The Hexthorpe Disaster – County Inquest – Company’s Liability. (picture)

September 1887

Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Wednesday 21 September 1887

The County Inquest.
Evidence of the M. S. And L. Fireman.
Admission of the Company’s Liability.

Yesterday, at the Wesleyan Schoolroom, Balby, the County Coroner, Mr. F. E. Nicholson, resumed his Inquiry into the circumstances attending the deaths of the nineteen persons who were killed within his district.

Major Marindin, the Board of Trade Inspector, attended to take the remainder of his own inquiry in conjunction with the Coroner. There were also present Sir Watkin, Bart., M.P., chairman of Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company; Mr. C. H. Firth, of Riverdale, one of the directors; Mr. W. Pollitt, general manager; Mr. W. Bradley, general superintendent; Mr. H. A. P. Hamilton, assistant superintendent; Mr. E. Harper, solicitor to the Company; Mr. W. H. Stubbs, engineer; Mr. Thos. Parker, locomotive superintendent; Mr. J. E. Halmsbaw, district superintendent of the line; Mr. Joseph Sharpe, district locomotive superintendent; and Mr. Robert Dallas, district engineer. The Midland Railway Company was represented by Mr. J. P. Young, solicitor, of Birmingham; Mr. W. L. Mugfaton, assistant superintendent of the line; Mr. T. G. Clayton, superintend dent of the carriage and waggon department; Mr. H. H. Loveday, chief inspector ; Mr. Eaton, superintendents department ; and Mr. Downs, locomotive department. Mr. Clement E. Stretton, C. E,,(London) watched the proceedings behalf of the Amalgamated Society Railway Servants, of which is vice president and consulting engineer. Mr. W. J. Warren, solicitor (Leeds J, appeared in the interests of Samuel Taylor, the driver the Liverpool express; and Mr Alfred Foot was present representing the Railway Passengers’ Assurance Company. Mr. H. B. Sandford watched the proceedings on behalf of the family and relatives Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont; Mr. C. Clegg was present in the interests of the relatives of Mr. Daniel Hawksworth; and Mr. H. D. Dungworth (from the office of Mr. A. Muir Wilson) appeared for the relatives several of the killed.

The Coroner said that before resuming the inquiry Sir Edward Watkin wished to make few remarks in reference to the liability of the company which would much facilitate the examination of witnesses. Sir Edward Watkin said he wished to repeat what had already been publicly stated, as to the great sorrow and grief of the directors at the unfortunate accident was not for him in any way to anticipate what the Inquiry, which the jury were going solemnly to hold, might result in, but in order to save trouble and to reassure the minds of many poor people for whom the directors deeply sympathised, wished to announce that was not the intention of himself, or his colleagues, to dispute the legal liability of the company, and that all those who would meet them in a fair spirit would be dealt with quickly, and, he hoped, generously. The Coroner then proceeded to take evidence.

The Ticket Inspector’s Evidence,

Mr. Edward Bowskill, clerk in charge of the mineral department of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Company at Hexthorpe, said: I have been in the service of the company ever thirty years. On Friday, the 16th inst., I was in charge of the ticket collecting at Hexthorpe. The Midland train came up to the ticket platform at 12.13. It was there about two minutes before the collision took place, and we had commenced to collect the tickets immediately it came up. We were just at the point of finishing the collecting of the tickets when I heard the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire ordinary Liverpool to Hull train. I heard the whistle, and at that time did not know what train it was. The driver appeared to the put the vacuum on. I did not see it until it struck the Midland train. It struck the rear van and telescoped the last brake van into two carriages. When I saw this I called oat the staff get clear of the platform soon possible, to look out, and get out of the way. As soon as this was done I prevented many passengers from leaving the front the train. They were jumping out, one over the other, through both doors and windows. After I had spoken, the passengers quietened down. I, of course, stopped the road both ways. I at once telephoned Mr. Halmshaw’s office for all the assistance and doctors possible. We immediately began to extricate the dead and injured, there were 19 dead people all together, one or two of whom died immediately after being taken out, from the injuries received in the collision. Eighteen of those persons were identified in the guards’ shed.

