Menu Close

An accident at Epping

This week we have a guest post from Philip James, looking at another accident he transcribed as part of his role as an NRM project volunteer. Here he puts the case in its local railway context, with a touching personal connection noted in the final image.

Philip has written several posts for us already, found here. Most of the cases he has blogged on are relatively close to his home but some were selected as they illustrated something of importance about how accidents happened. Philip has also interested himself in some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the project, including how the project data is being created. As ever, we’re grateful to Philip for his work on the project and on this blog post.


A few months ago, I came across an accident at Epping on the Great Eastern Railway. Today, the location is the end of the London Underground Central Line but in times past it was a Great Eastern Railway steam line and it continued as a single-track line to Ongar. The line beyond to Ongar is now a preserved railway but distances on the underground are still measured in kilometres with respect to the buffer stops at Ongar (see here).

Accident at Epping

Great Eastern Railway
Date of Accident – 12 June, 1905.
Place at which Accident happened – Epping.
Name of Person killed – Ralph Davison Scragg.
Age of Person killed – 42.
Capacity in which employed – Coalman.
Number of booked working hours per diem[1] – 10.
How long on duty at time of accident – 1 hour 45 minutes.
Nature of Injury – Fatal.

Description of Accident – About 11.45 p.m. Scragg and engine cleaner TA Bass coaled tank engine No. 1047 at the coaling stage, after which with that engine two waggons[2] were pushed back into the turntable road, about 45 yards clear of the crossing by Scragg who also uncoupled the waggons and dropped one brake lever. He then set the engine forward over the hand points leading to No. 1 shed road, and left the foot plate to set the points. Afterwards he got upon the engine and stood with his left foot on the edge of the footplate and his right foot on the boards covering the footplate, with his body partly in and partly out of the cab. While in that position he instructed Bass to get the engine back into the shed. When it reached the crossing it was struck by the leading waggon of the two which had been placed in the “turntable road,” but which ran out again owing to the lines being on a falling gradient. Scragg was caught between the leading waggon and the cab of the engine, with fatal results.

Scragg was authorised to move engines in the Locomotive Yard, and was well acquainted with the place. The whole of the operations described were performed under Scragg’s supervision, and it is evident that he failed to properly secure the waggons in question; and to his failure in this the accident must attributed.

Investigating Officer – J. J. Hornby.

1895 map of accident site
Epping station in 1895. The turntable can be seen towards the top of the map, with the engine shed next to it.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland Maps.


The Epping Line

To understand the Epping line, it is desirable to know the following. The line was built in stages by the Eastern Counties Railway and its successor the Great Eastern. It diverged from the original line from Stratford to Cambridge near Leyton and passed through Leytonstone and Woodford, among other places, to reach Epping and eventually Ongar by 1865. Another branch left the main line between Ilford and Seven-Kings by means of a triangular junction and ran via Newbury Park, Hainault and Chigwell to join the Epping line north of Woodford. The junction faced London creating a loop.


Passenger Services

My reprint of the July 1922 Bradshaw’s Railway Guide [1] shows services to Epping and Ongar starting from Liverpool Street, with Ongar having a succession of through trains although the intervals between them were irregular and generally over an hour. Other London trains started and finished at Epping and others at Loughton increasing the frequency although still with irregular intervals.

Trains also reached the loop at Newbury Park via Ilford. Running via Fairlop, where some terminated, they would join the Epping Services back to London. Hainault station opened in 1903 but was closed between 1908 and 1930 due to a lack of custom and had no service at the time of my edition of Bradshaw.

The timetables also show services from Fenchurch Street although by 1922 these appear to be connections rather than through services. The layout at Stratford was and is complex and movements over the flat junctions to get from Bow Road (Great Eastern) to the Lea Valley Line would cause many conflicting movements. Through services have probably run from Fenchurch Street but been phased out to simplify operation.

