The 1883 Tramcar Tragedy – Part 3: The Inquest

This is the last in a three part series of blog posts about the tramcar accident of 3 July 1883 which killed seven people. The first part described the accident, the second details those involved, and this final part documents the inquest.

melodramatic front cover of the Illustrated Police News (14/Jul/1883)
melodramatic front cover of the Illustrated Police News (14/Jul/1883)

To do justice to the full inquest and all the press coverage would fill a small book, so this blog post will just be a (very lengthy!) day-by-day summary of events. However, the original articles are all linked to, so you can delve deeper into the inquest if you want to and a all the articles I found during research can be browsed here.

It’s worth noting that this wasn’t the only tragedy that day which made the newspapers, as the capsizing of the SS Daphne had happened in Glasgow only a few hours before, resulting in the deaths of over 120 people. More locally, 2 children had been trampled to death in Sheffield the day before the tramcar accident and, the day after, near the village of Silkstone, 26 children drowned in the Huskar Pit Disaster.

the Huskar Pit Disaster monument (© Steve Fareham)
the Huskar Pit Disaster monument (© Steve Fareham)

Tuesday 3 July 1883

The Lindley tramcar crash on Railway Street likely happened around 2:55pm.

By around 3:05pm the engine and car had been moved into St. George’s Square and the injured had been carried into nearby premises whilst they were attended to by Dr. Erson, local chemist Mr. Cuthbert and trained first-aider Duke Fox, amongst others. A steady stream of horse-drawn cabs ferried the majority of the passengers involved in crash to the Huddersfield Infirmary.

Due to the crowd of sightseers who perhaps knew nothing of the crash but were drawn to the spectacle of the shattered tramcar standing outside the railway station, it was driven down Northumberland Street to the tram shed on the junction of Lord Street (roughly where the Post Office is located today). By that evening, the engine was placed under a round-the-clock police guard with strict instructions that no-one was to go near the engine “under any pretence”.

Infant Annie Moore was dead by the time she reached the Huddersfield Infirmary, and probably died at the crash site. Her father, Fred Moore, died around 8pm. David Bertenshaw Taylor died about 20 minutes later. Isabella Woodhouse had died around 5pm, a couple of hours after the accident. Sarah Clegg was partly conscious when admitted to the Infirmary and died at around 7:45pm. According the Infirmary’s House Surgeon, all five had died as a result of the head injuries they received in the crash.

Councillor Armitage Haigh, the Chairman of the Tramways Committee, arrived at the Northumberland tram shed around 3:30pm and the engine was already there, as was the driver, Thomas Roscoe. Apparently briefed that the automatic braking system appeared not to have averted the accident, he questioned Roscoe as to whether or not he had disabled it. Roscoe’s answer would not be revealed publicly until the final day of the inquest and conspiracy theorists might want to ponder if the Tramways Committee initially considered suppressing the information. As we shall see, the behaviour of the Huddersfield Corporation officials, including the Mayor, left a little to be desired under the circumstances.

The Lindley tramcar route was soon running again, as it was Market Day in Huddersfield and a large number of Lindley residents would be heading home, many perhaps oblivious to the accident. Reportedly, a Lookwood tramcar ran the Lindley route that evening.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening, a stream of concerned relatives arrived at the Infirmary, anxious for news of their loved ones.

David Bertenshaw Taylor’s wife, Ellen, arrived sometime around 8:30pm and was told her husband had just died. She collapsed in shock and was conveyed by friends back to her house. The Chronicle speculated that she “could not realise to anything like the full extent the direful news which had been just communicated to her.”

line engraving of Huddersfield Infirmary by J. Shury (1831)
line engraving of Huddersfield Infirmary by J. Shury (1831)

In what was seen by some as highly disrespectful act, the planned concert by the Lindley Brass Band in St. George’s Square, just a stone’s throw the crash site, went ahead that evening. The bandmaster, Joe Kaye, later wrote to the Chronicle to explain that they had no idea of the severity of the accident and would have cancelled the concert out of respect had they been made aware. Almost certainly, the band members would have known some of the injured and dead.

During the evening, Councillor Haigh convened an emergency meeting of the Tramways Committee in private. We can only speculate as to what was discussed at the meeting, but possibly Haigh repeated what driver Roscoe had told him and they then considered what their options would be depending on the various verdicts the jury might reach.

The day’s events were covered by the issue of the Huddersfield Chronicle published the following day in an article titled “Fearful Tramcar Accident in Huddersfield: The Lindley Tramcar Overturned, Five Deaths“.

ink drawing of the area where the crash occurred which appeared in the Illustrated London News (1883)
ink drawing of the area where the crash occurred from the Illustrated London News (1883)

Wednesday 4 July 1883

According to the Chronicle, passenger numbers were down on the tramcars that morning, although that simply might reflect that this was a normal day rather than the busy Market Day.

The stream of visitors to the Infirmary continued and included Councillor Haigh, Mr. R.S. Dugdale (Borough Surveyor and Engineer), and the Rev. J.W. Town (Vicar of Lindley). By now, Mr. Wilkinson, a representative of the engine manufacturer was in Huddersfield and also visited the injured.

Over in Salford, the Town Council met that morning and a question was asked if Alderman Harwood (Chairman of the Salford Tramways Committee) was aware of what had happened in Huddersfield. Perhaps Harwood guessed, but he correctly responded that he hoped it would be a warning to all of how important it was to ensure engines had proper brake power at all times.

With five people dead, an inquest was a necessity to establish if the deaths had been accidental or, if not, were any persons directly responsible for the deaths and should therefore face a charge of manslaughter. These days, of course, this would be a role for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, but in the 1880s the decision was left to a jury who considered the facts and reached their verdict.

During the afternoon, the inquest was convened under the District Country Coroner, 52-year-old William Barstow of Halifax. A jury was sworn in and comprised of the following individuals (indicative ages are shown in parentheses):

  1. David Brown (41) of Chapel Street
    founder of David Brown Engineering Limited in 1860
  2. John Burnley (45) of King Street
    linen draper and former Liberal Party candidate
  3. Thornton Cliffe (38) of Colne Road
    mechanical engineer and owner of an engine works
  4. George William Crosland (40) of New North Road
    iron merchant of Fixby
  5. John Crowther (54) of Greenhead Road
    engineer
  6. James Drake (48) of New North Road
    woollen cloth merchants and member of the Huddersfield Chamber of Commerce
  7. Edward Dyson (41) of New Street
    linen draper
  8. Fred Eastwood of New North Road
    director of the Halifax and Huddersfield Union Banking Company
  9. Allen Jackson (55) of John William Street
    painter and gilder, and local councillor in the 1870s
  10. Benjamin Jowett (58) of West Parade
    grocer
  11. George Moxon (51) of Trinity Street
    coal merchant
  12. Mr. Radcliffe
    presumably Joseph Radcliffe (40), stone merchant of South Crosland
  13. Charles Henry Riley (37) of Henry Street
    joiner and builder, and member of the Board of Guardians
  14. Battye Royston (58) of East Parade
    co-founder of Kenworthy, Royston and Crossley Machine Works
  15. Eli Whitwam (37) of Alfred Street
    mechanical and consulting engineer

