Since Woodlesford station opened in 1840 there have been a number of accidents nearby, several of them fatal. Below are transcripts of official reports and newspaper stories about some of the accidents, compiled with the assistance of Chris and Judy Rouse and Ian Howard of the Midland Railway Society.
The first recorded accident on the railway through Woodlesford happened in 1839, even before trains had started running. Men working for John R. Chapman on the Woodlesford Contract, which ran from Rothwell Haigh to Methley, were hard at work moving sandstone rock and earth from the cuttings through the village.
They must have been under some pressure to finish the job because most of the southern section of line from Derby had been completed. Work had only just got underway on the northern section after a dispute between the North Midland Railway and the Aire and Calder Navigation over the precise route into Leeds. The canal company were worried that the railway would take away its lucrative coal traffic from the pits at Rothwell Haigh and Middleton.
After two years of wrangling an agreement was reached and the railway had gone back to parliament which sanctioned a deviation of the route taking it away from the canal from Rothwell Haigh through Hunslet.
At Woodlesford the cuttings were blasted out using explosives and and the main task was to transfer the spoil to build up the embankment from Aberford Road to Methley. As the embankment was built up track would have been laid along it for horses to haul waggons of spoil to the end. It was one of these waggons which came off the track on Tuesday 4 June 1839 injuring a young labourer, or navvy, who later died from his injuries.
The accident was reported by the Leeds Mercury which probably got its information from staff at the Leeds Infirmary. They attributed it wrongly to the York and Midland Railway Railway which was being built between York and Normanton with connections to the North Midland planned at Methley and Altofts.
With railways being new to the area its probable their mistake was because they were also reporting two accidents on the York and North Midland proper which had already started running trains between South Milford and York.The first was at Ulleskelf in which a man was killed after an engine frightened his horse, and in the other two sheep were killed nearby when they strayed onto the line.
RAILWAY DEATH AT WOODLESFORD. Leeds Mercury, Saturday 8 June, 1839.
On Tuesday afternoon, a young man, about 18 years of age, named Henry Jackson, from Lincolnshire, met with an accident on the York and North Midland Railway, at Woodlesford, which unfortunately terminated in his death in the course of a few hours.
It appeared that the deceased was employed at the time in taking a gang of five wagons, laden with earth, the entire weight of which would be about 17 tons, drawn by three horses, on a portion of the unfinished line, when a chain getting wrong, he jumped off the first waggon, on which he was riding, and by some means fell under the wheel, when the whole five waggons passed over him: his thigh and arm on the left side were broken, and he received some internal injuries.
There being no surgical assistance at hand, he was immediately placed in a cart, and removed to the Leeds Infirmary, a distance of about six miles. He expired shortly after his arrival.
FATAL ACCIDENT ON THE NORTH MIDLAND RAILWAY.
FROM GROSS IMPUDENCE.
Leeds Mercury, Saturday 28 November, 1840.
On Wednesday, an inquest was held at the Royal Oak, Methley, before C. Jewison Esq., coroner, on the body of Alfred Jackson, a sailor, aged 20 years, whose parents reside at Newark.
On the previous Monday, the deceased was on his way from Hull to Leeds, by railway, in one of the third class carriages, and during the progress of the train, he repeatedly left his place and got upon the guard’s seat in one of the second class carriages.
He was ordered to return to his proper station, and whilst jumping down, his hat, which he held in his hand, blew away, and he was so monstrously imprudent as to jump after it, although the train was proceeding at the rate of 20 to 25 miles an hour!
After alighting on the opposite rails, he rebounded backwards, his left shoulder coming in contact with the wheels of the carriages, whereby his left arm was broken and his skull severely fractured. He never spoke after falling, and only survived the accident about an hour.
The guard and passengers did all in their power to cause the engineer to stop, but in consequence of the wind blowing very strong at the time, he did not hear, and the train was not stopped till it arrived at Woodlesford station.
The guard stated at the inquest that the unfortunate young man was the worse for liquor at the time of the occurrence.
The Jury, after hearing a statement of the facts, returned the following verdict: “That the deceased was accidentally killed by some carriages on the North Midland Railway at Methley, he having imprudently jumped from one of the said carriages as it was passing along the line on Monday last.”
It may be proper to state that the jury exonerated the Railway Company and their servants from any blame whatever.
(Note: In the early days of railways the guard’s seat was outside the carriage and raised up so he could see along the roof of the train.)
BOARD OF TRADE ACCIDENT REPORTS, APPENDIX No. 66, 1850.
MIDLAND RAILWAY COMPANY.
