Guest-blogger John Scotney reports on the work undertaken by the Friends of Hull General Cemetery, a small community group, to restore a local memorial to the victim of a tragic train crash, which spurred rail safety measures.
At 11.30 on Saturday 11th February 2017, a damp and dismal day, a small group of members of Hull Civic Society’s Friends of Hull General Cemetery group and one representative of the North Eastern Railway Association gathered in the Western Cemetery for the unveiling of a restored headstone, erected to the memory of Edward Booth.
The unveiling was performed by Neal Everingham, of W.P. Everingham & Sons Ltd, a firm of monumental masons in Hedon, who had undertaken the challenging specialist restoration work after another firm had found the job beyond their expertise. This restoration was funded by contributions from the North Eastern Railway Association, the Ken Hoole Trust (both charities which promote interest in railway history), Sonja Christiansen and Hull Civic Society and made affordable by a generous discount from WP Everingham & Sons Ltd.
Why such interest in one of many fallen gravestones? Two years ago, Sonja Christiansen, one of our Civic Society members, had taken a visiting friend, Gavin Watson, to see this interesting headstone with its carving of a railway locomotive. Gavin Watson is an advisor to the Railway Heritage Trust and identified the carving as a very accurate depiction of a North Eastern Railway locomotive number 85, of Class D22, a type once based at Hull’s Botanic Gardens engine shed, and he noted its connection with a railway accident that led to new safety measures being introduced.
The gravestone was erected to the memory of Edward Booth, a 25-year old railway locomotive fireman, who was killed, together with the driver, John Dunham (aged 53), on the evening of 24th November 1906 when their express passenger train ran into the rear of a mineral train at Ulleskelf, about 9 miles south of York.
Both men were based at Hull Botanic Gardens shed and would have worked together on a permanent basis. Jackson’s bakery now occupies the site of Botanic Gardens Locomotive Depot.
The events of that evening, which are recorded in the official inquiry report, unfolded on the four-track railway line south of York.
Part of the Signalmen’s duty is to “regulate” trains so that slow-moving freight trains do not delay passenger trains. On this occasion two passenger trains had left York shortly after 7 p.m. The first was a Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway train to Manchester, on the “Up Normanton” line and the second was the North Eastern Railway (NER) 7.00 p.m. York to Leeds express running on the “Up Leeds” line. These trains would normally have stayed on their respective lines, but there were two freight trains on the same line ahead of the Leeds express. After conferring, the signalmen decided to stop the Leeds express at Bolton Percy, then divert it onto the “Up Normanton” line behind the Manchester train to by-pass the freight trains. The slight fog was not enough to prevent drivers of the first three trains from seeing the signal lamps, but the combination of fog with smoke from the two passenger trains obscured the red signals at Bolton Percy from the driver and fireman of the Leeds express and it thundered past at 60 m.p.h. towards the stationary empty coal train. The Bolton Percy signalman rang the signalman at Ulleskelf who in turn warned the guard of the coal train. This guard hurried along the line on foot with a red lamp to warn the driver of the oncoming Leeds express whose driver managed to reduce his speed from 60 to 30 m.p.h., which probably saved the lives of his passengers but not those of himself and his fireman. The Leeds train struck the rear of the empty coal train and the passenger train driver and fireman were killed when their engine overturned. The first two carriages of the Leeds train were derailed and the guard and seven passengers slightly injured, but the rear two coaches stayed on the track. It was fortunate that the guard of the coal train had left his guards van. The deaths of driver John Dunham and fireman Edward Booth were registered at Tadcaster.
As with all railway accidents it was followed by an inquiry, at which all the staff concerned gave evidence. Born at Saltfleetby, Lincolnshire, Driver Dunham was listed in the 1901 census as living in Hawthorn Avenue, Hull with his wife and mother-in-law. He had been on the North Eastern Railway since 1867 and had been an engine driver since 1874. E.P. Thompson, the Locomotive Shed Foreman at Botanic Gardens described him as “a temperate man and a teetotaller. I regarded him as a thoroughly trustworthy driver.” Edward Booth, born in 1881, lived in Smeaton Street (demolished during redevelopment of Bond Street), Hull, with his widowed mother Ann (whose death on July 29th 1912, aged 72, is also recorded on the headstone) and an elder brother and elder sister. By 1906, he had worked for the NER for 9¾ years and had been a fireman for 8 years, quite an achievement for a 25 year-old. Thompson said of him, “I consider that he was well up to his work and I can give him quite a good character”. In other words, neither driver nor firemen were likely to be reckless and both knew the line well, but were victims of a fatal combination of events.
This accident showed that on even a slightly foggy night, the combined smoke and steam from two trains running close together could prevent train crews from seeing the oil lamps of more than one set of signals. In this case, there was also human error based on the expectation that the signal would be at green, as it usually was. The most important consequence for railway safety was that the inquiry concluded that the accident “points to the desirability of the provision of some reliable mechanical contrivance to notify to a driver that he is running past a signal.” Various ideas were already being tried out on the NER and other railways. The first audible warning device was a “detonator” which the signalman could move onto the track mechanically to give an explosive sound if the engine passed over it. This was the first step towards modern audible warnings, which sound inside the cab and automatic brake application if the driver does not respond by applying the brakes. Visibility is also much better, with electric colour-light signals on most lines, the large windscreens replacing the limited forward view on steam locomotives and the absence of smoke and steam.
Driver John Dunham and Fireman Edward Booth died tragically in the Ulleskelf railway accident, but their deaths proved a spur to new safety measures that benefit us all, whenever we travel by train.
John Scotney is a member of the Friends of Hull General Cemetery, which originated in 2014 as a sub-group of Hull Civic Society. He currently serves as Chairman of the Hull Civic Society and Acts as liaison between the two groups.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of the Hull Civic Society Newsletter (pp16-20), reproduced with kind permission.