As well as the members of the jury, a number of individuals with a vested interest in the inquest were present on most (if not all) days, including:

  • Mr. G.L. Batley, representing the Huddersfield Corporation
  • John Eddison, vice-chairman of the Leeds Tramway Company
  • Councillor Armitage Haigh, the Chairman of the Huddersfield Tramways Committee
  • Mr. Wilkinson of Wigan, owner of the company who manufactured the engine
  • John Ward, the Chief Constable

The Coroner, Mr. Barstow, began by saying:

Before you proceed to view the bodies, I have in the first place to express my sincere sorrow and regret at the very unfortunate occurrence that has been the means of your being called here this afternoon, and I am sure you also regret this terrible calamity, the like of which, I should think, has never occurred, certainly in Huddersfield, and probably not in any other town in the kingdom. It is a most lamentable calamity, by which no less than five people lost their lives, and more than 20 people are more or less injured. Now, I am sure you wish to devote every attention you can to the cause which may have been the means of bringing about this sad occurrence. Your great attention is necessary for many reasons, and one is that the enquiry will assume a moat important character, not only from the number of persons killed and injured, but also from the fact that tramways are now being so much used in many parts of the kingdom, and I am sorry to say there have been accidents more or less since the institution of such means of locomotion. It is very desirable in the public interest and public safety that accidents of this nature should be thoroughly investigated, so as to prevent, if possible, any similar calamities in the future. All that can be done today is to take evidence of identification, and then have the enquiry adjourned to a future day. Now, I am not bound by law to inform any Government department of this matter, but I felt it my duty to give notice to the Board of Trade in order that the Board may, it they think fit, send down some person to be present at the enquiry. If they do so, no doubt it would be of great assistance to many on the jury.

By alerting the Board of Trade, Barstow was ensuring that, if the crash had been caused due a technical failure, this would be properly examined so that the lessons could be learned. The representative of the Board of Trade would need to decide if his inquest could be merged with Barstow’s, or if it needed to be held separately.

A short discussion then took place as to when the jury should view the engine in the shed on Northumberland Street and what, if anything, they would be able to learn from just looking at it. It was also debated as to whether or not Mr. Wilkinson should be allowed to accompany the jury members, in case he sought to influence them. At this point, Mr. Wilkinson firmly placed his foot in his mouth by stating that:

It is just a question of erroneous statements getting about, and I want to point out technical matters which the jury may not understand. There are scores of things about that engine that the most practical engineers in Huddersfield would not understand.

Mr. Radcliffe firmly rebuked him by reminding him that there were “plenty of good engineers on this jury” including, of course, David Brown! Radcliffe was also of the opinion that, if they didn’t go to view the engine that day, it might result in negative gossip amongst the townsfolk.

The jury then travelled to the Infirmary where they viewed the bodies and took statements from those who had formally identified the five dead passengers. In each case, they tried to ascertain if the deceased had been in good health prior to the accident, in order to be sure the crash had been the primary cause of death.

By now, it had been ascertained that the representative of the Board of Trade was planning to arrive the following Wednesday and the Coroner suggested that they should formally adjourn until then, subject to any of the injured dying before then. This seemed likely, as the House Surgeon had told them that two of the injured were “almost certain” to die.

At around 4pm, the jurors were still waiting for cabs to arrive to take them to view the engine and Barstow was busy signing burial certificates so that the five bodies could be released to relatives. Assistant House Surgeon, Mr. Prentice, came in and informed them that Mary Shaw had died a few minutes previously at around 3:50pm. A decision was then made to take evidence from Mary’s sister, Sarah Ann Pearson, and for her to formally identify the deceased.

Following this, and in the absence of Mr. Wilkinson, a juror said:

I want to know why Huddersfield engineers can’t understand this tram engine. I should like to know what sort of tram engine it is that no one understands it. If it an engine of that sort they had better take it back!

Assured that the Coroner had the power to ensure anyone who tried to interfere with the inquest would be removed, the inquest adjourned and the jury members travelled to the shed to view the engine and car.

At around 6pm, a Lindley tramcar departed St. George’s Square and the engine came off the rails just after the crash site. The driver placed sand on the rails to help with traction and used a crowbar to ease the engine back onto the track. It must have been a sobering few minutes for the passengers.

At around 8pm, Rowland Hall finally passed away. He had been terribly injured after being flung from the upper-deck of the tramcar into an iron lamppost and there had been no hope of recovery.

A journalist from the Chronicle enquired that evening into the condition of the other injured and was told that there had been little change. He was also told that three were still in a critical condition: Alice Brook, Joseph Halstead and Mary Ann Moore (who had lost her husband and infant daughter).

The day’s events were covered by the issue of the Huddersfield Chronicle published the following day in an article titled “The Fearful Tramcar Accident in Huddersfield: Latest Particulars, Two More Deaths“.

Thursday 5 July 1883

The death the previous evening of Rowland Hall necessitated that the inquest be reconvened and a meeting took place on Thursday afternoon, presumably at the Infirmary. Two jury members, Burnley and Eastwood, were absent due to the short notice.

The only witness called was Hall’s son-in-law, monument sculptor Charles Richard Garner, who stated that he had visited Hall four times at the Infirmary before he died. He reported that Hall had occasionally regained some semblance of consciousness but had not said anything that would be relevant to the inquest.

It was now known that the representative of the Board of Trade, Major General Hutchinson, would now be arriving later on that afternoon1 and a discussion took place as to whether they should meet with him. It was decided to reconvene at the Town Hall in order to find out if Hutchinson intended to order a separate inquest, as that might impact on their own inquiry’s ability to complete their work. They then viewed Rowland Hall’s body.

Later on that afternoon, the jurors met again in the Council Chamber of the Town Hall, where they were eventually joined by others including the Mayor, Alderman Walker (who had assisted at the crash site), Councillor A. Haigh, Dr. Erson (who had been on the fateful tramcar), and Mr. Wilkinson with a solicitor (Mr. Ellis) now representing his firm.

The Coroner then joined them, accompanied by Major General Hutchinson, and announced they had reached a decision that Hutchinson would hold a separate inquest but that he would endeavour to “make his report as speedily as possible” so that the jurors could use it to aid them in their own deliberations. Hutchinson would also provide independent and impartial assistance to the jury members.

