Wennington Junction Accident
11th August 1880

Board of Trade Report
Transcribed by R McKinna


Enclosure No.1

Midland Railway

Board of Trade (Railway Department)
5, New Street, Spring Gardens
31st August 1880.


I have the honour to report, for the information of the Board of Trade, in compliance with the instructions in the Order of the 12th instant, the result of my inquiry into the circumstances which attended the dreadful accident that occurred on the 11th instant near Wennington station, on the Leeds and Lancaster section of the Midland Railway.

In this case, an express passenger train from Leeds to Lancaster and Morecambe, while running between High Bentham and Hornby stations, got entirely off the rails at the Midland and Furness junction. The engine appears to have run partly along the 6 feet space and the carriages on the opposite side of the line and partly in the 4 feet space, and some of the carriages came in contact with the stone abutments of an over-bridge.

Seven passengers are returned as having been killed on the spot and one has since died of the injuries which he received, and 23 other passengers were also injured, some of them most severely.

The engine and tender were but slightly damaged. The leading break-van, No. 159, was badly smashed, and had to be pulled to pieces to take it away. A composite carriage, No. 484, and a third-class carriage, No. 1,211, next to it, were broken to pieces.

A third carriage, No. 507, had one end of the body smashed in and the other end and side damaged, and the foot-board torn off. A third-class carriage, No. 622, was thrown on its side and had its body somewhat damaged, and two doors, several windows, and foot-board and steps broken.

A composite carriage, No. 169, had a head-stock broken, and another composite carriage, No. 651, had a buffer rod bent and a middle bearer damaged. The remaining two vehicles were not damaged.

Measuring from the fixed point of the crossing, the left-hand rail of the “down” line going towards Lancaster was undamaged for 27 yards; thence the rails were all badly bent and the chairs more or less broken to a point 180 yards from the crossing, and from that point the left rail and chairs were undamaged.

On the right-hand rail of the “down” line to Lancaster the first mark on a chair was 14 feet 8 inches from the crossing, and a 24 foot rail, commencing at 13 feet 8 inches from the crossing was badly bent; thence to a point 180 yards from the crossing all the right-hand rails were badly bent and the chairs more or less broken; and from 180 yards to 240 yards the rails were slightly bent and the chairs partially broken.

Between the points 150 yards and 218 yards from the crossing the left-hand or 6 foot rail of the “up” line was badly bent and the chairs broken, the road being pushed about 2 feet out of position, and between those two points two rails of the right-hand rail were slightly bent.

The total number of rails bent and unfit for use were 41 24-feet, and the total number of chairs broken 406, and of sleepers rendered unfit for service 155.


The Furness and Midland junction is situated about 80 yards west of the overbridge at the west end of the Wennington station, on the Midland line between Skipton and Lancaster, and nearly 50 yards west of the Wennington station signal-box. The line at this part is on a gradient of 1 in 141 falling towards Lancaster, and on a curve to the left of 40 chains radius. The line to Carnforth and the Furness Railway curves to the right on a radius of 38 chains. About 270 yards west of the over-bridge at Wennington station there is another over-bridge which carries a public road over both the line to Lancaster and the line to Carnforth.

The accident evidently commenced at the fixed point of a crossing made by the right rail of the down line to Lancaster with the left rail of the down line to Carnforth, distant about 25 yards to the west of the facing points at the junction, which were uninjured.

The train which met with the accident was the 12.15 p.m. train from Leeds to Lancaster. It is appointed and did not stop at High Bentham station, and was not due to stop at any other station after leaving High Bentham until it reached Hornby, 5 miles distant from High Bentham, and it was allowed 9 minutes for the journey, thus requiring an average rate of speed, if the train kept time, of nearly 37 miles an hour.


