EVERYTHING from animal diseases and banana storage to waste paper and yard safety is covered in a Great Western Railway rulebook recently found in a Swindon charity shop.

The book – actually a general appendix to the rule book – lists regulations due to come into effect in August of 1936.

It was issued with the authority of GWR General Manager James Milne, who had been knighted some years earlier. His wife, Nora, was a daughter of Swindon department store owner Levi Lapper Morse.

Sir James died, aged 74, in 1958.

The book, which seems to have been issued to managers and people with specialist duties, offers an insight into the way the railway was run in the years leading up to World War Two.

There is page after page of colour diagrams of signals, speed limit signs and the various combinations of lights and their meanings, and another section devoted to track layouts.

Photographs show an assortment of smartly-dressed railway employees adjusting signals, train couplings and other machinery, and other photographs illustrate standard procedure for loading everything from scrap metal shavings to stacks of wood on to wagons.

Sometimes huge pieces of timber were carried and secured vertically, making the wagons in the images look for all the world like novelty toast racks.

The real interest for devotees of railway history, however, is in some of the more obscure sets of regulations.

Under Regulation of Steam Heating Apparatus on Banana Vans, for example, is found: “All banana vans are fitted with the steam heating apparatus, and, when loaded, must be formed next to the engine and steam heated when required.”

Quite why one would wish to warm up bananas in the first place is not explained.

Another section notes reassuringly: “Packages containing Poisonous Goods must not be accepted for transit if found to be leaking or otherwise in a loose or bad condition.

“I the event of leakage occurring before or during the journey they must be immediately removed (together with any articles that may have been damaged by the leakage) to a place where they will not injure other traffic, and the circumstances must be promptly reported to the District Goods Manager.”

Somewhat less reassuringly, at least for railway workers, the only regulation listed regarding the carrying of explosives is that wagons should be separated from the rest of the train on arrival, and not kept in enclosed spaces.

Another section deals with the handling of wet pelt, hide and skin.

It begins: “In handling this traffic there is the risk of contracting the disease known as ‘Anthrax,’ i.e. a form of blood poisoning, unless the hands are protected.

“To obviate this Stations and Depots where such traffic is dealt with are supplied with Oil Skin Aprons and India Rubber Gloves, which may be requisitioned as required through the District Goods Managers and must be used by the staff handling such traffic.”

The inside flap of the book has been signed by a G Hawkins, with the number 306 beneath. We would be interested to hear from anybody who can tell us more.