Accidents, injuries and deaths on the Meltham Branch Line: 1890 onwards

Following on the previous blog posts, this is a list of the other accidents and deaths on the Meltham Branch Line from 1890 onwards that I found whilst researching through old newspapers.

Once again, this is primarily based on researching the Huddersfield Chronicle archives.

20/Aug/1892: Vandeleur Earnshaw

The Chronicle reported that a gardener named Vandeleur Earnshaw had attempted to board the 5:50am train at Meltham Station when it was already in motion. Whilst jogging alongside the train, he had managed to open a compartment door and was attempting to get in when he ran off the end of the platform. He tumbled down, fell partly onto the track and the train “passed over the leg just below the ankle”. He was rushed to Huddersfield Infirmary where it was necessary to amputate the limb.1

Vandeleur Earnshaw2 was born around 1857 in Meltham, the son of wood cutter Abraham and Martha Earnshaw. He married Sarah Hannah Duckitt on 23 March 1878 at Meltham Mills and they raised a family in Meltham, where he worked as a domestic gardener.

It seems the accident meant that Vandeleur could no longer work as a gardener and the 1901 Census lists him as a 44-year-old “silk boiler” (most likely working for Jonas Brook & Bros. Ltd.) living with his wife and seven children at 18 Shady Row, Meltham. He died in 1916, aged 60, and was buried on 15 November at Meltham Mills.

Their son, Serjeant Hilton Earnshaw was killed in action on 31 August 1916 and is buried at the St. Amand British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. He was serving with the 9th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment).

08/Mar/1894: Eastwood

From the Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Mar/1894):

NARROW ESCAPE

On Thursday afternoon, as the 3:40 train from Huddersfield to Meltham was entering the Meltham Station, the porter, Eastwood, a youth about 16 years of age, was seen to run alongside the train and attempt to catch hold of the carriage handle. He succeeded in getting hold, but lost his footing, the train dragged him a short distance on the platform, when he left his hold, and the train turned him over, and but for the timely assistance of Wright Smith, the head porter, he would in all probability have been killed. His eyes are badly knocked and swollen, and his knees bruised. It is expected that he will be all right again in a few days.

The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (05/Feb/1915) reported on the celebrations for Wright and Ellen Smith’s golden wedding anniversary. The couple, who married on 4 February 1865, were then living at 4 Beaumont Street in Netherton.

After spending fifty years together, the couple continue to live happily in their cottage at Netherton, and although he has passed the allotted span of three score years and ten Mr. Smith may frequently be found working on the land with neighbouring farmers. For over thirty years he was employed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Co., first at the Huddersfield goods warehouse, and afterwards at Meltham, where he held the position of foreman porter prior to his retirement about five years ago.

Wright was born around 1840 in Almondbury and most likely died in 1927, aged 87. His wife was Ellen Dunn, also born around 1840, who likely died in 1922, aged 82. They had no children.

06/Mar/1895: Landslip and Derailment

The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle reported extensively on a landslip which occurred around 7pm on Wednesday 6 March 1895 — mostly due to the fact that one of their reporters was greatly inconvenienced by it!3

Following the completion of a district council meeting in Meltham, a number of people waited for the 8:28pm departure to Huddersfield but there was no sign at all of the train and the station staff seemed unsure as to what exactly had happened, other than a rumour of a derailment and an assurance that there would likely be no more trains that evening. The reporter set off walking down the line and arrived at Healey House station around 9pm, where he found the station master in “blissful ignorance of the accident, but wondering much what had become of the missing train”.

Now joined by as gas works employee who had been waiting for the train to Huddersfield at Healey House, the pair set off into the darkness, lighting matches to aid them through Netherton Tunnel and then Butternab Tunnel. Exiting the latter, they found the cause — a landslip had “encumbered the line for some distance” and the train heading towards Huddersfield had ploughed into the debris, causing a slight derailment.

The driver, named Mallinson, was praised by the reporter for keeping a cool head and assisting some dozen passengers — none of whom had sustained any injuries in the accident — to walk down the line to Lockwood station.

A team of workmen had already arrived on a train from Mirfield to the other end of the landslip and the reporter was offered the opportunity to ride on the footplate back to Lockwood. From there, he had to walk in the heavy rain back to Huddersfield, having missed the last tram of the day.

The article ended with a report on the rumours which “prevailed at the various stations on the line as to what had really happened”:

Some would be satisfied with nothing less than a holocaust of the whole of the passengers, and others added the horrors of a fire to the appalling catastrophe which their imagination pictured. The reality fell far short of this.