John Whiteoak states.- I live at Skipton, and am an engine-driver in the employ of the Midland Railway Company, 15 years as a driver and 20 years in the service. Was in charge of the train which left Leeds at 12.15 on Wednesday last, the 11th August. I cannot say exactly what the distance is from Leeds to Lancaster. The 12.15 p.m. train is due at Lancaster at 2.19. The train was composed of engine and tender, seven carriages and two guards’ vans, the first van being immediately behind the tender, and the other at the rear of the train. There was only one guard riding in the last van. We stopped at Shipley, Keighley, Skipton, Hellifield, Giggleswick, Clapham, and High Bentham stations. We left High Bentham about 2.4 p.m. We were about 17 minutes late on leaving High Bentham, the last stopping station. I did not try to make up any lost time. We were travelling about 30 miles an hour, as near as I can guess, when we passed Wennington station. We have to run faster than 30 miles an hour to keep time. I had no reason for running at that rate. I have passed this station at a faster rate with other trains, but not with this particular train. There was no notice posted for my guidance for working this train on the date in question. I had no notice that the line at the point of the accident had been relaid recently, although I knew that the platelayers were doing something there, but I do not know that the line had been recently relaid. I had shut off the steam before reaching Wennington station, and I was running with the steam off when the accident occurred. All went right with me until I passed Wennington station. The signals were all in perfect order, and off for us to go on. I should think my engine had come five, six or seven yards past the crossing before I noticed that it had left the rails. My first intimation that it had left the rail was that I felt the engine jump a bit, and she then dropped off with one wheel – the right leading in the 6-feet space, and the left leading in the 4-feet. She ran a short distance with the leading wheels off before the driving-wheels came off. While she was doing this I put the Westinghouse break on the tender, reversed the engine, and put steam against her. Then she came off with the driving-wheels, and I was forced to close the regulator, so that if she turned over the steam would be off. Passed the bridge in safety perhaps a distance of 40 yards, and then the engine stopped. The front break-van was broken into two parts, and the front part stuck to the tender. That occurred at the over-bridge. The engine and tender and front part of the break went through the bridge, and the remaining part of the train stopped behind the bridge. I was able to go back in a minute or two, and after assisting to get the passengers out examined the line. I found a mark on the line at the place where the engine first left the metals. It was not a dent, but a mark on the top of the fixed point at the crossing, showing where it had dropped off the metals and onto the first broken chair. There were one or two chairs under the right rail which were marked but not broken. I gauged the line, and it was rather narrow with the gauge. I could not then see that the line had been recently relaid, as it was cut up so, but not at the fixed point. As I came along I saw some workmen just below the place where the engine struck the crossing. I did not gauge that part. I gauged it at the cross, it was about inch tight to gauge. It was about 20 yards nearer Lancaster than where the engine left the rails. There were three or four men at work there, but I could not see what they had been doing. I had no occasion to whistle as I came along for the men to get out of my way. They stood in a position in the other 4-foot, where they might have seen the accident. There was no need for the fireman to apply his break, as the Westinghouse break was applied. There was no continuous break, there was only the tender-break and the guard’s break. There was no one in the front van. I whistled, but did not give three distinct whistles, for the guard’s break. I did not examine the engine after the accident, nor yet the engine wheels. She was examined afterwards, but I only looked around to see what was broken. I found the right-hand wheel guard broken off and the left bent. The left-hand inside spring bolt was broken, the spring was hanging. I found the flanges of the wheels full of marks, one of them being so large that a man could have placed his finger in it. I could not find anything to show why the engine left the metals, except that the check-rail on the left hand side seemed to be a good way off the main rail, giving the right wheel more play when going around the curve. It was at that particular part where I first felt the jump of the engine, and where it got on top of the metals. It is left to our discretion as to what speed we should run at on passing a station or rounding a curve like that at Wennington. This accident occurred at 11 minutes past 2 o’clock. I did not look at my watch all at once. I saw that it was so entered in the signalman’s book. I think I had been running faster before I got to Wennington. I left Leeds with the train, and my destination was Morecambe. I am supplied by the Company with rules and regulations for my guidance. There is no reward or anything of the kind in cases of punctuality, and I had no personal interest in arriving punctually or in making up lost time. I passed the points at a slower rate than usual; why, I do not know. I had no obstruction of any kind after leaving High Bentham. I did not see the workmen make a sign to me, nor heard them shout. I have never been told that I have passed the curve too quickly on former occasions. I have never been warned that, unless I went round this curve at a slower speed, an accident might take place. I did not feel any oscillation before I arrived at this point. I gauged the line at the crossing. I did not find it much too narrow; the gauge would not go down between the rails. It was perhaps half an inch too narrow. I think it was as much as that. I did not find the sleepers there displaced; the sleepers were disturbed about 4 or 5 yards from where I gauged. The crossing was broken at the place where the engine struck it. It was broken near to the fixed point of the rail. It was just there, within a yard or two, where I gauged. I cannot say that the sleeper there was disturbed. It was about 4 or 5 yards from there where I noticed the first sleeper disturbed. The engine got into the 6-foot and went safely through the bridge. The carriages went off on the other side. The carriages immediately following the engine were on the bank side. I examined the check rail opposite the crossing on the left-hand side, and measured the distance between the guard rail and the left-hand side rail. It was 3 inches at the going in end, 2 inches in the middle, and 2 at the going out end. I cannot say that the left-hand rail was disturbed. The left-hand guard rail did not seem to have been disturbed at all; it was fastened to the sleeper with chairs, and the chairs did not seem to have been disturbed. I should think there were five or six chairs holding the guard-rail, and the same number were supporting the left-hand rail. They seemed to be fixed and undisturbed. I considered the guard-rail was too far away from the running-rail. I could tell by the naked eye that it was too far off, and that was what made me measure it. That being so far off at the entrance, it is probable that the right-hand wheel grinding against the rail might have lifted the engine off. In my opinion there was sufficient play left between the left stock-rail and the check-rail inside it to allow the flange on the right wheel to mount the fixed point of the crossing. I think there was too much room between the left-hand rail and the check-rail. If the check-rail had been nearer the main rail it would have caused the right-hand wheel to have missed the points more, and instead of missing it it caught it and made it jump on the top. I cannot think of anything else which would cause the accident. I do not consider it a very sharp curve. It is a curve that I go round with steam on. It is not on a falling gradient. It is not a curve in which I feel called upon to take any extra precautions. I did not measure the distance between the left-hand rail and the check-rail, but my foreman, Mr. Stalvics, measured it about two hours afterwards. We left Leeds 16 minutes late, and were late all the way. I should not have gone at a slower speed if I had known that the platelayers were at work making alterations, unless they had had a green flag out. It is usual when making alterations to send a man out with a green flag. Whether I slacken speed depends entirely on what the platelayers are doing. If some slight alterations were being made, I should not have to slacken speed. The check-rail is often four or five inched wide at the extreme end. We were 16 minutes late from Leeds waiting another train, and of course no blame was attached to me for that. We had lost two minutes and gained one at the stations. I have driven the engine a good deal. I have run the Scotch express with her: she is a good engine. The greatest width between the main-rail and the check-rail was at the going-in end. I cannot say whether it is exactly opposite the crossing. The mark on the right-hand leading wheel was on the centre of the flange. I cannot say what is the length of the check-rail. I applied my break as soon as I heard the engine strike, and before I knew what was wrong. If the guard had applied the break as well as myself the train would not have avoided the bridge. The break I put on would only apply to the tender and nothing further; on no other vehicle. The engine was in very good order. The last journey I made with it was 219 miles.

