The Story of Heyford: The train crash of 1951 V3C3

At about 11.20 am on the 21st September 1951, the 8.20 am Liverpool Express to London came off the track at the Stowe Hill Tunnel near Heyford and tipped over in the embankment. The crash killed eight people and another seven died later in hospital. There were also thirty-six other casualties.

David Blagrove, in his book, “Waterways of Northampton” describes how “the railway can be seen plunging into Stowe Hill Tunnel” and it was here that the train, “hauled by the Duchess class Pacific engine, Princess Arthur of Connaught, left the rails shortly after leaving the tunnel at a speed of between sixty and sixty-five miles an hour.”

Engine 46207 Princess Arthur of Connaught

Photo taken by James Banner and lent by Ted Garrett

A prompt response
Frank Denny, the Heyford signal man that day, was the first to realise what happened. His signal box was located about a quarter of a mile from the railway bridge in Furnace Lane, along the stretch of line between Heyford and Bugbrooke. As the signalman, Frank was aware that the train had entered the tunnel from Weedon but he became anxious when it did not reappear. As he looked out of his box, he saw steam rising from the embankment near Tanborough Farm.

Frank instinctively knew something was wrong and realised that his first priority was to halt the Royal Scot which was travelling from London and due to pass at any moment. He therefore rang through to the Banbury Lane signal box at Bugbrooke to get the signal switched to stop. This duly happened the Royal Scot came to a halt near his own box. The driver got out to demand “what the hell is going on.” It was due to Frank’s swift response that a much more serious accident was averted.

MBE
At the same time, Mrs Cecily Hughes, the doctor’s wife at Weedon, took a call from the Weedon Stationmaster to say that the Liverpool Express had failed to clear his section of the line. He asked if she and her husband, Dr Stephen Hughes, would take a look. So far, that was all that anyone knew.

The couple set off in their car, armed with first aid that they always carried. They arrived at the tunnel within seven minutes of the accident. Mrs Hughes describes how they found nothing at the tunnel entrance so they climbed up over the hill – to be greeted by the sight of the crash strewn along the line.

The rescue operation

Photo taken by James Banner and lent by Ted Garrett

The first four coaches were the most damaged and contained the dead and badly injured. The doctor took one side of the train and his wife the other, clearing the debris in order to reach casualties. Mrs Hughes recalls how “Everyone was calm and patient. The last two carriages had not even left the rails and were still upright. They were full of boys returning to boarding school and one of the senior boys took charge, leading the others away from the scene and back to Weedon, to the Globe Inn.”

The doctors found the engine driver, Mr Tomlin, buried up to his shoulders in coal from the tender. It took a while to dig him out but he was quite unhurt, as was the train’s fireman who had clung to the cab as the engine tipped over.

After attending to all the serious casualties, Dr and Mrs Hughes returned to Weedon, only to find that many more people, including some of the rescuers, were waiting for treatment for minor cuts and bruises.

As some of the first medics on the scene, the contribution made by the Hughes’s was invaluable. Mrs Hughes was later awarded the MBE for her part in the rescue operation. She was reluctant to accept at first, as there were also others who had helped at the crash site and she felt that she was only doing her job. However, Mrs Hughes was described as “heroine of the morning” and duly received her medal.

Witnesses
Several Witness also came forward including a bus driver on the A5 who saw the immediate aftermath of the accident and reported it at Weedon station. It was also very fortunate that a police car happened to be passing the scene along Watling Street as it was one of only two police cars fitted with a radio in the entire county. They were able to summon medical help promptly.

Mr George Richardson of London Was driving along the A5 at the time and said: “I saw the train come out of the tunnel and begin to wobble.”

This “wobbling” and lurching was felt by passengers too. One survivor, Mr Blankfield of Liverpool, explained, “I was in a carriage half-way along the train . . . there were four or five jolts and then the train stopped completely.” He described how he and other passengers immediately climbed out of the windows to help others further along the train.

The damage

Photo taken by James Banner and lent by Ted Garrett

Local help
For local people in Heyford who worked near the railway, the sound of trains was a familiar one and you could tell exactly the time of day by the individual noise of each train that passed. When the crash occurred, Mr Gray of Tanborough Farm apparently thought that his wife had knocked over the dresser. But after that, apart from the hissing of the engine, there was an eerie silence.

Word quickly got around and people went up to help. Amongst the first on the scene were Reg and Joan Collins of Wharf Farm. They provided milk churns so that water could be carried up the hill to the casualties. There was no shortage of volunteers to take the churns but at the end of the day. Reg. had to go round and collect them all back again in his tractor and trailer in time for the evening milking.

