It’s almost inevitable that the construction of a railway line results in injuries and even deaths, and the construction of the Meltham Branch Line in the 1860s was no different. There were also a number of accidents and at least two suicides once the trains started to run.
I’m sure some of the people named below have been lost to the mists of time, but hopefully the details given will help relatives who are researching their family tree. The date given is that of the event.
This blog post is primarily based on researching the Huddersfield Chronicle archives and will be split into three parts, the first of which covers the 1860s up to the start of regular passenger services on the line in July 1869.
15/Oct/1864: John Eastwood
At the southern end of Netherton Tunnel, temporary tracks had been lain so that horses could pull trucks of debris from the excavations. At around 8am on Saturday 15 October 1864, John Eastwood was using a horse to shunt empty trucks when the animal shied and he became pinned between the buffers of two of the trucks. He was carried unconscious back to his lodgings in Netherton where a surgeon from Lockwood attended to him. At first it was feared that Eastwood’s spine had been broken, but instead it was discovered his hip and groin had taken the force of the impact that and he was expected to slowly recover.
Eastwood was named as being around 60 years old and from Hyde (presumably a reference to Hyde in Tameside, Manchester). Although his fate is unknown, there was a death of a John Eastwood recorded about the same time in Huddersfield.
18/Oct/1864: Tunnel Collapse
Just a few days after John Eastwood’s accident, there was a partial collapse at the other end of Netherton Tunnel. It was reported several (unnamed) men barely escaped in time, having abandoned their tools and possessions.
The Chronicle reported that an Irish labourer named “Johnny” had been working on scaffolding at the southern entrance to Butternab Tunnel when it collapsed. Part of the scaffolding fell onto him and he was swiftly taken to Huddersfield Infirmary where it was discovered that, among various injuries, both his legs were broken. Initially it was assumed he would die but the newspaper reported that he was now slowly recovering.
01/Jun/1865: “Old Sam”
The Huddersfield Chronicle (03/Jun/1865) reported that a horse keeper known as “Old Sam” was walking a horse along a tram line at Meltham Station when he tripped backwards over some blocks of stone and his horse fell onto him. Although the weight had crushed his chest, it was not thought the injury would be serious.
17/Jul/1865: James Phiney
A local labourer named as James Phiney was caught in a small landslip above Butternab Tunnel’s south entrance on the afternoon of 17 July 1865 and fell down onto the track bed (reportedly a fall over around 60 feet). He died en route to the Huddersfield Infirmary, leaving a wife and five young children.
I suspect the Chronicle may have recorded the man’s name incorrectly or that they were wrong in saying that he was local, as I could find no records for a local man of that name, nor a death registry entry in the area for anyone with a similar name. There are two recorded deaths of “James Finney”s in 1865, but neither near Yorkshire.
11/Aug/1865: Joseph Marriott
The accident which occurred to joiner Joseph Marriott in Butternab Tunnel is detailed in a previous blog post, so a summary will suffice…
On the afternoon of Friday 11 August 1865, Marriott’s actions led to an accident which trapped him under some heavy wooden beams and other debris in the southern end of Butternab Tunnel. His colleagues managed to drag him out but the Chronicle reported that he’d suffered internal injuries and “there is little hope of his recovery”. Thankfully for his wife Ellen, the newspaper was proved wrong — Marriott recovered and continued to work as a joiner in the Huddersfield area until his death in 1884.
19/Aug/1865: Tunnel Collapse
According to the Chronicle there were two incidents on Saturday 19 August 1865 in Netherton Tunnel which necessitated a complete rebuild. In the early hours, a portion of the side wall collapsed and, around noon, a more serious collapse occurred — around 15 men were working in the tunnel at the time but were able to escape without injury. The collapse was severe enough to cause subsidence in the village above and it was reported that the house and outbuildings of Jonathan Lund were so damaged that they had to be demolished.