John Fletcher. – I live at Skipton. I am a fireman under Whiteoak, the last witness, and shall have been five years a fireman next December. I left Leeds with him by the train due to leave there at 12.15 on Wednesday last for Lancaster and Morecambe, Morecambe being the terminus. The train consisted of engine, tender, seven carriage, and two vans, one break being in the front and the other in the rear of the train. The train kept time as we went along. We were 16 minutes late starting, and no portion of that time was made up. We were running about 30 miles an hour when we passed Wennington station. I noticed the signals, and they were all right for us. I saw some workmen at work as we passed Wennington station. There were three or four of them. The driver did not whistle, as they were clear of the line we were running upon. They were working about 15 or 20 yards from the points, on the Lancaster side of them. All went well until we got to the points where I felt a shock just as we were upon the crossing, and we then came off the road with leading  wheels into the 6-foot. I cannot describe the shock, but the engine seemed to be lifted off the road, and it then went ploughing along the line for about 150 yards. The driver applied the break. It was Westinghouse’s break. The train passed by the station all right. As soon as I got the fire out of the engine I went back, that was about 10 minutes after the accident. I found the carriages all wrecked, and rendered all the assistance I could. I saw the line measured. I have heard the description given of it, and so far as I know it is all correct. I did not look at my watch when the accident occurred.

John Morris.- I live at Leeds, and am a passenger guard in the service of the Midland Railway Company; 10 months a guard. I left Leeds by the train due to leave there at 12.15 p.m. on Wednesday last. I was in the front van on leaving Leeds, but in the rear van at the time of the accident, changing into the rear van at Skipton. It is a rule by this train that no guard should ride in the front van unless there are more coaches on that one guard is allowed to take in number. I cannot say exactly what time we passed Wennington, but as near as I could make it it was about 2.13. I did not look at my watch until I was out of the van. My first intimation of anything wrong was the van bumping the same as it would in going over sleepers. I was sitting down at the time, and I Immediately got up to look out of the window, but was prevented, and could not apply my break, as if I had tried to put it on I should have been knocked on the floor. I had passed the signal-box at that time. I was close to the break handle, but had to hold on myself to keep from falling. I never touched the break, as I could not. To have put it on effectually would have taken from two to three minutes. I was holding on by the handle, which was just outside the window. I did not do anything in the van, but as soon as we stopped I got out. It stopped close to the embankment on the Wennington side of the bridge. My van was standing upright behind the other carriages, and was not broken at all. I was no worse except for the shaking caused by the van going over the sleepers. The couplings of the van were all right. There would be perhaps four carriages in front of me, which were quite right and all coupled together. I carry with me when on duty a copy of the Company’s book of Rules and Regulations, but have not one with me at present. I know them very well. I did not carry out Rule 282 by applying my break when I found there was something wrong, as I could not; it was done too quickly; it was all over in a moment. After I left High Bentham I did not notice whether the driver slackened speed. We were running at about the same speed between Bentham and Wennington as we were on other portions of the journey. I should think we were going at from 25 to 30 miles an hour at the time. I have run with this train for about a week. I do not know how we travel from Leeds to Morecambe in two hours at 25 miles per hour. I felt several bumps before the train stopped; there might have been 20. My van and the three carriages in front kept on the level, although they were off the rails. If I had immediately applied my break we could not have stopped before we got to the bridge. I should have to turn the handle two, three or four times before the break blocks touched the wheels at all, and have any retarding power. It is an ordinary hand break. The distance between High Bentham and Hornby is 5 miles. The train is timed to leave High Bentham at 1.47, and to arrive at Hornby at 1.56, or in 9 minutes. I consider it an incline from Wennington to passing the points. I have been a guard 10 months. It is left to our discretion when to put the break on when going down an incline. If I thought the train was going too fast I should put the break on. I have been with this train once before, and did not apply my break then. We work this train a week at a time. I did not apply the break on passing Wennington on any of the days in the week I previously worked the train. Under ordinary circumstances I should not have put my break on until approaching Hornby.

