RAILWAY AND INDUSTRIAL HISTORY OF THE SOUTH WEST BLACK COUNTRY

 
 

 

 

 

Birmingham Daily Post


THURSDAY, 26th., AUGUST, 1858

THE RAILWAY CATASTROPHE NEAR DUDLEY

 

This lamentable occurrence is still the absorbing topic of interest throughout the district. Up to the late hour last night no further death had taken place, although it was currently rumoured on Tuesday evening that three more of the persons injured were dead, thus increasing the number of fatal casualties to fifteen. The rumour obtained currency in the columns of a contemporary yesterday, but we are extremely happy to say it was without foundation. All the injured persons were alive last night; most of them were progressing favourably, and fatal consequences are not now apprehended in more than two additional cases. It is now clearly established that the train had not arrived at Round Oak Station on its return from Worcester when it separated; and that the coaches which divided were properly attached with shackle and side chains. There is therefore no blame attributable to any of the subordinate officials of the company; but important questions will no doubt arise as to the sufficiency of those fastenings; and the strain to which they ought to be submitted on such an incline as that from Brettel Lane to Round Oak, and the amount of break power requisite for the safe working of a line of railway where the gradient is 1 in 75. It will be seen from the subjoined report of the proceedings at the inquest yesterday, that the enquiry has been adjourned for a week, during which time the fullest investigation into these and all other questions pertinent to the matter will not doubt take place.

THE INQUEST

An enquiry touching the cause of the death of the twelve persons killed was commenced yesterday, before T. M. Phillips, Esq., Coroner. The inquest The inquest was opened at the Whimsey Inn, where a jury composed of the following gentlemen was empannelled: The Rev. J. Bailey, Baptist minister, foreman; Mr. James Wheeler, spirit merchant; Mr. John Stewart, chemist and druggist; Mr. George Ford, newspaper proprietor; Mr. Edward Elcock, baker; Mr. Thomas Fletcher Rooker, chemist; Mr. Edward Samuel Haines, clerk; Mr. Joseph Jackson, shoemaker; Mr. Benjamin Hammersley, pawnbroker; Mr. George Wassell, wine merchant; Mr. James Salmon, tailor; Mr. Joseph Done, publican; Mr. George Chephain, chemist; Mr. James Williams, shoemaker; Mr. William Holcroft, coalmaster; and Mr. William Major Dunn, schoolmaster.

As soon as the jury were sworn they proceeded to view the bodies, the Coroner adjourning the enquiry to the Bell Hotel, Brierley Hill, where, in course of an hour, it was resumed in a more spacious and convenient room than could be obtained at the Whimsey. The names of the deceased on whom the inquest was held are Francis Mills, a furnaceman at the Bloomfield Iron Works; Joseph Baker, of Prince’s End, Ironworker, thirty-five years of age, single; Edward Matthews, Coseley, puddler; Benjamin Skeldon, of Prince’s End, baker and provision dealer; Harriet, his wife, and John, his son, a young man of seventeen; Mrs. Hildrick, wife of Mr. Hildrick, sawyer, of Park Lane, Tipton; Mrs. Harley, wife of Mr. Harley, tailor, Dudley; Henry Weston, labourer, Prince’s End, aged thirty-three, single; Richard Moore, aged thirty, Prince’s End; Henry Marshall, aged thirty-six, boatman, Worcester; and Benjamin Pitt, hay and straw dealer. Mr. King, of the firm of Collis, Bernard, and King, of Stourbridge, attended to watch the proceedings on behalf of the Company, Mr. Adcock, the secretary, Mr. Sherriff, the general manager, and Mr. Wilson, the engineer, were also present. Mr. Burbury, of Brierley Hill, attended on behalf of the friends of two of the deceased, Henry Marshall and Francis Mills; and Mr. Round, solicitor, of Tipton, for the friends of the Skeldons family, and the family of the late Mr. Edward Matthews.