Second World War

The 1935 to 1940 New Works Programme included a Central Line Extension east of Liverpool Street to Mile End, Stratford and Leyton and hence in stages taking over the line to Epping and Ongar and the loop to Newbury Park. A new line in twin tunnels ran from Leytonstone to Newbury Park and the section from there to Ilford and Seven-Kings was eventually abandoned although most of its route can still be traced. The junction between Ilford and Seven-Kings is now the site of Ilford carriage depot.

These tunnels were completed before the commencement of the second world war but not yet fitted out for rail use so they were used as a munitions factory by Plessey who were then based in Ilford. Other tunnels were used as tube shelters and these included the Station at Bethnal Green, the scene of heavy loss of life when a crowd of people seeking shelter fell down some stairs and suffocated.

Transfer to London Underground

After the war, the tunnels were fitted out for rail use and the surface lines converted to give the configuration we are familiar with. Services from central London divided to serve the Epping and Hainault branches, the Ongar line operating as a shuttle from Epping.

The line from Hainault to Woodford has also operated as a shuttle service but has also seen through trains from both ends with through trains via Newbury Park being the norm in recent decades. It has also been used as a test track for the Automatic Control of Trains system used on the Victoria Line.

Many of the stations on the Epping line and the loop through Chigwell had goods yards and there were also level crossings. The latter were not compatible with a frequent and electrified service and were closed, generally replaced by bridges nearby. For a time, the line remained connected to the British Rail system through junctions at Leyton and Newbury Park but eventually these were removed and the goods yards closed. The one at Epping is now a station car park although development may have encroached to some extent.

Possible Future Use

There have been proposals to separate the Hainault and Epping branches with one becoming part of the proposed Chelsea Hackney Tube or Crossrail Line 2. The tunnels between Leytonstone and Newbury Park are too small for a Crossrail type scheme so the Epping line would be the likely choice. Current Crossrail plans favour other branches although nothing significant has been done to prevent such a scheme proceeding.

The height of platforms above rail level is a partial exception. After the takeover by London Underground, compromise height platforms were adopted at the former Great Eastern stations but in more recent times the track has been raised so platforms match the floor level of the 1992 tube stock. If part of the system were to be taken over by another scheme, then the track may have to be lowered to suit the height of whatever trains run that way.

The Line Beyond Epping

Beyond Epping, the line to Ongar is single track but with passive provision for a second track. A passing loop at North Weald was lifted while still an operational ‘underground’ line but after preservation, reinstated by the Epping Ongar Railway. The station at Ongar has a single platform but was built in such a way that a second platform could be added and the line extended. Many years ago, I spoke to a resident of Ongar who believed that the Eastern Counties Railway had visons of the line eventually reaching Chelmsford. I have not yet seen anything of substance to confirm or refute this.

Blake Hall station lay between North Weald and Ongar and saw few passengers. It closed some years before the rest of the line and the platform was removed. It has recently been put back[3] but the station building which survives is in private use and is in virtual isolation, there being no settlements of any sort nearby. The line, like many was built with freight in mind and in its early days may have served local farms. The expansion of London left many rural stations serving busy suburbs but the post war Green Belt prevented Blake Hall and others developing in that way.


After the cancellation of the planned airport on the Maplin sands, several sites were proposed for a new London airport. Eventually Stanstead was chosen but before this decision was made, a surprise candidate emerged in the form of Willingdale in Essex. A wartime air station had existed at the site and presumably the Central Line or another line using part of its alignment would have been extended to serve the site. This would have involved double tracking the line to Ongar and a new alignment from there to Willingdale. Conceivably it might have continued from there to Chelmsford.

Closure and Preservation

Prior to closure in 1994, a special run was organised using a train of 1960 tube stock built by Cravens, one of six units built for the Central Line before the decision was taken to order the 1962 tube stock. The centre trailer coach was of 1938 tube stock, a replacement for two coaches of standard tube stock used previously. The 1960 tube stock did see some initial use in pairs through central London but most of its life was as single units on the shuttle services or in departmental use. A video of this special run is available here. The train has been preserved in operational condition.