John Bee, of Wray’s Crossing.- I am a foreman platelayer, and am employed for a length of 2 miles from mile the eastern side of Hornby to mile the other side of Wennington. I have constantly by me a copy of the Company’s book of Rules and Regulations, and a working timetable for the current month, proper signals, and a permanent-way gauge. I had all these on Wednesday. I have two men under me. I had repaired the crossing the day before the accident. I lifted the crossing and bedded it up by putting some ballast under the sleepers to raise it. To do this I did not have to take the rail up. I gauged it when I had ceased lifting it. I do not know how many trains passed the crossing after I lifted it before the 12.15 p.m. train from Leeds. Three fast trains to Barrow, and one to Lancaster, besides others, had gone over it. After we have gauged the line it is examined by the inspector. My inspector is Mr. Webb. My gauging was not examined by any inspector until after the accident had happened. On Wednesday I did not do anything at the crossing. We were working about 30 yards on the Lancaster side of the crossing repairing the line, lifting the road and raising it. We were going over the whole of my length beating or packing the sleepers up. I saw the engine make a jump at the crossing and come down the line till it stopped. That was at the particular part where I had been raising the crossing. There were three sleepers under this crossing. When the engine passed me I was on the up road. The whole of the train passed me, and all of it was off the line. The engine and tender were in the six-foot, some of the carriages were in the four-foot, and some of them outside. I did not see the carriages strike the bridge. I did not see any carriage couplings broken as the train passed me. There was no necessity for me to show a signal to the train, as the line was in good working order. We were working on the down line. We never touch the guard rail, but we gauged the main road, and it was all right. It is the practice to have the check rails at the two ends at the same distance from the stock rail, but at a greater distance than in the middle of the check rail. On the Wennington side the guard rail was about 4 inches open from the stock rail, and at the other end about 3 inches from the stock rail. Where it is straight it is about 2 or 1⅞ inches wide. I have never said that the trains came too quickly round that curve. I have seen them go round quicker than it did on this occasion. I cannot say whether the steam was on or off. The fixed distance of the guard rail from the main rail is 2 inches: the ends are more. I take my orders from Mr. Webb. He told me to put the guard rail 2 inches apart from the main rail at the straight part. I gauged the distance after packing up the day before, and it was right. We did not measure between the main rail and the check rail the day before the accident. I only gauge between the main rails. We measured the distance between the guard rail and the main rail by a two-foot rule. We finished up altogether between 10 a.m. o’clock on Tuesday morning. So far as I know, the crossing is in the same state now as on the day of the accident. There was no precaution taken whatever. I will not swear that I saw Mr. Sowden on the spot at the time of the accident. Mr. Webb is my inspector. My duty is to go over the length twice a day, and Mr. Webb comes once in every week. At the time of the accident we were working on the down line. When we have to put in a crossing we get it in one piece from Derby. The crossing in question is what is called a “box crossing.” The check rail is fitted at Derby in the same way as the crossing, and we have simply to put it in as we got it. I have been under the Midland Railway Company 30 years, and foreman platelayer all the time. I gauged the crossing, and it was the same gauge as where there was no crossing. The check rail is put into double chairs. I did not put in the crossing. This was done by an extra gang between 4 and 5 years ago. I have never known an engine off at this point before. There are three of us in the gang, and that is sufficient for all ordinary purposes. I cannot say whether, after taking the gauge, Mr. Sowden asked my opinion as to how the accident happened. I am not aware that I said to him, in reply to a question, that in my opinion the trains came round the curve at too high a speed. I will not swear that I did not say so. We are responsible for keeping the line in proper gauge, both for the position of the rails laterally and for the elevation of them. I had not altered the position of the rails. We did not alter the level, but only took the slack out of it, and I should do that naturally without expecting the inspector to come over before a train had passed over. In putting guard rails down on a curve we do not allow more width than when the lines are straight or curved: they are all of a width. I did not look at my watch, and cannot say when the accident occurred. I have not altered the gauge at the crossing since the accident. There was one chair under the crossing broken, which has been broken for more than12 months, and I have driven 2 spikes on the north side to keep it in position. Within a quarter of an hour of the accident happening I observed that the box crossing was broken right across, under the end of the fixed point. The keys of the wing rails were all in and tight in the chairs.

Edward Booth.- I live at Lancaster, and was relieving on the date of the accident. I have been a signalman about four years. I have done duty in the Wennington box before, and should therefore know the working of it. There is the same principle employed in working the points at Wennington as in my own box at Lancaster. I left here by the 5.35 a.m. goods train, and got into the box at 7.11 a.m. There were two passengers and one goods trains that passed the box before the 12.15 p.m. train from Leeds. They passed at 8.25 passenger, 8.34 goods, and 11.32 passenger. I did not have to change the points at all on the arrival of the train from Leeds. I saw the train as it passed my box: it was then all right, running at about 30 miles an hour at 2.14. This was the first through passenger train that passed on the main line and was the fastest train. The first thing I saw was a carriage towards the rear of the train, off the road and going over the sleepers. It was a few moments afterwards when the carriages met the bridge and came to a stand. I could not see the front part of the train, as it was going round the curve. I was in charge of the signals, and they stood at all right. So far as I could see, the line was all right. The second bridge is visible from the box, but you cannot see the line underneath it, because there is a curve. There is an embankment on each side of the line, which is in a cutting. The normal position of the facing-points is right towards Lancaster. I have had no conversation with the train men. I did not hear the other servants giving their evidence to the solicitor. I have seen the train in question go quicker over this portion of the line. I do not consider it a quick speed to go round this curve, as it is not a very sharp curve. I worked the points for the trains going to Carnforth on the morning in question. There was an express goods left at 12.59 for Carnforth (it did not stop at Wennington), a little over an hour before the train to which the accident occurred, and after it had passed I put the points back. I could not see from the box that they were in their normal position. I did not go to see, but took my observation from the box. They could not be moved by anybody but me from the box. The train to which the accident occurred passed the box at Wennington at 11 minutes past 2. If there had been any obstruction at the points, the lever working them would not have gone back to its proper position. I did not see anyone touch the points. That train was telegraphed on to me from Lower Bentham: the “be ready” signal at 2.1 p.m. I acknowledged it at the same time. “Train on line at 2.6: it was passing here at 2.11.” I gave “line clear” back at 2.11 p.m. We received the time signal that morning, 11th August, and the clock time in the signal-box was correct by the time signal. The train was travelling about the usual speed for a passenger train not appointed to stop at Wennington. The steam was off as the train passed my box.

Wm. Handley, station master at Wennington.- I was in the office at the time of the 12.15 p.m. train ex Leeds passing Wennington, but saw it pass through the window. It was not running at an excessive speed, and I think I have seen the same train go quicker. The regular pace for the train is from 30 to 35 miles an hour. I consider it quite safe for trains to go round the curve at that speed. I did not notice whether the steam was on or off.

