A Valentine’s Day special

Accidents of any sort aren’t particularly romantic, it has to be said, but given it’s St Valentine’s Day this week, we thought we’d have a topical tour through our database and see what, if anything, it held.

With so many cases to choose from, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there are some cases that are relevant. Of course, there are those that took place on 14 February itself: eight of them, 2 fatalities & 4 injuries in England and 1 fatality & 1 injury in Ireland. But looking beyond the accidents on the date itself, what else might we find?

If you’re looking for love, then there’s plenty to choose from: 7 cases of individuals featuring ‘love’ in their surname, some apt for the 14th – Loveday and Lovelock appearing twice each (though all different men; no easy way to tell if they were related), Loveland, the wonderfully-named Esau Lovett and the equally wonderfully-named Frederick Lovewell.

There’s also the simple but appropriate WJ Love, an engine cleaner injured at Yeovil on the London and South Western Railway on 28 October 1911 whilst he was working under an engine; the loco was moved and he was pinned between one of the rods and the front of the firebox. The investigating inspector JPS Main, found E Drew (another cleaner) and Sleep (a ‘shed turner’) responsible in part for the accident, as Sleep moved the engine despite a red ‘do not move’ light having been placed on it, and Drew had not warned Sleep that there was someone working on the loco (1911 Quarter 4, Appendix B).

1924 LMS accident prevention booklet advice on a similar danger

There are also 2 namesakes for the day: Valentine. The first was another loco cleaner, Valentine Gurney, who on 7 February 1911 injured his back against the hinge of a firehole door, whilst working inside the firebox of an engine at Neasden Loco Shed on the Metropolitan Railway.  As he emerged from the firebox, another engine nudged his loco, causing him to strike the door hinge. In this case, the inspecting officer, JH Armytage, found the driver of the other engine at fault (1911 Quarter 1, Appendix B).

The other Valentine was Sydney Valentine, and at age 14 he is one of the youngest people featured in our database. On 22 June 1914 Valentine was working at West Leigh and Bedford on the Great Central Railway, as a supernumerary number taker – someone who recorded the number of each goods wagon at a particular location at a given time. This was the only way companies could track their stock down across the system, including in the territories of other companies – labour intensive to say the least, but a necessity in the pre-computer age. As might be expected, this involved exposure to considerable danger, as it meant working in amongst goods wagons, often as they were being shunted. And in this case, as Valentine was walking between the departure and arrival lines at the Plank Lane Exchange sidings (receiving and despatching loads from several different collieries), ‘he failed to notice a light engine … and was run over’. The engine ran over his right foot and right arm, which were later amputated. The inspector, Amos Ford, concluded that Valentine ‘did not exercise sufficient care for his own safety, but in my opinion it would be unjust to blame a lad of such tender years for such want of thought, and particularly as he had only been in the service some three weeks’ – enlightened thinking indeed, and an unusually personal touch in these reports. Ford went on to note that ‘it is very unwise and certainly dangerous to allow any boy … to be engaged on and about such busy sidings.’ Lack of supervision was flagged up as a particular issue, though no formal recommendation was made (1914 Quarter 2, Appendix C).

And what of the gifts we might give or receive? If you’re thinking flowers, you’re in luck, as there’s one case: point cleaner Joseph Flowers, killed at Norwood Junction on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway on Boxing Day 1913 when he was struck by a train. Without a witness it was impossible to say how he had met his death, but Inspector JH Armytage believed that in the early morning low light visibility had been poor and the sound of a passing electric train had obscured the approach of the train that hit Flowers (1913 Quarter 4, Appendix B). Flowers had, incidentally, been witness to an earlier accident at London Bridge station on 3 September 1913, in which David Lancaster had his back bruised after being hit by a locomotive (1913 Quarter 3, Appendix B). Here we have another instance of the value of our database, as it allows us to appreciate how commonly railway workers might have encountered accidents, whether their own or those of others.

Prefer something with a bit more sparkle? There are 2 diamonds listed. The first was Alfred Diamond, a ‘point holder’ (another one of those mysterious job titles that doesn’t really seem to capture what it is he might have been doing) at Ardsley on the Great Northern Railway. On 13 June 1911 he was attempting to couple some wagons, but the coupling hook slipped and his left hand was crushed between the buffers (1911 Quarter 2, Appendix C). The other case was that of brakesman George Diamond, injured at Robroyston on the Caledonian Railway in Glasgow on 22 April 1915. Ironically it was a nearly identical case as the earlier Diamond: whilst attempting to couple wagons, the couple pole slipped – though in this case only his thumb was caught between the buffers and bruised (1915 Quarter 2, Appendix C).

However, if you were hoping for something more edible, you’re going to go hungry and thirsty: ‘chocolate’, ‘oyster’, ‘wine’ or even ‘champagne’, don’t feature. Finally, it appears there’s no ‘heart’, ‘Eros’ or ‘Cupid’ in our database – some of those might have been a stretch, but we’d bet there were railway workers with those names somewhere in the industry at this time!

Searching like this is perhaps not a traditional way of exploring railway worker accidents, but seemingly frivolous themes like these give us new ways of seeing connections between topics, whilst still allowing us to be sensitive to the individuals involved and the nuances of the cases. Importantly, the ability to pull these themes together is something that our database has provided – hopefully it’s as useful to you as it is to us.

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