Fatal Railway Accident of 1847

The original station building at Hessle, opened in 1840 on the Hull and Selby Railway.

Fatal Accident at Hessle on the Hull and Selby Railway

The Hull Advertiser of February 26th 1847[1] reported the details of an accident that took place about three-quarters of a mile east of Hessle station in the cold and dark of a winter’s evening. Further details of the accident and subsequent inquiry were given in the same newspaper on 19th March 1847 and 2nd April 1847. It is an incident, which is worthy of recall.

Railway accidents in the early days of rail travel were only too common. Indeed William Huskisson[2] had been killed at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, and many more souls would lose their lives as the new mode of transport developed. From its opening in 1840 there were several accidents on the Hull and Selby Railway but the first in the Hessle area seems to have been in early 1847.

As the train pulled out of Hull Station[3] on that cold evening of Sunday February 21st 1847 few, if any, of the passengers could have imagined that their journey would come to an unexpected and tragic end within five miles of its beginning. The train can only be described as mixed. It contained mail coaches, passenger coaches and fish wagons. The train was heavy enough to warrant being pulled by two engines: the Kingston and the Exley.[4] As the train picked up speed it made its way eastwards, through the outskirts of Hull, and then began its approach into Hessle Station. About three-quarters of a mile outside Hessle the journey came to a tragic conclusion. As the train rounded a slight curve in the line it came off the rails resulting in the deaths of two of the passengers.

One of the passengers on the train was Mr John Spicer of Hessle. Spicer was a well-known figure in Hessle, being a yeoman farmer, coal dealer at the Haven, ferry proprietor and land owner. Fortunately, Spicer was thrown clear of the crash and received only minor injuries which did not prevent him from helping to rescue the wounded from the wreckage. The good folk of Hessle made their way to the scene of the crash and, led by Constable Abraham Batty and Dr Anderson, they searched among the debris and pulled the injured free. It was Spicer who came across the body of James Brown, who had been travelling in the same carriage as himself. Brown, who was described in the Hull Advertiser as ‘Crier of Hessle’, was one of the two fatalities. Brown was a Boot and Shoe maker by trade and is listed in Directories of the time. His body, along with the injured victims, was removed to the Coburg Hotel. The other fatality was George Waring, a blacksmith from Dewsbury, who died of his injuries the following day. One cannot help but wonder why Waring had been in Hull that day.

An inquest into the deaths of the two men was held at the Marquis of Granby in Hessle and several residents of the town were called upon to give evidence. Spicer was one of the witnesses and he was forthright in his opinion that one cause of the derailment was the speed of the train. Several estimates of the speed were given varying from thirty to forty – five miles per hour. Spicer claimed the higher speed and suggested that a combination of too high a speed and the curvature of the track had caused the accident. John Atkinson was another witness who had given assistance at the scene. He described the broken rails as being bent towards the Humber. The rails were damaged for a considerable distance. Atkinson criticised the Railway Company for their slow response to the accident and the delay in removing the injured.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of death by accident and the Coroner attached no blame to individuals or to the Company in his findings.

An inquiry took place some three weeks later. The enquiry was led by a Captain Coddington who, in his findings, attributed the blame to the use of what he regarded to be the weak track used in the construction of the line. Though the track used was of 55lb weight per yard it had by 1847 apparently become too light for the purpose of carrying the heavier rolling stock which now ran over the rails. The track along the length of the line was subsequently lifted and replaced, within weeks of the enquiry, with a heavier gauge.

M. G. Free


[1] Hull Advertiser 26th February 1847; Hull Local Studies Library.

[2] Huskisson had been an MP and Government Minister serving as the President of the Board of Trade and Colonial Secretary.

[3] This was the original Station adjacent to Humber Dock, not Paragon.

[4] The Exley had been one of five engines, which were used at the opening of the Hull and Selby Line in 1840.