Abstract: Professional Networks and Industrial Research in a Network Service Business: The London, Midland & Scottish Railway, 1923-1947

Colin Divall


The lack of studies of individual firms or particular sectors of industry hampers judgments regarding the effectiveness of British efforts at technical research. This is particularly true of the service sector, where it is reasonable to assume that technical innovation contributed to the enhanced productivity record over much of the last century. As providers of some of the most important kinds of services for consumers and producers alike, transport and distribution, the four mainline railway companies created in 1923 offer a neglected opportunity to examine these points. Although as products of an unusually high degree of government restructuring and regulation they cannot be taken as typical of British industry before 1950, individually and collectively these companies were very important players in the economy. In response to growing road and air competition between the wars, they engaged in extensive incremental technical change, much of it stemming from their own very large engineering facilities. Some, however, had its origins in separate industrial research divisions. The first and largest of these was established by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1933. This paper examines the division's evolution and effectiveness in terms of the workings of the professional and managerial networks that constituted technological communities both within and without the LMS.