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August 26, 1854               Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial & General Advertiser 

Mr Wakley, the Coroner for Middlesex, and a highly respectable jury assembled on Monday, at the New Crown Tavern, Ball’s Pond, Islington, to investigate the circumstances attending the death of John Allen, engine-driver to the North London Railway Company, which was occasioned by the fearful collision that took place on that line, on the night of Monday, the 14th inst., near the Highbury station.  After a long investigation, the jury consulted for a short time, and returned a verdict of “Accidental Death,” accompanying their verdict with a recommendation that the company should make provision for Allen’s widow and three children, and also expressing their opinion that ample steam power should always be available at every station.

August 19, 1854               Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial & General Advertiser



Another of those dreadful railway catastrophes which, so often occur from the reprehensible practice of running heavy goods trains close after and before passenger ones, happened late on Monday night on the North-London (Camden-town) Railway, which, we regret to say, resulted in the death of an engine-driver, serious, if not fatal, injury to one or two more or the company’s servants, and mutilating a number of the passengers.  It may not be generally known, that when this line was formed it was not intended for passenger traffic, but more to connect the docks, river, &c., with the London and North-Western Railway, and to facilitate the transit of goods.  On the running of passenger trains, however, an immense traffic was developed, and in order to meet it the officials wisely refrained from dispatching goods trains until the passenger traffic for the day had closed.  Since then the public demands have greatly increased, and, although the line is but eleven miles in length, the number of passenger trains running daily upon it are no fewer than 120.  In addition, there are the goods and coal trains.  The former, since the opening of the Haydon-Square Goods Junction (the City goods depot of the London and North-Western) have considerably increased both in length and number; and it seems that, in order to fall in with the regulations for making up the goods at the Camden Town station of the London and North-West, they have been dispatched from Haydon-Square and the Dock Junction during the sort time which intervenes between he starting of the passenger trains-often three in a quarter of an hour (to Blackwall, Gravesend, and Camden Town)-from Fenchurch-street.  With a view of making the “goods” as few as possible, they are arranged to a prodigious extent, so that the danger of them parting from the couplings, and the difficulty of bring them to a stoppage, in consequence of their great weight, are much increased.  Their heavy character also often presents a difficulty, in being too much for the propelling power, and, therefore, adds another risk to the danger of running them against passenger trains.  The mentioning of these facts has been deemed necessary, as they have all some reference to the melancholy event the subject of this notice.

It appears that some two or three hours previous to the accident occurring, all traffic on the line had been closed, in consequence of a break-drown of one of the trains near Kingsland, through the tire of a wheel coming off, and throwing the carriage off the rail.  It so happened, that it took place in the most busy part of the day, and the result was that, before the line could be re-opened, the stations eastward were crowded to excess by passengers with return tickets. It is computed that there could not have been less than from 5,000 to 7,000 people.  The traffic line was resumed until between 9 and 10 o’clock, and amidst the confusion that followed consequent upon the re-starting of the passenger trains at the quarter hours, a goods train of between 50 or 60 heavily-laden trucks, drawn by two engines, destined for the northern lines, started from Haydon-Square for the Camden station of the London and North-Western.  This train had scarcely proceeded half the distance between the Haydon-Square junction and Stepney, somewhere about Shadwell, before it broke in half, through a coupling breaking, and the tail of the train would have been left behind, but for the promptness of the guard, who succeeded in re-coupling the trucks.  On arriving at Stepney, the guard, from a belief that the engines would not be able to get up to the Camden station with the train, on account of its length and weight, telegraphed to Bow and Highbury stations, where pilot engines are stationed, so as to be ready to assist the train up the inclines, which are more than ordinarily unfavorable.  That at Bow was in readiness, and assisted the train up to Hackney Wick, when it left and returned.  On the luggage train gaining Kingsland, where the incline commences and continues past the Highbury station to the Bridge across the Great Northern Railway, the Highbury pilot was not there to assist, and the drivers, in consequence, were compelled to proceed as best they could.  Both engines, it should be observed, as we were informed, were not adapted for drawing heavy luggage trains, being comparatively of small power, and generally employed in taking light trains.  The result was, that on arriving at that part of the line near Ball’s Pond-bridge, a short distance from Highbury station, the engines failed to perform their duty, partly on account of the steepness of the line, and partly from the want of steam, and in a few minutes the train came to a stand still.  It was then about 20 minutes to 11 o’clock, the time that the 10 o’clock passenger train out from Fenchurch-street was about due on that very spot.  The guard knowing this, got out of his break, and proceeded back towards Kingsland, with his signal light, and some fog signals to warn the approaching train from London, but almost immediately after, he was surprised at seeing his own (the goods) train coming back down the incline at a fast speed, and pass him, which he, at the time, supposed to have arisen from a portion of the train having broken away from the coupling, as it had done previously.

