Project work – and an accident at Chadwell Heath

In this week’s post, National Railway Museum volunteer Philip James outlines more of what working on the project involves, and one case from our current extension, covering the Board of Trade inspectors’ reports for 1900-1910. Philip has been working on the project since we started in 2016, so must now have seen well over a thousand cases, so we’re very appreciative of his efforts. His further investigation into the case here ties together one accident report from the project with a variety of other sources, once again demonstrating how we mesh with local history.

As always, we welcome guest posts, so just get in touch if you have an idea!



In January 2019, I was invited to provide a guest post on my experience as an NRM volunteer. Time marches on and an update is due. I will not repeat what I have said before but simply refer the reader to that post.

I have now completed some work on phase three of the Railway Work, Life & Death project and am able to say more about my experience.


Technology used

I previously pointed out the advantage of using a computer with two monitors, one for the document being analysed and one for the spreadsheet in which the analysis is entered. In November 2019, I decided to upgrade my elderly IT kit and purchased a 27-inch widescreen monitor to go with the 24-inch model I already had thus relegating a smaller monitor to other duties.

This has proved to be a good move as both the source document and spreadsheet benefit from being displayed on a large widescreen monitor. For those considering a similar upgrade, a 34-inch monitor is probably the largest you can benefit from when viewed from a normal distance.

While I have continued to use Microsoft Office and have upgraded to the latest version, I have become aware that volunteers collectively have a variety of systems and software versions they are using to enter data presenting some challenges to the volunteer coordinators. Clearly this problem is unavoidable and our coordinators, Craig Shaw in particular, are to be congratulated for largely keeping these problems from us.


Project experience and issues

Scanning Quality

Volunteers will be aware of the issues with handwriting quality on some documents. Even printed documents can be difficult at times, in part due to the lower scanning quality available in the past. Until recently, I didn’t realise that some documents may have been scanned up to twenty years ago. Clearly this project has been in the planning for some time.

In general, it has been possible to quickly decipher any unclear text but numbers can be more problematic. Sometimes the scanning software has incorrectly reproduced one number as another so for example, 44 might appear as 11. Greatly magnifying the text may give clues to the real identity of the digits but only if there is reason to query the number. If the age of a railway man appears to be 11 then the reader may doubt this and discover that it should have been 44. If the age appears to be 31, would that be queried? Similarly, would a time shown as 12:15 be queried in case it is really 12:45? Unless there are additional clues to an age or time some errors may slip through. Hopefully details of this sort will not invalidate any conclusions reached by the researchers using the data.

While the print quality is generally sufficient and the ‘mark one eyeball’ can overcome most problems, I discovered that text recognition tools struggle. In order to reproduce the accident report for an ‘interesting case’, I had to heavily edit the version the text tool came up with. Many corrections were needed and hopefully I have attended to all.


Spreadsheet Design

A spreadsheet is a good tool for digitising what was previously a manuscript document, albeit one that had been scanned in. To populate some cells, drop down menus have been provided and the user selects an entry from a predefined list. I understand that this is one aspect that may have caused problems and the coordinators are working on it.

I won’t bore the reader with details but it suffices to say that different versions of software can throw up compatibility issues and sometimes it is possible to lose track of how lists have been defined. I like Excel but have noticed that some important details such as the names assigned to cell ranges need to be carefully tracked.

Looking to the future, it is possible that the data may eventually be put into a database. Fortunately, my professional background includes data analysis and database design skills so I am giving this some consideration. That said, the current spreadsheet-based approach appears to be well suited to present circumstances.


Use of Language

The latest project handbook highlighted the problem of different names being used for the same thing. The example given was, the ‘surfaceman’ in Scotland being the equivalent of the English ‘permanent way man’.

Data analysts are well aware of synonyms, different names for the same thing and homonyms, the same name being used for different things. Such problems are inevitable when different organisations or cultures are providing the source data and analysts need to identify these early on when designing IT systems or rationalising business practise.

Fortunately, this is not a problem for the volunteers entering the data but at some point, the researchers may need a dictionary or thesaurus of such terminology.


Interesting Case

In my last piece, I commented on an accident at Goodmayes in 1923, a station about two miles from where I live. This time, my attention has been drawn to one at Chadwell Heath in 1902. This is the next station to the east and opened earlier than Goodmayes, the area served being more developed at the time.

I expect many stations have had accidents or fatalities of some sort over the years so the only coincidence is that I happened to see the reports in the batches I am dealing with. It does serve to warn us that a moment’s inattention can lead to a premature death and in this respect is similar to many of the accidents reported.


The Accident at Chadwell Heath

The accident happened on 6 October 1902 and apart from the fatality, is not remarkable.