Formal evidence of the identity of the bodies having been given, Isaac Baldwin, a waggoner, living at Prince’s End, was sworn and deposed: On Monday I went with the excursion train from Dudley to Worcester. In going, the deceased Joseph Pitt, was in the same carriage as me. We left at half-past nine. The deceased, Richard Moore, was also in the same carriage with me and Pitt; and were in company at Worcester, and had our dinners together. I do not know who was the guard of the train; nor should I know him if I were to see him again. There were two engines to the train, but I do not know how many carriages. The engines were both in front of the train. There were second and third-class carriages, but I do not know whether there were any first. I think they were principally third-class carriages; all were covered. The guard was in the break-van behind the train. I cannot say whether there were two engineers, but I saw two engines at Dudley. We got into Worcester at half-past twelve o’clock. As we were going, the coupling chains broke either three or four times - I do not know which for certain; but three times we were thrown all one on top of the another in the carriage by the violence of the shocks. They were bad shocks; one of them made one young woman’s nose bleed. She was in the same carriage with me. I did not get out to see what caused the shocks. I asked them to let me out, but they would not. I never got out till we got to Droitwich. The first shock occurred before we got to Dudley Station. The train did not stop then: It stopped at Dudley. A man named Walker put his head out of the carriage, and asked what was the matter, but did not receive any answer. I think the first shock was near Brettel Lane. I heard that the cause of it was the break being down when the train started. The third shock took place beyond Stourbridge. I believe it was near Church Hill Station. I do not know whether there was any other shock between Church Hill and Worcester, but we were shaken three times altogether. I did not make any enquiries of the guard as to the cause of the shocks. I cannot tell exactly what time it was when we left Worcester to come home again, but as near as I can tell, it was half-past six. My two friends Pitt and Moore, did not get into the same carriage as I did to return. They went into the first train, and I got in the first carriage of the second train. The carriage in which they went was crowded. I should think one train started ten minutes before the other. I did not hear any complaints made then with reference to the shocks we had received in going; I believe Mr. Skeldon complained, but I did not hear him. When the accident happened I got out of the carriage and went up to the engine and asked what was the matter. They told me to get into the train again; that there was nothing the matter, and nobody was seemingly hurt. We came back very much better, than we went, until we got between Brettel Lane and Round Oak stations, when the train suddenly stopped. I tumbled out of the carriage, together with young William Skeldon, and asked the driver what was the matter. He told me there was nothing the matter, and that I must go back and take my seat; that there was nobody seriously hurt, and that they would drive on again directly. The carriage in which I was riding was reared up on end, and I was thrown off my seat. There was a very sudden and violent shock. There was no light in the carriage in which I was riding. The first thing I saw, on getting out of the carriage, was the coaches smashed all to pieces; but I did not take much notice, I was so badly frightened. The first person I saw was Mr. Hildrick, who had just got up. The break-van and one or two carriage were, I believe, smashed all to pieces; but I could see very little about it in the dark. The carriages had run into our engine, I believe. I do not know where the guard was; I never saw him. I believe the first train ran back into us, and I consider that was the cause of the smash. I saw some people lying about injured. I rendered assistance to Mr. Hildrick and young William Skeldon; but I did not know that it was him then, though I helped to carry him away. Mrs. Hildrick was lying on the ground, outside the carriages, and her husband asked me to lift her up. I lifted her up and got her over the fence, and laid her on the grass. Her husband was badly hurt, and he leaned on my shoulder. She was quite dead. She was very much hurt about the head. Her face was but little injured, but she had received a blow on the ear from what I could see, and she was bleeding from the nose and mouth. I did not assist to take her anywhere; I went to a public-house - the Cock - to get some convenience to fetch her away, but I could not get any, and when I came back somebody had removed her. I saw many other persons lying about injured, and two or three more who were dead. All the rest were strangers to me. I helped to carry one man to the Cock. I tied my handkerchief round his head, and stayed with him as long as I could.

The Coroner: What do you believe was the cause of this collision?

Witness: I think it was neglect. I think the guards did not do their duty. I think if the guard had exerted himself properly and used his break when the coupling chain broke, he might have stopped the train. T do not know that any coupling chain broke except from what I have heard. Mr Hildrick, who asked me to get out his wife, is very ill now.

In reply to Mr. Burbury, the witness said he believed the breaks were down when he felt the shock at Brettel Lane, William Skeldon having told him so. William Skeldon rode to Worcester in the guard’s van, with the guard. He (witness) was himself much hurt on the knee and the head. He remained after the collision took place until the last train left for Prince’s End. He got home at a quarter past twelve o’clock.

In reply to the Foreman of the Jury, the witness said the doors of the carriages on the sides next to the platforms were locked, and though he requested to be allowed to get out at several of the stations, he was not permitted. The door on the opposite side was not locked, and at Droitwich, when the train stopped to collect tickets, he got out onto the line.