The cause of the collapse was reported as being due to the shale strata running at an angle, which meant the vertical tunnel walls not only carried the weight of the tunnel above but were also being pushed sideways by the strata. The Chronicle stated that it had “now been decided by the contractors to take it down and substitute the barrel or egg-shaped tunnel, which is considerably stronger than the perpendicular walls.”
This photograph by James of the bricked-up southern entrance shows the unusual shape of Netherton Tunnel:
By late September, the Chronicle reported that work on the new “egg-shaped tunnel” had been pushed “with such vigour” that the expected delay to the construction would not be as great as had originally been feared.
Photographs taken more recently in the tunnel show one of the walls bulging inwards slightly, presumably due to the pressure of the shale.
30/Sep/1865: James Mace
MELTHAM. Fatal Accident on the Railway
A fatal accident occurred on the line in course of construction at Meltham, on Saturday morning, to a “tipper” named James Mace, or May, a native of Suffolk. The man had been employed on the works some short time, and on the previous night, after receiving his wages, indulged freely in drink. He went to his work as usual on Saturday morning, and about seven o’clock, or a little after, he drove his ballast waggon to the “tip.” Having yoked his horse to the empty truck to return, he — as he had frequently done before — whipped the animal into a running pace. In attempting to cross the line in order to turn the waggon on the right line he stumbled and fell across the rails, when the wheels of the truck passed over both legs and abdomen, killing him instantly. The body was removed to the King’s Life Guardsman Inn, Meltham Mills, where an inquest was held, before Mr. J.R. Ingram, deputy coroner, on Monday evening, and a verdict of “Accidental death” returned.
James Mace had married Mary Marshall in 1852 and they had one son, Caleb Mace (1854–1919). He was buried at Meltham Mills on 2 October.
04/Oct/1865: John Dillon
On the final stretch of the line running into Meltham, in a cutting at Hall Heys, an Irish labourer named John Dillon (who had only recently begun working on the line) was caught in a landslip and tumbled down onto the trackbed. Although he ended up with a broken leg, he was lucky not to have been struck by a large boulder weighing more than a ton which landed close to him.
It seems possible he may have been the Irish-born John Dillon listed in the 1871 Census as an 80-year-old stone breaker, so would have been in his mid-70s at the time of the accident. The census shows him living with his younger brother Thomas (aged 70) as a lodger on Castlegate in Hudddersfield.
The Chronicle briefly reported that an unnamed miner had been injured after a small explosive charge had detonated prematurely whilst excavating Butternab Tunnel. The miner’s hand had been crushed between rocks and it was feared would have to be amputated.
February 1866: Landslip
From the Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Feb/1866):
Slip of Foundations at Lockwood.
The occupants of the houses on the roadside at Dungeon, abutting the fields occupied by Mr. Haigh and others, have been alarmed for several days by the jeopardy in which their dwelling-houses have been placed. In some of the inner walls of the houses cracks and fissures half an inch in width have appeared, while the doors which before shut easily, have had to be altered in order to make them close as before. The toll-house at Dungeon bar has suffered greatly, the collector and others consider it unsafe to remain within. Both gable ends, as well as the front walls have opened, and there are large crevices in the adjoining ground. The new arch on the Meltham branch railway, opposite the houses, is also said to have sunk several inches. The cause of this damage seems inexplicable, some attributing it to the “shelving” nature of the foundations, acted upon by the great weight of the new line, which forced the ground outwards into the field. Others allege that it is the effect of the continued heavy rains.
Although repairs were made to the toll-house, apparently the toll collector steadfastly refused to use it again and it gradually fell into a state of disrepair. A few years later, the Chronicle (29/May/1869) reported that a “number of mischievous lads determined upon a lark” demolished part of the building’s roof which then caused it all to fully collapse “into the field of Mr. Haigh”.
17/Apr/1866: William Dyson
The Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Apr/1866) reported the following:
On Tuesday morning a severe accident occurred at the Butternab tunnel, on the Huddersfield and Meltham branch line of railway. A young man, named William Dyson, was working on this railway near the entrance to the above tunnel, when he accidentally fell among a heap of stones, by which his leg was fractured. He was removed to the Huddersfield Infirmary, where the fracture reduced, and he is progressing favourably.