Chadwell Heath Station

Chadwell Heath station was opened on 11 January 1864 and is built on the site of Wangey House, one of Dagenham’s oldest buildings dating back to 1250. Wangey House was partly demolished when the Eastern Counties Railway built the line in the 1830s. It lies to the east of London on the line from Liverpool Street to Shenfield.

The track layout and services are similar to those at Goodmayes discussed in my previous piece. At the time of the accident, there were some sidings on both sides of the formation and additional lines may have been laid subsequently. The sidings at Goodmayes were more extensive and eventually extended the whole distance between the stations and some way to the east of Chadwell Heath. They were part of an age when most stations had a goods yard and a pick up goods train would run between them picking up and setting down waggons. A station master’s responsibility would frequently include nearby goods yards and sidings, something apparent from some accident reports.

Between Chadwell Heath and Goodmayes, a new freight siding on the south of the alignment will eventually be created in connection with Crossrail work to replace a siding being removed at Manor Park. This will occupy the site of a former freight line. New buildings alongside the railway suggest that the railway once owned more land than it does now.

Crossrail Line 1 (Elizabeth Line) upgrade work is taking place at this and other stations on the line with new footbridges, lifts, ticket barriers and platform extensions evident. New trains, the class 345, are also evident but in shorter formations than will be used by Crossrail due to short platforms at Liverpool Street.[1] The service is currently branded as TFL Rail. Much work has been done but some remains.


The Accident

Date of Accident – 6 October 1902.

Place where Accident happened – Chadwell Heath.

Name of Person killed – John Nicholson.

Age of Person killed – 61.

Capacity in which employed – Contractors servant.

Description of Accident – Nicholson was employed as a carpenter by Mr C. J. Wills, railway contractor, and for 18 months he had been engaged in connection with the rebuilding of Chadwell Heath Station.[2]

On the morning in question he, with others, had been working on the down local platform, but, at about 9 a.m., whilst he was returning from his breakfast; and when crossing the up main line en-route to the down local platform he, was knocked down and killed by a special Continental Express.

It is said that Nicholson usually took his breakfast in an archway of the over bridge just east of the platform. There is a signal cabin fixed about six yards east of this bridge, and in taking the usual route from and to the points referred to it would be necessary for Nicholson to pass between the bridge and cabin. The position of the cabin would prevent him readily seeing the approaching train, but with the necessary care he might have done so. From the position where he was knocked down, I am of opinion that he must have stepped foul of the line before even looking to see if it was safe for him to do so, in which case the accident, was due to want of caution.

Investigating Officer – A. Ford.



The photographs below are by the author except where stated.

Pictures 1, 2 and 3 show the layout of the station facing east. The former local lines are on the left and the main lines on the right. Freight lines, not present at the time of the accident and now lifted would have been on the extreme right and not served by platforms. The station building is located above the main lines but there are overbridges to its left and right for the local and freight lines. These appear to be of similar age and design. The station building is similar in appearance to other stations on the line apart from those that have been rebuilt in recent times.

Picture 4 shows the main lines and their overbridge. A feature is the openings in the side of the bridge abutments. It may have been one of these in which Nicholson had his last breakfast. If the signal cabin were still in existence it would be near the signal visible through the bridge.

Pictures 5 and 6 show the former freight lines overbridge. The arches in the bridge abutment and under the station building are evident. These are part of the same openings mentioned in picture 4. The freight lines are not shown in the ordnance survey map for 1914 and so were probably not present at the time of the accident although the overbridge may have been provided in anticipation. Perhaps Nicholson had his meal under the overbridge.

Picture 7 shows the main lines and their overbridge. The curvature of the track is evident. This was not mentioned in the report but would have been a factor in obscuring an approaching train. Being a ‘special’ implies it was an additional service and hence might not have been expected by Nicholson. The cabin mentioned in the report is not there now but would have been to the right of the train and close to the bridge. The accident would have taken place just past the bridge and on the right-hand track.

Picture 8 shows the local lines and their overbridge. The track curvature is evident. The reversing siding in the distance is a relatively new addition for Crossrail. Platform lengthening at Ilford, three stations to the west, resulted in the closure of an occasionally used bay platform and this siding may be its replacement.

Picture 9 by an unknown photographer is the Frontage of Chadwell Heath Station today.

Picture 10 is the railway facing east from road level. The cabin mentioned in the report would have been in the lower middle of the picture and the accident site to the lower left. The curvature of the track is evident.

Pictures 11 and 12 show the railway facing west. The platform extensions for Crossrail are present but not yet in use. Permanent way staff in orange are walking towards Goodmayes and facing oncoming trains. They will arrive there in nine minutes. ‘Red Zone’ working is still common and calls for vigilance by all concerned.

