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British Transport Commission: Railway and Docks and Inland Waterways executives


Records of the British Transport Commission: Railway and Docks and Inland Waterways executives: Docks Engineer's Committee: plans, sections and drawings of vessels, plant and machinery 1950-1956.



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Administrative /​ Biographical history

Railway Executive: On 1 January 1948 the four mainline railways, the London and North Eastern Railway, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, the Great Western Railway and the Southern Railway, along with most of the smaller railway undertakings were vested in the newly formed British Transport Commission. The Railway Executive of the Commission took control of the management, operation and maintenace of the railways and became employers of all railway staff. The executive was divided into six regions each controlled by a Chief Regional Officer, London's railways being passed to a separate executive - the London Transport Executive. The new regions were the Eastern Region based at Liverpool Street Station, London, the London Midland Region based at Euston Station, London, the North Eastern Region based at York, the Scottish Region based at Glasgow, the Southern Region based at Waterloo Station, London and the Western Region based at Paddington Station, London. Following World War II the infrastructure and rolling stock of the railway was generally very poor and the Railway Executive was charged with bringing the railways back to efficient operation. Initially due to a lack of funding this was achieved using standardised steam locomotive and rolling stock designs. In 1955 a Nationwide Railway Modernisation programme was proposed which entailed spending £1.2bn over 15 years on replacing steam traction with diesel and modernising rolling stock and freight handling. The programme did not go well with mismanagement of budgets, poorly designed new rolling stock and equipment and the requirement for new safety measures meaning that eventually £1.5bn was spent. For a short period of time some canals passed into the Railway Executive's ownership, these were soon handed over to the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. The Transport Act of 1953 reorganised the British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive became the Railways Division. By the early 1960s the railways were in a poor financial position and when the British Transport Commission was abolished in 1962, the Railway Division became the British Railways Board with a remit by the government to reduce costs. Docks and Inland Waterways Executive: The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the British Transport Commission was set up in 1948 following the Transport Act of 1947 which nationalised most of Britain's inland transport. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive acquired 2,064 miles of waterway as well as the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, the Aire and Calder fleet, the Calder Carrying Company and Canal Transport Ltd on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. It also had powers to acquire other carrying companies and in 1949 it bought Fellows Morton & Clayton. All carrying on nationalised waterways became subject to British Transport Commission licensing. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive was divided into Headquarters, Inland Waterways, which had six divisions, and Docks, which had four divisions. Headquarters was based in Dorset Square, London and was where the Chairman Sir Reginald Hill, the secretaries, solicitor and chief financial officers were based. The Inland Waterways Divisions consisted of the North Eastern based in Dock Street, Leeds, the North Western based in Navigation Road, Northwich, the South Eastern based in Reservoir Road, Ruislip, the South Western based in the dock office at Gloucester, the Caledonian Canal based in Clachnaharry, Inverness and the Crinan Canal based in Ardrishaig. The Docks divisions consisted of South Wales Docks based in Cardiff, Humber Ports based in Hull, King's Lynn Docks based in King's Lynn and Middlesbrough and Hartlepool Docks based in West Hartlepool. The four main divisions, North Eastern, North Western, South Eastern and South Western each had divisional waterway officers, divisional engineers with district engineers working under them, divisional accountants, divisional traffic officers, estate officers and, where appropriate, dock and harbour masters. The two Scottish canals, which were taken over from the Ministry of Transport, each had an engineer/manager, while the Docks divisions each had a number of managers and engineers. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive was faced with declining freight income, this despite an increase in traffic on the waterways system as a whole from 10 million tons to 13 million tons by 1953. Although it spent £1.5 million on maintenance arrears and plant and equipment, this was not enough and by 1953 the mileage of waterways open for traffic had fallen from 1,953 to 1,751, with two-thirds of the system working at a loss. In the 1950s there was a dramatic rise in the number of licenses issued for pleasure craft, with over 4,000 issued in 1952. This marked the beginning of the post-war expansion in cruising holidays. The Executive failed to appreciate the importance of this and although it gave advice on routes and the location of boat hiring firms it did not become an operator in its own right. In 1953 a new Transport Act was passed abolishing the executives, the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive was split into British Transport Waterways and British Transport Docks.

System of arrangement

The Waterways Archive holds records for the Docks Engineer's Committee. The fonds has therefore been divided into one subfonds as this is how the records would have originally been kept. Due to the small number of records held for this company they have been arranged chronologically while keeping records relating to each other together. This means that some records may fall slightly out of the chronological sequence.

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