After closure the line was acquired for preservation and is now run by the Epping Ongar Railway. It was not possible for the preserved railway to take over one of the platforms at Epping, neither was it possible to build a new one just past the existing platform ends due to the change in gradient of the line although a station further on at Epping Glade has been proposed.



When researching this topic, I discovered frequent references to Epping, New South Wales. The station there has more platforms than its UK namesake and is more modern. This highlights the need for care when conducting research using the internet. No risk of confusion in this case but sometimes search results may not yield what you expect and, in some cases, it may be less obvious when that is so.



This post was prepared subject to the travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19 so I have been dependent on material from the Internet and some of my own pictures from years ago. As always, I am grateful to my sources and have identified them where possible.

This image, from Flickr, shows the approaches to Epping Station in 1903. Engine C32 class 2-4-2T No.1041 is in the foreground with the goods and coal yard beyond to the left. The passenger station is in the distance. Epping gas works and siding are to the right and a ground frame box is by the up line. The engine is close in the number sequence to that involved in the accident. From this link, it seems both entered service in 1902 and were withdrawn in 1947.  None of the class have survived into preservation although a boiler from one does survive (more here). The method of working is also apparent. The engine is standing on a siding used to provide access between the various lines in the goods yard by means of reversal without fouling the running lines. The turntable is to the extreme left of the picture.

Above, taken by Malc McDonald and below is by the author, on 17/7/2005. They show the line from Epping heading towards Ongar. The track and point work are in place but rusting. The line on the right is the single line to Ongar, the uphill gradient evident, while the line on the left is a dead-end siding.


Images above and below are courtesy of an unknown photographer and They show what is now the end of the line with rusting and overgrown tracks beyond the stop lights. Presumably these can still be lowered to allow vehicles to be moved onto the preserved railway so long as the track beyond is sound.


Above and below were taken by the author on 6/8/2005. They show former Acton Works Shunting Locomotive L11, now a static exhibit at the London end of Epping Station. Built in 1964 from two 1931 Standard Stock driving motor coaches numbers 3080 and 3109. The driving ends were joined to form the locomotive (more here).


Above and below were taken by the author on 7/8/2012. They show the end of the line at Ongar. This is still the place where distances on the underground are measured from and the preservation society have done a magnificent job of keeping the station in good order. The floral displays are of particular note. Sadly, they have had to give up part of the former goods yard.


The above, courtesy of, shows the end of the line at Ongar from the other side of the fence when it was still operated by London Transport. The slight curvature in the track and platform, also evident in the previous two images, is curious. Perhaps it is an indication that this is where the line might have headed had Ongar not remained a terminus.


The image above, courtesy of, shows Blake Hall Station. The platform is still in place but there are no conductor rails. Also, a goods yard seems to be present. These features suggest the picture was taken before London Underground took over operation of the line. The space to the left of the track suggests there was space for a second track and platform but these were never needed.


The final picture was taken by the author on 17/7/2005. It shows North Weald station with the passing loop absent but a train operated by the Epping Ongar Railway present. The destination is Coopersale. This is not a station but a point on the line north of Epping station where the train had to reverse. The train is a class 117 Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU). This link gives historical and refurbishment information about the vehicle pictured, number 51342. This link deals provides information about the Epping Ongar Railway and its trains. The man in the blue shirt on the extreme left of this image is my late father George. Sadly, he died on 29/10/2020. My dad was a kind father and an excellent husband to my mother. He is greatly missed but not forgotten.


Philip James


[1] Per diem – for each day (used in financial contexts).

[2] Wagon and waggon are different spellings of the same word meaning, among other things, a sturdy four-wheeled vehicle for transporting things. Waggon was preferred in British English until a century ago, and it still appears occasionally, but it is fast becoming archaic. I have used the latter spelling to be consistent with the reports which invariably use it.

[3] The new short platform is not accessible by the public.



