Transport for London (TfL) may have only been in existence since 2000, but it is actually the latest incarnation of an organisation that dates back to the establishment of the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) in 1856. The types of public transport offered by the company have continued to evolve, encompassing walking and cycling through to tube and bus, via the river and a cable car. But at the heart of operations there has always been, and will always be, people.
It is for people that we provide means of safe and efficient transportation. And it is by people that these services are ultimately provided. Today, TfL employs around 29,000 people. Over the course of its history, the organisation has been at the forefront of overseas recruitment, female employment, and apprenticeships. For the first time, a large selection of our historic staff records is now available online, via Ancestry.
Starting in 1863 and running through until 1931, the records relate to staff working in the LGOC, London County Council Tramways, Hammersmith and City Railway, Metropolitan Railway, District Railway, East London Railway, Central London Railway, and more. The records offer a range of information depending upon the exact nature of the register. At their most basic, they offer a date and place of employment. Some registers also include dates of birth and home addresses. Registers of promotions and some staff registers provide complete breakdowns of an employee’s career. One example is that of W Harris, who can be found in the Metropolitan Staff Register for 1863-1928. From the one entry in this register it is possible to trace Harris’s career from his commencement of service in 1872. He was employed aged 24 as a porter at Swiss Cottage, and he retired in March 1909. We can see from the register that he fulfilled roles as a ticket collector, signalman, and station inspector, with his wages listed on each occasion. With the knowledge of the dates of Harris’s career progression, it is also possible to track him down in a further register, where his rate of pay as a porter can be cross referenced. It is this interplay of the registers that is so fascinating and, for an academic, serves as a fascinating reminder of how de-centralised the administration of the network was.
Indeed, whilst the primary appeal of the staff records is of course to family historians, there is a strong argument to be made for the value of the social and economic information held within them. Those researching economics will find interest in the increases in wages over time, as well as the disparities between pay grades. Students of company history would find much interest in the conduct, or disciplinary registers. These gems offer fascinating insights into reporting lines, discipline, and social attitudes.
Some registers can also prove incredibly poignant. We would urge everybody to look at least a page from the 1914-1921 LGOC register of staff who joined the Forces in World War I. Arranged according to bus garage, the register lists every staff member who went to the Front, detailing the regiment they joined, the dependants they left behind and, significantly, what became of them. Sadly, some of the men listed did not return and are listed as ‘Killed in Action’. However, the remarkable and uplifting thing to do is to count through the entries and see how few have this status written next to them. When a page of this register was picked at random, there was a list of 31 men. Of these men, only three are recorded as ‘Killed in Action’, with a further two recorded as ‘No Trace’. This means that 26 of the 31 men returned home. Furthermore, all bar four of them returned to work in the LGOC garages.
The registers available through Ancestry contain over 35,000 records. Have a look, you never know who or what you may find!