Mr Bolden, resident engineer in the district, informed me that there was no cant or super-elevation of the rail on the outside of the curve at the crossing for the down line to Lancaster, but that, in consequence of through sleepers having been put in at the crossing for the down lines to Lancaster and Carnforth, there was a cant or super-elevation of the outer rail of the curve to Carnforth to the extent of a quarter of an inch, and a depression of the outer rail at the crossing for the Lancaster line to the same extent, or a quarter of an inch.

Fred Stalvies, locomotive foreman at Skipton, has charge of the engine which was working the 12.15 p.m. train from Leeds.- I got to the scene of the accident at 4.30 p.m. on the 11th August. I examined the engine first, and then returned to the crossing. I first noticed a decided mark along the top of the rail leading from the fixed point of the crossing, and traced this mark to the point where the first chair was marked on the outside of the right rail. I then gauged the line and found it slightly tight, about 3/16 of an inch. I gauged it opposite the fixed point, and also about 2 feet from it on either side. It was slightly tighter on the western or Lancaster side of the fixed point. I also measured the distance between the left rail and the check rail inside it, and found it opposite the point of the crossing exactly 2 inches, and, as stated on the accompanying paper, the spliced rail stood back about 1 inches, and out from the face of the adjacent rail ⅜ of an inch, but I do not think that had anything to do with causing the accident. I noticed the crank across the crossing immediately below the end of the fixed point. I noticed, but could not account for, the carriages getting outside the line. I think the right-hand leading wheel of the engine struck the fixed point of the crossing. The mark on the flange of the wheel was such a mark I should not expect to see from striking the point when crossing. I think the check rail was a little wide, and therefore may have been the cause of the engine wheel mounting the rail, or the engine might have mounted by the sudden fracture of the crossing. The engine has been in my charge for some months, and was in very good condition. On this day it had taken the 6.55 a.m. from Skipton to Leeds, and was working the 12.15 express train from Leeds to Morecambe. None of my drivers have complained of this crossing.

John Webb, inspector of permanent way for this district nearly 16 years, and 40 years in the Company’s service, states.- I got to the scene of the accident between 4 and 5 p.m. on the 11th instant. I saw the crossing on the Saturday before the accident. I noticed one crack across the crossing just at the end of the fixed point: there was nothing else wrong with the crossing. I could not say that there was any mark of the flange of the wheel on the top of the fixed point. The first mark which I could see was a mark on a chair. I did not see any mark on the top of the right rail. The splice near the fixed point did not stand out when I first saw it, but it moved back or was knocked back afterwards 1 inch from its proper position. I did not notice that any chairs were broken under the crossing. I tried the gauge at the end of the fixed point, it was the right gauge at that spot. I tried it further west, and it was right there. There was a small cant on the Carnforth line but none on the Morecambe line. I did not try the distance between the left stock rail and the check rail beside it. That line was not reopened for traffic until the next morning at 6 a.m. I do not know whether the crack in the crossing was there before the accident or not. The fracture allowed a looseness in the crossing I do not think the crossing was fractured before the 12.15 train passed over it. I cannot state any probable cause for the accident.

George Carter, district superintendent of permanent way, Leeds to Morecambe section and all the branches.- I got to the scene of the accident at 5.30 p.m. I went and looked at the crossing with my inspector. He drew my attention to the fracture in the crossing, and I then went and examined the road to Lancaster. I thought everything looked all right and in good running order. The first rail that was disturbed was about 14 feet 8 inches from the point of the crossing. I then gauged the road, and found at the crossing points that the road was in perfect order. I then gauged it on the western side, and found it  rather tight to the extent of 1/16 of an inch. I then gauged it at the waist of the crossing, and found it a full ⅛ of an inch tight. I then tried the width between the left rail and the check rail opposite to the crossing. I tried it with a 2-foot rule, 1 15/16 inch. The next morning, when the road was open for traffic, I noticed trains running over the crossing. There was very little play vertically with the fixed point, and I noticed that everything else appeared to be well packed and firm. The fracture in the crossing was close and not open. It was just sufficient to show that it was a fracture. I did not notice the broken chairs under the crossing. I was told afterwards of a piece of the lug having been broken off. I cannot give any explanation as to the probable cause of the accident.


High Bentham Record book: Passenger train arrived at 2.3 p.m. Passenger train left at 2.5 p.m. “Train on line” to Low Bentham at 2.5; “Line clear” received at 2.7.

Low Bentham: “Train on line” from High Bentham at 2.4, “Train passed” at 2.5, and “Line clear” was given to High Bentham at 2.6; and the “Train on line” to Wennington was sent at 2.5, and the “Line clear” was received from Wennington at 2.8.

Wennington: The “Be ready” was received from Low Bentham at 2.1, “Train on line” to Wennington at 2.6, “Train arrived” 2.11; and “Line clear” was given at 2.11 to Low Bentham, and “Left the rails at 2.11” is recorded in the record book.

The following evidence was given before Mr. Holden, the Coroner, at the shire Hall, Lancaster, on Friday, 20th August 1880, at the adjourned inquest on the persons killed in the accident at Wennington on 11th August, at which I was present:-

John Morris:- I was mistaken when I said it would take about two minutes to apply my hand break. I have tried it since, and it would take me about a quarter of a minute to apply it. The reason I could not apply it at the time was because I had to hold on tightly to the van to prevent my being thrown on the floor of the van. Sitting upon my seat, I could not have applied it so as to have had any retarding power.
(By Mr. Beale.) It is our practice to stand up when putting the break on.

John Bee:- I could not have altered the distance between the check rail and the main rail if I had wished to do so. The check rail is not connected with the box crossing. It is connected with the left main rail by double chairs, and is keyed on the inside.