The name William Dyson was extremely common, so it hasn’t been possible to identify who he may have been.
05/May/1866: James Sheard and James Hey
The Chronicle (12/May/1866) included the following article about a railway labourer who apparently enjoyed a spot of night poaching in the local woods. By now, delays in the construction of Netherton Tunnel meant that shift work had been introduced and work carried on through the night, with the tunnel lit by candlelight.
Singular Escapade — Two Men Shot in a Tunnel.
At half past two o’clock on Saturday morning Police-constable Yates, when on duty in the village of Netherton, met on the highway James Sheard, formerly game watcher for Geo. Armitage, Esq., of Milnsbridge, but who had latterly been working as a labourer in one of the tunnels on the Huddersfield and Meltham branch railway, at Netherton. Observing something bulky under Sheards coat, the officer enquired “Where are you going so late Jim?” After a little hesitancy, Sheard replied “I may as well tell you the truth at once, I’m going to have a shot.” Yates rejoined, “No, you’re not so give me the gun.” Sheard scampered off with the officer at his heels, in the direction of Delph wood. Finding the officer gained ground, and was within a few yards of him, Sheard suddenly turned and ran into the Delph end of Netherton tunnel where a number of men were working by candle light. On reaching the men, Sheard cried out to James Hey, a mason, “Here take this gun,” it was a double barrelled gun and doubtless it was his intention to conceal it. The gun was in two parts, and unfortunately the nipples struck against a stone and both barrels went off. The constable imagined at first that the shot had been levelled at him, but bearing a deep groan he went to the spot and found Sheard laid on his back bleeding from wounds about the face and head. Part of the contents of the gun had lodged in the head, and the flesh from the hand of Hey was completely shot away. Mr. Calvert, a medical practitioner at Netherton was sent for, and by his advice the officer moved Sheard in a cart to his residence at Swires-lane, Crosland Moor, where he still lies in a very feeble state. On Saturday Hey, who was in a very weak state was taken to the “Oldfield-lane doctor,” at Manchester, where his lacerated hand was examined and dressed. Sheard is now under the care of Mr. Roberts, surgeon.
The Leeds Times (12/May/1866) provided some further details:
Early on Saturday morning a man named James Sheard, who had with him a gun, was met by a police constable in the highway at Netherton, near Huddersfield. To escape being captured he rain into a tunnel now in course of formation on the Huddersfield and Meltham line, and in which a number of men were at work. He separated the barrel of the gun from the stock, and was handing the barrel to one of the men, named Hey, to have it concealed, when he struck the nipple against some hard substance, the cap exploded, and the charge blew away a portion of the fleshy part of Hey’s hand, and inflicted a serious wound on the forehead of Sheard, who was conveyed home in a dangerous condition.”
From the description, it sounds as though Sheard ran off down Nether Moor Road towards Delves Wood (sometimes marked on maps as being Round Wood or Butternab Wood) before veering onto the trackbed and into the northern end of Netherton Tunnel.
Various cases reported in the local newspapers attest to Sheard’s character and to his poaching activities…
Sheard appeared before the local magistrates’ court on 17 April 1860, alongside Thomas France, charged with “tresspassing in pursuit of game on land belonging to S.W. Haigh, Esq.” on 4 April. The two men had a dog and were seen walking on the edge of the land. As Mr S.W. Haigh was one of the magistrates that day, he stepped down from the bench during the hearing. Although Sheard was seen to trespass with the dog, it was felt there was not enough evidence to prove he intended to poach and the case was dismissed.
Later on that year, Sheard was found guilty of poaching in Southowram, near Halifax. Also charged was a Seth Green, who was reported to be one of the “most hardened poachers in the district” and had only recently been released from prison for poaching.