William Skeldon, who was next called, deposed: I live at Coseley, and am a boiler maker. I went by the excursion train from Prince’s End to Worcester, on Monday. We left Prince’s End about thirty five minutes past nine, a few minutes after the specified time of starting. There was a guard in the break-van, but I do not know his name. There was only one engine to the train then, but another was put to afterwards. I do not know at which station. I rode in the van all the way to Worcester. Several other passengers were in the van. About half an hour after we had started, the guard asked if any of us had got any matches, or tobacco. I had both, and the guard lighted a pipe and began to smoke. As soon as he began to smoke he directed my brother, John Skeldon, that is dead, to work the break for him. We had nothing to drink. My brother John was 17. The guard told him to work the break, directing him to apply it when we got near a station. He told him he ought to do something for his bread if he got his cheese for nothing. The guard appeared quite sober. I cannot exactly tell where this conversation took place, but I believe it was between Dudley and Stourbridge. My brother worked the break all the way to Worcester; other persons sometimes assisting him.

The Coroner: What was the guard doing?

Witness: Oh, he was smoking his pipe, Sir, most of the time. In continuation witness said: Between Prince’s End and Worcester we broke one or two coupling chains. I believe the first broke soon after we left Dudley, and somewhere near Brettel Lane. Just before we got to the station I felt a shock; and when the train stopped the guard got out, but directly afterwards came back and took a chain out of the van. It was a very large one. The shock threw me forward against the front of the van. The guard said when he came that there was a coupling chain broken, and he wanted another. There was another coupling chain broken before we got to Droitwich, and we received a shock, but it was not so bad as the first. When the train stopped the guard got out and he fetched another coupling chain out of the van, saying there was another broken, but he afterwards brought it back again, and said it was not wanted. Nothing further occurred before we got to Worcester. There were about forty five carriages attached to the chain, I believe. I do not know how many passengers there were, but is said there were more than 2,000. They were packed so thickly some of them had to stand. There were a great number of children. I did not hear any complaints made about the shocks we had received. I did not return in the van at night. The guard wanted me and my brother to come with him, but we refused. The first train left Worcester about twenty minutes past six, and the second about a quarter of an hour afterwards. I returned in the second train. When the guard asked me to get into the van he said, if I did not return in it I should have to pay a guinea, but I said but I did not mind if I had; that I had stood up all the way coming and would have a comfortable seat back again. The guard was then sober for anything I can tell. The guard with whom I rode in the morning returned in the van attached to the first train, and I came back in the first carriage of the second train. Nothing occurred as we were coming back until we got between Brettel Lane and Round Oak, when I felt a very severe shock. I should think that was about ten minutes past eight o’clock. I was thrown against the side of the carriage. It quite took all my senses away for a long time. My tongue was very much cut, and my nose crushed, and I received two very black eyes. I have had a bad pain in my head ever since. As soon as the carriage stopped, and I could recover my senses, I went to see what was the matter. The first thing I saw, on getting out of the train, were the funnel and buffers of the engine lying on the rails. They were knocked completely off. I saw the engine driver walking round the engine, and I asked him what was the matter. He said “What the devil do you want here, out of your carriage? go and get in again; there’s nothing serious the matter, and we shall go on again in a few minutes. There were many out of the carriages besides me. I did not get into the carriage again. I and Benjamin Law went to see what we had run into. The first person I saw was the guard I rode with in coming, and then I knew we must have run into the first train. Two or three carriages were smashed all to pieces. Our engine had run over them, and just as I got (on?) of the carriage, they called out to us to keep clear of the train, and drew the engine back off the broken carriage. The guard was not hurt at all. I did not speak to him then.

Coroner:– Did you not ask him how it had occurred?

Witness: No; as soon as I saw him I knew it was the train my father and mother and brother were in, and I knew they were in the last carriage, next to the guard’s van; and I knew enough without asking him. They were in the last compartment, next to the van.

Coroner: Then I suppose you went and looked for them?

Witness: Yes.

Coroner: Did you find them?

Witness: No, sir, I looked for two or three hours before I found my father, and them I found him at Mr. Noden’s. My mother and brother I have not seen at all. He was not dead then. He died the next morning after his legs were amputated. He was quite sensible when I saw him. His feet were cut off by the train, and he was badly bruised about the head and face.

Coroner: Was he aware of his position; did he express any belief that he should not live?

Witness: He enquired about my mother, and said he should never see her again; that she was crushed under the carriage. I was not with him when he died. I do not know the name of the surgeon who amputated his legs; they were taken off just below the knees. He only lived twenty minutes after the operation, I believe.

Coroner: After seeing your father did you go back and look for your mother and brother?

Witness: Yew, I hunted about for two or three hours, but could see nothing of them, and then I went home to ascertain if they had gone on. They were not at home, and I immediately sent my uncle to look for them. That morning

I heard that they were both dead.

Coroner: Then I suppose you went to see them?