Barstow also stated it unlikely that the engine would re-enter service until both inquests had been completed. Rather tactlessly, the Mayor then tried to insist that, if the engine was found to be in working order, it should be allowed to go back into service — “it seems a pity to keep it idle all the time”. Juror Mr. Drake wisely stated that the “public are exceedingly alive to this matter, and for their sakes I think we should almost prefer that the engine did not work until after the termination of this inquiry.”

It was then decided that the engineers on the jury should accompany Major General Hutchinson on his inspection of the engine. The solicitor Ellis insisted that he and Mr. Wilkinson should be allowed to go with them, and this was agreed. Before they adjourned, the Mayor one again raised his desire to have the engine back in service as quickly as possible.

At the tram shed, Hutchinson requested that the engine’s boiler be primed. He then briefly left to begin his own inquiry by interviewing Thomas Laxton (Huddersfield Tramway Superintendent) as well as the driver and conductor of the tramcar. Upon his return to the shed, an attempt to move the engine was made but then abandoned as it was felt there was something mechanically wrong with it.

During all of this, the jury had deliberated with the Coroner and come to the decision to appoint an engineer of their own choice who would assist Hutchinson’s inquiry and write a separate report. This was to be Mr. Middleton Pratt, an engineer residing in Fixby.2

The inquest then adjourned for a week, giving Hutchinson time to make progress on his report.

The day’s events were covered by the issue of the Huddersfield Chronicle published the following day in an article titled “The Fearful Tramcar Accident in Huddersfield: Another Inquest“.

Saturday 7 July 1883

The formal opening of the Huddersfield Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition took place, with the Duke of Somerset in attendance.

The Chronicle reported:

Although the lamentable catastrophe which occurred here in the early part of the week has thrown quite a gloom over the town, yet hearty efforts were put forth yesterday to make today’s proceedings in connection with the opening of the Exhibition a great success. The small display of bunting, which a few days ago appeared scattered here and there, had much increased, and Westgate, St. George’s Square, the Market Place, and other portions of the town presented quite a gay appearance.

the Huddersfield Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition of 1883
the Huddersfield Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition of 1883

Tuesday 10 July 1883

The two engineers selected by Major General Hutchinson and the inquest jury — Arthur G. Evans of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company and Mr. Middleton Pratt — commenced their testing of the engine. It should be remembered that Hutchinson had previously attempted to run the engine to test it on 5 July but this had been abandoned. Observing their tests were Mr. Wilkinson, of the company who manufactured the engine, and “the superintendent”, who was presumably Thomas Laxton.

Evans and Pratt took the engine out on a test run as far as Fartown. They immediately experienced problems on the incline from the tram shed down onto North Gate — the driver took the corner onto North Gate so quickly that the automatic breaking system engaged itself. It was at Fartown they discovered the right-hand piston was “smashed to bits”. The engine was then returned to the shed on Northumberland Street.

Wednesday 11 July 1883

During the afternoon, Evans and Pratt, accompanied by Pratt’s colleague Joseph Hepworth, dismantled the failed piston and made a more detailed examination of the engine. They found small fragments of the piston in the exhaust box.

With hindsight, they should have done this detailed examination before the run to Fartown the previous day, as it was now impossible to say what state the piston had been in at the time of accident and how much further disintegration had happened during their test run.

Both engineers then wrote up separate reports, which were presented at the final day of the inquest.

A further set of tests, using Engine No.3 and Car No.4 on the Lindley line, were conducted under the supervision of Middleton Pratt early on 21 July. The newspaper reports don’t reveal why these took place or who instigated them, but they involved testing tramcar braking under a number of different scenarios. As Pratt was selected by the inquest jury, perhaps he carried out the tests at their request, or perhaps the Tramways Committee requested them?

Thursday 12 July 1883

The inquest resumed on Thursday morning and took place in the Council Chamber of the Town Hall. By now, Roscoe, the engine driver, had legal representation (Barker, Sons, and Yeoman who where based in the Estate Buildings near where the crash occurred) and other solicitors where in attendance representing the bereaved and injured.

The day was taken up with witness statements and the Coroner announced that it was the jury’s wish for witnesses not to remain in the room, except for when they were giving evidence. This provoked a certain amount of discussion and it was agreed that “the scientific witnesses, the maker of the engine, and the engine driver” could remain throughout.

Margaret Miller testified that she travelled on the tramcar between Marsh and near Greenhead Road and noticed nothing unusual. She claimed that when she alighted, the tram had come to a full stop. She wasn’t able to say if the brakes of the car were applied or not.

George North, a butcher of Lindley, testified that he saw the tramcar go past and that he believed the car’s brakes were applied as the wheels were skidding (“I thought if it had been night there would have been a lot of sparks”). He recognised several of the passengers on the upper-deck, including Rowland Hall and Benjamin Brook. He saw the tramcar slow down near South Street and he thought two people alighted. Curiously, he denied that the tramcar had stopped where Margaret Miller had claimed she had alighted.

Dr. W.R. Erson was called next and he gave a detailed account of the journey from Lindley. He stated that from Marsh onwards, he felt that the tramcar was “going at a speed which I considered unsafe” and that he had said as much to those around him. He stated that he had kept a close eye on the driver and, close to New North Street when the tramcar had noticeably picked up speed, he felt sure that the driver had lost control — he was able to identify now that the lever he’d seen Roscoe pull was to reverse the engine, but it appeared to move without resistance and that this had seemingly surprised the driver.

At this point, he stated that got up and calmly (so as not to “create a panic”) walked to the back of the car where he noticed Alfred Crosland near to the brake handle but could see no sign of the conductor. By now, the tramcar was “going at a very rapid rate” and he took the opportunity to jump off the rear platform and “with difficulty retained my feet”. As the tramcar passed St. George’s Street, which was only a short distance from the corner the tramcar overturned on, he saw Joseph Wilson jump off. However, if didn’t see Alfred Crosland jump off. The tramcar passed out of his sight around the corner onto Railway Street and he heard the crash. Running around the corner, he saw passengers lying on the ground and began assisting the injured.

Although Dr. Erson recalled Margaret Miller alighting, he did not notice anyone getting off near South Street, which implies the men seen by George North jumped off when they realised the driver wasn’t going to slow down for them to get off.

The inquest then adjourned for lunch.

Alfred Crosland then gave evidence. He had boarded in Marsh and remained stood near the back of the lower-deck of the car throughout the journey, near to the brake handle. He stated that the tramcar had sped up alarmingly (“a frightful speed”) as they entered West Parade and that he saw Joseph Wilson, Wright Firth, and Dr. Erson jump off.

Crosland then went on to describe how he had grabbed the brake after the car began to wobble from side to side, causing some of the passengers to scream. He thought he did this as they passed the Crown Hotel — which was situated on the junction with Upper Head Row where West Parade became West Gate. He turned the brake several times to the right, but felt no decrease in speed. It was here that he jumped off himself, grazing his knees and elbows.

