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St Ruth

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Working Timetables




A day off from the class 22 (and work too)…


Ever since I first decided on my chosen region and period I have been on the lookout for decent information about how the real thing was actually operated at that time. Unfortunately documents like working timetables for this period have never surfaced during my visits to places that sell these things and even now that we have the Internet they don't seem to appear very often.


With the creation of St Ruth (which is in my region and set in a very similar period) I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and try to get hold of the information that I wanted.


The National Archives in Kew (formerly called the PRO) has copies of WR working timetables and, having a few holiday days that I needed to use up before I lost them, I decided to take a day off and head down there.


This isn't the first time that I've been to TNA - I went several times a few years back doing family history research. They have made a few changes since I was last there - notably opening up some quite big areas for people who don't need to look at original documents.


The other change that I really liked was that they have introduced some reading desks equipped with camera stands to help people like me who want to take digital photos of documents. This is a huge step forward because you aren't allowed to use flash so holding the camera by hand is quite a good way to get blurry images apart from the fact that it's difficult to hold the camera and try to hold something like a working timetable nice and flat at the same time.


With the aid of the new camera stands I was able to photograph the Working Timetables for Devon and Cornwall for 1965, 67 and 1970 plus a few other things in the space of a single visit - way more than I was expecting. I can't claim that it was much fun - turning pages over and pressing the shutter release over and over can soon get pretty tedious and cause some interesting aches but when you remember that not so very long ago a notepad and pencil was the only way to take information out of there then you realise just how far we've come.


For anyone interested, my camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ6 model (12 megapixels) used in Macro mode and locked to 80 ISO with the flash switched off. I turned the photo resolution down to 3 megapixels after experimenting to see what size had an acceptable level of quality without using too much space. The battery was fully charged before I went and had perhaps 30 minutes on charge while I was there but it was down to a single bar by the end of the day. In total I took 1,118 photos which took 1.69Gb of disk space - more photos than my camera had taken since I had it for Christmas over a year ago.


If you've never been to the National Archives and would like to go then I can assure you that it's not too scary. Do be careful to check which forms of ID they require before you go otherwise you may find that you have a wasted trip.


If you are planning to photograph documents then be sure to check your results while you are there (this is what I was doing while the camera battery was on charge) and have chance to have another try if there are any problems - you don't want to get home and find you have taken hundreds of blurry photos.


According to an article in a recent MRJ it may also be possible to track down other useful info like carriage working instructions (which would tell us how passenger trains were made up). As far as I can tell the National Archives don't have these. They might be held at York but unfortunately York don't seem to have a catalogue for their archives that is searchable on the Internet and it would be a bit of a trek for me to make without some clear idea that they actually have something that I need.


A few samples below. Working 1M99 is one that interests me - in the mid 60s this was the 13:05 Penzance-Liverpool and carried mail. There is a photo in the 'BR WR in colour' book that shows this train near Starcross with a maroon warship, a TPO coach and two vans followed by a bunch of blue/grey coaches... a perfect excuse for me to run my nice new red Farish TPO without having to build the whole Great Western TPO formation. By the 1969 WTT it started from Plymouth at 16:15 and by 1970 it seems to have disappeared from the WTT.

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Very puzzled by your comments about the NRM not having a search facility!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?




- but read the guide first, as they share resources with the local university, which may seem confusing at first.


I used it very successfully before the rebuilding work a year or two back - and the staff were extremely helpful when I made an appointment and arrived with my exacting list of books to look at.

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I think that the "lack of search facility at NRM" problem relates to the GWR (and probably other specific areas). As I understand it, the archives transferred from Swindon to NRM are not yet catalogued, though there are attempts to arrange for this to be done by volunteers. If they aren't sorted and catalogued, then they won't show up in the search engine.


I don't know if that would apply to the period in question here (ca 1967), but a search for "timetable" throws up examples from about 1960 for other regions, but not for the Western Region, in the form of "General/Sectional appendix to working timetable...", which suggests this is probably the case.



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OK, so 'lack of' was oversimplifying the situation but as far as I can tell the NRM holds a lot of stuff in its archive that has not been catalogued in a way which is searchable on the Internet - including holdings (if any) of WR operating documents from the 1960s.


I guess it depends on the specific institution, but to me a 'library' and an 'archive' are different things - a library contains mostly published works whereas an archive contains mainly original documents, plans, photographs, manuscripts etc. The catalogue on the York University web site is for the NRM library rather than its archive - i.e. mainly books rather than original documents.


The NRM does have some of its archive collection searchable via the excellent A2A site at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/ but again I get the impression that only a small fraction of their holdings are actually visible this way - as a quick test their web site tells us that they hold 87 drawings from the S&DJR Highbridge Works but searching for 'Highbridge' within the NRM on A2A turns up nothing. Searching for 'timetable' turns up a few things but nothing of real relevance.


I guess that there is hope that this material may appear on one of these two existing online catalogues or on a completely new catalogue at some time in the future but until then contemplating a trip to York would be a very speculative venture for me.

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I was interested to read your comment that reducing the resolution to 3 megapixels gave a reasonable quality. Quite a few years ago in the earlier days of digital cameras when 3 megapixels was the state of the art, we decided that these new-fangled gadgets had, at last, become suitable for recording hand-written 17-19th century documents in dimly lit record offices.



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Quite a few years ago in the earlier days of digital cameras when 3 megapixels was the state of the art, we decided that these new-fangled gadgets had, at last, become suitable for recording hand-written 17-19th century documents in dimly lit record offices.


Yep - been there, done that. I used a 4 megapixel camera for a lot of my family history research - including some stuff dating back to the 15th century. Prior to this I had a brief try with a 2 megapixel camera but the results were not very usable.

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