Andrew Johnston, of Derby.- I am the Chief Engineer of the Midland system for all lines open for traffic. I reached the scene of the accident about 8 o’clock the same evening. The first decided mark was on a chair on the Lancaster side of the crossing, and there was also a discolouration on the crossing itself, but it was not very defined. I found a fracture in the casting of the crossing, and that is the fracture the jury saw. It was at the end of the fixed point, and I saw it on the evening of the accident. The first mark that I saw on the chairs was 14 ft. 8 in. from the nose of the crossing, and there the engine appeared to have left the rails, and from this point they were torn up for a considerable distance. The dent was apparently a new one, and in my opinion the indented chair and torn up road was the consequence of the accident. I examined the check rail on the left-hand side; the keys were all in, and there was no apparent movement of the check rail. So far as I could see, with the exception of the broken casting, the crossing was in good order. Yesterday I made a subsequent examination of the crossing with Colonel Yolland, and had the box crossing up. On the day after the accident (Thursday) I found a second fracture, but it was not visible on the evening of the accident; I also found two more fractures in a longitudinal direction, which appeared to arise from a defect in the casting, a honeycomb. The crossing had been in for nearly six years. I could not find anything else that accounted for or contributed to the accident. I think the weakness of the road arose from the first fracture in connection with the unsoundness of the crossing, but am not prepared to say how it arose. I cannot say whether the fracture was caused by the train to which the accident occurred or the preceding train, but I think it is probable that the fracture was the primary cause of the accident. The curve is 40 chains radius. I think trains may run round the curve at 30 miles an hour, everything being in order. I have no information which shows whether or not the ganger performed his duties well on the day preceding the accident, but the timbers did not appear to work at all by trains passing over them. I may say that the sleepers were packed in the ordinary way, and did not require at the time the supervision of an inspector. The ganger is in charge of about two miles of line, and if he finds any subsidence it is his duty to beat the line up. The raising of the line would not alter the gauge of it. Over Mr. Webb, the inspector, is Mr. Carter, the superintendent. The fracture would most probably be caused by an engine striking it, or some heavy vehicle. I am not aware that the left rail was higher that the right rail, and that there was consequently no cant. There are a great many crossings on the Midland system similar to the one at Wennington junction. If the speed of trains between Bentham and Wennington was more than 30 miles an hour, there ought, I think, to be a limitation of speed. I examined the sleeper upon which the box crossing was fixed; it seemed to be firm, and I did not perceive that there were any marks as if there had been a slight working. I found the check rail a little worn, as it ought to have been if it had been doing its duty. It was only 12 months old, and had been turned about six months ago. I found a piece of packing cut. If the keys had been out it would have a tendency to widen the space between the check rail and the main rail. The cause of the spikes being laid down at the crossing was in consequence of general movement, but two spikes secured it properly. It is the practice to do this. I do not know that it is an unusual thing to see a slight movement of chairs at crossings but if it gets too wide it is the duty of the ganger to remedy it.

Mr. S. W. Johnson here stated that the length of the train would be about 220 feet.

Mr. Johnston continuing:- I could not say that the accident would have been avoided if the train had been fitted with the Westinghouse break.

Mr. Beale, in reply to a question from the jury, said the train in question had been running from the 1st of June this year.

Mr. Johnston:- I cannot say whether the application of the guard’s break would have lessened the force of the collision.

Samuel Waite Johnson:- I live at Nottingham, but my works are at Derby. I am the Chief of the Locomotive Department of the Midland Railway. The number of the engine working the 12.15 p.m. train from Leeds on the 11th was 813. It was one of our main line passenger engines, and is of the largest build we have. She had been in regular work between Skipton and Normanton, Leeds and Carlisle, and in turn works the Scotch express trains. Previous to this accident she was doing her work all right. Whiteoak, the driver, has been in the company’s service about 20 years, and about 15 years as a driver; he is an experienced man. I think I reached the scene of the accident between 6 and 7 o’clock the same night. I made an examination of the engine on the spot. She was, with one or two exceptions, all right, and was in the 6-feet. I noticed that the right-hand rail guard of the engine was missing, and that the left-hand rail guard was bent. The wheels themselves had various marks upon them from chairs and sleepers consequent upon her having got off the rails. I have no doubt, in my own mind, that the right-hand leading wheel of the engine mounted the crossing and left the rails about 14 feet 8 inches from the nose of the crossing. There were a good many marks on the flanges of the leading wheels; one long deep mark, which I think, shows that it struck the point of the crossing. Under ordinary circumstances I think 30 miles an hour is perhaps as much as is prudent to go round this curve, assuming, of course, that it was in good order. There are a large number of excursion trains which run past Wennington without stopping. I have not had any reports from drivers with reference to this curve which would make me regulate the speed of the trains. I do not think that if the guard’s break had been put on immediately the engine left the rails, it would have reduced the force of the blow at the bridge. The break should have some little effect, even if the van is off the road. The train was not fitted with a continuous break. The progress of fitting our stock with continuous breaks is going on as rapidly as possible, and most of the main line expresses have already been fitted up. There were 149 engines and 767 carriages fitted up with the continuous break up to June 30th last. In addition to these we have 114 engines fitted with steam breaks on all the wheels of the engine; some of these are goods engines. We have about 450 engines for working passenger trains. I am aware that the break to this particular engine was only fitted to the tender. There was no guard in the front van. The check rail should have kept the wheel off the crossing, but it did not do so, and this would be owing to the gauge being a little too tight and the check rail a little slack. I saw the fracture, and I think it was caused by a blow from an engine or some heavy vehicle. If the road had been on good order the blow certainly could not have been given by an engine. We consider that the train was properly supplies with break power. I think that supposing this train had been fitted with continuous breaks under the control of the driver, and he had made use of it in the same way as he states he made use of his Westinghouse break, it is probable that the train would not have reached the bridge. The engine appears to have gone a long distance after leaving the rails before being stopped if the train was only running at 30 miles an hour. 30 miles an hour would be a proper speed if there was a proper cant. It is a fact that the check rail gives a little under the pressure of the wheels. The engine came to a stand about 80 yards on the Lancaster side of the bridge and 246 yards from the point of the crossing. The tender could not be coupled to the engine more tightly at one time than at another.