It seems there was then some discussion about whether or not Crosland had released the brake, rather than applying it, but Major General Hutchinson stated that “it was impossible for the witness to turn the brake the wrong way […] because there is a catch at the bottom which would prevent [it]”. If the jury were to return a verdict of manslaughter, they would need to be sure that Crosland hadn’t unwittingly contributed to the crash by releasing the car’s brake.

The next witness was John Henry Sterry, a wholesale clothier whose shop was on the corner of Westgate and Railway Street. From his vantage point on the first floor, looking up Westgate, he feared the tramcar might jump the rails and plough into his shop. He saw the tramcar take the corner, the car tip to the right onto its side wheels (“for 15 or 20 yards”) and then tumble over. He ran outside and took part in giving aid to the injured, bringing some of them into his shop.

Sterry estimated he had seen previous tramcars take the corner at six to eight miles an hour (which would be almost twice the speed it had been designed for) and that the fatal tramcar was travelling “not less than 16 miles an hour”. He could not say if the brakes were being applied, but felt that they probably weren’t.

John Rowe testified that he had been walking along Railway Street on the opposite side to Mr. Sterry’s shop when he “heard the bell of the tram-engine ringing very fast”. He witnessed the tramcar take the corner and the car topple, throwing passengers onto the ground. After giving aid, he spoke to the driver and conductor, saying “I thought you would have had break power enough to have stopped [the tramcar] anywhere” and was left with the impression that the car’s brakes had not been applied as when it was moved into St. George’s Square, he could see the car’s wheels rotating and saw no-one release the brake.

Despite the Chief Constable saying that he had four more witnesses, the inquest was adjourned until the following day, when the crucial scientific evidence would be presented.

The day’s events were covered by the issue of the Huddersfield Chronicle published the following day in an article titled “The Fearful Tramcar Accident in Huddersfield: The Adjourned Inquest“.

Friday 13 July 1883

The fourth day of the inquest began with a witness statement by Joseph Theophilus Green, stationmaster of Huddersfield Railway Station. He had been standing lower down Railway Street, saw the tramcar take the corner and the car topple, and estimated the time of the crash as being 2:56pm. In his opinion — based on 20 years of working on the railways — the tramcar had been travelling at around 11 miles per hour coming around the corner and that neither the engine brakes or the car brake were being applied. Like Mr. Sterry, he too had seen tramcars coming down Westgate at around 8 miles per hour, which he regarded as “too fast”.

When he reached the crash site, he was in time to hear someone ask the driver, “Whatever have you been doing?” Roscoe had pointed to one of the cylinders and said it was “out of order”, which gave Green the impression a piston had failed and so “the engine would be less under the control of the driver”.

The tramcar conductor, Henry Sawyer, then gave his evidence after being cautioned by the coroner — if the jury decided that Sawyer’s actions had contributed in any way to the crash, the evidence could be used in court.

Sawyer’s testimony rambled slightly, and was interrupted by a break for lunch, but it can be distilled down to the following:

  • He had only recently started in the job of conductor had only been given basic verbal instructions on what to do and “had not [been given] any directions as to where to collect the fares, when to apply the brakes, nor how to perform my duties”. Nor was he told that he should enforce strict limit of 34 passengers on the tramcar (16 on the lower-deck and 18 on the upper-deck), but had been told not to allow anyone to sit on the steps between the decks.
  • He had seen the driver Roscoe come out of the Fleece Inn in Lindley before they departed.
  • He was of the habit of applying the car brake on the latter section of the route, likely as they passed Greenhead Park, and stated that he had done so on the day of the accident — this then accounted for George North being of the opinion the wheels were skidding when he saw the tramcar pass by him. He did not touch, or go near, the brakes after that.
  • As they approached the South Street junction, he rang his bell as he saw passengers wanted to get off (these would be the two men seen alighting by George North) but the driver did not slow the engine. Sawyer was of the opinion the engine had in fact begun to speed up.
  • Following the accident, he was on the car when it was moved down to the shed on Northumberland Street. He stated that he applied the car brake, “but notwithstanding that I could not stop [the car] at the depot. At [that] time there were only two people in the car — a constable and myself.”
  • He had previously noticed that the automatic braking system would engage when they were making the trip from Huddersfield up to Lindley, but had never noticed it on the downhill trip back to Huddersfield. This implies that Roscoe was in the habit of disabling it.

The jury then tried to get to the bottom of whether or not tramway crews were issued with formal written rules and instructions for their job. Sawyer stated that he’d been given a set of instructions on the Monday after the accident by Albert Clough (a clerk in the tramways department), which he’d passed on to the solicitor representing the Taylor family. It emerged that these had been issued in October 1881 under the previous Mayor (Alderman Thomas Denham) and had not been previously circulated to tramcar employees as the Committee were currently considering their own set of instructions which were still in draft.

Reading between the lines, one is left with the impression that the Tramways Committee, which met in private on the evening of the day of the accident, were seeking to limit their potential liability. Aware that staff were working without any formal guidelines whatsoever, it would seem that Clough was instructed to give Sawyer the 1881 set, which was the only ones they had which had been signed off by a Mayor. The current Mayor and Mr. Batley, the Town Clerk, seemed to be unaware this had happened, and stated it was a mystery to them both how Sawyer had ended up with them.

The superintendent of the tramways, Thomas Laxton, then gave evidence. He described how the engine had undergone test runs prior to entering service. During these, it was noticed that the piston heads seemed to be thumping against the cylinder covers and he had instructed a fitter from the engine company to make suitable adjustments. He attended a further test run on 8 June and was happy that the issue with the pistons had been resolved. The engine went into service the following day.

Laxton then contradicted some of the earlier evidence by stating that all drivers and conductors were issued with written instructions.

After the accident, he had gone to the tram shed to see the engine and stated that he had caught Roscoe attempting to change the settings of the valves which operated the automatic brakes. He then examined the values and found one was fully closed and the other partially closed. Curiously, Laxton made no mention of Roscoe admitting verbally that he had disabled the automatic brakes. He had, however, suspected some of the drivers of doing so and had previously made attempts to catch them red-handed (or rather, closed-valved).

Laxton then went on to state that he had raised various concerns about the safety of the engines and the Lindley route to both the engine manufacturer and the Borough Surveyor, Mr. Dugdale. In particular, that the engines should be fitted with an independent braking system, separate to the steam-powered one, and that the corner where the crash occurred was unsafe due to the low cant of the rails — in fact Laxton stated that he’d plumbed that corner whilst on a tramcar and found the car leaned outwards, rather than inwards. He claimed that Mr. Dugdale had told him to “mind his own business”.

At this point in the proceedings, Major General Hutchinson had to leave and, as he was not able to return to Huddersfield until the following Friday, the Coroner adjourned the inquest for a full week.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, Laxton’s evidence, which implied that officials (particularly Dugdale) had been warned about the safety of the line, caused a stir in the press.