Witness: No, Sir; I have not seen them at all.

In reply to Mr. Burbury, the witness said that although the guard directed his brother to work the break, his brother had never been a railway servant, nor was he at all acquainted with such matters, never having travelled so far on a railway in his life before. There were several other passengers besides his brother and himself in the van when the train arrived at Worcester, and they might have been seen by any of the officials of the Company who were in the station. The van was standing opposite the platform when the guard requested him to ride back in the van. He asked him openly, and the question might have been heard by any of the officials about. The guard threw open the folding door of the van and asked him and Law to get in, but Law said he would do no such thing. He saw ten or twelve persons get into the van of the first train before it started. Not more than ten minutes elapsed after the departure of the first train before the second started. It was sent off as soon as the passengers could be got in, and many of them remarked that they should soon catch the first train, that one being so much lighter. There were seven or eight stations between Worcester and Brettel Lane, and the train stopped at three or four of them, including Stourbridge and Brettel Lane. The train did not remain at Brettel Lane many minutes.

In reply to Mr. King, the witness said the train was advertised to take Sunday school children and teachers only. He was not a Sunday school teacher, nor in any way connected with any schools, but his brother was a scholar in one of Messrs. Bagnall’s schools.

In answer to the Coroner, the witness said the sale of tickets was not confined to persons connected with Sunday schools; they were not denied to anyone applying for them.

Francis H. Etheridge, collier, was next examined. He deposed that he was walking from his work at Wordsley, to his home in Moor Lane, about twenty minutes past eight o’clock on Monday evening, when passing over the railway bridge in the lane he saw a number of railway carriages coming down the line in the direction from Round Oak. There was no engine attached to them, and they were travelling at a great speed. There were twelve or thirteen carriages, and he could hear the voices of people inside them. He watched the carriages go under the bridge and down the line, and almost immediately heard the “slam”. He immediately ran to see what was the matter. The crash took place 400 or 500 yard beyond Moor Lane Bridge. He did not hear any whistle, but only the crash. When he got to the place he found that the carriages had run into a train coming from Stourbridge. The crash was so loud it nearly took his hearing away. When he got to the place where the accident happened, he saw a man with a lamp, and there was an awful screaming. He saw seven or eight dead bodies lying under the first two or three carriages that had come down the line. The first two were splintered all to atoms. He did not observe whether the engine of the Stourbridge train was thrown off the rails, but immediately began to help get the bodies out, and to carry away the person who were alive. After having carried away the wounded, they removed the dead. He did not see any railway guard there, nor did he know the man who had the lamp. There were several dead bodies besides those he first saw. He believed he assisted in getting out every one of them. There were a great many wounded, and with broken legs and arms. He did not attempt to ascertain the cause of the accident.

Adonizebet Gordon, a watchman employed at a colliery near Moor Lane, said he was in a field near the railway on Monday night, and shortly before eight o’clock he saw a passenger train go up towards Round Oak. Shortly afterwards he saw several carriages coming down again. The train appeared to be travelling about the usual rate in going up to Round Oak, and he did not observe that the carriages travelled much faster in coming down again. When the coaches had passed Moor Lane Bridge, he heard a whistle in the opposite direction, and saw a train coming from towards Stourbridge, and a collision occurred immediately. He ran to the place, and found several of the carriages broken to pieces. There were a number of people lying under the wheels of the carriages, and he assisted to get them out. He helped to get out one man with his feet cut off, who was alive. A great crowd of people came directly. He never what was the cause of the accident, for what with the cries and one thing or another, it put him about so that he had no heart to ask questions of anybody.

In reply to Mr. King, the witness said he did not see the train coming from Stourbridge until after he heard the whistle, and he did not know there was curve on the line that would prevent the driver of that train from seeing the carriages coming in the opposite direction until he was almost close to them. He did not observe that sparks were flying from the wheels of the van as the carriages were coming round the curve.

The Rev. Edward Cresswell Perry, who had entered the room during the examination of Gordon, in reply to a question to the Coroner, said that he was a passenger by the excursion train on the day in question, and could give some evidence on the subject of the accident. He was then sworn and deposed: I am a clergyman. I live at Caponfield, in the parish of Sedgley. We left Bilston station about half past nine o’clock in the morning. I believe I rode in a second-class carriage, but I do not remember particularly, I had a party of nearly 200, about 109 of whom were school children under my care. I cannot tell exactly how many carriages there were, but I think there were about fifty; I made a rough estimate of them. They were principally second an third class. I saw one or two guards with the train. I did not hear any complaints before leaving Bilston, as to there being too many persons allowed to go by the train, or of any want of engine power. It was scarcely to be expected that I should, seeing that the train had only come from Wolverhampton, and was then comparatively empty.