By Major Marindin: I was about three coaches from the rear of the Midland train at the time of the collision. I heard no whistle from the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire train. I cannot form any estimate of the speed of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire train, as I did not see it in time. The Midland train was driven ahead two or three carriages lengths. I was on duty the same place on Wednesday, the 14th. I had copy of the instructions. The tickets of all trains were examined at Hexthorpe on the  Wednesday up to 2 p.m. The tickets of the 3.45 from Liverpool to Hull were not examined Hexthorpe on the Wednesday.

Major Marindin: Why not?— They never have been. The train on Wednesday did not stop at Hexthorpe. The order was they were all to be examined at Hexthorpe. The flagmen who always stand there those days were there on the Wednesday.

By the Coroner: At the time of the accident, 12.15, it had been raining for some minutes.

By Major Marindin: I been on this duty for seven or eight years, and the arrangements have always been the same.

The Foreman of the Jury reminded the witness of the printed instructions referred to by Major Marindin and asked if Mr. Bowskill had any other instructions except those printed and if took upon himself allow the 3.45 train on Wednesday proceed without c examining the tickets?

Witness: No, sir. They were collected at Conisborough.

A Juryman: I believe Samuel Taylor drove the train on the Leger day?—I cannot say.

The Juryman: I see it is stated so print this morning.

Major Marindin: He told so yesterday.

Witness: Yes.

The Juryman: He was ordered to stop at Hexthorpe to take tickets on that occasion?—l cannot say he was ordered.

The Juryman: How was it the officials collected the tickets at Conisborough —I cannot say.

The Foreman: I suppose the driver would have a ‘ copy of the printed instructions. –

Major Marindin: The driver yesterday told me he had them, and had signed for them. They were merely extract from the Instructions. On Wednesday he took the train from Liverpool to Hull, and on that occasion the tickets were collected at Conisborough, and not at Hexthorpe.

The Foreman : And had they not been collected Conisborough would have stopped at Hexthorpe? Major Marindin: Yes.

The Foreman: It was his duty to do so.

Major Marindin:  It was his duty to do so in any case.

In reply to Mr. Sandford, the witness said was not in a position to say what the condition of the rails was at the time.

Identification of Mitchell.

Sidney Mitchell, living at Brightside Farm, Brightside, Sheffield, said he was employed as assistant at the gas office at Messrs. William Jessop and Sons [Limited). He identified the body of Arthur Mitchell, lying in the shed at Hexthorpe, as that of his brother.  The deceased was 29 years age, and a yeast dealer. He resided with witness and his hither. Deceased was a married man, and his wife Mary Mitchell was also killed in the same accident. When he saw the deceased, for the last time, on Monday, the 12th, his brother said he was going to Doncaster races.

The M. S. & L. Fireman’s Evidence.

Robert Davis, who was examined by Major Marindin, said had been in the service of the M. S. and L. Company since April, 1879, and a fireman since July of that year. He was fireman to Samuel Taylor on engine 441. On the 16th inst., after leaving Penistone, the train consisted of eleven vehicles. It was provided with Smith’s simple vacuum brake, which worked blocks on the four coupled wheels, the six tender wheels, and all the wheels in the train. He was not very sure of that, but so far as he could judge there were blocks on all these wheels. Everything went right until they got to Hexthorpe. Hexthorpe distant signal was against them, and the home signal was also at danger. They were ‘ running 15 or 20 miles an hour, steam having been shut off it the top of the incline. They were running with steam on through the cutting when they sighted the distance signal. The brake was first applied half way ‘ between the distance and the home signal. They were preparing to stop at the home signal, and ‘ speed was reduced to seven miles per hour. They whistled for the home signal, when they were about 100 yards off. They proceeded with steam off past the junction. They received no caution whatever, and perceived no green flags. After passing the junction he saw the starting signal off for them to proceed. He told the driver the signal was all right. The driver applied his steam a little and then shut off shortly afterwards for the gradient. They were then going at 15 to 20 miles hour. Brakes were not rubbing then. Between the junction and the ticket platform saw two men, flagmen he presumed they were, on his side (the left) of the road. One was against the starting signal post, and the other was 50 yards on the junction side the bridge, both on the left side of the line.

Did you receive any signal from the first flagman you’ came to?— Nothing that I could take as a signal. He had both flags in one hand, but was not showing either of them.

What was he doing?—He was gesticulating, but I could not understand what he meant.

Was he giving any sign with his hand?— Not that I am aware of.

When did you first see him?— Just as we got to him.

Did you tell your driver anything about having seen this man?—No.