Joan had to cycle down to Mrs Blaney at the Post Office with messages to be telegrammed to relatives. At this time, there was only the one phone with one public line out of the village. The officials did their telephoning from Holly Lodge which had one of the few phones in Heyford.

Ted Garrett was booking clerk at Weedon Station that day. When the crash happened, communications between Weedon and Heyford were suddenly lost, so they knew that something was amiss. In fact, as the train was thrown from the track, it had brought down the telegraph poles and cut all contact. A message finally arrived at Weedon via Roade Station that there had indeed been a crash. Ted Garrett was given charge to inform the army located at Weedon Depot and ask them to help at the crash site.

Frank Smith arrived with the Daventry ambulance and took the first casualties to Northampton General. He was actually on his second trip to the hospital by the time other ambulances appeared. Then the army from Weedon arrived to help. As they appeared over the hill, people recalled that it looked as though they were on manoeuvres.

Retired district nurse, Miss Raynor – over 70 years of age – walked two miles from Weedon to the crash site with a case of medical supplies. The Salvation Army and the W.V.S. set up mobile canteens and were there all day. The women from the Heyford railway cottages brought up hot tea for the survivors and people also brought blankets and sheets. The sheets were torn up to make bandages and the blankets kept the survivors warm. These were, of course, not returned but compensation was later given to those who had provided them.

The curse of the tunnel
The crash was reported in the national media and was news on the BBC Home Service. Local papers were full of the story; Northampton’s Chronicle and Echo carried the banner headline “8 KILLED IN WEEDON TRAIN CRASH” although this figure was unfortunately to rise. The Daventry paper went further and wondered if there was a more sinister aspect to Stowe Hill Tunnel. The paper reported that at the same spot in 1915 there had been another fatal train crash.

There were similarities between the two railway accidents. Both occurred about the same time of year with trains that had left at the same time in the morning. On 14th August 1915, the Irish Mail left Euston at 8.30 am and it too was disrailed; this time as it left the tunnel at the Weedon end heading north. The crash killed nine and injured 13 and many of those on board were troops in service during World War One.

However, despite the comparisons, the crash of 1915 was caused by a broken coupling left by a passing train. The coupling had ploughed into the track and so dislodged the oncoming mail train.

Board of Trade
In both crashes, the stretch of line was not found to be at fault. In 1951, the investigation by the Board of Trade was led by Lieutenant-Colonel G.R.S. Wilson. He concluded that the engine (number 46207 for train buffs) had an axle incorrectly fitted after its servicing at Crewe. The axle was slightly too tight, enough to cause a problem when it reached Stowe Hill Tunnel. There is a small change in rail type leading in and out of the tunnel (from flat bottom to bull head track) and, with the axle too tight, the Express dislodged when it went over these rails. The service engineer responsible at Crewe was named but, this being the 50’s and not the 90’s, there was no huge compensation claim or court case.

The engine itself had embedded in the soft clay around Stowe Hill and actually suffered little damage. However, it took almost a month before it could be lifted because of the steep ditch of the embankment. The engine had to be lifted out by a crane and villagers can remember its massive size as it was hauled into the air. It was then towed back to Crewe and was running again within six weeks. Driver Tomlin actually drove the Liverpool Express one more time to London, but never again after that.

By Sarah Croutear. A number of people have contributed to this story but we must give particular thanks to Joan Collins, Ted Garrett, Cecily Hughes and Doris Lovell, Frank Denny’s daughter.

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Added 2020:

British Pathe News

24/09/1951 – Many Killed In Train Wreck – A train crash kills several people and injures many more in Weedon

British Movietone News

24/09/1951 – Tragedy occurred aboard the Liverpool-London express train recently, when it crashed at Weedon, Northants., The locomotive plunging down an embankment, derailing all fifteen coaches. It is feared that, at least, seven people were killed and many more injured.

The Illustrated London News

September 29th 1951

Britain From Above

Wreckage of the 8.20am Express Service from Liverpool to Euston (46207 Princess Arthur of Connaught) on the section of track along from the Stowehill Tunnel (the Weedon Rail Crash), Nether Heyford, 1951
LMS Princess Royal Class No 46207 Princess Arthur of Connaught
LMS Princess Royal 6207 “Princess Arthur of Connaught”

https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW040105

No. 6207, A Study in Steel (1935) LMS

Shot and produced in 1935 this film details the construction of Princess Royal Class no. 6207 ‘Princess Arthur of Connaught’, from raw materials to complete locomotive.