Late in the evening of Wednesday 18 September 1850 a long excursion train, consisting of 40 carriages, was returning through Woodlesford to Leeds from Doncaster races. Some time after 11pm it was hit in the rear by a Leeds bound passenger train from Derby. The damage was slight but six passengers were injured. Below is a report sent to Captain J.L.A. Simmons at the Board of Trade in London. It was complied and written by Captain George Wynne of the Royal Engineers. It’s followed by a letter from Captain Simmons to the Secretary of the Midland Railway Company in Derby.
October 15, 1850.
I have the honour to acquaint you that, on the 26th of September, I proceeded to Woodlesford station, on the Midland Railway, a few miles from Leeds, to inquire into the accident that occurred there on the 18th September; the following are the particulars which I learnt:
The train which was run into was an excursion-train returning from the Doncaster races; it consisted of 40 carriages: it arrived at the Normanton station about 11pm, and about the same time the train that subsequently ran into it arrived from Derby.
The station-master at Normanton states that he did not allow the 9.5 to proceed till 10 minutes ater he had dispatched the excursion train, and that he was obliged to despatch it first to get it out of the way, as he had two trains waiting to come into the station.
When the 9.5 passed the Methley junction, which is but l3/4 mile from Woodlesford, the caution signal was up, and they proceeded along with great caution, intending to stop at Woodlesford to inquire how much ahead the excursion-train was; there was a fog out, which prevented the station lights from being seen until within little more than 200 yards of them.
Every exertion was then made to stop, but as the tail of the excursion train extended 160 yards below the signal, a slight collision took place; from the slightness of the collision I have no reason to suppose that the striking train was not proceeding with the caution described.
It appears that the station is provided with distance signals, and that only one of them, that on the Leeds side, was lighted; had the one for the down-train been lighted and turned on, the collision would probably not have occurred.
The station-master states that he discontinued lighting it since the commencement of the long days, and that he did so of his own accord, and without authority; he is very much to blame for doing so, but blame must likewise attach elsewhere, for it is evident there must be a want of vigilance in some department of the railway when an important signal can be discontinued for six months, and the negligence only discovered by the accident occurring which it was placed there to obviate.
I have, &c.,
GE0. WYNNE, Capt. R.E.
Office of Commissioners of Railways
Whitehall, October 21, 1850.
I am directed by the Commissioners of Railways to forward to you the accompanying extract from a Report they have received from Captain Wynne, of the circumstances attending a collision which occurred on the Midland Railway at Woodlesford station on the 18th September, and to request you to call the attention of the Directors to the conduct of the station-master, and to the apparent want of general supervision of the line, owing to which a precaution for the safety of the public, adopted by the Directors, was dispensed with by one of their servants, without instructions or correction for a period of six months.
I have, &c.,
J. L. A. SIMMONS,
Capt. Royal Engineers.
COLLISION ON THE NORTH MIDLAND RAILWAY. Leeds Intelligencer, Saturday 12 October 1844.
A collision took place on this line of railway, near Leeds, on Wednesday last. It seems that about eleven o’clock in the forenoon a luggage train from York came in contact with a ballast train on the same line of rails, between Woodlesford station and Leeds, by which the engine of the former train was a good deal damaged, and one or more trucks in the latter were broken to pieces. Happily, beyond receiving a few trifling bruises, none of the attendants upon either of the trains were injured. The unfortunate event occurred near a sharp turn in the line, which prevented the engineer of the down luggage train observing that there was a train before him in sufficient time to allow him to check the speed of the engine sufficiently to prevent the concussion.
FATAL ACCIDENT TO A RAILWAY GUARD.
Wakefield & West Riding Examiner, Saturday 16 November 1850.
Yesterday morning week a fatal accident occurred at Woodlesford Station to a guard employed by the York & North Midland Railway, named Thomas Gibbins, between 38 & 40 years of age. Gibbins, who was guard of the York train which leaves Leeds shortly after nine o’ clock, arrived with his train at Woodlesford, just as the Midland train left that station.
In compliance of the rules of the line, Mr Moat, the station master, put up the signal for the York train to stop, till the other had cleared the station five minutes. It is not usual for the York trains to stop at this station, and Gibbins seems to have been somewhat annoyed at being obliged to stay; for as soon as the train arrived, Mr Moat observed the unfortunate man standing upon the step of the guard’s van, which was next to the opposite line of rails, and by gestures enquiring whether he might proceed. Mr Moat, however, paid no attention to these gestures, and at that moment the whistle of the Great Northern train, coming to Leeds from Nottingham, was heard.