14/Dec/1895: Thomas Edward Taylor

Meltham wine merchant Thomas Edward Taylor (of Messrs. Taylor Bros.) was lucky not to have been injured when he tried to board the 7:25am train from Meltham Station which was already in motion.4 According to the newspaper report, he pushed a signalman to one side, grabbed hold of the second-class carriage and was dragged down the platform — one foot on the carriage and one still the platform. The train was quickly stopped and a guard took down the merchant’s details.

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR) company prosecuted Thomas Edward under a railway by-law which penalised anyone attempting to enter or leave a train in motion. In court in mid-January 1896, he pleaded guilty and was fined £1 with a further £1 0s. 6d. costs.5

This was almost certainly the Thomas Edward Taylor born around 1858 in Meltham, the son of woollen weaver Uriah Taylor and his wife Martha (née Sedgwick or Walshaw). The various records name him as a “mineral water manufacturer”, rather than a “wine merchant” and he married an American woman named Bertha (who was born around 1870) sometime around 1893. Court records show that he was found guilty of “working a horse which was in an unfit condition” in July 1899 and fined 5s. and 7s. 6d. expenses.

In August 1900, he was named as one of “Messrs. Taylor Bros.” of Meltham who was attempting to obtain a beer licence for a grocer’s shop on Brow Road, Paddock. However, as Taylor didn’t reside there, it was not granted.

The 1901 Census lists the couple with a 3-year-old daughter, Eva Irene Taylor, and living with his older brother, jeweller Henry Taylor, on Market Place, Meltham. They then spent some time in the United States, where a son named Henry was born around 1907. By the time of the 1911 Census, they were back in Meltham and living at Law Cottage.

04/Mar/1896: John Allen Woodhouse

It was somewhere along the stretch of line between the Netherton and Butternab Tunnels that local man Vincent Senior made a gruesome discovery on the morning of Thursday 5 March 1896.6

Vincent was born around 1862 in Dewsbury and moved to Huddersfield where he married local woman Ellen Hirst in 1890. He lived for a while with his in-laws in Almondbury before moving to Netherton and he worked as a “platelayer“, which meant his job was to inspect the railway line for wear and tear and obstacles. He is recorded as joining the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants union in 1896.

On that March morning, he set off early at around 5:30am from Netherton to walk the line to Lockwood and found the body of a man by the side of the line at Butternab Bank. As no trains had run yet that day, it was assumed the man had been hit by a train the night before and had suffered extensive injuries to the neck and head. Vincent ran to fetch help, finding local Police Constable Ruddick, who ordered the body moved to a nearby log cabin. A Mrs. Crowther also assisted in laying out the body.

The Chronicle (06/Mar/1896) gave the following description of the deceased:7

Height, 5ft. 6in. ; dark brown hair, ginger moustache, and blue eyes ; dressed in blue cloth jacket and vest, fustian trousers greasy on front of legs, black overcoat and cap ; black, white and red check shirt, blue and white scarf, grey stockings and light laced boots. The only articles in the pockets were two clay pipes and two tobacco boxes.

By the following day, the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that the deceased had been identified as 33-year-old John Allen Woodhouse, an unmarried mill hand who lived on Plover Lane in Lindley.8 He had visited his aunt in Netherton on the day of his death and was least seen leaving her house that evening.

John Allen Woodhouse was born 24 November 1863, the son of local weaver James Woodhouse and his wife Mary, and was baptised at All Hallows parish church in Kirkburton on 2 November 1865. By the time of the 1891 Census, aged 28, he was living with his older sister Matilda and two younger brothers at the family home on Plover Road. It appears that their parents were both dead and Matilda was now the head of the family. At the time, John Allen was working as a “cotton piecer”, which meant his role was to mend broken threads.

An inquest was held on Friday 6 March at the Commercial Inn, Netherton, with district coroner Mr. W. Barstow presiding.9 It was reported that John Allen’s body had been identified by his aunt Ann Woodhouse, and that he’d visited her house in Netherton at around 5pm that Wednesday where he ate tea. Ann told the inquest that her nephew had been in low spirits:

He took a long time over his tea, and sighed several times while he was having it. He had not been well for some time and had been under the doctor, and he made a remark to her to the effect that he thought it was nearly all over for him. She told him that she thought he would look up again, and he replied that he did not think he would. He talked very little, but answered her when she spoke to him.

Ann went on to state that John Allen’s father had been twice in an asylum and had died in Wadsley Asylum (Sheffield) about three weeks before. John Allen’s brother then told the inquest that the deceased had not worked for nearly a month due to ill-health and seemed “run down” — presumably he had been deeply affected by his father’s illness and death.