Coroner: Do you remember anything occurring before you got to Worcester?
Witness: The very first circumstance I happened to observe of an alarming nature was that of the train separating, near Brettel Lane Station. As it was starting from the station one-third of it, I should think, broke away from the first portion. I did not perceive any shock whatever before coming to Brettel Lane. As soon as the train separated we stopped. I could not understand the extra shock I felt. It was not a severe shock, but just enough to excite a little surprise. I was in the first part of the train. I looked out of the window, and perceived that the train had separated, and I perceived a number of men with pieces of wood, which, I suppose, are used for stopping trains on an incline. The former part of the train was pushed back to that which was left behind, and the carriages that had broken loose were reattached. It occurred to me at the time, though I may not be justified in stating it, that the carriages may not have been properly fastened together, but I did not get out to ascertain whether it was so.

Coroner: Did you perceive any other shocks?

Witness: After that time I perceive several extraordinary movements of the carriage, which I thought were produced by an extraordinary quantity of steam being put on the engine in order to get the train along.

The next particular shock was one that caused myself and my wife considerable alarm. The train again separated, and unfortunately for us, we happened to be in the portion that was detached. We were in the first carriage of the last part. I cannot say exactly where that was, being unacquainted with the spot, but I think we were going round a curve this side of Kidderminster. I immediately left the carriage, and ran for at least fifty yards by the side of it, when the speed gradually slackened. The first part of the train was brought to a stand, and the line being inclined in the direction in which we were going, the latter part came up to it again, and the guard reattached the two portions. I observed that one of the chains was broken, but the only operation necessary to attach our carriages to the first part was to bang on the middle chain. I observed that the centre chain–a very strong one–was not broken.

Coroner: Then how do you make out that the carriages were separated?
Witness: I think that one or both, of the side chains must have been fastened, and the centre one left unfastened; therefore the middle chain was not broken, and it was that which the guard hooked on. He did not bring a fresh chain. I had a conversation with the guard after I got into the carriage. I said “I do not know whether these engines are playing tricks with us, or whether they are drunk; I hope not the latter at this early hour of the morning, but the extraordinary jerks we have experienced lead me to suppose such is the case,” but he assured me that one of the drivers was a teetotaller. We went on to Worcester after the second separation. We left Worcester in the evening after half past six o’clock. I travelled in the first part of the train. I have not been told why the train was divided there, but I suppose after the experience of the morning it was deemed impracticable to work the whole of it together. There were twenty-nine carriages in the first train. There was only one engine when the train started from Worcester, but another was attached subsequently. On an average there would be from 50 to 60 persons in each carriage, and there would be something like 1,540 people in the train. The train went very steadily until it got to Round Oak. Just before arriving there the latter part of the train again detached itself from the former, and ran down the incline towards Stourbridge. I was in the former part. In about ten minutes the first part of the train was pushed back at a slow rate, for about half a mile, when it was again stopped, and after the lapse of a few minutes it was pushed on to the scene of the accident. It was rumoured that an accident had occurred, and that some were killed and some wounded. After describing the scene of the accident the reverend gentleman stated that after the lapse of sometime the train was taken to Dudley. He accompanied it there and then returned.

Mr. John Phillips, station-master at Round Oak, was next examined. He said he rode on the engine of the train as it was going to Worcester in the morning, from Netherton to Round Oak Station, and he did not perceive any unusual motion. In pursuance of his duty he examined the train, and all the carriages were properly fastened together. He first heard of the accident about nine o’clock in the evening. He was then at the Dudley Station, where he remained for some time assisting the wounded who were brought there. He afterwards went to the scene of the accident and examined the carriages, both that night and the following morning. The couplings were broken; the centre one, commonly called a “shackle,” was snapped short off in the middle; the hook of one of the side chains was broken, and the staple to which the other was attached was wrenched out of the carriage. He observed that the nut with which it had been secured was missing, and on the railway about 60 yards on the Brettel Lane side of the Round Oak Station. The witness was examined at considerable length both by the Coroner and Mr. Burbury as to the means of communicating between Brettel Lane and Round Oak in the event of the line becoming blocked up and other matters. He said that there being telegraphic communication between the two stations, the signals used in some other places were not necessary. The coupling chains and shackle which broke were produced, but the person who had taken them from the carriage was not in attendance.

Shortly after six o’clock the enquiry was adjourned until one o’clock on Wednesday next.