  1. Peter Robinson

    Disaster at Abermule

    Cambrian Railway
    Date of Accident – 25 July, 1907.
    Place at which Accident happened – between Abermule and Montgomery.
    Name of Person killed – Sidney O`Francis
    Age of Person killed
    Capacity in which employed – Engine Cleaner
    Number of booked working hours per diem[1] .
    How long on duty at time of accident – 8 hour 45 minutes.
    Nature of Injury – Fatal.

    He was helping clear the line after an accident
    While the jib was pointing over the north east corner of the crane truck the rail clips were removed and the crane together with the load was moved about 6 yards by pinch bars. Just after it stopped the crane fell over, O`Francis who was working a crane handle was crushed fatally

    After entering the data I Googled for information on the accident the previous day and found that it was a fatal accident killing two people and injuring two others and further on found that there was was another serious rail crash 14 years later killing 17 passengers including Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest one of the Directors of the Cambrian Railway as shown on the report below.

    The quiet and picturesque little village of Abermule in Powys, situated on Cambrian Railways, was the scene of two fatal railway accidents in the early twentieth century.

    A special livestock train left Aberystwyth at 8.15 p.m. of 24 July 1907. The train consisted of 16 vehicles amounting to 157 tons, behind an 0-6-0 goods engine. The crew consisted of Driver John Jones (No. 1), Fireman Edward Davies and Guard John Jones (No.2) Beside cattle and horses the train carried several people who were traveling, along with their animals. Somewhere around Abermule on a falling grade of 1:287 the coupler on one of the cattle wagons failed due to metal fatigue and the two halves of the train parted. Driver Jones had slowed a little to around 12 mph, about two miles beyond Abermule, and the rear portion of the train crashed into the front section. Two men riding in a horsebox were killed and two others, riding with the cattle, together with Fireman Davies were injured. The Regulation of Railways Act of 1889 exempted trains carrying drovers or grooms in charge of livestock from having to employ the vacuum brake, which was mandatory for normal passenger trains. The locomotive and several of the wagons were equipped with the vacuum brake, though it was not in use. If it had been the rear half of the train would have been brought to a halt and the accident would have been averted.

    The second Abermule disaster happened around noon on 26 January 1921 and was much more serious, leading to the deaths of 17 passengers, including Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest, one of the Directors of Cambrian Railways. Owing to a shocking mix-up, involving blatant breaking of the rules by several people and the careless handing of the wrong electric tablet to the driver of one of the trains, a westbound stopping train from Whitchurch and an eastbound express from Aberystwyth collided head on just west of Abermule at a combined speed of more than 60 mph. Signalman Bill Jones, Relief Stationmaster Frank Lewis from Montgomery (who was deputizing Stationmaster John Parry, who was on leave) were principally responsible for the mix-ups, though the crew of the stopping train were at fault in failing properly to examine the electric staff. The accident highlighted the outdated and sloppy way in which some railways were operated on the eve of the Railway Grouping.

  2. Graham Hurrell

    I remember sometime back in the late 70s or early 80s a 4 car 62T/S train coming from Ongar into Epping platform to reverse came in a bit fast and the wheels locked up, slid through the platform and into what l think was a works siding where it stopped. The siding was opposite the Epping Signal box. I can’t remember if it became derailed or hit the buffer stops. I was a guard at the time having brought a train from West Ruislip.

    • Mike Esbester

      Hi Graham – thanks for this, and whoops! Easily done we’d imagine, and it sounds like it no-one was hurt thankfully.

    • John Glover

      That could have been into the Gas Works Siding. Presumably it was still there in the 1970’s, probably OOU. It was opposite the later signal cabin that came out of service in 1996. I was in the cabin that night and Bob Yeldham was in charge. Taking into account the incline into Epping from Ongar was steep the Gas Works Siding could have been used as a catch point to stop onward travel on the main line. In later days all trains into Epping from Ongar had to come to a full stop on a time controlled signal on the downward slope!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.