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Tragedy on the Tracks – 1

Narrating the lives and losses of young railway workers

Ahead of this week’s Crewe: Your Railway, Your Family event, on Thursday 14 September as part of Heritage Open Days, this guest blog post starts an occasional series. Author Margaret Roberts – a long-time project champion and friend – looks at one of the railway workers hurt whilst doing their job at Crewe Works. We started exploring how Crewe features in the project in this recent blog post, so it’s great that Margaret’s post ties in so closely – and extends what we know. As ever, our thanks to Margaret for putting this, and the future posts, together for us – it’s greatly appreciated!



They are only boys, if I see any in danger, I speak with them in a fatherly sort of way.[1]


In the annals of history, the Industrial Revolution stands as a testament to man’s progress and ingenuity. Among the myriad of advancements, the rise of the railways, which transformed the way people connected and traded is considered one of the most important innovations of the time.  Early safety standards were rudimentary, and the human toll extracted by the railways’ relentless progress was both tragic and profound. It was a time when every nail hammered, and every rivet tightened came with a risk to life and limb. The exposure to potential hazards was greater for younger workers, who lacked the experience and awareness of the inherent risks they confronted, and who were blithely unaware that tragedy lurked in the shadows of those noisy, smoke-filled railway yards.

Behind every railway accident lies a weighty human story, a tapestry of a life woven together by family ties; fathers and sons, brothers and uncles working side-by-side, untold tales yearning to be told, stories that are more than a number in an accident book. Crewe, a prominent railway hub, witnessed its share of unfortunate incidents involving young workers. This article is the first in a series that will take a look at the stories of the youngest Crewe-based workers whose accidents are recorded on the Railway Work, Life & Death project database and aims, by delving into historical records and contemporary accounts, to be a platform where their voices resonate as a poignant reminder of the price paid for progress.


Frank Nixon

Frank Nixon, the youngest Crewe casualty in the database, was just 15 years old and had been working only a few months in the Works. He entered his role as an apprentice fitter in Numbers 5 and 6 Shops in Crewe Works on 16 May 1923; the very next day he met with a ‘shocking accident’.  He was crossing the line when he was hit by a tender that was being shunted to the erecting shop; despite making a desperate effort to get clear he fell and was run over by a wheel and as a result suffered catastrophic and life changing injuries.[2]

The son of railway boiler maker and rivetter Thomas Henry Nixon and his wife Clara nee Moses, Frank was born on 12 November 1907.[3] Like his brother Harry he had previously been employed as a paperboy by Hossacks newsagents in High Street; together with their younger brother Stan, all the boys followed their father into the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) works at Crewe.[4]

Newspaper headline: 'Crewe boy's shocking accident'

Source: Crewe Chronicle[5]

The official report of the incident states that Frank crossed the line without sufficient care but conceded that his view had been obstructed by another engine.  The shunter and his under-shunter had been walking either side of the leading tender and the engine whistle was constantly sounded.[6]  He was caught by the wheel, which passed over his legs, serving one at the ankle and the other below the knee. The Railway ambulance men were quickly on the scene and measures were taken to stem the haemorrhage before Frank was taken to the Railway Hospital in nearby Mill Street.  The local paper reported that ‘the unfortunate boy has borne his affliction with bravery and fortitude’ and that he was ‘a bright little chap’.  Enquires made a week later said that he was making excellent progress and that there was every hope that he would recover.[7]

It must have been difficult for Frank in a totally new environment to get to grips with all the noise, steam, and activity so perhaps it’s not surprising that he was unaware of the danger constantly surrounding him. The official report states that he had both legs amputated, a devastating outcome for one so young. The railway company supplied artificial limbs for workers who had suffered a loss at work[8] but there is nothing definite to show that Frank would have been a beneficiary or any note of any compensation for his accident.

