How many accidents is too many?

The answer is, of course, one. But we live in the real world, and only too frequently accidents happen. We’d hope only once, but sometimes they strike the same individual twice. One such case has been uncovered by one of our volunteers and makes for interesting reading.

On 25 February 1912, labourer Joseph Brown went to work as usual at 7am. He was working near Liverpool Street Station, on the Great Eastern Railway, as part of a platelaying gang. Having had his breakfast with the rest of his gang in arches beside the railway line, he was shortly afterwards found unconscious having ‘sustained a severe cut on his head, and some bruises on his body.’ It was concluded that he’d been hit by the engine of the 8.40am passenger train from Liverpool Street to Chingford. The inspector, JH Armytage, put the case down to misadventure but noted that ‘the attention of the Company might be drawn to the fact that the close proximity of these arches to the running line renders them unsuitable for use as messrooms or similar purposes.’ Joseph Brown lived to work again another day …

… but the very next entry in the accident reports (1912 Quarter 1, Appendix B) is the same Joseph Brown. This time the unfortunate man – interestingly now described as a platelayer, though no doubt undertaking the same duties – was at work near Bethnal Green station. Between them the gang of six platelayers had taken the decision to put one man on lookout duty, to warn of any approaching trains, as they were once again at work in amongst moving trains – in fact, they were working foul of two of the three lines at that location. The lookout man, Frank Pleasants, warned of the approach of two trains and the imminent approach of a third. The noise of the first of the approaching trains obscured the warning, and Brown was once again struck by a loco, this time ‘sustaining a bruise on his right buttock.’

There’s an interesting snippet in the final part of the report: the investigating inspector, JH Armytage again, considered that ‘the evidence given at my inquiry was not very unsatisfactory’, though didn’t say why. Reading between the lines, this sounds rather like conflicting testimony from those involved. Armytage concluded that responsibility lay with Pleasants, for failing to ensure Brown understood that there were several trains approaching. You might say Brown was in the wrong place at the wrong time: no doubt about that. But he was put in a dangerous position by the system of work that the railway companies of the time put in place.

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