THE SIGNAL BOX

BRANCH LINES

MYSTERIOUS HAPPENINGS ON THE KNOTTY
Two strange mishaps of 1882

by Dave Harris

Here are two more glimpses into the working practices of the railways from a long vanished era, thanks to the investigations of Inspectors from the Board of Trade. This time we go even further back – into the very early days of railway signalling.

Marchington, NSR. 14th April 1882

Marchington was a wayside station in rural East Staffordshire three miles east of Uttoxeter on the North Staffordshire Railway’s main line to Derby. As well as NSR Derby or Burton to Stoke or Crewe services, the line also carried GNR traffic from their Derbyshire extension to Stafford. Although Stoke on Trent, to the west, was the "The Knotty’s" headquarters, and all its routes radiated from there, the ‘Up’ line was in the Derby direction, that is the eastbound line.

The station is described as having ordinary Home and Distant signals interlocked with the points and controlled from a raised platform close to the station building.

At 9.10am, Octavious Greaves, the Station Master, was in charge of the signalling, the points and block instruments.

He stopped a Down goods train to shunt it back onto the Up line to clear the Down line for following NSR and GNR passenger trains. Evidently this was to the annoyance of the driver of the goods train who believed he would have been able to clear the section if left unhindered. He berated Greaves on this point only to incur the wrath of Mrs. Greaves who told him to leave her husband alone!

Anyway, during the shunt, a van became derailed on the crossover. The derailed van was pulled away from the Up line and Single line working instituted on the Up line while a breakdown gang came from Uttoxeter.

The 11am passenger train from Derby was stopped at Sudbury, the next Block Post to the east. The driver was crossed to the Up line and warned to run at caution through Marchington. As the passenger train approached the crossover at Marchington the points were suddenly reversed and the passenger train ran through the crossover into the derailed van.

Six passengers were injured as was the passenger guard. The Inspecting Officer put the unexplained movement of the crossover down to damage from the previous derailment.

Derby Road Crossing, Willington. NSR. 21st November 1882

These days many drivers on the busy A38 dual carriageway will not even know they are crossing a railway line as they pass over the bridge provided in the 1960’s. In 1882, however, it was a different matter. So too was the amount of traffic!

The crossing of the 'old turnpike' called Ryknield Street over the double lines of the North Staffordshire Railway’s Stoke – Derby main line was protected by four large gates and two wicket gates on the eastern side of the road. The crossing was described as "nearly intermediate between the block posts at Willington Crossing and Egginton Junction". Derby Road Crossing was not, at the time of this accident, a block post.

The gates were normally kept locked against the road and were padlocked at night. This doesn't seem inappropriate given the amount of traffic over the crossing as shown in a survey conducted after the accident;

  Thurs 28th December 1882 Friday 29th December 1882
6am – 6pm 6pm – 6am 6am – 6pm 6pm – 6am
Pedestrians 35 3 78 3
Carriages & Carts 47 4 66 7
Horseback 7 1 9 0

The working arrangement for the crossing was that when a Down train from Willington Crossing was approaching the signalman there gave Four beats on a bell. Two beats signified an Up train from Egginton. No facilities were available for the crossing keeper to acknowledge the bell. On receiving warning of an approaching train the crossing keeper was not to open the gates until it had passed or Nine beats, the cancelling signal, had been given.

Once the crossing was secure, the crossing keeper was to give an All Clear signal to the driver - a white light at night. No fixed signals were provided.

The resident crossing keeper or his wife had to be available to open the gates 24hrs a day. On the day of the accident, the crossing keeper who had 16yrs experience but only three months at Derby Road, was ill. He hadn't informed the Station Master at Egginton Junction of that fact, though.

William Core was a brick layer who was lodging at the crossing keeper's house. He had heard two beats on the bell for a Up goods from Egginton and was asked by the crossing keeper's wife to show the white light (all clear) to the train.

Thomas Argyle was the signalman at Willington Crossing who came on duty at 6pm. He said that he gave the 4 beats signal to Derby Road Crossing for the 6.40pm Derby - Crewe passenger train driven by William Cross.

Core didn't hear the four beats, however, and was therefore unaware of the approaching Down train. Once the Up train had passed at around 7pm, he opened the gates at the request of two lads on a dray.

The driver of the Down train saw the white light turn to red and realised the gates were being opened in front of him. He whistled and braked but ran through the gates killing the two lads and the horse and injuring Core.

As a result of the Coroner's recommendation, a second crossing keeper was employed at Derby Crossing. The Inspector recommended that the crossing be done away with altogether and a bridge be provided. He suggested to the NSR that the saving of two crossing keepers' wages would go a long way toward paying for it.

It seems that instead, in due course, they provided a proper signal box and block post to control the crossing.

Comments about this article should be addressed to Dave Harris