In the course of the project work, our volunteers have found a huge range of stories that feed into our database. Some are quirky, many tragic, and the odd one or two involved relative good fortune (by and large – in that the results might have been a lot worse than transpired). One that falls into that latter camp involved a lucky escape, on 22 September 1913.
Just after 6am, platform porter E Collen was at work at Bury on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, helping move a trolley loaded with paper over a crossing at the north end of the station. One of the bundles of paper fell, causing the trolley to wedge itself in the crossing – and as if in a nightmare ‘almost at the same moment the whistle of an approaching up train was heard, and a struggle was made to get the truck clear.’ They managed to do that ‘but Collen, who was in the four-foot way [i.e. between the tracks], realised that he would be caught’: so what do you do?
Collen thought quick and took a risky course: ‘dropping on his face he allowed the train to pass over him.’ There was no guarantee this course of action would work, of course – and in fact he was pushed along for some distance by the locomotive’s ash-pan [a low-lying part of the steam engine, under the firebox which contained the burning coal; as the name suggests, the ash-pan caught the ash]. Fortunately for Collen he only sustained bruising – quite a surprise.
Inspector JPS Main investigated the case, and observed that the accident could have been far worse. He censured the men involved, seeing it as an unnecessarily risky way of working – but also noted that the men wheeling the barrow across the crossing were influenced by foreman-porter Purcell, hurrying them to get the job done. As a result of the pressure to get the work done and that visibility in the tunnel 30 yards away was limited as it was ‘full of steam and smoke’, the stage was set. Staff moving the barrow couldn’t see the signals warning of approaching trains, but Purcell knew a train was due. As a result, he took a large degree of the blame for continuing to urge the staff to move the barrow at a time when he knew a train was coming.
Main made a number of recommendations, chiefly that the crossing should be removed and a lift provided instead. It seems that the crossing was used by ‘the Company’s servants, postal employees, and the general public’ – it seems likely that the urgency of action was increased by the fact that it wasn’t just employees using the crossing. As an interim measure the Company ordered that staff weren’t to start crossing the tracks with a barrow if a train was coming (though presumably without a barrow they still could?). Postal staff and ‘private persons’ weren’t allowed to use the crossing at all, except when supervised by staff (1913 Quarter 3, Appendix B).
***** Update following the comment contributed below, with thanks to Brian:
Looks like JPS Main’s recommendation about replacing the foot crossing wasn’t followed – a typical situation. See the image of the station below, in 2008 – the barrow crossing is still clearly visible.
And the relief? Well, that’s a rather different matter, and an entirely different case, albeit also on 22 September – though this time, 1912. At just before 7pm, goods porter John Sansom was working in King’s Cross goods warehouse and was evidently caught short. Inspector Amos Ford’s delicately-worded report noted that ‘for a natural purpose he … stood by the side of some wagons at No. 4 platform.’ Resting his right foot on the buffer spindle, the wagons were slightly moved and his foot was pinched, bruising it (1912 Quarter 3, Appendix C). Rather embarrassing for Sansom, no doubt!