When did you see the second flagman? — When we, close him, a very few yards away.

What was he doing?—He was holding his flag out. A red one? — Yes. Did say anything —He held one finger up.

What did you understand that to mean? —Well, I took it as danger signal, but I did not know exactly what he meant. Yon did not hear him call out?—No, I did not.

What speed were you then running at? From 20 to 30 miles an hour.

Did you call out to your driver about it?—No sir.

Why didn’t you? – I hadn’t time

The driver had then sighted the train at the platform.

When did your driver first sight the train at the platform?—immediately we passed the flagman.

How did you know? – Because he said Whoa.”

What did you do?—I opened the sand valves, and applied the tender brake. The driver applied the vacuum and opened the whistle.

Examination continued: The vacuum brake did not appear to hold very well then, the rails being’ wet and greasy. According to the gauge it acted. The vacuum did not work as well as it might have done. It had started rain, and the wheels were greasy. The driver reversed his engine and put steam against her just before they got to the train. He should think they ran into the train at the rate of five to ten miles an hour. He was not knocked over or hurt at all. Between the first and second flagmen he was still looking ahead, but not for a flagman. He did not know flagmen were there. He did not know the block system was suspended. He had a notice, but did not read it —not that part. Their train stopped at Conisborough. He could not really say whether the tickets were collected there, but was under the impression they were. He was firing with Taylor the previous Wednesday on the 3.40 train from Liverpool to Hull. It was nearly dark when they passed Hexthorpe on that night. He believed that the tickets were taken at Conisborough on that occasion. He did not stop at the Hexthorpe platform. He could not sure that they were stopped the junction by signal that evening. He did not see any hand or flags between the junction and the ticket platform that evening. He did not know it was order that all trains days were to stop at the platform to have tickets collected.

Re-examined: They could have pulled up in another two coach lengths.

A Juryman: Did you see a written notice that the block system bad been abolished during that day? – No, sir, I did not.

The Coroner: Might there have been a notice with-out you seeing it?—No; there was no notice.

A Juryman: Had yon instructions to stay at Hexthorpe on that day?—We had no instructions from anybody. I couldn’t say whether the slow tram stopped at Hexthorpe on Wednesday.

By Major Marindin: I signed the copy of the instructions the same as Taylor, the driver.

By Mr. Harper: Smith, the guard of the train, did not speak to the driver at Conisborough. On Friday the driver was oiling his engine, and he was sure the guard did not tell the driver to stop oiling his engine till he arrived at the Hexthorpe ticket platform. He had made a report of the accident to Mr. Parker, the locomotive superintendent.

In the report did you say “I saw a ground man against the signal post, and was at a loss understand what he stood showing his flag there for, not being aware that the block system was suspended?”—l don’t think I should have used these exact wools. I intended saying I was at a loss to know what he was standing there for.

Did you make that report on the day of the accident?  —Yes.

And the matter would then be fresh in your recollection? —It would.

Did you also say in your report, “When I noticed the second red flag??”— Yes.

Don’t you think it was your duty to tell the driver that you had seen a man standing at the signal post with two flags?—lf I had understood what stood a there for should have told the driver.

Some discussion took place as to the admissibility of u this report as evidence, Mr. Warren on behalf of Taylor, objecting strenuously.

The Coroner ruled that the statement of the witness as to the report he admitted having made was evidence.

By the Foreman: It was possible for the guard to have shouted to the driver at Conisborough, but I must have heard him had he done so. The driver and myself were perfectly sober that morning.

By a Juryman man: The reason the driver did not finish oiling his engine at Conisborough was that we had the signal to go on.

Evidence Of The M. S. And L. Guard.

William Stanley said had been in the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Co.’s service 13 years, and had been 10 years a guard. He came on duty at 8.20 at Liverpool the 16th, and was rear guard. There was p another guard, William Henry Smith, in the front van, and he was the head guard. They had Smith’s vacuum brake on the whole train of 11 vehicles, and engine and tender, and it was in good order. The brake was tried before leaving Liverpool, but could not say was at Penistone, after the fresh make up. It ought to have been according to the regulations. He could not say it was not examined. There was no brake gauge or dial in his van.

Mr. Bradley informed the Court that dials were not J put in the vans for Smith’s simple vacuum brake.

