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Listed accidents

Recently it was announced that the site of the Edge Hill engine station in Liverpool has been given listed status. This is to mark the important heritage status of the site, which is one of the places and moments in the development of main line railways. It was the original terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, so far as steam engine hauled services were concerned. Whilst this obviously predates the records our project is looking at, the site remained operational in some form (though not as a station) until the early 1970s … and so we have some nearby cases to discuss today.

Black and white photograph, showing a goods wagon inside the first Crown Street tunnel, with a group of four men looking up at the 1829 datastone in the tunnel roof. There isn't much clearance - it's a tight fit. Image courtesy of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Trust.
Railwaymen inspect the datestone installed in the first Crown Street tunnel during construction in 1829. Looks rather like some officials in this posed image, but it nicely demonstrates the working conditions inside the tunnels west of the Edge Hill engine station site.
Courtesy Liverpool and Manchester Railway Trust.


Leading from the west of the site, there were originally two railway tunnels: one to Crown Street on the north side of the Wapping tunnel. The portal on the south side of the Wapping tunnel was converted into a second tunnel to Crown Street in the 1840s. The Crown Street tunnels were relatively short, and led, via a rope-hauled inclined plane, up to the Crown Street passenger terminus and various goods yards. The much longer (over a mile) Wapping tunnel led down, also via a rope-hauled inclined plane, to the docks.

August 2022 photograph by Anthony Dawson, showing the three tunnels to the west of the Edge Hill engine station site.
The three tunnels as they are in August 2022, looking west. From L-R, the ‘new’ Crown Street tunnel (still with tracks, in use as a headshunt), the Wapping tunnel (centre) and the original Crown Street tunnel.
Photograph courtesy Anthony Dawson.


By the period our project is considering, the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) was operating in and around the tunnels. The Crown Street site was in use solely as a goods terminus. It features in our database four times, all involving horse-shunting and all being injuries. This included shunt horse driver John Short, who was bruised on 8 March 1906 in the Crown Street coal yard. He was using two horses to pull wagons via a chain. As the wagons were moving he tried to detach the chain, but it was too taut. The moving wagons pulled the horses back and Short was caught between the horses and leading wagon. A colleague working with Short wasn’t able to help as he was holding a point lever over for the shunt. As the report from Inspector JH Armytage made clear, releasing a horse chain whilst the wagons were still moving was dangerous, calling for the LNWR to prohibit it (1906 Quarter 1, Appendix B).

Ordnance Survey map of the Edge Hill tunnels area, from c.1905.
The Edge Hill area in c.1905, showing the railway running into the tunnels at the centre. To the left of the image the Crown Street yards appear – the extensive coal yard is particularly visible. The line of the Wapping tunnel can also be seen under Crown Street, and an air shaft is marked.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland Maps.


There were also accidents in the Wapping tunnel – three of which are in our database. On 28 September 1907, brakesman John Fairbrother, 66, was working a train down to the docks. This was run by gravity down the 1 in 45 gradient. As was practice, some of the wagon brakes were applied before the journey started, with the remainder of the braking applied by Fairbrother’s 20-ton brake van. However, when the train stopped in the tunnel he went to lift some of the wagon brakes to get it moving again. He stumbled – possibly over an exposed sleeper end, thought by Inspector Amos Ford to have been caused by water dripping from the roof. Fairbrother bruised his back and knees, but couldn’t get back into his brake van to control the descent, so the train ran away – not causing further personal injury, but damaging 13 wagons and four brake vans. Ford’s report noted that the sleeper ends had been levelled with ash, and instructions given that brakesmen had to request assistance if their train came to a stop in the tunnel. However, Ford felt this unsatisfactory, and recommended that the LNWR should automatically put a second man on each train for the journey (1907 Quarter 3, Appendix C). Whether or not it did so is unknown.

These are just two of the accidents found in the database for these locations. Needless to say, there would have been plenty more accidents at these locations, including at the site of the engine station, which weren’t investigated by the state inspectors. Nevertheless, the database gives us a good insight into some of the challenges railway staff faced when working this site. This is something we hope will be reflected in interpretation that might be developed for the heritage site in the future – and with which we’d be very happy to help.

There’s more on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Trust via their Twitter account and Facebook page.

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