From the preceding statements, partly made personally to me, and partly before the Coroner holding an adjourned inquiry at Lancaster on Friday, the 20th instant, at which I was present, it appears that as the 12.15 p.m. express passenger train from Leeds to Lancaster and Morecambe, consisting of an engine and tender, seven carriages, and two break-vans, with a guard riding in the last van, was passing over the junction of the Midland and Furness Railway, close to Wennington station, and travelling at the rate of about 30 miles an hour, the whole train got off the rails at the fixed point of the crossing. The right leading wheel of the engine seems to have mounted and struck the fixed point of the crossing, and then the flange of the right leading wheel appears to have run on the top of the right rail of the line to Lancaster for a distance of about 14 feet 8 inches, and then dropped off on the outside of the right rail and continued to run partly in the 6-feet space and partly in the 4-feet space, passing through the second over-bridge from Wennington, and stopped 216 yards from the fixed point of the crossing, having become separated from the tender and the guard’s van behind it, which latter vehicle had apparently come into partial contact with the left abutment of the over-bridge and been greatly damaged. The tender and guard’s van were separated from the next carriage behind the van, which carriage had run against and been stopped by the left abutment and this carriage and the following were almost entirely destroyed, and separated from the two carriages next behind them, and these again were detached from the remaining four vehicles, which, as well as all the others vehicles were off the rails, but standing coupled together on the down line.

The carriages and vans in the train appear to have also got off the rails near the fixed point, but the left wheels of these vehicles seem to have passed outside the left rail of the down line, and to have continued to run in this position until the leading van and the carriages behind it ran against the abutment of the bridge, distant about 166 yards from the fixed point of the crossing.

When the line was examined after the accident, the cast-iron box crossing, in which the right rail of the down line to Lancaster, and the left rail of the down line to Carnforth were fixed, was found to be cracked right across, immediately under the fixed point, which was distant about 1 foot 11 inches from the waist of the crossing, and some of the witnesses state that there was a mark on the top of the fixed point leading obliquely to the point where the right leading wheel of the engine dropped outside the right rail of the line to Lancaster, and marked a chair. Opposite to the fixed point of the crossing the gauge of the down line is stated to have been 3/16ths of an inch tight, and the check rail opposite to this crossing and fixed point is said to have been 2 inches from the left stock rail instead of 1 inches, the standard distance adopted on the Midland Railway to guard these crossings and to prevent the flanges of the wheels from passing on the wrong side of, or striking the fixed point, after passing from the regular rail at the waist of the crossing.

It is also admitted that, instead of there being a cant or super-elevation of the outer rail under the crossing of from to inch, the rails at this crossing were depressed to the extent of of an inch, and that this was caused by long through sleepers being used under the crossing, extending from under the left rail of the down line to Lancaster to the right rail of the down line to Carnforth, and the giving of a cant of an inch to the Carnforth line.

If the crossing had been constructed and maintained on separate sleepers for the two down lines, there would have been no difficulty in giving proper cant or super-elevation for each down line for the rails on the outside of the two curves: one curving to the left, towards Lancaster, and the other to the right, towards Carnforth.
It also appears that the foreman and two platelayers had been engaged on the previous day in lifting and packing this crossing, and taking out the “slacks” rather more than 24 hours prior to this accident taking place.

The engine which drew this train was a six-wheeled four-wheeled coupled passenger engine and tender, respectively weighing about 38 tons 8 cwt, 3 qrs. and 28 tons 2 cwt. 2 qrs. on arriving at Wennington with the tank of the tender half full of water and two tons of coal – one of the Company’s heaviest engines.

The leading wheels of the engine were 4 feet 2 inches in diameter, and the driving and trailing wheels of 6 feet 8 inches in diameter, the distance between the leading and driving wheels being 8 feet, and the distance between the driving and trailing wheels being 8 feet 6 inches, making up a total wheel base of 16 feet 6 inches.

Some of the axles of this engine appear to have been slightly strained or bent, probable effects of getting off the rails and running such a distance across the sleepers and against the chairs and rails of the two lines.

The Company’s Locomotive Superintendent, Mr. Johnson, was good enough, at my request, to cause the weights on the several wheels of the engine to be ascertained, and the following are the results:-

Left handRight hand Total
Tons  cwt.  qrs.Tons  cwt.  qrs.Tons  cwt.  qrs.
Leading wheels6       4      35      17      1 12     2      0
Driving wheels7      18     07       2       315     0      3
Trailing wheels5       0      06       6       0 11     6       0
Total 19     2      319     6       038     8       3

And thus there appears to have been somewhat less weight on the leading and driving right-hand wheels than on the corresponding left-hand wheels, which might facilitate the engine mounting at the fixed point. There does not appear to have been anything else peculiar in the condition of the engine to account for the engine getting off the rails.