Witness, continuing, said he felt the brake all the stations, and when the signals were against them. Nothing unusual happened before they arrived at Hexthorpe. They stopped at Conisborough. The tickets were not taken there, or examined. They had printed instructions that they should be collected at Hexthorpe ticket platform. He knew that flagmen c were out at that section of the line, but was not on the look for them.

Why not?—l was busy with parcels, despatches, and luggage and saw or heard nothing pass between the head guard and the driver at Conisborough. He could not say what was the condition of the signals on approaching Hexthorpe Junction. He saw the flag this g signalman 60 or 70 yards west of Hexthorpe Bridge. He saw one on the left side exhibiting a red flag. The man was holding the flag straight out. He first saw the man as his (witness’) van was passing him. He never felt the brake applied passing the junction, They would not be going more than six or eight miles an hour, after which they would get up to speed of twenty miles hour the junction and the flag- signalman. When saw the flag-man the speed would be reduced to fifteen twenty miles an hour. Witness was still occupied with his parcels. He had no warning of the collision. He neither felt the break, nor heard the whistle. If there had been time to apply the brake properly, he would have felt it. He was thrown over, and bruised, and shaken the collision. He did not remember much of the actual occurrence. To the best of his knowledge, they would be travelling about fifteen miles hour when they ran into the other train. He saw the driver after the collision. He had seen the driver during the day, but had not spoken to him. There was no reason to suppose he was the worse for liquor in anyway. He saw no signal given from Hexthorpe signal cabin. He was not in a position have seen the signal if there had been one. He considered it part of his duty to be sorting his despatches and luggage, although they were nearing Hexthorpe, where the tickets were to be collected. He expected to stop at Hexthorpe ticket platform. He did not think they would have stopped before the end of the platform was reached, if there had not been another train there. His (witness’) hand brake was not on at all.

By Mr, Harper: He was guard of the same train on the Wednesday, and that day the tickets were collected at Hexthorpe ticket platform. Mr. Harper expressed his regret that the head guard, Smith, was unable to be present. A medical, certificate was produced showing that was suffering from the effects of the collision.

A Traffic Inspector in the Box

Thomas Smith said had been 13 years in the service of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire’ Company, and had been seven years traffic’ traveling inspector. He was travelling on duty by the train in question from Manchester to Doncaster to attend total the working of the train. He travelled in the second van of the third vehicle from the tender, in company with guard Smith, Inspector Goss, and he believed eight passengers as well for whom there was not room in the other vehicles. He saw at Stairfoot or Barnsley that all the compartments were full.

The train stopped at Conisborough. The guard, Smith, was taking the times. The tickets were not collected there. On arriving Conisborough, he ran to the station master and told him that the 11.50 from Mexborough would top to take the passengers there, there, was no room the train, and while he was talking to the station he heard the guard. South, talking to the engine driver about oiling his engine, could not catch what it was. Smith was on the platform, near the engine, and the driver was coming round his engine’ to the platform aide. Witness gave no instructions to the driver at Conisborough or anywhere on the journey. Witness knew about the suspension of the block system, and the general working the line at Hexthorpe. He expected the train to stop at the ticket platform. He did not the fixed signals on approaching Hexthorpe Junction, but he saw a green flag held out of the signal box window. They were going very steadily through the junction. He looked forward through the left hand side light, and saw a ground signalman holding a red flag about a dozen or fourteen yards from the engine, and close to the starting signal. They would then be running at perhaps ten miles hour, and they were eased a little going down there. A few seconds later he noticed a second flagman, who was waving his flag violently, and doing all could with it. The engine would then be perhaps a hundred yards from the signalman. The speed of the train was not reduced at all; on the second flag it was about 15 to 20 miles an hour. Witness called out to the guard, Smith, to put the brake on, and immediately they had passed the bridge witness sighted the Midland train standing the platform. He did not think that even then the speed had been reduced at all. He did not think the speed was reduced in the slightest. He heard no whistling whatever, although he was half out of the van. He neither felt nor heard the brake or the vacuum applied. He could not say whether the hand-brake was on in his van or not. He did not know that Smith would have time to apply it. He heard of no one being injured seriously in the van, except Smith. All he saw injured in his train were two ladies, who were bruised on the face. The only Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire vehicle damaged was the front van, and none left the, line. As far as he personally was concerned, he felt in shock. He could not say whether, if they had a continuous brake in his van, they could have prevented the collision, because he did not understand the automatic brake. There was ample time for an automatic brake to have been applied and the train pulled up.

