James McDonald

James Mcdonald fell from a train at Holbeck Low Level station in 1867. This photo was taken by David Holmes at the station in 1958.

James McDonald was only at Woodlesford for just over two months but appears to have been somewhat accident prone, providing the reporters of the Leeds Mercury with a number of stories, including unfortunately, that of his own death!

He was born in Ireland in 1825 and when the census was taken in 1861 was the station master at Rothwell Haigh. His job there would have been to deal largely with the coal traffic from J & J Charlesworth’s pits which was sent via a wagonway running down the hill to exchange sidings on the main line near the Aire and Calder Navigation. Much of that area has now been obliterated by the M1 motorway. 

McDonald lived at Stourton Cottages, or Dandy Row, with his wife Catherine and their three children, aged 9, 5 and 2, who were all born in Leeds. (Intriguingly the 1851 census lists an unmarried labourer of the same age as being a patient in the lunatic asylum at Prestwich near Manchester.)

Before he arrived at Woodlesford, on 20 November 1866, at a salary of £80 a year, James McDonald had moved to be the station master at Cononley on the main line between Keighley and Skipton. Originally it was part of the Leeds and Bradford (Extension) Railway which opened in stages in the second half of the 1840s but was soon absorbed into the Midland. 

He first came attention of the local press just before Christmas 1866 when he was witness to a serious accident at Woodlesford which led to the death of a passenger. 

On Saturday 22 December John Eyre Davidson, a 31 year old school master at Kippax, had bought a ticket to travel home to Nottingham to see his father and friends. He was due to catch the southbound 1.20 p.m. stopping train from the Up platform but had been talking to the station master and a porter called Jelleyman on the Down platform near the station building. 

They said that when he heard a train approaching from the Leeds direction he ran down the platform slope and onto the foot crossing apparently thinking his train was arriving. They shouted for him to stop but he was hit by an express which was not due to call at Woodlesford. It caught him on the side of the face and he was flung into the “six foot” between the tracks. 

A passing doctor rushed to help him but both his jaws were broken and one of his feet had been cut off. Davidson was taken to the Leeds Infirmary where he died on Christmas Day. 

The inquest was held on Boxing Day by the Leeds Coroner, Mr Elmsley. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and recommended that “cautionary signals should be given to passengers before the arrival of any train, so that they might get upon the proper platform with safety.” 

Quite what the effect of that accident was on station master McDonald isn’t recorded but within a few weeks he was to lose his own life. 

On Monday 18 February 1867 he went to visit friends in Cononley. On the way back his train stopped in the dark at Holbeck station where it was the practice for porters to check tickets before trains ran into the Midland terminus at Wellington Street. 

The first report in the Leeds Mercury indicates that McDonald had broken his ankle after he fell from the train at Holbeck and he had to have it amputated at the Leeds Infirmary. The paper suggested he was “likely to recover”, but he died 8 days later. 

It transpired at the inquest, also held by Mr Elmsley, that McDonald “was somewhat the worse for liquor”, after drinking with his friends, most likely in the Railway Inn which still exists close to Cononley station. 

After the train had restarted it had proceeded for about thirty or forty yards when the porters were alarmed by cries for assistance. They found McDonald lying across the rails with his left leg “very much crushed” and his right leg “terribly mutilated.” No one saw the accident, but from a statement he made before he died McDonald said he got out of the carriage under the impression that the train was at a standstill. Again a verdict of accidental death was recorded. 

It’s not known what happened to his wife and children.