Blind Passengers and Alternative Sensory Histories of the Railways
Recorded on 20 January 2022
Speaker: Oli Betts (National Railway Museum)
In 1909, for a few short months, the Great Eastern Railway effectively banned blind and partially sighted passengers from its network. Requiring them to sign a liability waiver and also provide a personal chaperon the Company was, its critics argued, barring blind users – and there were critics aplenty. Within weeks of these rules appearing in local newspapers a whole series of proposals, meetings, pressure groups, and organisations had sprung up, leading to a Board of Trade Inquiry and the hasty withdrawing of the policy by the GER.
What may seem like a flash in the pan, though, actually offers a fascinating window into how disabled railway users interacted with Britain’s railways in their supposed “Golden Age”. Examining the press reaction to the GER’s policy and the personal accounts offered up to challenge it, this paper considers how blind and partially sighted travellers made use of the railways, why that usage was policed, and what this can tell us about the wider histories of passenger travel.
IHR Seminar Series: Transport & Mobility History