A miscellany of Waterloos

In railway terms, Waterloo generally brings one thing to mind: the London mainline station, in our period the terminal point of the London & South Western Railway. It was of course named for the famous 1815 battle in which Napoleon was defeated, which took place 203 years ago today – and it wasn’t the only UK railway Waterloo. To mark the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, this post takes a few of the Waterloo cases found in our database.

Starting at the London Waterloo, on 19 June 1913, platelayer J Kemp was working with point-oiler George Soane, cleaning some points at the entrance to platform 6. Soane finished his side ‘and told Kemp to keep a look out for himself while he (Soane) went to finish off the cleaning of another set of points which the men had previously been unable to complete.’ We’d be keen to know why Kemp and Soane hadn’t been able to complete the earlier task, but sadly the report doesn’t relate this. In Soane’s absence, Kemp continued with his work, with his back towards the station. The inevitable happened: he didn’t spot an engine coming and it hit him, bruising him and causing a ‘slight scalp wound.’

The investigating Inspector, JPS Main, noted that both men had been cleaning points together since January, when they were told ‘that they must work together for mutual protection.’ As a result, Main attributed the accident to ‘want of care on the part of both men, who were fully aware of the danger of working alone.’ What was not questioned – in keeping with the era – was the fact that staff were regularly working in amongst moving trains.

For once, at least some action was taken as a result of the accident: ‘instructions have been given that one man must act solely as look-out man for the protection of the other’ (1913 Quarter 2, Appendix B). Whether or not they did so – given the expected level of work, in the time available – is another matter, and whilst no further such cases at London Waterloo appear in our database, they may have occurred in the 97% of cases not investigated by the Railway Inspectors.


Curiously, the next Waterloo case we’re examining merited a longer report – but was found in Appendix C, which were usually shorter. Once again it flags up the difficulties of trying to understand how cases were selected for investigation; presumably there was an internal logic, known and understood at the time but which has now been lost to the passage of time. This case took place on 1 February 1912 at Waterloo Goods Station in Aberdeen, and led to the death of Goods Porter W Stephen.

Stephen was securing the sheets on some wagons, going between two which were initially ‘several yards’ apart. However, at 6pm ‘this space was closed up by an engine, and a few moments later Stephen was found between the buffers of the vehicles.’ He died a few hours later. The shunter involved, G Young, had done as he was supposed to and walked along the way to warn anyone likely to be affected – but he hadn’t seen Stephen ‘who at the time was probably at the opposite side of the waggons’, who therefore didn’t receive any warning of the impending movement.

The Inspector investigating the case, C Campbell, thoughtfully recognised the difficulties shunters like Young had in following the rules – in this case, Rule 112 (a) – and warning people of shunting. He recognised that even a diligent shunter ‘may carefully examine the waggons [for staff] and still fail to observe a man who should be warned’, instead observing that these sidings were ‘as a rule, under the supervision of a responsible man, who naturally should know where each person engaged at the waggons is employed.’ Campbell made a general recommendation – not just to the Great North of Scotland Railway, responsible in this case – that companies should ‘issue a general order’ stating that wagons being un/loaded in ways similar to this case should not be moved until the ‘man in charge’ (for it would, at this time, always have been a man in charge) of the warehouse or siding had given permission (1912 Quarter 1, Appendix C). What Campbell doesn’t go into, however, is that presumably the ‘responsible person’ would also have had a difficult time locating all staff under their command engaged in work of this king – how the general order was supposed to work wasn’t entirely clear.


The first quarter of 1912 was evidently a bad one for railway Waterloos. There were a further 2 accidents feature in this quarter’s report, one of which took place at Liverpool’s Waterloo Goods Station, on the London & North Western Railway. On 20 February 1912 William Haslam was at work here when he was instructed, with a colleague, to move a bale of cotton clear of one of the sidings, as it had been left obstructing it. As they were doing so, capstanman S Fulton moved some wagons, shifting the bale and trapping Haslam’s right foot.

Inspector JJ Hornby’s investigation found that the cotton had been moved at least 3 times by cotton brokers and the bale left in this dangerous position – but by this point it was impossible to locate the brokers concerned. It was responsibility all round, however: Foreman H Williams did not take steps to prevent stock being moved whilst the bale was being reduced; Capstanman S Fulton and his ‘hooker-on’ JD Davies ‘are to blame for failing to satisfy themselves that the waggons could be moved in safety.’ Hornby also recommended that the cotton brokers shouldn’t have access to the yard without someone from the relevant company  ‘being in attendance to see that the bales were left clear of all lines’ (1912 Quarter 1, Appendix C).


The final Waterloo case for this post – although there are plenty more in our database – comes from Leeds. At the Waterloo carriage sidings, on the North Eastern Railway, on 11 June 1914 brake-examiner Robert Sanderson and carriage and wagon examiner John Chadwick were both injured. Chadwick was helping Sanderson repair a leak in a fish wagon’s vacuum brake pipe; Sanderson knelt at the wagon side and Sanderson went under, but a loose shunt (that is, a shunt when the engine wasn’t attached to the wagon(s) being moved) further up the siding meant that the wagon being repaired was also moved, inadvertently. Sanderson fell across the rail but ‘Chadwick pluckily pushed Sanderson’s body clear of the rail with his left foot’; whilst it could have been much worse, it still resulted in the loss of one of Sanderson’s fingers and Chadwick’s left big toe being crushed.

Quoting at length from the company’s regulations, Inspector JH Armytage established that staff working on, under and around stock in this way should protect themselves by hanging a red flag (or lamp, at night) on the end of the stock in the direction of any possible traffic, to warn others that people were at work there. Sanderson, it turned out, had forgotten to do so, and so was found responsible.

However, Armytage also uncovered ‘a lack of proper supervision on the part of the more responsible officers of the Company’, as evidence at his inquiry suggested that the clause about protection ‘has hitherto been practically ignored’. Indeed, Armytage made the connection to an earlier similar case at the same location, in June 1911 (and also featured in our database). He called for the NER to ‘take steps to ensure that the regulations are strictly observed in future’ and in a particular moment of insight followed this up with ‘I am inclined to attribute the comparative immunity from accidents in these sidings in recent years mainly to exceptional care on the part of the shunting staff’ (1914 Quarter 2, Appendix B). Usually staff were blamed for having accidents: very rarely were they praised for avoiding them despite the hard conditions and dangerous nature of their work.


Once again our database has allowed us to pick a theme – in this case, an unusual one – and look at cases which might not otherwise be connected. In doing so it has touched upon a range of important issues about the nature of railway work at this time and the ways in which inbuilt dangers were largely invisible, even to accident investigators.

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