We’re grateful to Ian Strugnell for this guest blog post. Ian is a member of the Great Eastern Railway Society, and got in touch after we contributed a piece about the project to the Society’s Newsletter. Of particular relevance was the work we’d done on the GER’s Benevolent Fund book (see here). Ian has been transcribing various of the GER’s staff files and had run across plenty of accidents – a few of which he has written up in this post, focusing on a specific station. Ian has been furnishing us with further insights into the GER in relation to staff and accidents, which we hope to be able to share in due course.
In the meantime, if you have an idea for a guest post, do please get in touch – we’d be happy to hear from you!
It is likely that the Great Eastern kept records of accidents to its staff, but most of these are now lost. However, there was a Traffic Committee (of Directors) which received reports of incidents involving serious injury or death of named individuals, and its minutes are available at The National Archives in the RAIL 227 Series. In collecting information on my local line’s stations, it wasn’t long before I realised that these minutes supplied a few names to help populate those stations in between Census years (surviving staff records only cover those who were already with the Company in 1910 or joined later, up to about 1920).
To illustrate what happened, and sometimes what the Company did, I have taken a few examples of fatal accidents at Buckhurst Hill station. It was (and still is) quite an ordinary station on a double line running roughly north-south with two platforms. When opened in 1856 the down platform was south, and the up north, of a public road level crossing. The main building (station master’s house) was on the down platform, and behind it and to the south a small goods yard with two sidings developed. The platforms were re-arranged in 1892 to be north of the level crossing (which closed in 1942) and remain substantially unaltered today. Some of these accidents were also reported in the local newspaper (The Woodford Times) which is available (from mid-1869) on British Library microfilms.
On 22 January 1869 a locomotive fireman named as J. Dutfield fell off his engine near the station, was run over and died within 2 hours. He was apparently changing the lamps on the engine (the driver, who should have seen to this before the train left the previous station, Loughton, was fined for negligence). The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death; the Company granted his widow a £10 donation, the usual sum in such cases. From the GRO indexes to deaths he (John) was 21 years old. No newspaper report has yet been found, and in this case the information comes from the Locomotive Committee. The accident also appeared in the Board of Trade Returns to Parliament for that year, and although no name is given the date is; it was counted among those to ‘Servants of Companies or Contractors, From their own Misconduct or want of Caution’.
On 5 September 1878 a porter named George Cullum was standing in a half-loaded goods truck during shunting when the engine “bumped up” the train; he fell over between the trucks and a wheel ran over his leg. He was taken to the nearby Village Hospital but died there on the 13th. He had only been at the station ten days, and from the GRO indexes was aged 17. His parents were granted a £5 donation (the usual sum for single men) and funeral expenses up to £5.
On 4 March 1890 the station master John Newman (aged 61) was shutting the door of a carriage in a train moving out of the station; his hand became trapped and he was badly injured. He was taken to the London Hospital, where he died on 14 February. This was briefly reported to the Traffic Committee in March, but the accident was also reported in newspapers as far away as Liverpool. He was listed in the 1881 Census as married with children and it is quite likely that he would have contributed to the Company’s Accident Fund, which seems to have been started in 1878 (by 1879 it was sometimes reported to the Traffic Committee whether a deceased employee was a member) and membership was apparently made ‘compulsory’ for all workmen in 1880. The Company for many years also made annual subscriptions (donations) to various hospitals (including the London), which are recorded from time to time in Traffic Committee and Board minutes.
On 24 April 1897 another porter (Ernest Arthur Murton) was knocked down by a train, and died from his injuries while being taken to the London Hospital; he was 21 and had married a local girl only three months before. The Woodford Times reported the inquest (held at the Hospital) at some length, from which it appears that he had just collected a bucket of hot water from the fireman of an up train and was struck by a down train while standing between the up and down lines. A likely match on his name appears in the 1891 Census for Haughley, Suffolk where he is shown as a station porter, a railway platelayer’s son; by this period it was not unusual for staff to move some distance to a new post. By then reports by the Superintendent of the Line (who was in charge of all station staff) of fatalities were almost a standing item on the Traffic Committee agenda although generally only the name, grade, place and date were minuted.
On 5 June 1905 foreman porter William Thomas Dennis, aged 67, was crossing from the up to the down platform in order to collect tickets just after a down train arrived and was struck by an up train which was not due to stop there. He had been in the Company’s employ for 37 years: as porter at Loughton by 1871, signalman there by 1891 (new interlocked cabins were provided in 1886) and still in 1901. He was married, but apparently had no children. The Woodford Times again reported the inquest at some length; the jury foreman suggested that they should add a rider that the Company should not employ a man of that age in such a dangerous occupation. This was not acted upon, but a verdict of accidental death was returned and the foreman then said the jury thought the Company ought to do something for the widow. The coroner said he believed there was a fund, which an inspector representing the Company confirmed was so; the jury decided to hand their fees over to the widow. The funeral was also reported, and over 30 railwaymen attended.
Although I found most of the above information by personal examination of the original minute books at Kew, the Great Eastern Railway Society has for many years published summaries of some of them and also indexes (which is how I found the Locomotive Committee minute). Initially these summaries were photocopies of hand-written notes made by one member and covered the Way and Works (which gives a good idea of what infrastructure work was done, when, by whom and at what cost) and Locomotive Committees, and the Board. About 20 years ago these notes were transcribed by many members into a word processor format which could then be supplied either as printed copies or on data CD with hidden text added to enable a search by various categories. The GER Traffic Committee minutes summaries were published in these formats from the time another member started on them; latterly the format for all has been PDF with its expanded search facility. These are available for sale at a modest cost to anyone interested (see the website (www.gersociety.org.uk) under Sales and ‘Files Emporium’). There are also summaries covering many of the minutes of the GER’s antecedent, the Eastern Counties Railway.
I have lived in Loughton since the late 1940s (longer than I can remember) although I was born in Dagenham (then still in Essex). I grew up with an electric railway (dad used it to go to work in London; he didn’t think much of it compared with Southern Electric he knew as a boy), but I was always fascinated by the stations (mostly older even than the battered trains); it was Alan A. Jackson’s London’s Local Railways that opened the door on the delights (!) of old railway records. Having met a good many interesting railway people, that side of the story gives a more personal aspect.