I wondered what became of Frank and couldn’t find any mention of him in the 1939 National Register, though his parents were still living in Sandon Street. Harry and Stan, both married, were living close by in Manchester Street and Oakley Street respectively, but no sign of Frank.[9] A search of the newspapers soon revealed the answer, in July 1927 a notice in the personal section of the Crewe Chronicle read:

Mr and Mrs T H Nixon and family wish to thank all relatives, friends and neighbours, also workmates and office staff, for the many kind expressions of sympathy in their sad bereavement: also for the beautiful floral tributes[10]


Frank had died at home on 2 July 1927, aged just 19. His death was registered by his mother, no post-mortem was carried out and Frank was noted as being a railway clerk, suggesting that the LNWR reemployed him in their offices after his accident, obviously looking after their own.[11] Frank was buried on 6 July in Crewe Cemetery, a grave in which both parents and brother Harry were interred in later years.[12] On the anniversary of his death a poignant notice was posted by the family

In ever-loving memory of our dear son and brother, Frank Nixon, who fell asleep on July 2nd, aged 19 years

No one know the silent heartache,

Only those who have lost can tell

Of the sorrow borne in silence,

For the one we loved so well

Sadly missed by mother, dad, Harry and Stan[13]


Thomas, Harry and Stan all worked for the LNWR for the whole of their working lives, a not-uncommon thing in Crewe. Thomas himself was a member of the LNWR Veterans Association and served fifty-one years as a boiler maker.[14] The process of starting work as a teenage apprentice, growing up with workmates, sharing in rites of passage such as marriage and starting a family constituted the fabric of a life course for railway workers in Crewe, but sadly denied by a momentary lapse of concentration from an excited young man on his first few days at work.

The untimely death of young Frank Nixon, and the others in this series, while fulfilling their duties are reported by the Railway Companies in stark and factual terms.  It’s heart-wrenching to think of the unfulfilled dreams and goals that stretched out before them and the adventures that were waiting to be pursued, abruptly taken away. The maze of stories linked with the loss of these lives has to be remembered and told, the fragility of a family’s existence altered in a single moment, not recognised by officialdom, but everlasting in its consequence.

The next post in this series is available here.


Margaret Roberts

Margaret Roberts is an academic author, independent researcher and experienced family historian who specialises in Sports History.  Margaret is the the Editor and Administrator of Britain’s only online Sport and Leisure History magazine Playing Pasts as well as the Publicity and Social Media Officer for the Family History Society of Cheshire and a Family History Federation Trustee and Society Liaison Officer.  She can be reached on 


[1] Crewe Chronicle, Saturday 4 July 1925, page 10

[2] Crewe Chronicle, Saturday 26 May 1923, page 8

[3] GRO Marriage Indexes, Second Quarter 1899, Nantwich District, vol 8A, page 647; GRO Birth Indexes, Third Quarter, Nantwich District, vol 8a, page 267; Cheshire Parish Registers, Christ Church Crewe, Family History Society of Cheshire, Crewe Research Centre;

[4] 1911 England Census, RG14, Crewe District, piece 21771; GRO Birth Indexes, First Quarter 1912, Nantwich District, page 8A, vol 608; 1921 England Census, RG15, Crewe PC District, piece 16988;  Railway Employment Records, Family History Society of Cheshire, Crewe Research Centre

[5] Crewe Chronicle, Saturday 26 May 1923, page 8

[6] Railway Work, Life and Death database accessed via

[7] Crewe Chronicle, Saturday 26 May 1923, page 8

[8] Crewe Chronicle, Thursday 21 May 1974, page 56;

[9] 1939 National Register, RG101, Crewe Borough, Sandon Street, Schedule 160; 1939 National Register, RG101, Crewe Borough, Manchester Street, Schedule 94

[10] Crewe Chronicle, Saturday 16 July 1927, page 10

[11] GRO Death Indexes, Third Quarter, Nantwich District, vol 8A, page 300; Death Certificate of Frank Nixon, 16 Sandon Street, Crewe, death registered 4th July 1927

[12] Crewe Cemetery Records, plot number 285

[13] Crewe Chronicle, Saturday 30 June 1928, page 12

[14] Crewe Chronicle, Saturday 4 November 1950, page 8


  1. Pingback:Disability History Month: what next after the accident? - Railway Work, Life & Death

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