Subject indexes to the papers preserved in this series will be found in BT 19
Administrative / biographical background:
The Railway Department was set up in 1840 following the Railway Regulation Act of that year. Originally attached to the statistical department it soon became a distinct unit. Reorganised in 1844 as a Railway Board it was administered separately from the Board of Trade. Between 1846 and 1851 the Board's railway functions were given to an independent Board of Railway Commissioners, but in the latter year this was dissolved and a new Railway Department re-assumed its old functions together with those relating to telegraphs and canals.
In 1867 it took over from the Commercial Department functions duties relating to charters, gas, water and joint stock companies and in 1872 from the same department those relating to art unions, copyright, patents designs and trademarks, the alkali acts, industrial exhibitions and merchandise marks. In 1870 it had assumed responsibilities under an act of that year concerning life insurance companies. In 1881 it assumed duties under the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act, and in 1882 duties concerning electric light. In 1896 it took over from the Harbour Department general superintendence of the Standard Weights and Measures Office.
Of these miscellaneous functions, alkali works passed to the Local Government Board in 1874, and life insurance companies to the Finance Department in the same year; electric light to the Harbour Department in 1896, and gas and water to the same department in 1901. Also in 1901 charters, joint stock companies, art unions, patents designs and trademarks, newspaper libels, industrial exhibitions and merchandise marks passed to the Finance Department. Copyright functions passed to the Patent Office in 1914. The new Ministry of Transport assumed all the department's main functions, relating to railways, canals, tramways and telegraphs in 1919.
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