The 1907 train crash: Historic bundle recalls Shrewsbury's darkest day

As he went through the bookshelves to give his rows and rows of old books their occasional airing, one in particular caught the eye of Edward Thornhill.

The aftermath of the disaster, as seen in a postcard which was franked at Shrewsbury the day afterwards, with the message reading in part: "I am sending this for you to see a bit what it is like – but this (is) nothing to what it really is (like)."
The aftermath of the disaster, as seen in a postcard which was franked at Shrewsbury the day afterwards, with the message reading in part: "I am sending this for you to see a bit what it is like – but this (is) nothing to what it really is (like)."

It was more a folder, actually, and on the cover, underneath the printed words "London and North Western Railway," was handwritten "Shrewsbury Accident, Oct 15th. 1907."

And that folder contains a remarkable and historic collection of original documents, photographs, handwritten letters, and so on, relating to Shropshire's worst rail disaster, in which 18 lives were lost as a train thundered into Shrewsbury, going far too fast, and derailed just short of the railway station, ending up a mangled wreck.

"It's quite rare because it's got all these 'extras' in it," said Edward, the owner of Candle Lane Books in Shrewsbury.

"I don't think they will have one of these in Shrewsbury museum. I think it's unique."

Edward Thornhill, of Candle Lane Books.

The bundle includes details of the service at St Chad's Church which followed to remember the dead, lists of casualties and what they were wearing, details about the luggage on the ill-fated train, a typed copy of evidence given to an official inquiry held at the Raven Hotel beginning on October 17 – and at which David Lloyd George represented the Board of Trade – handwritten correspondence, as well as official documents.

Throughout, there are plentiful handwritten annotations.

Clearly, the material is likely to have come originally from somebody connected to the inquiry or otherwise professionally connected with those terrible events in some way.

Edward says he isn't entirely sure how the bundle came into the family in the first place, perhaps 30 or more years ago, but thinks it would have been bought by his late father John Thornhill, who founded the bookshop, in a house sale.

"That's where my father bought a lot of his collections from. He bought libraries – he used to buy them in tea chests."

He speculates that the material might have come from a grand property called Yeaton Peverey near Baschurch.

"There was a gentleman there quite famous in Shropshire called Sir Offley Wakeman, and dad bought all of his library."

The front cover to the bundle.

In any event, it has since nestled on the bookshelves at Edward's Shropshire home.

Although Edward knew of its existence, it was the other day that it literally got an airing.

"Every year, if one has a collection of books, you have to move them. Airflow is essential for any library. I know every book, and I thought this one might be of interest."

His hunch is that the material was from a solicitor who was involved in the events at the time.

A memorial service was held at St Chad's the following Sunday.

Some of the correspondence is to a J.L. White, who was the London & North Western district traffic superintendent in Shrewsbury.

The typed up evidence includes the testimony of John Beedleston, the signalman at Crewe Bank signalbox, who said the train passed the signals at danger at around 60mph.

"I have never known a train pass my box at that speed," he told the inquiry.

"I never saw anything like it in all my 30 years' experience. I anticipated that some accident would happen, I knew full well it would, at the rate it was going at."

The train was left a tangled wreck close to Shrewsbury railway station

The guard Henry Birch, travelling near the back of the train, said the driver had seemed his usual self. As they approached Shrewsbury he thought they were going too fast, and went to apply the brake, but the driver applied it first.

When the train crashed he was pitched into the end of his van. The speed limit for the curve coming into Shrewsbury station was 10mph, and he could give no explanation for the accident.

The official report of Lieutenant Colonel H.A. Yorke, on behalf of the Board of Trade, pinned blame on the engine driver, Samuel Martin, of Crewe, who was among the fatalities.

Its highly controversial conclusion was that Martin had nodded off.

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