By the Foreman of the Jury: Could the witness say whether the driver could see the flag signal? — Certainly, sir.

On the right hand side? — Certainly, without fear. 1 I would also like to ask you how did you know the driver knew the block system was suspended?—by his having copy of the working.

You knew the driver had a copy? — There is no man sent out without, sir, none. If the brake was applied ‘ it would be applied at the last moment.

At this stage the court adjourned.

On the resumption of the inquiry the first witness called was James Hibbert, surveyor the Manchester, field, and Lincolnshire Company, who repeated the evidence given by him at the Board of Trade inquiry on Monday.

Mr. John Edward Halmshaw, superintendent in charge of the South Yorkshire district the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Company, explained the arrangements made for the safe working of the line by flag signalling during the suspension of the block system last week. He added to his previous evidence that after two or three o’clock Friday afternoon the tickets of all trains were not collected at Hexthorpe. By that time the excursion traffic had been worked off, and was possible to collect the tickets of some regular trains at Conisborough. This was done to save time, and was within his knowledge. He knew of the printed instructions that all trains were to stop at Hexthorpe platform for the collection tickets up’ to midnight Friday. In every case drivers were required to stop Hexthorpe platform, whether tickets had the collected or not. They could only go forward when signalled to do so.

Thomas Welham, the signalman at the Hexthorpe cabin, repeated his evidence.

John Isaacs, assistant signal inspector on the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire line, who had charge of the arrangements at Doncaster during the race week, followed with the evidence already reported. He added that he saw Welham display a green flag from the cabin window two the Man- Chester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire well as to the Midland train.

George Coates, a shunter, who was on duty as a flagman near the Hexthorpe starting signal, repeated his statement. He added that he waved his red flag until the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire engine was upon him, then put it under his arm and made a hand signal to the fireman. The green flag was folded up and under his left arm. He was on the left side of the line. The driver, Taylor, who was on the right the engine could not the flag when close up to him, but he could have seen it as he approached from the junction.

Jos. Frost, second flagman, who was nearer the ticket platform than Coates, described what took place so far as he was concerned. When saw the M. S. and L. train approach he waved his red flag violently and attracted the attention of the fireman.

William Webb, another flagman, and John Mason, the driver of the Midland train, repealed their evidence. The latter stated that being on the right side of his engine he could see the signalman when he was 300 to 400 yards away from the foremost.

In answer to Mr. Young, he said he had had experience of traffic in previous years, and the regulations were the same as on former occasions. He had worked the train to Doncaster on the Wednesday, and knew that flag-signalmen would be out on Friday.

In answer to Mr. Harper he said that when he passed Hexthorpe the rails were very dry, and he bad no difficulty in pulling up.

Frederick Mitchell, the fireman, and Edwin Chandler and Joseph the guards of the Midland train, repeated their evidence.

The Driver Declines to Give Evidence.

At this point the Coroner suggested that if the driver of the M. S. and L. train wished to give evidence, the opportunity was before him.

Mr. Warren, addressing the Coroner; I appear on behalf Samuel Taylor, and may say that though he is wishful to give all the assistance he possibly can, and for that purpose made a statement on Monday night, I have advised him, considering the judicial nature of this inquiry, to make no statement, and to refrain from answering any question.

The Coroner: Had he not better be called and sworn, and then decline to answer any questions.

This course was agreed upon, and Taylor was duly sworn.

The Coroner: I understand you decline to answer any questions?

Taylor: Yes, sir; under the advice of my counsel.

George Henry Tebb, goods guard, said was employed ground signalling at Hexthorpe on the 14th and the 16th, and explained the system which was in operation on both these days

Alfred Heale, goods guard, gave similar evidence.

The Coroner said that the guard Smith, who was in charge of the train, would probably be ready two give evidence next Tuesday. He thought they might, conclude the inquiry on that day, when before resuming they might make inspection of the line. Smith’s evidence was of considerable importance, and (the Coroner) suggested an adjournment until eleven o’clock on Tuesday. The Coroner expressed the thanks of himself and the jury to Major Marindin for the great, practical assistance had given, and so considerably; shortened the inquiry.

Major Marindin acknowledged the compliment, and said he had simply been doing his duty, and was glad to have been of assistance. The proceedings then closed.