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John Rigby of Long Buckby Wharf

In today’s guest blog post, Julie G takes us back to a place-based approach. She’s interested in Long Buckby Wharf, in Northants – a transport hub, of sorts, with road, rail and canal links. Needless to say, that involved accidents, and she’s blogged about several – rail and canal – on her One Place Study site. This is a really helpful approach, as we can get a wider feel for accidents in a place-based community, going beyond the occupational community angle that our project takes.

Here Julie has written an account of just one of the cases she’s found in her research. It fits well with some other cases we’ve found in our project records, as it deals with disability before an accident, and which might have played a role in the accident. In this case it is deafness – a few more cases in which hearing loss might have been involved are here. Our thanks to Julie for her post, and a reminder that guest blogs are always appreciated – just get in touch!


I have recently started a One Place Study of Long Buckby Wharf in Northamptonshire. While looking into the history of the railway line that runs alongside the Wharf, I have come across some accidents most of which were unfortunately fatal. John Rigby’s death in 1882 currently falls outside of the Railway Work, Life & Death project data but is of interest as a part of local history and disability in the railway workforce.

Originally from Ormskirk in Lancashire, John moved to Northamptonshire, marrying Ann Leeson in 1840 in Northampton. John, Ann and their three sons made their home at Long Buckby Wharf where John was initially an agricultural labourer. On the 1851 Census he is recorded as a foreman platelayer. In the following censuses he is recorded as a railway labourer, jobbing labourer, and platelayer. So he had around 30 years of experience of working on the railways, and a lot of that time was as a platelayer – laying and maintaining the railway track for the London and North Western Railway.

‘OS Map name 036/SE’, in Map of Northamptonshire (Southampton, 1884-1892), British History Online [accessed 6 May 2020].
The following information is taken from the newspaper report on John’s accident and the subsequent coroner’s inquest, published in the Northampton Mercury on Saturday 22 April 1882.

On Wednesday 12 April 1882, John Rigby (aged 68 years) and his colleague Joseph Groom were working at Buckby Bank, opening ballast away from the rails. John was working on the down line approximately 30 or 40 yards away from Joseph. They both saw the down train approaching and continued working. The down train was empty and was coming towards Crick Station from London. (There is no station at Long Buckby Wharf and Crick Station was actually at Watford village, around 2 miles up the line.) When Joseph looked up after the train had passed, he realised John was lying in the ‘six-foot’, the space between the up and down lines. “Witness went up to him at once, and saw that he had a crushed forehead. The deceased was bleeding very much, and was insensible.”

Engine driver Frederick Andrew and fireman John Dawson both gave evidence to the coroner, stating that they had seen the platelayers from about 300 yards away. As John Dawson stood up after firing the engine, he saw John Rigby was only a few yards from the engine and blew the whistle immediately but it was too late. The engine struck John as he was seemingly stepping off the line. Frederick helped Joseph to place John on a trolley and take him to the Boat Inn, the nearest public building to Buckby Bank. The end of the newspaper report just mentions in passing that “The deceased was very deaf, but not so deaf as to incapacitate him from working on the line.”

It was noted that John had seen the train approaching – so why was he hit by it? Maybe his deafness meant he was unable to tell how close it was to him until it was too late.

Being deaf, or even very deaf, was in no way a barrier to working on the railway line. Even now, hearing impaired line workers are allowed to work as long as they can pass a hearing test with hearing aids and are always accompanied. (Further details from this 2016 Employment Tribunal case).

In the Railway Work, Life and Death database there are 4 cases which mention deafness. Only one of those was fatal – James Coughlin in 1914, incidentally also a platelayer working on ballast, was struck and killed by a train because he had no time to stand clear of it.

So far I’ve only found one other accidental death of a railway employee at or near Long Buckby Wharf. That was also a platelayer who happened to be my great great grandfather Edward Groom, struck by a train and killed in May 1917. Edward was a younger brother of Joseph, the colleague and witness to John Rigby’s death in 1882. There was another tragic event in 1910 when engine driver Alfred Gregory committed suicide on the tracks at Buckby Bank – on that instance Edward Groom was one of the men tasked with collecting his body. The men working on the line must have been under no illusion about the potential risks to them, most of them bearing witness at some point to the consequences of working so close to trains.

Working on the railway line is an inherently dangerous occupation, even now. This data is from a Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) accident report published in 2015 and sadly there have been incidents more recently:

“Since it became operational in 2005, the RAIB has investigated 19 incidents in which workers have been struck by trains. According to information from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), on 37 occasions over the last ten years infrastructure workers have been struck by trains, resulting in 11 fatalities, 18 major and 9 minor injuries.

In the seven years to June 2015, the RAIB has published reports on investigations into ten accidents in which workers were struck by trains, and a factor in the cause of the accident was that the person who was struck was distracted and unaware of the approach of the train. The RAIB made recommendations for safety improvements in all of these cases, but none of these recommendations were relevant to the circumstances of the accident at Redhill. These accidents are listed in appendix D.”


Julie G

I am researching my ancestors and the village of Long Buckby Wharf. Also learning about railway history much to the delight of my rail enthusiast and photographer father! I can be found on Twitter @Julie_Gfamily

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