The day’s events were covered by the issue of the Huddersfield Chronicle published the following day in an article titled “The Fearful Tramcar Accident in Huddersfield: The Adjourned Inquest“.

Saturday 21 July 1883

Prior to final day of the inquest into the deaths of the seven passengers starting, a series of early morning tests were carried out on the Lindley route under Pratt’s supervision (possibly with Evans and others in attendance, but possibly not). These used a different engine (No. 3) and car to the one that crashed and were designed to test how the brakes operated under a variety of scenarios:

  1. The first run was down Trinity Street and the driver attempted to run the engine as fast as possible. The automatic braking system engaged and the driver then attempted to bring the tramcar to a full stop, which he succeeded in doing after about 30 yards.
  2. In the second test run, steam was shut off from the engine (presumably to the steam-powered breaks) and the driver attempted to stop the tramcar by throwing the engine into reverse. This resulted in the tramcar (presumably sliding somewhat down the incline) at around 3 miles an hour.
  3. The third test involved “holding the reversing lever against the automatic action” which resulted in the engine running out of control.3
  4. The fourth was “the automatic action, only without applying any of the breaks”, which brought the tramcar to a slow crawl.
  5. The firth test was carried out at the junction with Greenhead Road and the driver was able to stop the tramcar after 25 yards purely by reversing the engine.
  6. The sixth test, which would likely have alarmed anyone passing by, involved running at full speed down West Parade so that the automatic brakes applied themselves. This was a repeat of the first test, but on a more severe gradient.
  7. As a final test, with the tramcar standing still, Pratt applied the car brake and “asked the driver to put his steam break on the car as forcibly as possible”. This seems to have been done to test if the driver applying his brakes would cause the car brake handle to release — it didn’t.

With these tests completed, the final day of the inquest began. The long list of attendees reported in the Chronicle indicates that the Council Chambers would likely have been full.

Middleton Pratt began by verbally giving his written report, his conclusions and his recommendations:

As requested, with Mr. Evans I inspected the No. 2 engine, at the engine shed, on July l0th, the engine that met with the accident. Joseph Hepworth, a fitter in my employ, attended to do the necessary work. Firstly, the slide valve of the right-hand cylinder was found to have moved on its spindle (when the engine was at top centre the port was about wide open). Secondly, after the adjustment of the slide valve the engine was run to Fartown and back. Its work was such that it was decided to have the cylinder lids up. On this being done the right-hand piston was found smashed to bits and the piston rod bent. Thirdly, the governor and automatic brakes were tried on the run to Fartown three or four times, and found to act fairly well at about 8 1/2 miles per hour. It occurring to me that the valve spindle would probably be required at the enquiry, I attended at the engine shed on the afternoon of the 11th inst., with my man, Joseph Hepworth. We then removed the valve spindle of the right-hand engine, so that it could be produced at the inquest if called for. It also occurred to me to examine the inside of the exhaust box connected with the damaged engine. I there found a considerable number of bits of the broken piston which had been carried out of the cylinder by the exhaust and deposited in the exhaust box. That is my report on the facts. The opinion I formed on the foregoing — It must be borne in mind that the automatic brake can be shut off by the driver by valves on the steam pipes connections, thus rendering the thing useless. I am of opinion that the automatic brake was shut off (or inoperative from other causes, which would amount to the same thing), the driver relying on reversing his engine and the car brakes to control the speed. The piston having smashed, or the slide valve becoming deranged, or both, when the driver found the speed too high and reversed the engine it would be unable to answer him, as one cylinder was quite useless, and the other not sufficient to control the engine by itself, leaving the car out of the question. That one cylinder when reversed cannot control the engine on such an incline as the bottom of Northumberland Street, which is one in 22.8, was proved on the trial run to Fartown on the 10th. Descending Northumberland Street from the depot, the speed accelerated, and the engine went round the curve into Northgate at a speed sufficient to bring the automatic brake on. On landing in Northgate, the driver, on being spoken to by Mr. Evans as to why he came round the curve at that speed, replied, “I could not hold her.” I personally saw him try to do that with his reversing lever. It is evident the engine being in this state when the accident happened that in descending Westgate the car would have to assist in pulling the engine up, and I am very doubtful, in the absence of actual experiment, whether the car brakes if on were powerful enough for the car alone, without having the engine dragging in addition. Suggestions for prevention :— A powerful screw hand brake, to he fitted to each engine; the governor and all connections, and the automatic brake, to be constructed so as to be outside the control of the driver ; the pistons and side valve connections to be constructed in a more substantial and generally approved manner. The slide valve of the steam car brake is attached in the same manner as the engine slide valve. This also ought to be fitted in a more positive manner, and the car hand brake to have a spring to the catch.

In his opinion, it would not normally be possible to break a piston simply by going too fast and that the automatic braking system in itself was sufficient to have reduced the speed of a tramcar so that the accident would not have happened, even if the car brakes had not been applied. He also believed that, had the second piston not failed, the driver would have been able to control the engine purely with the reversing lever.

Mr. Ellis, the solicitor for the engine manufacturer, then questioned Pratt further and the engineer repeated his conviction that the action of the automatic braking system would have been sufficient to have averted the accident. However, he was critical of the choice of materials used for the pistons — to his mind, cast iron should have been used instead of the cheaper phosphor-bronze (an alloy of copper and tin).

Due to the damage, he wasn’t able to give a definite reason as to why the piston failed, but was of the opinion the failure had occurred at the top of piston (which presumably raised the possibility it was damaged during the initial running tests of which Thomas Laxton has spoken of, in which the piston ends were thumping against the cylinder heads).

Finally, he gave his opinion that had the engine been fitted with an independent screw brake, the driver would have been able to bring the engine under control on the day of the accident.

Dr. James Richardson, House Surgeon at the Huddersfield Infirmary, was then called and he described the causes of death for each of the seven victims, which had included a post mortem examination of at least four.

  1. Annie Moore — Was dead on arrival at the Infirmary. Severely bruised on the head and face, but no fractures. Post-mortem revealed a “quantity of effused blood on the inside of the scalp pressing on the brain”.
  2. Isabella Woodhouse — Died at 5pm on 3 July. Was unconscious until her death. Two inch long wound on back of head. No post-mortem examination took place, but likely cause of death of “severe brain injuries”.
  3. Sarah Clegg — Died at 7:45pm on 3 July. Partially conscious when admitted. Post-mortem examination revealed “extensive fracture at the base of skull”, “severe lacerations of the brain”, and “a good deal of effused blood pressing on the brain”.
  4. Fred Moore — Died at 8pm on 3 July. Was unconscious until his death. Post-mortem examination revealed fracture at base of skull, multiple lacerations to the brain and a “quantity of effused blood pressing on the brain”.
  5. David Bertenshaw Taylor — Died at 8:20pm on 3 July. Was unconscious until his death, which was caused by fracture at the base of skull and severe injury to the brain.
  6. Mary Shaw — Died around 4pm on 4 July. Was unconscious until her death. 5 inch long scalp wound. No specific cause of death was given.
  7. Rowland Hall — Died around 7:30pm on 4 July. Partially conscious when admitted. Large wound “on the forehead over right eye” with “depressed fracture of the frontal bone connected with wound” and multiple fractured ribs (sustained when he was thrown against an iron lamppost). Immediate cause of death being “injury to the brain”.

