Cataloguing, summarising and / or digitising primary source material held in key public repositories

Due to the coronavirus outbreak and the associated lockdown restrictions, financial uncertainties and health risks, the official launch of this exciting sub-project has been deferred. However, if you think that you might be able to help us, please contact us to register an interest.

The background

During the winter of 2019-2020, a small number of SCRCA Project volunteers conducted a methodical search of the online catalogues for the key public repositories of historical primary source material relating to the SCRCA, namely

We were already aware that these repositories hold primary source material relating to the construction and pre-privatisation operation of the railway linking Hellifield, Settle and Carlisle. However, we’ve been amazed by the quantity and quality of the material that has been squirrelled away.

The list below represents just a few of the highlights:

  • Settle to Carlisle, bridge, tunnel and culvert drawings (a set of 460 detailed construction plans produced during the 1870s).
    Note: Small and heavily watermarked versions of fourteen of these plans (six of Bridge 66: Ribblehead Viaduct, one of Bridge 72: Blea Moor Tunnel, four of Bridge 197: Crosby Garrett Viaduct and three of Bridge 360 at Durranhill) can be viewed by searching for RAIL 491 Settle Carlisle Railway in the National Archives' image library at:
    OR by using the following direct link:

  • Station buildings on Settle - Carlisle line (a set of four generic station building elevations).
  • Parliamentary Bills, Minutes of Evidence, Estimates, etc. relating to the construction of the Settle & Carlisle line.
  • Minutes of meetings for the Midland Railway Company's 'Way & Works Committee' and 'Settle & Carlisle Construction Committee'.
  • Midland Railway Company Agreements, Conveyances, Contracts and Deeds.
  • Midland Railway plans of stone quarries and sand pits located along the Settle to Carlisle line at Lazonby, Armathwaite, Hawes Junction, Crosby Garrett and Ribblehead, dated 1910.
  • A collection of photographs taken in the Aisgill area between 1910 and 1958, including photographs of the 1910 and 1913 Aisgill railway disasters.
  • Other photographic collections with images of the railway dating from the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Newbiggin Station master's records, including messages, freight returns and carriage rates covering 1891-1971.
  • Private railway sidings for the Newbiggin Gotham Company Ltd (Newbiggin Station to Culgaith) dated 1931.
  • Plans for railway sidings, bunkers, weighbridge, office, locomotive shed and covered shelter over wagon sheeting bay etc. at Long Meg Mine.
  • Cowans Sheldon drawings for 55’ engine turntable built for LMS at Durranhill, dated 1926.
  • Plans & sections of Carlisle Citadel Station dated 1871 and copies of plans of Carlisle Citadel Station dated 1872 -1881.
  • Printed plan by Henry Fowler of Carlisle Citadel Station dated 1881. Includes lines and depots to the north, south and west. Details of all track systems and railway property. Scale; 2 chains 1-inch size; 7' x 3'.
  • Journal of William Fletcher, Bradford Town Mission missionary on the Settle and Carlisle railway. Comprising a detailed daily account of the work of William Fletcher as a missionary to workmen on the railway. Details visits to cuttings and lodging houses and huts of the workers on the railway and mentions accidents etc. Includes notes on hours worked, tracts distributed, number of public services and attendances. Covers Sep 1870 to Jul 1875.
  • Inquest reports for dozens of railway-related deaths.
Almost all of this material was deposited in paper form and only a tiny percentage has been either comprehensively described, or fully transcribed, or digitised. In some cases, the material has not even been fully catalogued. Therefore the information contained in this material is not fully 'discoverable' or fully and freely 'accessible' online.[1]

Montage entitled SCRCA Project: Examples of Primary Source Materials.

