Hello again Readers
I have accepted a writing challenge and am taking part in an event called WeSeWriMo 2015. Basically it is to set your own writing targets this month of August but also produce some serialised writing for an audience. My target is to write 8 episodes or chapters and in so doing produce 10-20,000 words. I also plan to design a book cover. This may sound mad but there is method in my madness. I want to work up some existing research material and notes and use it as the basis for my third true crime book. I have a tentative title – “Murder Tragedy and Mayhem on the Railways – 1830-1899. Ok time to climb aboard, the journey is about to restart……..ALL ABOARD!!
EPISODE or CHAPTER 2
In 1830 William Huskisson became the first person to be killed on Britain’s new railways. His carriage was stationary and he had left it to go walking on the line. His accident could have been avoided if he had followed instructions not to open the door and step out. A few months later the Derby Mercury reported a similar death on the Stockton to Darlington Railway in its edition of Wednesday 15th December 1830.
1831 saw many more accidents and deaths including the first engineer, engineer’s assistant and fireman to die. Most of these took place on the increasing busy Liverpool to Manchester Railway. On 31st January the engine “Arrow” became the first locomotive to be de-railed and leave the line. At Chat Moss the locomotive was thrown off the rails and overturned. An enquiry discovered this had occurred due to one of the wheels breaking up. All wheels and axles of early locomotives were made of brittle cast-iron. On 26th March a guard named Burn tried to jump onto a train passing at full speed but failed and fell onto the tracks. His legs were run over
“crushing them in so dreadful a manner as to render amputation immediately necessary”.
A report pointed out it was his own fault…
”He got upon the train without the knowledge of the superintendent and it was not known that he had made the attempt until his mangled body was seen lying on the ground.”
Another employee of the same railway was not so lucky. On the same day that Burn lost his legs, a man called Lawrence was walking along the line. He fell down and across the tracks just as a train was passing, nearly severing him in two. The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Another serious incident took place at Waverton near Liverpool on 26th March, again on the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. A plank of wood had been carelessly left on the tracks by workmen repairing an embankment. A locomotive named “Phoenix” struck the wood and so caused the assistant to be thrown down onto the track. The wheels of several carriages passed over his head killing him instantly. A lad named Wright, the assistant on the “Phoenix” became the first ever footplate casualty. The inquest jury also returned a verdict of accidental death in his case. In April 1831 an accident was caused when a set of points were not changed in time. The person responsible was police constable Bates of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway police force. He admitted he was asleep at his post at the time and was fined three shillings by the magistrates. The railway police were tasked with the responsibility for signalling and changing points before mechanical signalling and signal boxes were invented.
On Saturday July 23rd both an engineer and fireman died on the Bolton and Leigh Railway. This railway opened in 1828, designed as a freight railway to carry goods and coal to Bolton. It was steam -locomotive hauled but had two inclines that were operated by stationary steam engines. The railway was seven and a half miles long and by 1831 had acquired five locomotives. The first two had connections to the Liverpool and Manchester. “Lancashire Witch” had been built for the LMR but went to work in and out of Bolton. It was joined by the “Sans Pareil”, which had featured in the Rainhill trials and George Stephenson had recommended it to the Bolton and Leigh Line. Later additions to the fleet were the “Union”, a 2-2-0 locomotive built in 1830 by Rothwell Hick and Rothwell and “Salamander” and “Veteran” built by Crook and Dean of Bolton. On June 31st the railway carried its first passengers to Liverpool, via Kenyon Junction where it joined the Liverpool and Manchester.
The Morning Post of Blackburn carried a detailed report of a serious incident on the railway in its edition of Monday August 1st 1831.
“We are sorry to mention a very serious accident which occurred on Saturday on the railway between Kenyon and Bolton. The locomotive engine was going up the lower inclined plane with a heavy load of goods and at the turn off of at Colonel Fletcher’s collieries, ran off the road was unfortunately overturned against the bank, and fell upon the engineer and fireman who were both killed on the spot; two other men were riding on the tender, one of whom was dangerously hurt, the other scalded. The engine we understand was the only one with ever worked on a railway with wheels of six feet diameter and on that account had never been allowed to take the coaches.”
This account seems to point the finger at the locomotive “Union” as locomotives built by Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell did have a single large centre wheel. Public interest in the tragic deaths and injuries on the railways were not confined to the localities in which they took place. They started to fill more and more column inches in newspapers across the land. Blackburn is not too far away from Bolton but a newspaper in Derby had more detail on this incident, and Derby was around 80 miles distant! The Derby Mercury had this to say in its edition of August 3rd edition of 1831..