Passenger William Herbert Sykes then gave evidence. He had been travelling on the upper-deck and was able to say that all the seats were occupied and at least 4 passengers were stood up just prior to the accident.

The inquest then broke for luncheon.

In the afternoon, Arthur G. Evans of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company read his report:

I have the honour to report for your information that in accordance with your request I have made a careful investigation into the causes which led to the recent most lamentable tramcar accident at Huddersfield. The circumstances are briefly these :— On July 3rd the 2:30 p.m. car from Lindley to Huddersfield, worked by engine No. 2, seems to have travelled all right and to have been under perfect control until it arrived in the neighbourhood of South Street, some 360 yards from the spot where the accident occurred. At this point, where the line is on a falling gradient of one in 18, the conductor signalled the driver to pull up to allow a passenger to alight, but this the latter failed to do, and the engine and car appear to have run down the street at a constantly accelerating speed, and the efforts of the conductor and driver to arrest its progress had no effect, the consequences being that on the curve turning from Westgate

in Railway Street the car upset with the fatal results reported. The car is provided with a brake which can be worked by the guard by hand or by the driver by means of a steam cylinder on the engine. The engine is provided with automatic governor or speed regulator, the object of which is to check the speed of the engine and to keep it within safe and controllable limits. The governor is brought into play at a speed not greater than 10 miles an hour, and its effect is to reverse the engine and actuate a steam brake on the engine wheels. There is no independent brake on the engine wheels under the control of the driver, the operation of stopping the car and engine being ordinarily effected by means of the brake on the car and the reversing of the engine by the driver. The automatic governor is provided with stopcocks, which in their working and normal position should be open for the passage of steam and secured with a chain and padlock. On Thursday last I made an inspection of the car and found the brake in good working order. The engine was next looked over, and it was subsequently steamed and an attempt made to run it out on the roads for trial, but owing to a defect in the machinery, it was found necessary to put back into the shed and abandon further investigation for the day. As arranged, I met Mr. Mlddleton Pratt yesterday, and a very careful and searching examination of the engine was made. We first directed our attention to the slide valves of the engine, the right hand one of which was found displaced, and after that was made right steam was got up, and we took a run as far as Fartown. The engine was run up to its maximum speed several times to test the governor, and it was found to act perfectly well at a speed of from eight to nine miles an hour, but the retardation when the governor was in action was not at all what it should have been. In consequence of this, and the fact that the engine did not work satisfactorily in other respects, we decided to return to the shed and make a further examination. We next turned our attention to the pistons, the left hand one of which we found in good order, but the right hand one was entirely destroyed, the metal being broken up into small pieces, and the piston rod loose. The result of our investigations was to show that in consequence of the failure of the right hand piston the engine was deprived of one half of its retarding force when reversed, and the amount of other available brake power was not sufficient to stop the engine and car under the circumstances. The slide valve was probably moved out of its proper position subsequently to and in consequence of the failure of the piston, and in my opinion it had no bearing on the accident. The cause of the failure of the piston is difficult to assign in consequence of its being so completely destroyed, but I may state that there is nothing peculiar in its construction or any apparent defect to account for it; but I think it possible that the set screw used for the purpose of holding the two halves of the piston together worked loose and got between the piston and cover, thus causing the former on its upwards stroke to receive a violent blow which fractured it. I should further mention that one of the steam brake cylinders had the small release cock missing, which would somewhat detract from the efficiency of the engine brake. From the above circumstances I am of opinion that in descending the incline in West Parade the right hand piston of the engine broke either at the time the engine and car became unmanageable or at some point higher up the street ; that the speed of the engine was such that, though the car brake was applied and in good working order, and the engine reversed, it could not be controlled, and the engine entered the curve so fast that the car overturned. I think that had the piston not broken the speed would have been reduced to such a point that the curve would have been traversed in safety even if the engine and car had not been stopped altogether, and I am further strongly of opinion that had the automatic governor worked, the speed would not have reached the point it appears to have done, but would have been checked by the steam brake on the engine and the reversing of the machinery, even though crippled to the extent of one-half by the failure of the piston, and the result would have been that the velocity of the car would not have been sufficient to have overturned it. I am not prepared to say why the governor did not act, but the stop cooks do not appear to have been locked up, and from the working of the governor since I should say that that they were closed at the time of the accident and rendered the governor inoperative. I further think that the driver showed a want of resource in not opening the sand box valves with which his engine ia provided, the effect of which would have been most beneficial in helping to retard the car. I think it highly desirable that tramway engines should be fitted with brakes on the engine wheels capable of being applied by the driver independently of reversing the engine ; and also that the governor steam stop valves should be out of the control of all persons except those immediately responsible for their maintenance and good order. Every assistance was afforded me in making the investigations both by the superintendents of the tramways and by Mr. Wilkinson, the maker of the engine.

After some follow-on questions, the Borough Surveyor, Mr. Dugdale, was called to give evidence. Presumably aware of the stir Laxton’s evidence had created the week before, he was quick to point out that, although he had been responsible for the laying out of the track, including the curve where the accident happened, he had inherited the tramway plans from his predecessor.

He then went on to strenuously deny that Mr. Laxton had ever raised concerns to him about the cant of the track on that corner, or that he then told him to “mind his own business” except in relation to a discussion of the curve leading to the tram shed. Mr. Laxton’s solicitor, Mr. D.F.E. Sykes then pressed him on this topic, which seemed to fluster Mr. Dugdale, who gave a series of evasive (and at times slightly surreal) answers as to what was Laxton’s business to report and what wasn’t.

Then it is no part of his [i.e. Laxton’s] business to study the curves?
— Certainly not.
Well, whose business is it if it is not the business of the superintendent of the tramways?
— It is the business of the engineer [i.e. Dugdale] laying down the lines.
Then is the superintendent to know nothing at all about the curves?
— It is no part of his business.
You did not like his mentioning to you about the line in the shed?
— I did not consider it proper.
You did not consider it part of his duty at all to say what he said?
— No, I don’t think so.
But what was he to do?
— Report it to the [Tramways] Committee if he liked.
But why not to you?
— He could report it to me if he liked.
But if he found them out of order?
— I say he might do what he pleased.
But would it be proper to report it to you?
— He could please himself.
But I want to know what he was to do?
— He could please himself.
But was it part of your business to receive such reports?
— That is my business.
Will you please tell us what is your business?
— No, I shall not, because it is my business.
Well, at any rate you considered it no part of his business?
— No.
What was he to do, was he to hold to his tongue?
— He could please himself.