The plan

In a bid to address some of these issues, we would like to:

  1. Identify and list all of the relevant primary source material held at each repository via a combination of:
    • online catalogue searches (this is already well underway) and
    • a series of real-world visits to each of the key repositories.
  2. Identify the most interesting and informative primary source material and draw-up a prioritised shortlist.
  3. Where permitted and feasible, summarise, transcribe, or create / obtain high quality digital images of the primary source material on that shortlist.
  4. Where permitted, upload the resulting summaries, transcriptions and / or digital images to the SCRCA Project database, thereby making it publicly accessible online, worldwide, 24/7 for:
    • The individuals and organisations responsible for managing the Settle Carlisle Railway Conservation Area.
    • Individuals with a keen interest in Britain's railway history generally (and the Hellifield-Settle-Carlisle line in particular).
    • Members of the general public who might be encouraged to take an interest in such matters if this material were to be presented in an interesting, discoverable, accessible and easy to use form.[1]

The plea for help

If we are to achieve these objectives, we need both practical assistance and financial support.

The need for practical assistance is relatively self-explanatory: we need to find volunteers who live relatively close to each repository and who are able and willing to assist us with the tasks listed above. If you think you might be able to help, please read the 'Getting involved' page (focussing on the introductory paragraphs and section 7), then contact us.

The need for financial support warrants a more detailed explanation. In most cases, the primary source material held at these repositories can be summarised or transcribed without incurring significant costs. However, the situation is different for the image-based material (e.g. maps, plans, drawings, photos). For this material, there is significant value in being able to access the image itself. (The old adage "a picture paints a thousand words" is very true.) Obtaining and reproducing digital images of primary source material often requires the payment of substantial additional fees (typically in the range of £20 to £50 per image). As an example, we’ve been given the following estimate by the Image Library Manager at the National Archives for the digitisation and licensing of the 460 “Settle to Carlisle, bridge, tunnel and culvert drawings” mentioned above:

Supply fee (covers the digitisation if not already done and the supply of the digital files):
460 @ £19.40* + VAT each = £8,924.00 + VAT.
* This is the discounted price for 250-500 plans. The price for smaller quantities is £38.75 + VAT per image.

Reproduction fee (for licenses to upload the images to the SCRCA Project database):
23 @ £40 + VAT each = £920 + VAT. (Each license covers up to 20 images.)

Total cost = £9,844 + VAT = £11,812.80.

This is a very large amount of money by anyone’s standards, so the ‘benefits’ must be considered alongside the costs.

  • Digitising and uploading these plans would provide us with comprehensive information regarding the planned and / or ‘as built’ appearance of each bridge and help us to identify changes over time.
  • In turn, this will assist planning professionals when they are drawing-up and evaluating proposals for major bridge works (e.g. deck replacement and arch strengthening).
  • With regards the SCRCA Project database, a small version of the relevant ‘side elevation’ plan can be used as a default image for each bridge that does not yet have a default image. (This will make the ‘Gazetteer’ more informative, useful and interesting.)
  • Finally, the plans are fascinating in their own right and they are likely to be of interest to rail enthusiasts, railway modellers, architects, engineers and researchers for decades to come.

We will, of course, investigate potential sources of funding from relevant organisations (e.g. grants, corporate donations, etc.). However, match funding is usually a pre-requisite and we will need to demonstrate that we are ‘doing our bit’ by seeking, attracting and wisely using donations from private individuals.

The carrot

There's lots of potentially fascinating primary source material in the list above, but the first two items are especially tempting. In a bid to better assess the quality and potential research value of this material, we have ordered, uploaded and reviewed / described:

The cost of these five plans (including the licence to upload them to the SCRCA Project database) was £280.50 (met from volunteer donations). However, from our perspective, it was money well spent as we think they are fascinating.

The call to action

If you think that the above is a good idea and / or
if you would be willing to make a donation and / or
if you think you might be able and willing to help us in some other way,
please contact us.

Likewise, if you have any questions or concerns relating to the above, please contact us.

Mark R. Harvey
SCRCA Project Coordinator
on behalf of the SCRCA Project Team.
20th February, 2020.


[1]: A key long-term objective of the SCRCA Project is to make the 'information' contained in key image-based primary sources 'discoverable' (via both site-search and third-party search engines) and 'accessible' (to everyone, including people with visual impairments). This is gradually being - and will continue to be - achieved by creating comprehensive text-based reviews of key image-based primary source material.

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