“The engine was one with wheels of six feet diameter, a size considered objectionable by Mr Stephenson, and not used on the Liverpool and Manchester line; and we understand this engine is not allowed to take coaches on the Bolton Railway. The name of the fireman was Simon Marsh and that of the engineer Jonathan Johnson. On the enquiry before Mr Milne on Tuesday it appeared from the evidence of Thomas Cummings, who happened to be upon the carriage, and narrowly escaped, that the accident arose from Johnson suffering the engine to proceed too rapidly. Under those circumstances the jury brought in a verdict accordingly.”
In twelve months there had been five fatalities and numerous accidents on just three railways. So far no passengers had been killed or seriously injured. As yet there had been no collisions between trains or carriages de-railed and overturned. In November the most serious incident yet occurred on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at Newton. The details were printed in the Liverpool Mercury and then picked up and published by other newspapers including as here in the Standard of London in its Tuesday November 15 issue of 1831..
“On Saturday and accident which might have been attended with very serious consequences occurred on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, whilst conveying the mail and about 100 passengers, amongst whom were the operatic company of Signor de Begnis to Manchester. It appears that the train had got to the Newton side of Chat Moss, and was crossing the embankment at the rate of 20 miles an hour, when, in consequence of the failure of an axle in one of the coaches, the breaking of one wheel, and the injury done to others, the whole train was forced off the rails, proceeded in a slightly diagonal direction about 600 pace, and came within a yard and half of the edge of the embankment before it could be stopped. But for the softness of the ground, in consequence of the recent rains, arising from the broken wheels of one of the carriages, the whole would probably have been precipitated over the embankment, with a loss of life and limbs frightful to contemplate. Providentially no person received the slightest injury and no material damage was sustained.”
It was indeed provident that the carriages stayed upright and did not tumble down the embankment but the new railways seemed to be an accident waiting to happen. Within less than a month the Liverpool Mercury was reporting a yet more serious accident in its edition of Friday December 9th 1831..
“On Wednesday morning, as the seven o’clock first class train of carriages was proceeding from Manchester towards Liverpool, just before they arrived at Glazebrook bridge, neat the west side of Chat Moss, the axle of the engine broke and the machine starting from the proper track was precipitated over the embankment, which at that spot cannot be less than twenty feet high. Two carriages were thrown on their sides on the slope, the passengers in which were obliged to find their way out though the windows. The fourth coach remained on the top, and the third near the top a sufficient time for the passengers to get out; but when this was effected; the first two carriages taking a slide further down the slope; the last two, before they could be supported in their position at the edge of the embankment, fell down the slope after the others. We are extremely happy to state, that though the accident appears alarming in its character and circumstances, no limbs were broken and no passenger seriously hurt.”
It was indeed a miracle that life and limbs were not lost in this accident. The Liverpool Mercury completed the article by commenting on one of the perceived fears and objections to rail travel and then sought to sooth the fears of its readerships, a good number of whom were likely already clients of the railway company..
“An overthrow down the side of an embankment was one the possible contingencies which persons apprehensive of the risk of railway travelling have always contemplated, and perhaps we ought to consider the result of the present accident to a certain extent satisfactory, inasmuch as under the circumstances we have detailed, the shock does not appear to have been so violent as in the overthrow of a common stagecoach. As an accident in a great measure similar to the present occurred a few months since, owing also to the breaking of an axle and as it was then stated on the part of the company that stronger axles would without loss of time be provided. Some explanation is due to the public why this has not been done. On this point we are authorized to state, that to as great an extent as practicable it has been accomplished. With the exception of two or three, all the engines are provided with axle, the strength of which has been increased two thirds. Three engine makers at Manchester, and the company’s establishment at Liverpool have been employed to furnish them. We are further authorized to state, that not one of the new axles has failed, and that the directors have come to the determination that not but these shall be used hereafter.”