Ann stated that John Allen had left her house at around 7pm and that she supposed he intended to head home to Lindley (about a 4 mile walk northwards of Netherton). Instead, it seems he wandered down either Nether Moor Road or Butternab Road and then onto the railway line where he waited for it to get dark. Given the nature of the injuries, he likely laid with his head on the line and was struck by one of the last trains of the day — none of the drivers had reported seeing anything on the line that night, so the body laid undiscovered until the following morning. The jury returned a verdict that he had probably committed suicide but it was impossible to know the exact state of his mind at the time.

John Allen Woodhouse was laid to rest at Holy Trinity parish church, South Crossland, on 3 July 1896. If I can find his gravestone, I’ll add a photograph to this blog post.

27/Sep/1900: Joe Morehouse

On 9 September at around 8:30am, 24-year-old brass finisher Joe Morehouse was collecting blackberries by the railway side near Beaumont Park with a friend named William Brown. He slipped and fell a short distance — presumably onto the railway line — and claimed he’d hurt himself. It was reported that his health deteriorated and he eventually died at 3:50pm on 27 September. At an inquest, his doctor reported that Morehouse had been in poor health recently and a verdict of “accidental death” was returned.10


My access to the Chronicle‘s archives ends in 1900, but I did find a few later reports in other sources…

21/Sep/1905: Christopher Mallinson

Reported in the Railway Accidents 1876: Return of Accidents and Casualties (July-September 1905) that goods guard Christopher Mallinson had been in charged of the 4:35pm goods train from Meltham to Lockwood. Seven waggons were uncoupled at Lockwood and “allowed to run into the shoot road” at the station. Maillnson claimed he couldn’t then stop the waggons using his brake and “consequently used two sprags, one of which rebounded and struck him, breaking his leg”.

The waggons were then stopped by William R. Bond, who did so purely with the brake, which led to the verdict that “there was no need for Mallinson to use a sprag to stop the waggons, and I attribute the accident to his own want of caution.”

20/Aug/1914

The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (20/Aug/1914) reported on an apparent suicide:

LOCKWOOD RAIL TRAGEDY

A weaver named Sam Gill (55), widower, who lived at 13, Batley Street, Moldgreen, with his two daughters, was found lying dead on the railway near Beaumont Park this afternoon shortly after the train which had left Meltham at 1:38 had passed. His head was completely severed from his body.

Samuel Gill was born around 1859 in Fulstone, New Mill. The 1911 Census lists him as a 52-year-old widower and living with him were his nephew, Ernest (aged 26), and two daughters, Alice (aged 24) and Jane Gill (aged 12). His wife, Janet, had died in 1909, aged 50.

The inquiry into his death heard that “the deceased had been somewhat peculiar of late” and that a witness had seem him climb over a wall near Beaumont Park and lay his head on the railway line as the train approached. A verdict of “suicide whilst of unsound mind” was recorded.

19/May/1921: Headless Body

From the Yorkshire Post (20/May/1921):

Yesterday afternoon the headless body of a man was found on the Meltham branch line of the railway near Beaumont Park, Huddersfield. The man was apparently about 45 years of age.

I could find no further articles about this apparent suicide, but 1921 was a year in which headless bodies were found on railway lines near Buckhurst Hill (March), Euxton (July), Etchingham Station (August), Bath (August), Newton St. Loe (September), Cambridge (December) and Hull (December). In the last case, the inquest heard that Robert Turner was in the habit of removing his shoes and sleeping wherever he was — his boots were stood neatly beside his decapitated body, so it was assumed he had decided to sleep on the railway line!

14/Feb/1952: Wyndham Bradley

The following accident was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post11 and it occurred nearly 3 years after the last passenger train in May 1949:

MAN HURT AT STATION

Wyndan Bradley (60), Midland Street, Huddersfield, a foreman platelayer, fell from the platform at Netherton railway station, near Huddersfield, today and injured his back. He was detained in the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.

Likely the Post got the name wrong, and this was Wyndham Bradley, born in the village of Leintwardine, Herefordshire, circa 1891.

By the time of the 1911 Census, 21-year-old Wyndham was living with his married sister, Mary Priestley, at Bottoms Wood in Slaithwaite and working as a dyer’s labourer for a woollen manufacturer. A couple of years later, he married local woman Gertrude Moore in Slaithwaite on 11 October 1913.

Gertrude was born in 1890, the daughter of Fred Moore and his wife Emma (née Bamforth). It seems Gertrude’s father died before she was born, aged only 23, and the 1891 Census finds Emma and daughter living with Emma’s parents, labourer Joseph Bamforth and his wife Charlotte, in Upper Holme, Slaithwaite. At that point, 25-year-old Emma was working as “cotton card room hand” — before cotton could be spun into a thread, it had to be carded to align the fibres and Emma would have operated a carding machine, and this was a low-status job in the cotton factory. Emma’s siblings also mostly worked in the local cotton factories, as “cotton spinners”, “cotton piercers” and “cotton twiners”.