Sheard again appeared before the magistrates on 22 April 1862, this time having brought a charge of assault against a gamekeeper named Dan Fearnley. Sheard was leaving the Spinner’s Arms pub at Colne Bridge (near Cooper Bridge) with a hare which he claimed a Joseph France (presumably a relative of the previously mentioned Thomas France) had given him in his pocket. Fearnley, and his two sons, accosted Sheard, accused him of having poached the hare and wrestled him to the ground, pinning him down. The bench felt Sheard was unable to prove his allegation fully and he was awarded one shilling for the damage done to his coat and shirt in the fracas.
September 1864 saw him charged with “riotous and drunken conduct at Moldgreen” in the early hours of a Sunday morning. This time, he had been accompanied by several men, including Samuel France and William Schofield. Schofield had thrown a rock at a police constable, severely injuring him. Sheard was fined a total of 22 shillings.
In March 1965, Sheard was before the magistrates, charged with “wantonly and cruelly ill-treating a dog […] by allowing a larger dog to worry it” at Crosland Moor. By now Sheard was a gamekeeper in Milnsbridge. The bench heard that Sheard had a large bull mastiff dog which attacked a small terrier, giving it fatal injuries. The bench felt that it had been an accident and the case was dismissed.
There are no recorded deaths for a James Sheard or a James Hey in 1866, so they seemingly both survived the incident in Netherton Tunnel.
October & November 1866: Landslips
The deepest cutting on the line lies to the north of Butternab Tunnel and is above Woodfield House. On the morning of Monday 1 October 1866, it was noted that the larger of the supporting walls was beginning to collapse near the base and workmen spent much of the day removing equipment from the cutting. At around 7:45pm, the retaining walls collapsed over a length of 40 yards, filling the cutting with debris and causing a large landside which sent boulders crashing down towards Woodfield House — The Times reported that some of the rocks were 3 to 4 yards across. Fortunately the exterior boundary walls of the estate absorbed much of the impact, although they were demolished over a length of 50 yards.
On Wednesday 24 October, part of Meltham Road between Lockwood and the Dungeon toll-bar collapsed as a horse and cab was passing over it. The horse managed to free itself from the hole without injury and workmen soon arrived to carry out repairs. It was believed that the work on the railway have undermined the area and locals grew increasingly concerned that the defences against further landslips — which seem to have been built mostly from old railway sleepers — were wholly inadequate.
Floods caused by heavy rain the following month resulted in damage throughout Huddersfield and an area around the southern end of Butternab Tunnel was washed away, blocking the existing stream which exacerbated the flooding below Netherton. At the southern end of Netherton Tunnel, a landslip buried a part of the station, which was currently under construction.
It wasn’t until March 1868 that the Chronicle was able to report that the cutting above Woodfield House had been fully cleared and all of the debris from this landslip — and the subsequent one in November 1867 — had been removed.
The Chronicle (23/Nov/1867) reported that a “heavy slip” had occurred “at the deep cutting behind Woodfield House”. The report, which was printed over a week later, stated that 500 tons of debris were being removed from the cutting each day by a team of 60 men, but the clearing work would “yet take many days”.
01/Mar/1868: Patrick Pendrick
The Huddersfield Chronicle (09/Mar/1867) reported that navvy excavator Patrick Pendrick was injured in a landslip at Butternab cutting. Although it was reported that he had been “severely crushed about the chest” and that the “injuries are of a dangerous description”, it was expected Pendrick would recover.
16/Jan/1868: James Beaver
Arguably the most tragic death on the line occurred as a result of an incident on Thursday 16 January 1868. A young boy named James Beaver, living in Armitage Bridge, who had been employed to do help out with the work on the railway, tampered with one of the waggons loaded with debris at the southern end of Butternab Tunnel. Apparently the waggon began to move, James fell under it and one of the wheels rolled over his arm, crushing it.
The Chronicle initially reported on the incident saying that although the boy’s arm had been amputated at the shoulder, he was recovering well at Huddersfield Infirmary. Sadly, however, he died on Sunday 26 January.
