Safety on the Hayle Railway 1837-1844
The Hayle Railway was incorporated by an Act of Parliament which received Royal Assent on 27th June 1834. It authorised a line to run from Hayle Foundry, over a drawbridge to Copperhouse and then to Tresavean, with branches for the Towans or Sandhills of Phillack, to the mines of Roskear, from Cook’s kitchen to Wheal Crofty, to Portreath, another to Wheal Tolgus and one to the town of Redruth. (G.H Anthony “The Hayle, West Cornwall and Helston railways, pub Oakwood Press 1968).
The line was to be worked by steam locomotives, except for the inclines at Angarrack (known as Steamers Hill and at Portreath. These were to be worked by stationary engine and wire rope, while the inclines at Penpond and Tresavean were to be traversed using the counter balance principle, as the engine climbed the incline loaded wagons would be lowered on the adjacent track) (Anthony)
Construction proceeded apace and was almost complete by 1837, except for the drawbridge over Copperhouse creek. Henry Harvey refused to allow the railway to open until this was installed, and after a short delay, the line opened from Hayle Foundry to Pool, then on to Portreath on 23rd December 1837.
Before the line opened the West Briton Newspaper reported on the progress of the line. In the 5th May 1837 edition they wrote;
“EXPERIMENT ON THE HAYLE RAILWAY - On Wednesday last, the locomotive engine, called the "Pendarves", belonging to the Hayle Railway, made an experimental trip over part of the road between Hayle and Camborne, which gave much satisfaction to the parties interested, and to the crowd of persons who were attracted by the novel spectacle. The engine, with a train of wagons containing about 300 persons, and moving with caution, the road being new to those guiding her, travelled the distance, about three and one half miles, in eleven minutes. Not the slightest accident occurred”
The line from Portreath Junction to Redruth was opened on June 11th 1838, a week after the planned opening date which was a Whit Monday. The directors feared that the huge numbers of spectators that were sure to attend would compromise safety so the opening was delayed. The line was authorised to carry passengers, but the Company did not have dedicated passenger coaches. Any passengers would travel in the wagons. It was not long before the first serious accident occurred, as the West Briton of July 20th 1838 reported:
“MELANCHOLY AND FATAL ACCIDENT
Last Friday afternoon, just as the Hayle and Redruth locomotive was starting with a train from the engine-house, at the top of the Portreath inclined plane, Mary Ann Keast, the wife of one of the workmen in charge of the wagons, rashly attempted to pass from another train to one of the carriages to which the locomotive was attached, and which starting at the same moment, caused her to fall between the carriages across the rail, when the train, passing over her chest, so dreadfully crushed her, that the poor woman almost instantly expired. She was about 23 years of age, had only been four weeks married, and had come out for the pleasure of a ride. We hope this calamitous accident will operate as a warning to others, and that persons will no longer be allowed, with such heedless temerity, to place themselves in situation of extreme danger, as they frequently been observed to do on this railroad.”
That was not all. The same edition also reported:
“FATAL RAILWAY ACCIDENT
On Tuesday evening last, soon after the train of carriages had left Hayle, a fine boy, about seven years old, named Hosking, in attempting to get into one of the wagons, fell, and the wheel passing over his body, killed him on the spot. The wagon contained a weight of five tons.”
A few months later the following accident was reported in the November 30th edition of the paper:
“SERIOUS ACCIDENT ON THE HAYLE RAILROAD AND EXTRAORDINARY FORTITUDE
On Monday afternoon, the 19th instant, as George Lumley, aged 23, was fastening the tail rope to the train of waggons and the locomotive engine, the latter was put in motion before he expected, in consequence of which the rope threw him off his legs, and he fell between the rails, with his right arm over one of them, when five laden waggons passed over the arm, dreadfully lacerating and fracturing it. Immediately on the trains passing over him, he arose, and holding his shattered arm with his left hand, walked about 100 yards; and, having been assisted into one of the waggons, was taken to Camborne. On his arrival, he, with very little assistance, walked to Mr. Gurney’s surgery, about half a mile, where his arm was immediately amputated just below the shoulder joint. The poor man bore the operation almost without a murmur, and although Mr. Gurney lent him a chair to be carried in to the railway, he, nevertheless, walked, and was then taken in the train to about a quarter of a mile from his lodgings, to which place he also walked. For several days the man was in a very excited, restless, and unconscious state, but he is now better, and hopes are entertained of his recovery. It is feared that the accident was occasioned by the engineer starting the locomotive too quickly, but we hope, on inquiry, it will turn out to be otherwise. However, great caution is necessary, as an accident occurred on the same spot a few days before, when a man was jammed between two carriages, but not seriously hurt. It would also be well if the engineers were to use more caution when crossing the main roads, as frequently, when horses are passing, they lift the valve and let out the steam, which, making a hissing noise, frightens the horses; and what may appear as fun to the parties in the locomotive and trains, may be attended with serious consequences to persons on horseback or in carriages.”
