p4newstreet logo

This is the view of the real inspiration behind Brettell Road. This is taken from Moor Street bridge looking towards Brettell Lane/Stourbridge.  The remains of the sidings can just be made out to the right of the running lines. There is nothing to show it now but this location was, in 1858. the site of what was, at the time, Britain’s worst rail disaster.

The story starts on the morning of the 23rd of August and the The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Company (which was known as the worse and worse, a nickname it never lost) had organised a day trip for Sunday School children from Wolverhampton to Worcester. In the event the ticket offices mostly ignored the instruction that the trip was for school kids and many sold the tickets to anyone.  The train set out from Wolverhampton made up of a tender loco, 24 4 wheel coaches and a guards van (info is sketchy it seems that the guards van was a good van although apparently some guards coaches were included in the train).

It picked up passengers and vehicles along the way as by the time it arrived at Worcester it was made up of 2 locomotives, 42 coaches and at least 2 brake vans. The outward journey hadn’t been without incident as they had coupling failures at Brettell Lane,  Hagley, and Droitwich. It was estimated that there were between 1500 and 2000 passengers on board when it got to Worcester. The train was examined by the inspector of rolling stock at Worcester, the repaired or replaced side chains were replaced by four-link goods couplings before the return journey, but no attempt was made to repair or replace failed centre couplings as the inspector considered that a re-made screw coupling was weaker than the goods couplings.

For the return trip the train was divided into 2, the first being made up 2 tender engines, 28 carriages, and 2 brake Vans (one at each end). The other was made up one tender engine, 14 carriages and a brake van. The second train followed the first 15 minutes behind. The line was worked on the interval system, in which trains were allowed to follow the previous train without positive confirmation that it had reached the next station, relying instead on it having been an adequate time interval ahead at the last station. The guard on the first train was a man called Frederick Cook who it was alledged had allowed passengers into the brake van and even let them operate the brake while he played cards and drank with them.  He was normally tasked with being the guard on freight trains and might not have been all that suited to passenger work.

The line from Brettell lane rises on a 1 in 75 gradient towards round oak so the second train had an additional engine added to cope with this at Stourbridge.  It was after 8pm when the first train arrived at Round Oak, the second arriving at Brettell lane at about the same time. Reports say it was dark and there was a lot of smoke blowing across the tracks from the local factories. The train of the first crew hadn’t spotted that another coupling had broken and 17 coaches and the brake van, with about 450 people on board were now rolling back towards Brettell lane.  A porter tried to chase the carriages but they soon became to fast for him.  The last hope was that the guard would stop the train. Frederick Cook was not on the train though, he was on the platform.

A telegraph message was sent the staff at Brettell Lane to warn them.  Unfortunately the second train was actually departing the station at the time and the telegraph was missed. The second train was struggling with the incline and when the driver did spot the runaway, very late, he slammed on the brakes. Hit train slowing to 2mph at the point of impact. The free coaches were doing about 16 mph but construction at the time meant that the brake van and 2 coaches as good as disintegrated. 12 people died in the crash, 150 were injured of which 2 would pass away later. All of the victims were on the first train.  The driver of the second was said to be ‘shaken’. His loco had its buffers ripped off but was otherwise not too badly damaged.

Amazingly several hours later the track was cleared and the 2 trains carried on their journeys to Wolverhampton. Some of the injured getting back onboard as they just wanted to go home.

Frederick Cook claimed at inquest that he never left the train, that the brake hadn’t held the train and he had jumped for his life at the last moment. He changed his testimony when it was established the brakes were off and he looked remarkably clean and uninjured for someone who had apparently jumped from a train doing 16 mph! Test showed the brake would have held the train and he was charged with manslaughter but acquitted. Some alledge the jury was bribed.

The view looking towards Round Oak/ Wolverhampton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.