Simultaneously with the sound of the whistle, Gibbins jumped from the train and began to cross the rails towards the station, just as the Great Northern train had advanced, at the rate of 25 or 30 miles an hour, to within a few yards of the spot where he leaped upon the rails.
Before he could put his foot upon the platform, the buffer of the advancing engine struck him on the head, and after forcing him forward between the buffer and the platform side for two or three yards, flung him up with great force against the station wall.
When taken up, it was found that his thigh had been smashed near to the hip joint; his head and face cut; the region of the abdomen crushed; and his whole frame shattered. Mr Craven, surgeon of Woodlesford, was immediately sent for, and administered such supplements etc, which were at hand. Edward Brown, the driver of the Great Northern train, had stopped as soon as he could after the accident, and the poor fellow was laid on a bed at the bottom of a first class carriage, for conveyance to the Leeds infirmary.
He was accompanied by Mr Craven and retained full possession of his faculties but continued sinking until the train arrived at the entrance of the Leeds station, when he expired in the greatest agony.
An inquest was held on his body upon the same afternoon, before G. F. Harrison, deputy coroner of Leeds, at the Britannia Inn, Wellington Street when Mr Moat stated that the only person to blame in the matter was the deceased himself, and Mr Craven said that death resulted from the shock to the system and internal injuries.
The jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death. The deceased, who we understand kept a public house at York, had been on the line since its opening, was generally respected as an attentive, steady man, and has left a wife and nine children to deplore his fearful end.
RAILWAY COLLISION AT LEEDS. Rothwell Times, Friday 24 December 1880.
This cutting refers to an accident just outside Leeds Wellington station on Tuesday 21 December 1880 when a departing Midland Railway train packed with passengers for stations to Sheffield ran head on into an express arriving from Bristol. One passenger was killed at the scene and three died later efrom their injuries. After the inquest two shunters and a signalman were charged with manslaughter. The inspector from the Board of Trade criticised the operating procedures at the station but it’s not clear from newspaper reports if the company was prosecuted or if the three railwaymen were sent to prison.
Here are more details of the passengers from Oulton and Woodlesford referred to in the article:
Hannah Wiggins lived on Hobb Lane, now Midland Street, and was 38 at the time of the accident. She was born at Hickleton near Doncaster and had married Joseph Wiggins, a cooper who worked at Bentley’s brewery. They had four children all born in Oulton or Woodlesford.
Eliza Gosney was 14 and lived with her mother and stepfather in one of the recently built terraced houses at New Woodlesford off Midland Street. She was born in Oulton in 1866, the daughter of William Gosney, a mason. After his death her mother married Thomas Barber, a general labourer. Eliza appears to have recovered well from the accident and in 1886, at Woodlesford church, she married Benjamin Keighley, a fish salesman from Leeds. They moved to live in Ilkey and by 1891 had two children. In 1901 he was a fish and game dealer and ten years later they had moved to Harehills in Leeds.
John Varley was a commercial traveller or commission agent. He was born in 1821 in Hunslet and was living at Greenland Farm in Oulton with his sister Mary who was married to Bower Grosvenor.
Henry Wrigglesworth was born in Woodlesford in 1822 and was a monumental mason with a single employee. In 1844 he had married Sarah Burnill.
Joe Newsome was born in Rothwell in 1850 and was running a grocery and beer shop on Temperance Terrace at the time of the accident. He had previously been a painter and had to have his right arm amputated when he was injured in a shunting accident on the Midland Railway at Hunslet in 1875. He went on to become a traveller for Bentley’s brewery and was also the landlord of the Two Pointers Inn.
Harry Peel was only 7 years old. His father, John, was a plumber. Harry worked as an assistant to his father after he left school and then became a colliery labourer.
Mary Jane Moore was born at Fleet Mills in 1841 and was married to retired farmer and grocer William Moore.
Elizabeth Ann Furze was the 16 year old daughter of John Furze, a widowed tin miner from St. Just in Cornwall who had moved his family to Yorkshire. They too lived in a New Woodlesford house. Elizabeth Anne had been working as a domestic servant but after the accident she was unemployed for a while. At Clapham in London in 1886 she married George Vale, a fruiterer. He became a fishmonger and game dealer and they moved to Cardiff then Yardley in Gloucestershire before ending up in Leeds in 1911. By then her father had moved to Fox Holes Terrace at Methley where he was a colliery lamp cleaner. Her brother, also John, lived with his family at Rothwell where he was a colliery weighman.
Emmanuel Hampson was a Rothwell shoemaker with a shop on Commercial Street. He was 34 years old in 1881.
Jabez Richard Seanor was the owner of a match factory in Rothwell.