It was somewhat disingenuous of the Liverpool Mercury to compare a train derailment to a common coach overthrow. No coach could carry 100 passengers or more down the road and coaches did not run along high embankments. Still there were no fatalities or injuries and as yet there had been no collisions on the tracks between two different trains. How long could that situation last? Not long was the answer, indeed it was barely two months from the events at Glazebrook. The Liverpool Mercury broke the news in its edition of Friday March 1832,
“On Wednesday morning, the seven o’clock train of carriages from Liverpool overtook a train of goods, which as soon as possible was got off the line, at a siding, to allow the passengers train to pass it and proceed more rapidly. On arrival of this train at Newton, a stoppage of a few minutes, as is customary, took place, and before it was again in motion, the goods train, which it before passed, came up. The morning being very foggy, it was impossible to see much in advance, and the engineer of the goods train not checking his speed as he ought to have done, supposing that the passenger’s train had already left Newton, his engine came violently in contact with the last carriage of the other train, (the mail)which was considerably shattered by the collision. Fortunately, there was no-one in this carriage and, consequently no personal injury was sustained.”
It seemed providence had favoured the LMR again and still there had been no loss of life or limb or indeed any injuries amongst its many and growing number of passengers. All that was about to change with two serious incidents at the end of 1832. The Liverpool Mercury reported the first injuries to passengers on the Liverpool to Manchester Railway since the incident on the opening day. In its edition of Friday October 19 1832 with yet another incident at Chat Moss,
“On Wednesday morning as the eight o’clock train from Manchester was proceeding at a rapid rate over Chat Moss, the engine was suddenly thrown off the rails, owing, as are informed, to one of the moveable points or switches ( which are used to effect a junction between one line and another) being left in the wrong position. The engine and tender were completely turned round and upset: and we are sorry to be obliged to add, that two women who were passengers in the first open carriage, sustained serious personal injury; one of them having had her leg fractured, and the other her leg seriously bruised, but we hope without fracture. The former was conveyed back to Manchester, but the other preferred coming forward to Liverpool. We understand from one of the passengers, who was also in the first carriage, that some repairs of the road were going forward on a side line, upon which he engine was thrown; and the soil or ballast not being filled up between the wood sleepers, the engine, after sustaining a few sudden and violent shocks was turned around and upset; thereby occasion in that sudden stop and concussion amongst the carriages in the train which caused the serious personal accidents we have now to record.”
This was the most serious incident known yet on the LMR but worse was to come. Much worse. Only a few weeks later an accident happened that was reported around the land in numerous newspapers. It was what many had feared for a long time; the first death of an innocent passenger!
The Morning Post of London was exceedingly quick to print the news just one day after the accident in its edition of Wednesday November 28 1832,
“We are extremely sorry to state that a very serious accident attended with fatal consequences to one individual, occurred on the railway yesterday morning at the Rainhill station. It appears that the second class train which leaves Manchester at a quarter past seven, and stop by the way to take up passenger, stopped at Rainhill station, as usual for that purpose, about nine o’clock to take up four or five ladies who were waiting to come on to Liverpool. Whilst stopping here for this purpose the second class train which leaves Manchester t eight o’clock, and which must have travelled at great velocity to reach Rainhill at so early an hour, was observed coming along the road with great speed. The persons belonging to the stationary train, who saw the other distinctly at a distance of 150 yards, though a dense fog prevailed at the time, called out loudly for the engineer to stop. Fortunately the managers of the stationary train contrived to get it into motion, by which the force of concussion was in some degree diminished. The concussion was however dreadful. The engine of the advancing train struck the hindmost carriage, and after driving some off the road, was driven with tremendous violence at the station house at the side of the road, the front of which was completely carried away. One young man was killed on the spot. The last carriage of the blue train, the one next the other train, was broken to pieces, the next a close carriage was not much injured: the next three were all more or less so, and the engine and tender escaped without damage. Several of the passengers were severely hurt and hardly one escaped without cuts, bruises of contusions.”
As 1832 ended so did the myth of the safety of railway travelling. There had been fractured and severed limbs, a crushed skull and one man almost chopped in half. The first deaths of railway staff and the first death of a passenger in a station. It seemed that as passenger numbers increased so did the number of railway accidents. The great leap in locomotive design and technology was not matched with safety devices or enough care and consideration for the ticket-paying passengers. Too many axles and wheels had broken up. Some locomotives were being driven too fast and in dangerous conditions. Track maintenance was a concern as was efficient signalling. In short the railways had become a dangerous place. The success of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway was copied by many other pioneers and investors. Soon railways were springing up all over the country. With the good came the bad and soon railway accidents and problems were spreading out to other networks and other lines…………………………………………………………Next time… MORE TRAGEDY ON THE RAILWAYS
Copyright@Mike Sheridan 2015 All Rights Reserved
PLEASE NOTE. All text is my copyright and is the result of hours and hours of research. No part may be copied, shared and stored or used in any way. Each episode or chapter will form the basis of my third book.