Annie Crosland of 30 West Parade was then called to give evidence. She stated that she heard the tramcar approaching and went to her door. As the tramcar passed by, she heard a loud “crack” coming from the engine, after which the tramcar appeared to speed up. The unstated implication was that this was the sound of the piston failing.

At this point in the proceedings it is worth considering the position of Huddersfield Corporation’s Tramways Commission. The town was the first local authority to implement their own tramcar system and it was important that it be seen to be a success. In meetings and on the letters pages of the local newspapers, concerns had been raised that the hilly terrain was unsuitable for powered tramcars — the first major test of the Fartown to Lockwood line in 1882 had come to an embarrassing stop half way up Chapel Hill, although, in fairness, someone had accidentally left the car brake on!

In the private meeting held by the Commission on the evening of the accident, when it was apparently known the engine driver had run the ill-fated service with the emergency brakes disabled, they surely must have discussed what they could do in terms of damage limitation, particularly if the finger of blame was pointed at the Corporation. Would they be blamed for not ensuring the tramway crews were properly trained? Would they be blamed for not ensuring the corner where the crashed happened was built to a safer specification? Where the engines they had spent so much money on not fit for purpose as they didn’t have an independent brake system? Would the public lose confidence in the tramway system that was only a few months old?

Surely also on their minds was the formal opening of the Huddersfield Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition, which took place four days after the accident. It was anticipated that the exhibition would draw thousands of visitors to Huddersfield.

We can only speculate what, if anything, kept the Chairman of the Commission, Councillor Armitage Haigh, awake at night. However, on what was expected to be the final day of the inquest, the finger of blame was now pointing towards a rogue driver who disobeyed strict verbal orders and a mechanical failure which could be blamed on the engine manufacturer. Perhaps this, along with Mr. Dugdale’s earlier poor performance, is what prompted him to approach the foreman of the jury, perhaps during the lunch break, to tell him what Roscoe had said to him on the evening of the accident.

With Annie Crosland’s testimony completed, the jury expressed an “earnest wish” that Councillor Haigh be called as a witness, as they wished to ask him a “very important” question regarding the driver, Roscoe. This appears to have been against procedure, presumably as the Coroner was not aware in advance, and a short deliberation took place with the Town Clerk before the Councillor. According to the Chronicle, Haigh said:

About half an hour after the accident, as soon as we could get down to the shed, I asked Roscoe, the driver, about the valves. Alderman Henry Hirst, Laxton, the superintendent, and Roscoe were present. I asked Roscoe if he had shut the valves which applied steam to the automatic brake, I don’t remember Laxton asking anything. Roscoe evaded the question for a time and then acknowledged that he had closed one valve. Then I asked him again if he had closed the other, and he said he had partially closed it. I asked the question, and Mr. Laxton did not, in my hearing, ask any question relating to the valves, or either of them.

The solicitors present then pushed Haigh with further questions, trying to ascertain the exact wording Roscoe used, although the Councillor seemed to be a little unsure. Haigh also stated that he had previously given this information to Mr. Wilkinson, the representative of the company who manufactured the engine, who was of the opinion that the accident would not have occurred if the automatic brakes were working, even taking into account the failed piston.

If Haigh was telling the truth, it seems odd that Laxton didn’t mention that Roscoe had verbally admitted to disabling the automatic braking system when he gave his testimony and that Haigh seemingly left it until the last possible moment to present this vital information to the jury. The disabling of the braking system seems to have been picked up on very early in the investigation — apparently by Laxton, if no-one else — as a few newspapers reported the engine’s manufacturer claiming that the accident had been caused entirely by the driver and that there were no mechanical problems with the engine.

At the risk of appearing cynical, did Haigh seize a last-minute opportunity to pin the entire blame on Roscoe? Perhaps, after the crash, Haigh had instigated a background check into the engine driver and discovered that Roscoe had already spent time in prison.4

At this point, Major General Hutchinson intimated that he would have to leave. The jury had no questions for Hutchinson and he was thanked for the work he had done on behalf of the Board of Trade.

With no further questions to be asked, the Chronicle summarised the Coroner’s final advice to the jury:

The Coroner, addressing the jury, said they had arrived at last at that point in the enquiry when it would be necessary for them to consider what their verdict should be. Before doing this he should like to draw their attention to one or two special points to which he thought they would have to give their careful consideration in giving their verdict. A great and important question arose, viz., from what cause or circumstance did the tramcar fall over ? and secondly, was it an accidental occurrence or was any person criminally responsible for the deaths of the deceased persons or any of them ? He then detailed the circumstances attending the fatal journey of the tramcar, as detailed by the witnesses, in the course of which he said that much had, no doubt, been said outside that Court of the conduct of Mr. Alfred Crosland on the journey just before the disaster, but he thought they must really come to this conclusion, that whatever Mr. Crosland did to the brake had no effect either in increasing or reducing the speed, and did not in any way contribute to the catastrophe. In their deliberations they would have to consider the cause of the engine becoming out of the control of the driver, as it undoubtedly did somewhere on the journey, and whether the speed exceeded nine miles an hour, and if so why did not the automatic brake come into action. If their opinion was that the speed did exceed that which he had stated, the reason why the automatic brake did not act might be explained by the very important and startling evidence given as to the closing wholly of one of the valves, and partially of the other through which the steam passed to work the brake. The Coroner then said that they should not bring in a verdict of criminal responsibility for a more error of judgement, a slight neglect of duty, or any little mishap that might happen, but they would have to be satisfied that there was a very substantial amount of gross negligence before putting a man on his trial for what would virtually be manslaughter. They would have to return one of three verdicts, either that the disaster was a purely accidental occurrence, without any blame whatever to anybody ; or secondly, that it was an accidental occurrence with blame attaching to someone, but such blame does not amount to criminal negligence ; or thirdly, a verdict of manslaughter against any person or persons they might think responsible. Another thing they might devote their attention to might be whether it was a proper thing that the terminus of an important tram route should be a public-house, and also whether they thought it desirable that an independent brake should be applied to tramway locomotives. He was sure from the attention they had given to the whole of the voluminous evidence that had been adduced that their verdict would not be given without having their most earnest attention and consideration.

The jury then retired for around three hours before returning with their verdict and recommendations:

(1) We find that the deceased persons, Isabella Woodhouse and others, came to their death from the falling over of the tramcar when running at an excessive speed, consequent upon the driver having lost control of his engine through the breaking of one of the pistons, thereby preventing him from effectively applying the reversing motion.