Unfortunately, at this section of the line, there is a sharp curve, and being in a deep cutting, there are several bridges, which altogether tend to prevent the approach of trains on either rail being seen more than 200 or 300 yards off.  Already had the passenger train left Kingsland station, and was approaching the curve at a rate of probably 20 miles an hour, when the three red-tail lights of the hindermost carriage and the break of the goods train came suddenly upon their view.  The thought instantly occurred to the unfortunate driver, John Allen, and the stoker of the passenger engine, that some part of the “goods” had broken away, and was coming down upon them, and that eventually he would be able to check them in their progress.  There is little doubt, however, that the poor fellows did not anticipate the whole train, as they could easily have escaped by jumping off.  On observing the lights, Allen sounded the whistle to signalise the guards, shut off the steam, and reversed the engine; but scarcely had that been accomplished, before the “goods” dashed into them with fearful force, the crash of which was distinctly heard at both of the adjacent stations.  The effect was providentially most extraordinary.

Deplorable as the consequences were, it is somewhat marvellous how the passenger train, filled as it was by some hundreds, escaped; for considering the almost overwhelming heavy power of the receding luggage train, it is a matter of surprise that it did not cut right through it, and so involve a sad sacrifice of life.  The tender of the passenger engine, which was first, was smashed double, and turned upwards partly over the engine.  The break van of the goods and a wagon were broken to pieces, and driven under the engine.  The scene that ensued amongst the terrified passengers may possibly be conceived.  Although none of the carriages had sustained any material damage, yet the force of the concussion threw the passengers with great violence against each other, and many were the contusions and bleeding faces.  It was some time before the fate of the driver and stoker of the passenger train could be ascertained, as also those in the break of the goods.  At length the subsidence of the steam from the shattered engine allowed a search to be made, and amongst the fragments of the tender, was extricated the stoker, John Blencowe, who was shockingly scalded.  Nothing could be seen of the driver.  From the remains of the break-van, were got out two men bleeding, apparently dead.  They the assistant-guards, named Richard Nation and James Waygood.  These unfortunate fellows, with the stoker, were, without loss of time, placed upon hurdles, and taken with all possible dispatch to the German hospital, at Dalston.  The search was continued for the driver, but it was not until the arrival of another engine, which was set to work to remove the wreck from the disabled engine, that the poor creature was discovered.  His body was found bent on the fireplate, in front of the furnace of his engine, apparently scalded and burnt to death.

An inquiry was then instituted as to the cause of the luggage-train returning down the incline.  It appeared that he drivers of the two engines, finding that they could not get the steam up in sufficient power to bring up the train, immediately unhooked the engines from the trucks, for the purpose of setting the pumps at work, so as to throw water into the boilers, and so create steam.  Whether, when they did so, they were aware of being on the incline and its character, is yet to be ascertained; however, on detaching the engines, the train of wagons instantly shot away from them down the gradient at a sharp rate.  It so happened that the only brake in the train was in the rear, which at the time contained, in addition to the above two men, Mr. Rowdon, foreman of Messrs. Chaplin and Horne’s goods department, and another man.  Nation and Waywood, the assistant guards, perceiving the rapid retrograde movement of the train, applied all their power to the break.  It had no effect however, and while they were working at it they saw the passenger train come up.  Rowdon and the other man managed to escape by jumping off, but the guards scarcely knew what to do for the best at the moment, and in a few moments were crushed in the wreck of the collision as before narrated.

On the unfortunate sufferers reaching the German Hospital, they were immediately attended by Dr. Rauke, the medical officer of the institution.  The two assistant guards, Nation and Waywood, somewhat rallied.  It was found that the former had sustained a severe laceration on the head, and other injuries about the body.  Waywood had his left ear torn off, severe laceration of the scalp, and seriously cut and bruised about the body.  The injuries of the other sufferer, Blencowe, stoker, were of a most alarming character.  The whole of his lower extremities are frightfully scalded, and the report of the medical officer on Tuesday night, speaks doubtfully of his recovery.

The deceased engine-driver, John Allen, was one of the most steady and experienced drivers on the line, and was much respected amongst all classes employed on and frequenting the line.  He has left a widow and three children.

The accident has caused much sensation in the districts traversed by the line, the practice of running the heavy goods and coal trains between the quarter of an hour passenger trains having long formed the topic of conversation and censure amongst the travelers.

Yesterday, the usual notice of the accident was forwarded to the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, and it is anticipated the Government Inspector will institute an inquiry into the facts.

The coroner’s inquest on the body of the engine-driver has not, as yet, been appointed.

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