Ministry of Transport Crash Report

Report on the Derailment which occurred on 21st September 1951 near Weedon in the London Midland Region British Railways

“The 8.20 a.m. Up express passenger train from Liverpool to Euston, comprising 15 bogie coaches hauled by a Pacific type engine, was travelling at 60-65 m.p.h. on the leaving transition of a left handed curve of about 50 chains radius, when the leading bogie wheels of the engine were derailed to the right ; the cause was an engine defect. The derailment was not noticed by the enginemen at this stage and the train continued forward at speed for more than £¾ mile on the straight without serious damage to the flat bottom track. No more wheels were derailed until the train reached the bull head rails just beyond the short Stowe Hill tunnel, when the leading bogie wheels began to smash the chairs and break up the track with the result that the whole of the train left the rails except for the last two vehicles.

The engine went down the 12 ft. embankment to the left, and fell on its left hand side: on soft ground. The wreckage of the coaches at the front of the train was severe, and I regret to state that seven passengers and one of the dining car staff were killed outright and seven passengers died subsequently in hospital. In addition, 26 passengers, the engine driver, and nine members of the dining car staff were admitted to hospital, or 36 persons in all, of whom 15 were discharged on the same day, and 25 others sustained minor injuries or shock. The driver, who was on the left hand side of the footplate, had a fortunate escape from serious injury when he was buried in coal from the tender as the engine overturned ; the fireman clung to the right hand side of the cab and was unhurt.

The wreckage of the eight leading coaches was piled behind and alongside the overturned engine across both the tracks. It was seen by the signalman at Heyford box 950 yards ahead when he heard the noise of the final derailment, and he stopped the approaching Down “Royal Scot” express at his outer home signal at 11.19 am., and afterwards drew it forward to the box. The block and telephone wires northward were severed, but the signalman got a message through to the Control via Blisworth, the next junction box to the south. Medical and other assistance was also summoned from all possible sources by some officers of the Metropolitan Police who had seen the wreckage from their car on the neighbouring main road. The Northamptonshire County Police were quickly on the scene and performed outstanding services in co-ordinating the work of rescue.”

Magazine Article

Jez Wilson – Updates added September 2020

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Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 3 of 4 | Chapter 3 of 17 | Page 4 to 7

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Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: Childhood Memories V4C7

Before the second world war the village was only half the size that it is now, transport was very limited, and the modern leisure facilities that are so commonly available today simply didn’t exist. Therefore the young people made their own fun in whatever way they could. There are many people in the village, now in their eighties, with childhood memories from the pre war period.

Children and young people
Before the first world war, the children went to school up the age of 13. Life was pretty busy keeping up with the chores. Mrs Dorothy Kingston of Furnace Lane remembers taking bread and jam to her father at the Brickworks when she came home from school. There was water to fetch, pigs to feed, eggs to collect, vegetables to prepare.

At thirteen, you left school and went to work. Some worked on the farms, some learned trades in their family businesses, but some worked outside the village. Bob Browning’s first job was a Saturday job at the age of 12 for W H Smith in Weedon. He walked from Heyford to Weedon and collected papers for delivery to Litchborough and Maidford and then walked back home. The journey was done entirely on foot and took him all day.

When he left school in 1905 he went to work there full time. They gave him a bicycle and two panniers to carry the papers. His new route was from Heyford to Weedon to pick up the papers, then to Dodford, Everdon, Farthingstone, Upper Weedon, then home. He ate his packed lunch each day under one of the big Beech trees beside the road through Everdon Stubbs.  There he double checked his takings.

On one occasion he arrived home and found he was one gold sovereign short. The sovereign had come from Everdon Hall where they always had several papers. His mother was desperate because he had to give his takings in the next morning but they didn’t have as much as a sovereign in the house.

So Bob cycled back to Everdon Stubbs to where he had counted the money at lunchtime, and there he found the missing sovereign. He was delighted at finding it that he carved his initials with his pocket knife into one of the trees. The four trees are still there today. All of them have dozens of initials carved into them of which some are quite new, but others could be 100 years old. Somewhere amongst them are the initials R.B.

Walking 
With time to, spare, little transport, and few organised facilities, walking was common. People would walk miles without a second thought.

The children all walked to school, some coming from Upper Heyford and others from the Railway cottages, or from Stowe Hill. They mostly travelled in small groups, unaccompanied by adults. Nobody worried about safety. The school didn’t provide lunches then so they made four journeys each day, often dawdling along the Way. There were several brooks in those days, running either side of the Green and also alongside a number of the hedges. Here it was tempting to dally along the way, making boats out of whatever materials they could find in the hedgerows.

Families walked together on Sundays, often for miles up to Glassthorpe or Stowe. They sometimes ended up at one of the pubs where father would have a beer and the children a ‘spruce’ – a bottle of pop with a glass ball in it.