(2) That we severely censure the driver for having, in disobedience to orders, closed one entirely, and the other partly, of the valves, admitting steam into the automatic brake, thereby preventing any chance it might otherwise have had of coming into action.

(3) We recommend that there should be an independent hand screw brake on each engine — and also some means adopted for more securely preventing any tampering with the automatic brake.

(4) Believing that it is both consistent with the public convenience and necessary for the public safety, we recommend that the town terminus of both the Lindley and Edgerton tram-services shall be upon a double line of rails in Temple Street, thus avoiding their converging at a sharp angle and at the foot of steep gradients upon the single line of rails now laid down there — an arrangement in our judgement fraught with certain and serious disaster in the future. By this means the dangers attending both the sharp curve into Railway Street, where the late accident took place, and also the one in the Square would be avoided.

(5) We regard with much satisfaction the proved and manifest increased caution and decreased speed with which the existing tram services have been conducted since the recent catastrophe, and we desire to record our decided conviction that in a town like Huddersfield, where the gradients are severe, the curves sharp, and the streets in many places narrow and often crowded, it will be found impossible to continue a higher maximum rate of speed than that of eight miles an hour with that security which is absolutely necessary, not alone for the safety of the tram service, but for that of the ordinary street traffic itself.

(6) Fully sharing as we do the deep and widespread feeling of regret at this most deplorable calamity, we cannot separate without tendering our sincere sympathy to the relatives of the unfortunate deceased, as also our best wishes for the speedy and satisfactory recovery of the surviving sufferers.

With the verdict given, Roscoe would not stand trial for manslaughter. He continued to work an engine driver or operator for the rest of his life, although presumably not on the tramways of Huddersfield. By 1891, he was a locomotive driver living in Fartown and in 1901, the year he died, he was operating a stationary engine and living in Mirfield.

The day’s events were covered by the issue of the Huddersfield Chronicle published the following day in an article titled “The Fearful Tramcar Accident at Huddersfield: Conclusion of the Inquest, The Verdict“.

Coda

As for the jury’s recommendations, according to Roy Brook, the only change made by the Tramways Committee was that all Edgerton and Lindley tramcars had to come to a full stop on West Gate in order for all passengers to alight. The empty tramcar would then proceed around the corner onto Railway Street and into St. George’s Square to pick up passengers for the return journey.5

However, contemporary newspaper reports to indicate that the Town Council did approve independent brakes to be fitted to all engines and that resolved that all engines should be adapted so that the automatic brakes would engage at 8 miles per hour. Wilkinsons of Wigan also reportedly offered to “affix to each engine an instrument which would effecutally prevent the driver from tampering with or closing the valves admitting steam to the automatic brakes.”6

In other ways, safety rules were more strictly enforced on the tramways of Huddersfield, as evidenced from a Borough Police Court article from the end of August in which conductor Henry Sawyer remonstrated with a passenger on the upper deck of the car who refused to sit down.

The Town Council also voted to transfer a sum of 50 guineas to the Huddersfield Infirmary “in consideration of the efficient services of the medical and nursing staff on the occasion of the accident”.

It seems the relatives of the seven who died were awarded some compensation, but an 1886 article implies it wasn’t much. Benjamin Clegg, whose wife Sarah died in the accident, seems to have harboured a grudge against a magistrate named Walker, who presumably was the one who decided how much Clegg received. On 8 August 1886, a drunken Clegg was apprehended after he threw stones through the windows of Walker’s house and then threatened to shoot the magistrate.7

The only other fatal steam tramcar incident occurred on 3 June 1891 when the boiler of Engine No.9 exploded whilst it was standing in the Longroyd Bridge passing loop. A young man named John Thomas Hirst, who was training to become a driver, had been accompanying the engine’s driver, Arthur Skyes, and both were found badly injured. Hirst died within minutes.8 The car had separated from the engine and rolled back towards Huddersfield but was brought to a halt by the conductor applying his brake.

The force of the explosion shattered windows in the vicinity and at least one residential property was set alight by a hot piece of shrapnel. Reportedly, a total of 14 peoples were injured. The jury at the inquest recorded a verdict of “accidental death” after being advised that a manslaughter prosecution was unlikely to succeed. Locally, it was felt much of the blame rested with the Corporation but it would be over 100 years before businesses and corporations could be tried for that crime.

Worthy of note is that, once again, Mr. Middleton Pratt was appointed as the independent expert witness by the jury.


Newspaper Articles

The accident and inquest were reported widely and a select of articles can be browsed online.

The Leeds Times (07/Jul/1883) article “Sad Catastrophe at Huddersfield“, though lengthy, contained a number of factual errors. In general, the Huddersfield Chronicle‘s coverage is the most in-depth and likely the most reliable, especially in respect of correctly naming the people involved.

Summary of Coverage by the Huddersfield Chronicle

For reference, here’s a brief description of what was covered by the local newspaper, along with links to scans of the article. Please note that the Saturday edition usually included reprints of articles published during the week.

Tuesday 3 July 1883

  • The newspaper had already gone to press by the time of the accident, no there as no coverage.

Wednesday 4 July 1883

Thursday 5 July 1883

Friday 6 July 1883

Saturday 7 July 1883

Tuesday 10 July 1883

Friday 13 July 1883

Saturday 14 July 1883

Monday 16 July 1883

Tuesday 17 July 1883

Monday 23 July 1883

  • The Fearful Tramcar Accident at Huddersfield: Conclusion of the Inquest, The Verdictfinal day of the inquest into the deaths, statements by the two engineers tasked with examining the engine, statement by surgeon James Richardson into the causes of the seven deaths, further eyewitness statements, contentious statements by the Borough Surveyor (Richard Dugdale), damning testimony by Councillor Armitage Haigh that the engine driver (Thomas Roscoe) admitted to disabling the automatic braking system, departure of Major General Hutchinson, final summing up, jury deliberations and their findings, and formal ending of the inquest

Tuesday 24 July 1883

Saturday 28 July 1883

30 July 1883

Saturday 4 August 1883

Footnotes

  1. Hutchinson arrived from Stockton-on-Tees into Huddersfield at 4:39pm.
  2. It’s uncertain as to why Pratt was chosen, but presumably he was known to the engineers on the jury and had experience with steam-powered engines.
  3. If anyone can explain what this test actually involved, please leave a comment!
  4. Thomas Ruscoe, aged 18, who was without doubt the same person, was found guilty of bestiality at York Assizes in December 1862 and given a sentence of ten year’s penal servitude. It seems possible that he was released by 1866.
  5. See The Tramways of Huddersfield: A History of Huddersfield Corporation Tramways 1883-1940 (1959) by Roy Brook.
  6. Wrexham Advertiser (18/Aug/1883)
  7. Threatening to Shoot a Magistrate” in Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (07/Sep/1886)
  8. It appears that Hirst was hit in the face by shrapnel.

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