The company records contain minutes and reports, letter books,
deeds and agreements, circulars, locomotive and rolling stock records,
civil engineers records, station traffic books, accident reports,
and staff records. The NAS also holds an important collection of
specialised books and periodicals on transport subjects, mostly
inherited from the old railway companies and dating back to the
1840s, as well as timetables, publicity material and a large series
of engineering and architectural drawings.
With the exception of public timetables and publicity matter, a
30 year closure period is applied to the records of these four depositors.
Railway records in private papers in the NAS
Deposits of private collections (forming part of the Gifts and Deposits
series) are also an important source for railway history. These
The W E Boyd collection, which includes photographs of steam
locomotives (NAS ref. GD257).
The A G Dunbar collection (NAS ref. GD344).
The records of D S Macdonald, a former official of the Glasgow
and South Western Railway and later the London, Midland and Scottish
Railway (NAS ref. GD360).
The papers of David L Smith, author of histories of the Glasgow
and South Western railway (NAS ref. GD422).
The papers of Sir Thomas Bouch (1822-1880), engineer of the first
and ill-fated Tay Bridge (NAS ref. GD266).
The private diaries and papers of George Graham (1822-1899), engineer-in-chief
of the Caledonian Railway (NAS ref. GD1/1160).
All railway records and publications may be consulted at our search
room at General Register House. Information on our railway records
is given in 'Tracing
Scottish Local History', chapter 12, and the NAS publication,
The Scottish Railway Story.
The NAS is represented on the Railway Heritage Committee and its
Scottish and Record Sub-committees. The Committee's role is to identify
and designate railway records and artefacts that merit preservation
and to ensure that they will be held in good condition in appropriate
locations. To find out more about the Committee's work visit their
Railway company history
The earliest Scottish railway to be incorporated by private Act of
Parliament was the Kilmarnock and Troon (1808). Between 1808 and 1905
a total of 197 companies were incorporated, the majority by similar
means, though in the late 19th and early 20th century a few obtained
their powers by either a Light Railway Order, or a Board of Trade
certificate. The exception was the Whiteinch Railway, incorporated
in 1872 under the Companies Act (NAS ref. BT2/433). Of these 197 companies,
only 167 came to fruition. Of the remaining 30, powers were not exercised
or were abandoned and in one case the relevant act was suspended.
In 1923 the remaining companies were merged either into the London
and North Eastern Railway (NAS ref. LNER) or the London, Midland and
Scottish Railway (NAS ref. LMS), the one exception being the Campbeltown
and Machrihanish which steamed on independently until it was wound
up in 1935.
In fact prior to 1923, Scotland's railway operations were dominated
by five companies, ie. the North British (NAS ref. BR/NBR), the Caledonian
(NAS ref. BR/CAL), the Glasgow and South Western (NAS ref. BR/GSW),
the Great North of Scotland (NAS ref. BR/GNS) and the Highland (NAS
ref. BR/HR). These had taken over the majority of earlier companies,
eg. the Ardrossan incorporated in 1827 was taken over by the Glasgow
and South Western in 1854. The Forth Bridge Railway Company (though
it was part of the LNER network) legally survived in name until it
was taken over by the British Transport Commission in 1948. Useful
information on railway company histories can be found on the Railscot
The NAS is a major source for 19th century transport architecture
in Scotland. There is a wealth of photographic material relating to
railway stations and to a lesser extent railway hotels, some dating
back to the 1890s or even earlier, but the majority is 20th century
and includes not only snapshots taken by railway enthusiasts but officially
commissioned views for publicity purposes.
The most important and voluminous source however, is the large collection
of architectural drawing dating back to the 1830s. Their subject matter
ranges from minor structures such as platelayers' huts, stationmasters'
desks and kitchen equipment to major termini, golf courses and hotels.
The drawings, now part of the Register House Plans series (NAS ref.
RHP), can be consulted in the Historical Search Room. You can search for railway plans using our online
Railway construction dramatically altered the landscape of 19th and
early 20th century Scotland. Photographs, drawings and calculations
exist for the Forth Bridge and date from the 1880s. There are photographs
and records (but not drawings) relating to the Tay Bridge - the longest
rail bridge over water in Europe.
The large collection of bridge and survey plans (including parliamentary
plans) dates from the 1830s to the 1970s and includes drawings of
stone bridges on the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr railway,
the Scottish Central and other early railways.
An important but neglected source of information are the minutes of
evidence (often containing very detailed engineering minutiae) on
Railway Bills before parliamentary committees (NAS ref. BR/PYB(S)/1-747).
Interesting engineering specifications and schedules survive in the
records of the Glasgow & South Western, the North British and
Locomotives and rolling stock
The survival of records varies from company to company. Generally
speaking there is little material for smaller and earlier companies,
though the 1836 drawing (RHP42535) of a locomotive involved in an
accident on the Dundee and Newtyle Railway is an exception. Useful
records for the larger companies, who had their own workshops, survive
in the form of diagrams, photographs and technical data, for example:
Great North of Scotland Railway (NAS ref. BR/GNS/5/1-23)
Highland Railway (NAS ref. BR/HR/5/1-13)
Glasgow and South Western Railway (NAS ref. BR/GSW/5/1-14)
Caledonian Railway (NAS ref. BR/CAL/5/1-55)
North British railway (NAS ref. BR/NBR/5/1-86)
Various privately deposited collections are available for consultation.
Important collections of photographs, drawings and technical data
The Montague Smith papers (NAS ref. GD456)
The W E Boyd papers (NAS ref. GD257)
Papers of the mutual improvement societies of footplate men, eg.
St Margaret's (NAS ref. GD1/908) and Polmadie (NAS ref. GD1/905),
can yield much of interest for the social as well as locomotive
Local and social history
Railway records are an essential, but often neglected source for
local and social history. Timetables, for example, can reveal not
only the working and leisure pursuits of populations, but may contain
interesting advertisements (eg NAS ref. BR/RSR/4) and other publicity
Staff and related records survive for some companies.
||North British Railway staff registers
||Collection of 139 original photographs
of stations on the NBR system taken in LNER days
||Great North of Scotland staff registers
||Registers of 'offences' committed by
staff in the Great North of Scotland Railway Company
||Photographs of houses for Great North
of Scotland Railway employees at Inverurie Works
||Glasgow and South Western staff registers
||Glasgow and South Western posters and
photographs relating to its famous hotel and golf courses at
Labour relations in the Scottish railway industry are recorded in
minutes and report from 1875 to 1963 (NAS ref. BR/LAS(S)/1-246).
In the 19th century railways were the frequent subject of major
litigation in the Court of Session. Criminal litigation involving
railways is far less common but there are High Court and Crown Office
papers relating to early railway accidents and also to disturbances
involving railway navvies.
National Archives of Scotland
Crown Copyright 2006