At a time when the fastest speed then attainable was of a galloping horse, the speed of the trains took many by surprise, as this account in the 24th May 1839 edition tells:
“Fatal Accidents - On Thursday the 16th inst., as Mrs. Courts was attempting to cross the inclined plane of the Hayle Railway, near Angarrack, at the time the wagons were descending, she was struck down by the foremost carriage, the wheel of which passing over her, killed her on the spot. The deceased was 79 years of age, and resided near the place where she met her death.”
Another similar accident occurred the following November as this account in the
20th NOVEMBER 1840 West Briton recounts:
“DISTRESSING ACCIDENT ON THE HAYLE AND REDRUTH RAILWAY - On Friday evening last, about half-past five, as Betsy Angove was proceeding from Pool to her residence at Illogan church-town, imprudently choosing to walk by the railway, which shortens the distance, she was overtaken by one of the trains proceeding to Portreath; and being thrown down with her neck on one of the rails, her head was instantly severed from her body. The deceased was a widow, about 66 years of age, and very much respected. She resided in one of the cottages belonging to Lady Basset, rent free, and, we believe received from the Noble Lady and from the Rector of the parish a weekly sum, sufficient for her maintenance. An inquest has been held on the body, and a verdict of accidental death returned.”
During 1841 the Directors of the Hayle Railway turned their attention to the potential for carrying passengers between the towns of West Cornwall. The Great Western Railway had opened the line between Bristol and London (not the other way round!), and there were regular Steam Packet services between Hayle and Bristol. Steam Packets were ships authorised to carry the mail. Only a generation before it would have taken over a week to travel from West Cornwall to the capital, and now the potential existed to do the trip in less than two days.
The West Briton of 19 February 1836 advertised the following:
“HERALD to end from Bristol and Cornwall - STEAM PACKET HERALD - John Vivian, Commander, Order of "The Herald" sailing for FEBRUARY, 1836 - From Hayle to Bristol - Monday, 29th, One, Afternoon, From St. Ives - half an hour later From Bristol to Hayle Saturday, 20th - Eight, Morning - The run from Hayle to Ilfracombe is ten hours and to Bristol sixteen or eighteen hours; from Bristol to Ilfracombe seven hours, and to Hayle eighteen hours. FARES, including Steward's Fees. To or from Bristol, Cabin 25s., Deck 10s.6d... ...Ilfracombe 22s., 8s. 6d. Children under 12 years of age, half price. Horses, Carriages, Luggage, and General Merchandise carefully conveyed. Refreshments of the best description, and at moderate charges, provided on board.”
The Directors concluded that a regular passenger service between Hayle and Redruth, together with connecting horse omnibus services between Redruth and Truro, Redruth and Falmouth and Hayle to Penzance would tap into this potentially lucrative market. Two passenger coaches, each capable of carrying between 20-30 persons were obtained, and railway stations were provided at Hayle Foundry, Copperhouse, Angarrack, Gwinear, Penponds, Camborne Pool and Redruth, and a regular service started on May 22nd 1843, as reported in the May 26th 1843 edition of the West Briton:
“HAYLE RAILWAY. On Monday lst, this line of railway was opened for the conveyance of passengers, and as no charge was made for that day, the carriages were literally crammed with persons of both sexes, who were anxious to enjoy the luxury of a gratuitous ride. We are glad to learn that although the train went three times over the line during the day, no accident of any consequence occurred.”
The Railway ran mixed trains with the goods wagons immediately behind the locomotive and the passenger coaches at the rear. It would appear that they would separate the coaches from the train as it travelled along the undercliff at Riviere, with the wagons being shunted onto the North Quay, thereupon the points would be reset and the coaches continue to the station at Foundry by gravity. It’s not known how long the Company used this method, but on September 1st 1843, there was a derailment, luckily without loss of life.
It would appear that the company was engaged in track maintenance and the rails were not fixed to the sleepers, as this account in the West Briton of the 8th September relates:
“HAYLE RAILWAY. On Friday afternoon last, as the second afternoon down train from Redruth, laden with ore and passengers, reached the branch line which leads to the north quays of Messrs. SANDYS, CARNE, and VIVIAN, Hayle, a tremendous crash took place. The rail at that part of the line being under alteration, the sleepers were bared, and the rail temporarily laid on them. Before the train arrived at the branch line, the passenger carriages were, as usual, cast off for the terminus, and following the train by the given impetus. The engine proceeded on with the rest of the train to the diverging line, and when it reached the place under alteration, the rail slipped off the sleepers, and the foremost carriage was thrown off, turned upside down, and dashed to atoms. The second carriage was piled on the first and destroyed, and the third on the second. The fourth was brought up by the third, and the rest of the train by the large granite sleepers, the whole having been forced off the rail. By that time the passenger carriages ran on and were brought up against the engine. We rejoice to state that only a few persons were slightly bruised and frightened. When the train reached that place, some one of the train generally runs forward on the carriages to the foremost carriage. Fortunately, in this instance, he had only got so far as the last but one; when he was hurled on the cliff uninjured. Had he been in the foremost carriage, he would have been crushed to death. If some one had dragged the passenger carriages, that collision might have been prevented. Each carriage contained three and a half tons of ore, and although no ore was lost (being in sacks), the damage is estimated at GBP100.”
