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Trespassing Incidents

In this post, one of our project volunteers – who wishes to remain anonymous – looks at a new topic for us: trespass. Like staff accidents, it is another topic that has always been rather overlooked in favour of passenger train crashes. Even within our work, it has so far fallen out of scope – largely because the records we’ve been focusing on have recorded only accidents to staff. However, some of the volumes of railway company records, held at The National Archives and which we’re working on preparing for release, did record cases of trespass. Some of these records have inspired this post.

Our thanks as ever to the author, both for this post and for their hard work on the project: all is appreciated. You can read another post by this author here.


Growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s, I was fascinated by trains. My parents were working-class publicans and the family travelled by train once a year for our holidays to see relatives in Eastbourne or Glasgow, and once to Lytham St Anne’s (our wealthy relatives!).

I spent many happy and exciting days at railway stations in those days when you could buy a Platform Ticket for a penny (remember those?) and note down the numbers of locomotives and later underline them in my Ian Allen spotter’s handbook. I am still awaiting a couple of locomotive sightings to complete my Castle Class list…

I also have to confess to hitching a ride occasionally and visiting engine sheds and goods yards in order to pursue my hobby. Sometimes I was pursued by someone in authority, but I have always been blessed with good running ability!

Midland Railway trespass warning sign.
Midland Railway trespass sign, from the collections of the National Railway Museum.

I was familiar with the type of dire warning notices that railway companies had erected in places of danger, noting that most of them pre-dated the national grouping of the railways in 1922. In the Birmingham area, as well as London, Midland & Scottish notices, there were cast plaques from the Midland Railway, the Great Western Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway and probably others that I cannot recall. These notices in particular warned of the financial penalties if you were caught trespassing on the railway; this included all railway-owned property, not just the railway lines.

So, when I was asked to check over the details of incidents in the Midland Railway Company’s records, I took a special interest in incidents of trespass and decided to write a blogpost to highlight certain occurrences. Not all trespassers were fined; sadly some of them were killed, presumably in cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, it goes without saying that all trespassers were in the wrong place, but some of them got away with quite light injuries by comparison.

There are 4161 incidents in the Midland Railway Company’s records between March 1895 and January 1901. Only 65 mention trespassing, a small proportion of the total; and, of these, 29 involved death, 14 had leg or foot injuries and 12 had injury to the head. It is not always noted exactly where the trespass took place, but most of the fatalities and injuries were caused by the individual being hit by a train, so it can be assumed that they were “on the line” at the time of the incident. Not surprisingly, in all of these cases, the Midland Railway Company noted that these people were “Not in Company’s Service”. There were other incidents of persons being killed or injured “on the line”, usually Company staff whilst on their way to work or when going home after their shift.

In terms of who these trespassing people were, 8 were listed as Female, 53 as Male and 4 were “Not Stated”; from the names given it could be assumed that three of them were Male. The other was a body found on the line and was not identified at all – very sad. Another sad fact is that a sub-set of the Males shows three boys aged 9, 10, and 12; the first two were killed and the oldest had a hand crushed. I personally felt for these individuals as they were at the same age as I was when I was chasing locomotive numbers in the late 1950s. Incidentally, these three were the only people to have their ages recorded.

Of the Females, one was killed, four had head injuries and the other three had bruising or slight injuries. Only one was listed with an occupation: a Draper’s Assistant; all of the others were just noted as “Not in Company’s Service”. Does this show a simple lack of information or does it say that these women were so unimportant that it was not worth finding out their occupation? After all, half of the Male trespassers were identified by a trade or occupation.

In addition, it seems that railway operations in Derbyshire were the most likely to see a Female trespasser; 5 of the 8 incidents occurred in that county. However, Yorkshire was the location for the most incidents with 19, and Derbyshire was second with 13, including the 5 Females.

With regards to the Male occupations, Labourers were the most common (9), but there were several other manual workers, too. Notably, there was a Basket-maker in Leicestershire and a Threshing-engine driver in the same county.

Luton in Bedfordshire was the scene of the most incidents, three out of the 65; most of the others occurred at individual locations just once, except for Skipton in Yorkshire with two. The details of the Luton incidents show a remarkable similarity:

  1. Trespassing on line and run over by goods train
  2. Run over by express – trespassing on line
  3. Trespassing on the line and run over by express goods

It would be interesting to know if these incidents all occurred on the same piece of track.

It can be presumed that the reasons all these individuals had for trespassing on the railway were as varied as the individuals themselves. However, it would be interesting to discover how their injuries affected them in later life. For example, a man who lost either his feet or a leg in an accident would probably lose the ability to work and therefore to support his family. In addition, there is no information in these records about prosecutions, fines or prison sentences; all of these incidents would have had repercussions on all of the families of the individuals concerned.


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