as best we can!

  • Dear Jean, thank you for sharing - it must have been a very different experience as you say! I wondered if you might like to see this image of Letchworth Station from our collection c1912:


  • Hello Keith - if Walker was employed in the main Nottingham Station in the 1870s he would have most likely worked for the Midland Railway who owned it. Their staff records are, in part, held on various family history websites like Ancestry and also at the Midland Railway Study Centre. They are a lovely bunch and may be able to help you more:...

  • Hi All,

    If you are having trouble seeing the detail on the painting [always hard when filming in stores] you can see a copy here:


  • We are really lucky at the Museum to have both a great conservation team and a lovely group of volunteers who help out.

  • Hi everyone, I thought all the suggestions are great, and really speak to the struggles and skills of the engine drivers, but there's something in this particular trio that really seems to capture the essence of the hard, hands-on, world of steam driving.

  • Hi Keith, the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick has the archives of all the major trade unions so might be a good port of call. I'm not sure if membership roles ever made it onto sites like ancestry, but they might be a place to stop and look? Interestingly he would have predated the specific railway clerks union, which later became the TSSA,...

  • Thank you for a useful comment Frank. Accidents like Sonning Cutting were certainly important, and we talk about some in later weeks. I'm sure you may have read it already, but if not LTC Rolt's 'Red for Danger' is a very good book on the significance of accidents for Victorian railways.

  • Thank you for you comment Norman - yes, ideally I'd have loved to put in some of the earlier pre-steam railways but you have to draw the line somewhere. And yes, a good suggestion for a post-lockdown visit.

  • @ChloeLittle I do love M Shed - such a special place and so imaginatively laid out. Hope you aren't missing it too much

  • Hi Beth, thanks for joining us from so far away. Hope you find the course interesting!

  • Dear Len - thanks for coming on board. Hope you enjoy the course!

  • Dear Jean - thank you for sharing that little snippet of family history. So many people find they have railway connections that have located their family in a particular place. Hope you enjoy the course!

  • Hello Esther - thanks for joining us from so far away! Hope that you find this course exciting, and very glad to hear you've visited the Museum of course!

  • Hi Nina, thanks for signing up. We've got some interesting bits of women's history in our course. Have you read Helena Wojtczak's book on Railwaywomen? Here is a nice summary: https://www.christianwolmar.co.uk/2005/10/helena-wojtczak-railwaywomen-exploitation-betrayal-and-triumph-in-the-workpace/

  • Hi Michael - thanks for signing up. Yes, its a hard fact to get your head around isn't it? I try to put it into context for current visitors by equating it to the NHS, where most of us know someone working in or for that organisation.

  • Dear Christine, how interesting! We talk a lot about drivers and a little about stationmasters (we wish we'd had more than four weeks to build this course around!). I hope you find the course useful!

  • Hi Nils, thanks for signing up! I think some of the processes and jobs would have been the same as in Germany. There was a lot of exchange of knowledge and people between Britain and Europe as railways grew. I hope you find the course interesting.

  • Dear Denise - thanks for signing up. How interesting that you have a family connection to the railways. Hopefully this course will help you explore some of the background.

  • Hi Edward - how interesting that you have a railway family connection! The railways moved people around in all sorts of ways in c19th Britain, and we talk a little bit about some of that in the week on Navvies. Hopefully you'll find this course interesting! Thanks for signing up.

  • Dear Louise, unfortunately there aren't lots of jobs out there in the railway heritage world at the moment. But hopefully this course will be interesting and might help you make connections with people in the comments from that world!

  • Dear Stephen - what an exciting career and travels! And how interesting that you remember the old museum in York pre-NRM. Hope you enjoy the course!

  • Hi David, thanks for signing up. Hope you find it interesting.

  • Dear Amna, thank you for signing up. I hope you find it interesting!

  • Dear Clive - suspect you aren't the only crisis sign-up we'll have on this course! Thanks for coming on board. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Hi Lorna, lovely to have you on board. Hope you enjoy the course!