The reference to “Dragging the carriages” alludes to applying a brake to the wheels. It is not know if the rolling stock were braked at this time.
The following month there was another fatality near North Roskear, when a labourer on horseback was run down by the train. The full account is here in the 27th October edition of the paper:
“On the 21st instant, in the parish of Illogan, on the body of William Jackson, aged about 46 years, who accidentally met his death on the preceding day, on the railway between Redruth and Hayle. The deceased, it appears, was a labourer generally employed at the mines in the neighbourhood of the railway, in the discharge of coals and other goods brought to the mines by that conveyance, and had been on the day of the accidental occurrence sent from Stray Park mine to North Roskear to discharge tools. He usually walked, but somehow, upon on this occasion, he had a horse intrusted to him, on which he mounted, and was proceeding thereon on the railway towards North Roskear. When first seen by the train he was considered to be distant therefrom about a quarter of a mile, and was then riding by the side of the road, without the rails. The whistle was sounded to clear the way, and the train proceeded at the pace it was then going, which was computed to be about 15 miles an hour. The train, of course, speedily gained on the man and horse, and it was found that instead of getting out of the way, they had gotten on the road within the rails. The whistle was, therefore, again sounded repeatedly, and the speed of the train was checked from, as was supposed, 15 to about 7 miles an hour, still expecting that the deceased would get out of the way; but most unaccountably he did not do so, and the latter speed of the train being continued with that expectation, the engine at length came so close upon the horse on which the deceased was riding, that both were thrown down before the driver of the engine had the power to stop the train altogether, and killed on the spot. The deceased had both his feet cut off a little above the ankles, and his head was also considerably injured. The driver of the steam carriage received an excellent character for steadiness and care, and the jury found a verdict of Accidental death, and a Deodand of one shilling on the wheels of the tender.”
By this time there was a growing tide of opinion against the Railway Companies of the UK attitude towards safety. As can be seen, the numbers of people killed or injured on the Hayle Railway was causing concern, and the Coroners began to impose a form of fine called a Deodand. According to Wikipedia:
Deodand is a thing forfeited or given to God, specifically, in law, an object or instrument which becomes forfeit because it has caused a person's death.
The English common law of deodands traces back to the 11th century and was applied, on and off, until Parliament finally abolished it in 1846. Under this law, a chattel (i.e. some personal property, such as a horse or a hay stack) was considered a deodand whenever a coroner's jury decided that it had caused the death of a human being. In theory, deodands were forfeit to the crown, which was supposed to sell the chattel and then apply the profits to some pious use. (The term deodand derives from the Latin phrase "deo dandum" which means "to be given to God.") In reality, the juries who decided that a particular animal or object was a deodand also appraised its value and the owners were expected to pay a fine equal to the value of the deodand. If the owner could not pay the deodand, his township was held responsible
During the 1830s, the rapid development of the railways led to increasing public hostility to the epidemic of railway deaths and the indifferent attitudes of the railway companies. Under the common law of England and Wales, the death of a person causes purely emotional and economic loss to their relatives. In general, damages cannot be recovered for either type of damage, only for physical damage to the claimant or their property, and families of fatal accident victims had no claim. As a result, coroner's juries started to award deodands as a way of penalising the railways.)
In May 1844, almost a year after passenger services commenced on the Hayle railway the station building at Foundry were opened, as recounted in the 31st May edition of the West Briton:
“HAYLE AND REDRUTH RAILWAY - On Whit-Monday, the neat station-house, recently erected at the Hayle terminus, was opened. The comforts afforded to passengers by this establishment are inappreciable, and the refreshment stall did credit to Mr. CROTCH, whose civility and attention need no comment. Upwards of 2,000 persons passed over the line throughout the day, and we did not hear of any accident”
An interesting footnote to the early history of the Hayle Railway, and its attitude towards competitors is revealed in the following :
“The West Briton, 15 NOVEMBER 1844, Friday
CAMBORNE PETTY SESSIONS. On Tuesday last, Robert Lilly, policeman, of Redruth, appeared to answer a charge of assault preferred against him by William Chudley, guard of the new omnibus which has just started, to run between Penzance and the railway station at Hayle. It appears that the new omnibus runs in opposition to that of the railway company, and that the policeman of Redruth was employed to keep persons connected with it out of the station, in doing which he severely beat Chudley, which led to the present charge. The bench, it seems, thought that the complainant had no lawful right on the station, and therefore dismissed the case, ordering each party to pay his own costs.”
Source material gleaned from here
TRANSCRIPTIONS OF THE ORIGINAL NEWSPAPER, 1836 - 1887
A Project created by Julia Symons Mosman and Rita Bone Kopp
G.H Anthony “The Hayle, West Cornwall and Helston Railways, pub Oakwood Press 1968.
Not forgetting Wikipedia.