The Hexthorpe Railway Accident 1887

The Railway Disaster at Hexthorpe, near Doncaster, 16’th September 1887.

The following article and pictures are taken from The Illustrated London News of September 24’th 1887. It is thus a contemporary account of the accident. The statistics for railway accidents and injuries, for just a six month period, given at the end of the article are an indication of the precarious and risky nature of rail travel at this time. Although not recognized at the time railway accidents of this nature were a cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  

Railway Disaster at Doncaster

On Friday week, the Cup Day at  Doncaster Races, the Midland Railway Company’s Excursion-train from Sheffield, waiting to collect tickets at Hexthorpe, a mile and a half from Doncaster, was run into by the Manchester, Sheffield Hexthorpe train crashand Lincolnshire Company’s train running from Liverpool and Manchester to Hull. Twenty three passengers in the train from Sheffield were at once killed, and others have since died; the hinder most carriage of this train was completely smashed, and another carriage was shattered, by the engine of the Manchester train, which crashed through the guard’s van in the rear. This frightful collision took place about a quarter past twelve at noon. The train from Sheffield, containing nearly a thousand passengers, had stopped at Hexthorpe ticket-platform, which is 900 yards from the junction. It is merely a narrow platform, separated from the adjoining meadow by a wooden rail. Ordinarily it is not used; but only in the race week and on other special occasions. The block system was for the day suspended between Hexthorpe Junction and the platform, and the trains were worked by flags, men being stationed at intervals with red flags to instruct drivers. There could have been no thought of danger, as the siding was specially protected by flag and semaphore signals. These precautions were required by the fact that the main line from Liverpool to Hull takes a considerable curve not far from the Hexthorpe ticket-platform, past which the next train would rush at great speed, if not stopped by signal, before reaching the turn which would bring it within sight of the siding. Ticket-collectors were ready at Hexthorpe for the excusion train immediately on its arrival, and the guards left their brakes to assist in the work. The Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Company’s train had nothing to do with the races; it carried many persons for Doncaster, but was a regular daily train, and was going on to Hull. In the ordinary way, the driver of this train would not stop at Hexthorpe ticket-platform; and the driver in charge of the Hexthorpe train crash 2engine was a man of considerable experience, who knew the train well; he belongs to Liverpool, and his name is Taylor. His engine was fitted with the automatic vacuum brake; his train, nevertheless, rushed on at high speed, and struck the end of the Midland Company’s train with such momentum that the collision was a terrific force. The wood-work of the carriages was smashed and splintered as if the wood of a packing-case; the massive iron tires and frames and wheels were twisted into fantastic forms. The screeching of the escaping steam from the partially broken engine mingled with the agonising screams of the unfortunate people imprisoned by the wreck of the carriages, and with the groans of many who had sustained dreadful injuries. For a while, discipline seemed lost and reason suspended amongst officials and escaped passengers alike; but the panic did not last long; the work of succour and rescue was commenced,and within an hour nearly fifty persons were extricated and placed on the platform and in the adjoining sheds for the mineral traffic on the line, where they received prompt attention at the hands of surgeons and physicians who had hurried to the spot from the neighbouring towns and villages. It was decided to send most of them to the Infirmary at Doncaster. Special Carriages were kept running between Doncaster and Hexthorpe and those more serioulsy injured were soon installed in the Infirmary. By four o’clock twenty-three dead bodies had been recovered from the wreckage, and between fifty and sixty injured persons. Of the latter, four had succumbed to their injuries, and several others are in a critical condition. Among the killed were Mr. Frederick Lee, Mr. F. Kirland, Mr. Swift, Mr. Handy, and Mrs Fillingham, all of Sheffield. One poor woman was killed with her baby in her arms, but the infant was taken out of the wreck uninjured. In another instance, both mother and child perished. In the case of a number of the injured the effort to extricate them were the occasion of much pain. The work of removing the dead was the more difficult because the bodies were so jammed together that hatchets and saws were needed to get them out, and this was done by patient and prolonger labour. At one time, eight bodies rolled upon the bank after the timber was sawn away, and the spectacle was ghastly, as legs and arms were picked up one by one. The head of one poor fellow hung among some of the broken timber; on clearing away the woodwork it was found that he was nearly decapitated, and that the body was fearfully lacerated. Another man had his body torn open; another was disembowelled by the buffer of the engine; and his wife was killed by his side.

It happened that five passengers who were medical men left Sheffield in the ordinary train which followed the Midland excursion, Drs. Thorpe Marten and Beythman, and two medical friends. Hearing that their train was delayed by an accident, they inquired if they could render any assistance. “If you are doctors,” was the reply, “yon can”; Drs Wilson, Smith, Fairbank, Railway accidentClark, Hallams, and the other Doncaster surgeons were also in attendance, and did all they could on the spot. We give the portrait of Mr. F. Penny, house-surgeon at Doncaster Infirmary, who has, with great skill and care, treated the patients at that institution.

Mr. Bradley, superintendent of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Company, lost not a moment in going to the scene of the accident, with Mr. Holmshaw, district superintendent, Mr. Cockshott, chief superintendent of the Great Northern, and several of the Midland Company’s officials. One of the first trains to come along was the private special in which Lord Wharncliffe, a director of the Manchester and Sheffield line, was travelling to Doncaster with his guests. These included Mr. Calcraft, of the Board of Trade; he, in company with Lord Wharncliffe, inspected the scene of the disaster, and telegraphed to the Board of Trade to send an inspector to Doncaster. Mr. C. H. Firth, of Sheffield, also a director, came to see if he could be of any service; and Mr. Thorburn, the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Company’s chief medical officer, was telegraphed, from Manchester. The line was cleared in time for the trains running to bring people back from the races.

Inquests have been opened by the County and by the Borough Coroner, and the Board of Trade Inspector, Major Marindin, has also held an inquiry.

During the six months ending with June 30 this year, it appears, from return of the Board of Trade, there were, reported eighteen collisions between passenger-trains by which sixty-four passengers and nine railway servants were injured;twelve collisions between passenger-trains and goods or mineral trains, by which seventy-six passengers and twelve servants were injured; seven collisions between goods-trains, by which two servants were killed and fifteen persons injured; twenty cases of passenger-trains leaving the rails, by which one servant as killed and eighteen persons injured; four cases of goods-trains leaving the rails, by which three servants were killed; and ten cases of trains running into stations or sidings at too high speed, by which twenty passengers and two railway servants were injured.

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Unfortunately the 1887 accident isn’t the only tragedy to have occurred on the railways at Hexthorpe as shown by this British Railways memo from June 19’th 1956.

From: Engineer’s Dept, Doncaster.            To: Inspector Auckland, Doncaster.

On the morning of June 19’th 1956 I was informed a body had been found on the up main line near Hexthorpe junction Signal Box’s Distance signal. Mileage 21 ½ miles 265 yds.

When I arrived to the site of mishap the police had removed the body.

Line clear at 7 a.m.

Body was found by J Mannering Yard Foreman, Hexthorpe.


Hexthorpe br fatality


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