At the subsequent inquest, a verdict of “accidental death” was recorded. It was noted that the accident was caused by James’ own actions and that he had previously been told off for playing with the waggons.
I’m extremely grateful to Shaun Beaver, whose great grandfather was James’ younger brother, for sharing details about his family history.
James Beaver was born 17 June 1856 in Rutland, the son of labourer Matthew Beaver and his wife Elizabeth (née Tyler). He was baptised in Oakham, Rutland, on 13 July 1856. Matthew had apparently been imprisoned for larceny and also fined in October 1857 for damaging a tree belonging to the local vicar, Rev. H. Finch. In fact, Matthew’s name appears in the local Petty Sessions listings several more times for minor offences.
The family moved to Huddersfield at some point after 1861 and it seems feasible that Matthew was a labourer working on the construction of the branch line, which would help explain why young James was given work. Apparently several boys were employed on the line and James had been beaten for a minor misdemeanour prior to the accident.
Young James Beaver was buried in the graveyard of St. Paul’s in Armitage Bridge on 30 January 1868. Sadly, James’ family could only afford the burial and his unmarked plot is shown in the centre of this photograph:
April 1868: Landslip
Although the exact date isn’t given by the Chronicle, an article published on 25 April 1868 detailed a landslip and rockfall which resulted in some heavy boulders rolling down and blocking the line near Woodfield House. Due to their size, it had been decided to resort to blasting the boulders into small rocks, but Bentley Shaw, the owner of Woodfield House, obtained an injunction to halt the work.
Unable to proceed with work, the railway company entered into negotiations with Shaw and it would seem they insured him against any damage to Woodfield House and paid for him to temporarily relocate his family to Harrogate. Blasting resumed on 21 April.
On 16 May, the Chronicle reported that work was nearing completion and that the side of the cutting was “being sloped off from the top, which it is expected will have the effect of stopping any more falls from the wood”.
The line had finally opened to goods traffic in August 1868 but would soon close temporarily. However, before the closure, an accident was reported at Meltham towards the end of September:
A slight accident occurred at the Meltham Station on Tuesday. It seems a number of coal trucks were being moved on the line near the coal shoots, when the trucks being pushed too far several of them dropped off the line on to the road below and were smashed. No personal injury was sustained.
01/Oct/1868: Closure of the Line
Following another landslip in the cutting behind Woodfield House, goods trains were suspended on the line. Keen to ensure it could not happen again, the railway engineers proposed that a giant retaining wall should be constructed measuring 150 yards long and 40 feet high, with a thickness of 10 feet, to hold the hillside above the cutting in place. The Chronicle reported that it was doubtful the line would re-open until the end of the year.
Nearly 150 years later, the impressive sloping retaining wall (seen on the left of this photograph) continues to hold the hillside, and Beaumont Park above it, in place:
26/Nov/1868: Accident to Labourer
Around noon on Thursday 26 November 1868, an unnamed Irish labourer was working in the cutting behind Woodfield House, north of Butternab Tunnel, when he became accidentally trapped between two ballast wagons. He was taken to Huddersfield Infirmary where it was reported he was being treated for internal injuries.
December 1868: Landslips
The Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Dec/1868) reported that “the heavy and incessant rains” had caused several landslips, including a serious one which appears to have occurred near to Folly Dolly Falls where much of the six foot high railway embankment had collapsed, leaving the rails hanging across the gap.
Having invested so much in the line, it seems the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway weren’t prepared to admit defeat and during the early part of 1869 redoubled their efforts to get the line open again.
Formal inspections in May and June 1869 proved favourable and, on 5 July 1869, the first passenger service to run on the line left Huddersfield Station.
It’s perhaps worth noting that this relatively short 3½ mile long branch line took 5 years to build — roughly the same length of time it took them to build the Huddersfield to Penistone Line, which was a roughly four times longer and required several viaducts and lengthy tunnels.
Details of the incidents that occurred during the 1870s and 1880s are covered in this blog post. Incidents from 1890 onwards are covered in this blog post.