The box crossing was taken up and examined when I was there, and it was then found to be fractured in several places, and was not a thoroughly good casting, but it had been in position for nearly six years, and cannot, therefore, have been very defective.

The check rail opposite to the crossing had been in about a year, and it was turned about six months since: but it was very little worn, and does not appear to have done much work, or trains as a rule must have run slowly through this junction. Some of the chairs adjacent to the crossing seem to have shifted their position on the sleepers to the extent of half an inch, apparently showing that the trains on the line to Carnforth have been run through the crossing at a higher speed than those to Lancaster.

I have already stated that this train is timed to run at the average speed of nearly 37 miles an hour between High Bentham and Hornby, but there is no evidence that this train was running at that average rate at the time when the accident occurred; indeed, as far as the clock times recorded in the signal-boxes at High Bentham, Low Bentham and Wennington would show, the average speed of this train would appear to have been about 32 miles an hour between High Bentham and Wennington.

As a result of my inquiry, I may state that I consider that the act of the foreman and gang of platelayers in taking out the “slacks” and the lifting and packing of the crossing, on the day before the accident occurred, contributed, with the acknowledged absence of cant or lowness of the outer rail at the crossing, the tightness of the gauge, and the want of an efficient check rail, in having permitted a very heavy engine, travelling at least 30 miles an hour, to mount and strike the fixed point and fracture the box crossing, and thus permitted the accident to occur.

The train was only provided with the Westinghouse break on the tender, and a hand-break in the guard’s van at the rear of the train for the only guard with the train to make use of, but there was no break on the engine; and the train of nine vehicles, independent of the engine and tender, had only one break available for these nine vehicles. If this train had been fitted with a good continuos break placed under the control of the engine-driver, and he had made use of it, as he states he made use of the Westinghouse break on the tender, I have no hesitation in saying that the progress of the train, which was rather more than 70 yards in length, while still travelling on the rails, would at once have been retarded, and, at all events, the leading van would not have run 166 yards from the fixed point of the crossing, and then with the carriages have come in contact with the abutment of the over-bridge, and caused the death of eight persons, and injured more or less 23 other passengers.

It is all very well for the Midland Railway Company now to plead that they are busily employed in fitting up their passenger trains with continuos breaks, but the necessity for providing the passenger trains with a larger proportion of break power was pointed out by the Board of Trade to all Railway Companies more than 20 years since; and with the exception of a very few railway companies that recognised that necessity and acted upon it, it may be truly stated that the principal Railway Companies throughout the Kingdom have resisted the efforts of the Board of Trade to cause them to do what was right, which the latter had no legal power to enforce, and even now it will be seen by the latest returns laid before Parliament that some of those Companies are still doing nothing to supply this now generally acknowledged necessity.

The Midland Railway Company issues instructions to their engine-drivers as to the speed at which they shall pass through certain junctions, which they consider should not be run through at a higher rate of speed, but the Midland and Furness junction, near Wennington, is not among those referred to in these instructions.

I trust, therefore, that the Directors of the Midland Railway Company will lose no time in having this particular junction put into proper order, and with a cant or super-elevation of the outer rail of each line, and further direct that special instructions may be given to the engine-drivers as to a modified rate of speed for running through this junction, as the average rate of 37 miles an hour, which this Express train must run in order to keep time, is far too great.
I have, &c,
W. Yolland,

    The Secretary,                            
       (Railway Department,) Board of Trade.                


List of Persons Killed and Injured in Accident at Wennington, on August 11th, 1880.

Killed  5. Mrs. Mitchell.
6. Fredk. Mitchell.
1. Joseph Stewart.7. Eliza Cole.
2. Henry Mitchell.8 and 9. Two boys named McKenna.
3. Caroline Mitchell.  10. Maude Shepherd.
4. Arthur Mitchell. 11. Grace Ann Pearce.
5. Mrs. Sarah McKenna. 12. J. H. Rand.
6. Caroline Louisa McKenna. 13. Revd. Thomas Hatton.
7. Mrs. Sophia Shepherd.14 and 15. Mrs. And Miss Scowby.
8. George Hastings.16 and 17. Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
18. Mrs. Cockin.
Injured 19. Miss Craven.
20. Miss Roberts.
1 and 2. Bridget Hutchinson and child.21. Mr. Rhodes.
3. William Shaw.22. Mrs. Sugden.
4. William Proctor Bradshaw.23. John Church.


Copy of Letter to the Midland Railway Company, enclosing Copy of the above Report.

Board of Trade, (Railway Department,)
London, S.W.,
15th September, 1880.

I am directed by the Board of Trade to transmit to you, to be laid before the directors of your Company, the enclosed copies of Colonel Yolland’s report of his inquiry into the circumstances attending the fatal accident that occurred on the 11th ultimo, near Wennington station, on the Leeds and Lancaster section of the Midland Railway.

In forwarding this report, I am to call the attention of your directors to the condition in which the Midland and Furness junction was found immediately after the accident had occurred, and to the absence of express instructions to the drivers of trains directing them to reduce their speed at that junction to some fixed and moderate rate, such as the Midland Company have adopted at more than a hundred other junctions on their system.

I am also to request that you will call the special attention of your directors to the fact that the train which met with the accident had no break on the engine, and that there was but one break on the tender, and one on the van at the end of the train, or, in other words, a proportion of only one guard’s break to nine vehicles. Had due precautions been taken on either of the above points, there seems every reason to believe that this accident would not have occurred, or that its fatal consequences would have been prevented.

I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
H. G. Calcraft.

The Secretary of the                            
    Midland Railway Company.

Wennington Junction Accident - 11th August 1880. Board of Trade report.