Gertrude continued to live with her grandparents until her marriage. By the time of the 1911 Census, she too was working in the cotton mills as a weaver and perhaps she worked in the same mill as Wyndham?

Wyndham died in 1958, aged 67. There are two likely death registry entries for Gertrude in the Huddersfield area:

  • Gertrude Bradley: born 09/Feb/1890, died 1969
  • Gertrude Bradley: born 03/Aug/1890, died 1982

23/Jun/1958: Runaway Carriages

A set of four empty carriages that had been left in a siding on the branch line rolled down towards Lockwood, likely released by vandals.12 A quick-thinking signalman (presumably at Meltham Junction) routed them off into the good yards but they ploughed through the buffers and went over Swan Lane, crashing into the booking office of the station.

Amazingly no-one was injured, although the stationmaster and a booking clerk were trapped in the rubble and had to climb out.

1958.06.23 crash 2

1958.06.23 crash 1

Martin Bairstow’s The Huddersfield & Sheffield Junction Railway: The Penistone Line contains a couple of photographs taken by Peter Sunderland showing the aftermath of the crash. The one reproduced below shows the damage after the carriages had been removed.

© Peter Sunderland
© Peter Sunderland

The booking office was later demolished, as can be seen on this Google Street View of the crash site:

This wasn’t the first time an accident like this had happened — 16 empty wagons had rolled free from a siding on the evening of 9 September 1953 and crashed a wooden fence, leaving one blocking Swan Lane and two others teetering above the road.

Prior to that, in October 1913, a train had been shunting truck of coal when a few of them broke free, demolishing the buffers and wrecking part of the signal box. The Manchester Guardian (29/Oct/1913) reported that two trucks full of coal fell 40 feet onto the road below and five more were left hanging down the embankment. The signalman (W.G. Brackenbury of Newsome) had jumped to safety through the window of his signal box, sustaining only minor injuries.


Coda

With the closure of the line to passenger services in 1949, it was used purely for transporting goods.

Despite opposition from businesses in Meltham, particular David Brown’s, the branch line officially closed on 5 April 1965 and, following one last train carrying dangerous chemicals which ran to Meltham in January 1966, the line was dismantled in the autumn of 1966. After 100 years, the Meltham Branch Line was consigned to the history books.

Having said that, the next time you find yourself walking along the stretch of Meltham Road between Big Valley and Lockwood, take a moment to look down into the valley towards Woodfield Park Sports and Social Club. A little bit of the Meltham Branch Line still seemingly survives in the hundreds of wooden railway sleepers used to edge the grounds of the club…

…and a little further along, you’ll find some more which were used to fence off the access road down to the sports club:

Footnotes

  1. “SERIOUS ACCIDENT AT MELTHAM STATION” in Huddersfield Chronicle (27/Aug/1892)
  2. Vandeleur is a rather unusual choice for a first name, and is more commonly a Dutch surname.
  3. “RAILWAY ACCIDENT ON THE MELTHAM LINE: GREAT INCONVENIENCE TO PASSENGERS” in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (07/Mar/1895)
  4. “COUNTY POLICE COURT: ENTERING A TRAIN IN MOTION” in Huddersfield Chronicle (15/Jan/1896)
  5. “COUNTY POLICE: CRUELTY TO A HORSE” in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Jul/1899)
  6. “KILLED IN THE RAILWAY: GRUESOME DISCOVERY NEAR LOCKWOOD” in Yorkshire Evening Post (05/Mar/1896)
  7. “DEATH ON THE RAILWAY NEAR HUDDERSFIELD: THE BODY UNIDENTIFIED” in Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Mar/1896)
  8. “THE ACCIDENT ON THE RAILWAY: IDENTIFIED AS A LINDLEY MILL-HAND” in Yorkshire Evening Post (06/March/1896)
  9. “FATALITY ON THE RAILWAY NEAR HUDDERSFIELD: A LINDLEY MILLHAND’S DEATH” in Huddersfield Chronicle (07/Mar/1896)
  10. “FATALLY INJURED WHILST BLACKBERRYING” in Huddersfield Chronicle (01/Oct/1900)
  11. “MAN HURT AT STATION” in Yorkshire Evening Post (14/Feb/1952)
  12. The incline on both the Meltham and Penistone Lines made them a popular target for vandals and there are numerous reports of empty rolling stock been released around this time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *