All Aboard! Railway Maps, Plans, Diagrams and Documents in Cambridge University Library Map Department
Cambridge University Library Map Department has amassed a huge, and rather miscellaneous, collection of maps, plans, diagrams and documents compiled by various pre-British Railways rail companies. Map Department staff have recently been looking at some of these items and thought them well worth sharing. It is quite a treasure trove!
The collection, which has been acquired by both purchase and donation over many years, comprises over 4,500 items, many of which are manuscripts. Included are maps, plans, diagrams and longitudinal sections showing, for example, proposed routes, the layout of railway junctions and details of railway buildings and structures such as bridges, plus about 60 file boxes comprising documents and letters relating to matters like land purchase, maintenance of the railway system, and the use of carriages as shelters for the Military.
The bulk of these items were acquired in the 1970s from – so Library legend has it – a man in Leicester who had saved them from being burnt. They appear to have been working documents (suggestions of provenance include the British Rail Depot at Market Harborough and the LMS (Midland Division) Estates Department), and many were covered in a soot-like substance!
The items generally fall into two distinct categories :
1) Documents relating to the London, Tilbury Line from its inception (Parliamentary Bill of 1852), through its various incarnations as part of The Eastern Counties Railway; London & Blackwall Railway; London, Tilbury & Southend Railway; Midland Railway (1912), and L.M.S. Railway (1923). Compulsory land purchase is very evident in the 1850s with the extensions from Tilbury to Southend, and the Barking & Bow Branch. Much material relating to the development of the Tilbury Ferry Terminal from 1926 until the early 1930s is well represented.
2) Documents from the Midland Railway, East Midlands area, covering Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Kettering from its heyday in about 1912, through the L.M.S. period from 1923 until the early 1930s. Most of this material concerns day-to-day maintenance and repairs, but also covers significant improvement schemes including the Barking to Upminster widening in the early 1930s (eventually to become part of London Transport’s Underground system), widening at Longbridge and Barnt Green (Birmingham), and at Chevet and Snydale (Derbyshire), both in the late 1920s. Despite the decline of the inland waterway system during the period of this archive, the Midland Railway and subsequently L.M.S. Railway owned and maintained the Ashby Canal, of which many operational records survive. Other areas well represented are the mining areas of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire where constant re-arrangements became necessary in the provision of new sidings to aid the transportation of coal for industry and the operation of the railway itself.
As it is believed that much material originated from storage in the East Midlands area, few records from the company’s London base at St Pancras are in this collection, but the available items include such topics as the renewal of parts of London’s Fleet Ditch (sewers that ran under parts of St Pancras Station), tunnel ventilation, and bridges over the Regent’s Canal, all accompanied by superb engineering drawings. All are well worth examination.
How to Find out What we Have
Brief descriptions of these items – as well as of some of the Department’s other railway collections – can be found on ArchiveSearch, the University’s Archive catalogue. Look, in particular, at the lists for classes Maps.RLY (smaller maps plus letters and other documents), Maps.RLY.aa (larger maps stored flat), Maps.RLY.R (large maps stored rolled) and Atlas.RLY (bound volumes of maps).
Additional railway maps (printed and manuscript) can be identified by looking at the Map Department’s card catalogue and at iDiscover, the Library’s online catalogue for (mostly) printed material. Not everything is catalogued online on iDiscover and/or Janus so you always need to search the card catalogue as well. Take a look at our web page on How to Find Maps in our catalogues.
Text by Michael Taylor ; pictures by Ian Pittock
February 2021: Note that ArchiveSearch replaced Janus as the University’s archive catalogue in February/March 2021. The text and links in this blog post have been updated to reflect this change. Tips on searching ArchiveSearch can be found on the Map Department’s web pages and in the ArchiveSearch LibGuide.
Gordon Biddle (1990), The railway surveyors : the story of railway property management, 1800-1990. London : Ian Allan ; British Rail Property Board. ISBN : 0711019541
David Milbank Challis and Andy Rush (2009), The railways of Britain : an unstudied map corpus. In Imago Mundi, volume 61, part 2, pages 186-214.
A selection of images showing items from the Railway Collection. Click on an item’s classmark to view its catalogue record in Janus.