Menu Close

High days and holidays

Holidays were odd times for the railways. Many services – particularly goods – kept moving, so at least some staff were still at work. Yet some things changed, and by no means all staff worked. Smaller stations might be entirely unstaffed.

This is what happened on Easter Monday at Blackhill, near Consett, County Durham, in 1904. Easter Monday fell on 4 April that year. We know this, because the accident report for Thomas Henderson, 18, mentioned the occasion – it had a direct bearing on the accident.

Ordnance Survey map, showing a railway line emerging from a tunnel, then curving bottom left to top right of the image. A town surrounds them.
Ordnance Survey map c.1897 showing the broad station area.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland maps.

Henderson wasn’t employed by the North Eastern Railway (NER), the company who owned and operated the route. He was a labourer, for the Derwent Flour Society. This wasn’t an uncommon situation – plenty of people needed access to railway spaces (something we’ve discussed here).

This case took place at 9am on Easter Monday. Henderson was putting a sheet over a wagon. Three more wagons were moved by horse, under the control of James Clarkson. Clarkson like Henderson worked for the Derwent Flour Society.

1930s accident prevention image about wagon sheeting
A warning about the dangers of sheeting wagons, from a 1930s accident prevention booklet.

Unfortunately as those wagons moved, they crushed Henderson between buffers. Inspector JJ Hornby investigated the accident – and wasn’t very impressed with what he found. Clarkson failed to give a warning that a movement was about to take place. He claimed that he didn’t know Henderson was at work on the wagon.

The men weren’t supervised: as it was Easter Monday, no NER staff were present. Inspector Hornby attributed the accident to Clarkson’s inexperience of horse-shunting – and his ‘ignorance’ to the NER’s rules and regulations about moving wagons. One of those rules stated that men who were not employed by the NER should not be permitted to move railway wagons.

Injuries like that suffered by Henderson could be fatal. Fortunately in Henderson’s case it was ‘just’ an injury – his abdomen was crushed. So far as we can tell, he survived the incident.

We also know something about what some railway staff did over the long Easter weekend, away from the railway. Some members of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants/ National Union of Railwaymen took collections to raise money for the Union’s Orphan Fund – something we discuss in this blog post. So, for some, even when they weren’t at work, work was never far away.

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.