Picture 13 is a modern day take on safety warnings for passengers and railway staff. Sadly, railways are sometimes the scene of suicides hence the Samaritans poster. Many years ago, a work colleague of my father chose Goodmayes as the place to end his life.

Picture 14 by an unknown photographer is Chadwell Heath Station circa 1899 courtesy of the Historic Barking and Dagenham website. This would be the view looking east prior to quadrupling and rebuilding. The track beds are probably now the main lines and the track curvature past the bridge is evident. The platform faces probably survive in modified form but the buildings have been demolished. The signals on a raised pole are an interesting feature, obviously to allow sighting from a distance.

Examination of the bridge suggests it has since been rebuilt as the original had an arched top and no openings in the abutments. Comparison with picture 4 suggests the original abutments were completely demolished as those in picture 4 do not show signs of partial rebuilding although there is a change in the colour of the brickwork at about the height where a partial rebuilding might have occurred.

Picture 15 is part of Wangey House. The picture comes from the Chadwell Heath South Residents Association website. The view is probably facing north with the railway running from left to right behind the house.


Wangey House

The information below is reproduced from the website for the Chadwell Heath South Residents Association. In summary, the house was demolished in stages to make way for the railway.

Wangey House (or Wangye House in Old English) was situated in Chadwell Heath, on the borders of Dagenham and Ilford, at the site of Chadwell Heath Station. Its origins are obscure, but thought to date from the 1300s, when it was referred to as Wanghou. It appears to have been conveyed to Barking Abbey in 1366, becoming part of the Abbey’s demesne and subject to the Manor of Barking. The rent from Wangey formed part of the income of the Cellaress of Barking Abbey.

Wangeyhall Farm existed in Chitty’s Lane (now Station Road) in 1777. Chadwell Heath Cricket Club was founded in 1903 and originally played matches here. The farm was occupied in the early 20th century by the family of John William Sayer. It was demolished c.1936-38 to make way for Hemmings Bakery.

Famous occupants of Wangey House include Sir James Harvey, Sir John Lethieullier, Smart Lethieullier and Samuel Pedley. The Tudor manor house was originally thatched and moated, with a two-storey rectangular brick extension added in the 18th century. The construction of the stretch of Eastern Counties Railway line between Ilford and Romford, in 1838-39, caused the breaking up of estate lands and demolition of the Tudor part of the house.

Chadwell Heath Station opened in January 1864, and the Georgian wing of Wangey House was then occupied by the stationmaster and his family. In 1879, more of Wangey House was demolished to allow the railway to be widened to four tracks.[3] The last remaining portion of the 18th century extension, with 16th century chimneys and tower, survived until its demolition in 1937.


Chadwell Heath

Memories of Wangey House and its estate live on in a local road name. Wangey Road lies just north of the station and connects Station Road with the High Road thus completing a triangle. The tramway from London terminated in the High Road at Chadwell Heath and trams, being double ended, would reverse at that point. When trolley buses replaced trams, reversal was not an option so a reversing loop was created using Station Road and Wangey Road.

When the Dagenham and Becontree Council Estates were built in the 1920s, there were plans for the tramways to be extended and some roads were extra wide with central grass verges in anticipation of rails being laid.[4] Trams would have passed directly in front of Chadwell Heath Station before heading into the new estate. In the event, the new tramways did not appear and today, only the central grass reservations give a clue to the intended routes.

On the corner of High Road and Station Road, is a public house called the Eva Hart. As a child of seven, Eva survived the sinking of the Titanic as did her mother. Her father was less fortunate and the last thing she recalled him saying to her as she was put into a lifeboat was “be a good girl”. Later in life, Eva was a resident of Chadwell Heath and a local magistrate. She was active in speaking about the Titanic and her interviews survive online. She was also involved in the family planning association and in this capacity was a colleague of my mother.

Courtesy National Library of Scotland Maps

The map of Chadwell Heath is an extract from an old Ordnance Survey Map for 1914. It shows the railway and remains of Wangey House (now a car park). Just to the right of the overbridge is the cabin mentioned in the report shown as a small square. Also apparent are Wangey Road and just off-map the tramway from London terminating in the High Road. The map predates the construction of the Dagenham and Becontree estates to the south.

Old Ordnance Survey Maps usually come with a historical summary of the area they cover and are a source of interesting and obscure details of local history. This may be of particular interest in areas that have undergone significant and rapid change.


Philip James


[1] The platforms at Liverpool Street will be extended and class 345 trains lengthened from seven coaches to nine.

[2] The line was quadrupled about this time.

[3] This is more than twenty years before the rebuilding referred to elsewhere.

[4] Valance Avenue, Becontree Avenue and part of Longbridge Road have such a central verge.

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