Cars were a rare sight in the village between the wars so groups of young people would walk up to the ‘Turnpike’ (the A5) and sit on the bank by the Stowe turn, Waiting to wave at the drivers as they passed at a rate of only one or two an hour.

The Railway children
Mrs Doris Lovell, now in her eighties, lived in the railway cottages because her father, Frank Denny was a signalman. Although there was never a station in Heyford, she recalls how the railway had a strong presence in the village. There were sidings in the brick yard, there was an active signal box, and there were four railway cottages occupied by signalmen, platelayers and their families.

In the days of steam, each locomotive had its own unique personality and they chuffed past at a more friendly speed than today’s diesels. The driver and fireman, whose faces were often familiar to the villagers, would wave as they passed by, and sometimes they would throw lumps of coal for the children to take home.

The children played in the fields alongside the railway, although there was a strict understanding that playing near the tracks was forbidden. Favourite play areas included the stream near the brickyard just the other side of the small foot tunnel under the embankment. Here you could make stepping stones, build dens, and fish for tiddlers.

The railway bridge and railway cottages in the 1930s

memories2.jpg

Photo lent by Judy Armitage

Box Pond and ‘the Humps’
Another favourite play area recalled by Doris Lovel was in the field where the furnaces used to be. There was a pond here called ‘box pond’ because it was near the signal box. There was another pond across the road in the brickyard where deep water had formed in the claypit. Both ponds were popular play areas with much wildlife in them, including lizards and moorhens.

Also in the furnace field were four huge clinker mountains. These had been formed out of clinker waste from when the furnaces were in operation. Each seemed as high as a house. They had set solid into various shapes, Weathered through time, and were full of interesting nooks and crannies. They, were affectionately known as ‘the humps’. Cut hands and scraped knees were common.

These ‘humps’ were eventually moved when the M1 was built in the late 1950s. The field was full of hills and hollows from where the furnaces had been, and the contractor, Dowsett, was looking for somewhere to put the topsoil from the construction of the M1. So they broke up the humps, rolled them into the hollows, and covered them with topsoil. Box Pond was also filled in.

Fishing and swimming 
As today, there were plenty of fish in the canal. With a line, a hen feather, a bent pin and some bait, you could catch gudgeon to take home to feed to the cat. Favourite places on the river were by one of the two bridges – either the bridge to Upper Heyford, or Coach Bridge (now only a footbridge beyond Manor Park). Jumping off Coach Bridge into the deep waters below was a regular summer game for the boys.

Many local people, now in their 70s and 80s remember swimming in the canal. On warm summer days the young people would take their swimming costumes, some sandwiches, a drink, and a pot to pick blackberries. This way they could would spend hours by the canal.

An article in the Mercury and Herald dated 25th May 1978 included an interview with Mrs George (nee Browning) in which she recalled how ‘we’d go up to the canal at Heyford Bridge. The boys would change one side and the girls the other. Then we’d have a swim or watch the boats, all drawn by horses of course, being pulled up the canal.’ Unlike the railway where it was firmly understood that the track was out of bounds, the canal was considered ‘safe’. This was in spite of the murky state of the water and the waste disposed of by the boat people. However it was a fun place to spend the day, and was the only way to learn how to swim.

Swimming in the canal

memories3.jpg

This photograph, taken in the 1920s shows a group of young people beside the canal.  They went up Furnace Lane and turned left at Wharf Farm where they walked along to the next bridge. They are seen here in the field opposite the tow path. Pictured from the front are: Ivy Denny, Jack Earl, Friend, Nen Blaney, Odette Punch, Friend, Friend, and Mrs Frank Denny. The little girl to the left of the group is June Denny.

Photo lent by Doris Lovell (nee Denny)

~~

Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 4 of 4 | Chapter 7 of 8 | Pages 28 to 30TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: Heyford’s First Motor Vehicles V2C1

In the 1920’s cars were very few and far between. Groups of people used to walk up from the village to the A5 , then known as The Turnpike, to watch for cars. Doris Lovell nee Denn remembers sitting on the bank b the Stowe turn waiting for cars to go by , which they did at a rate of only one or two an hour. When one passed they all waved to the occupants.

On 25th May 1978 the Mercury and Herald published an article about the village. It included an interview with Alf Garrett who was for many years clerk to the Parish Council. In it he said, ‘When I was first married I earned £2.10s per week as a farm foreman. The farmer wanted someone to learn to drive and offered me the job. I jumped at the chance and learnt down at Grose’s in 1920. At that time there were only two cars in Heyford.’

Major Campbell, who lived at Heyford Hills, was one of the first in the village to own a car. It was a Morris with a canvas hood. He was a generous man. If he saw people walking along the road, he gave them a lift into the village.  He also gave pocket money to the children if they watched to see when it was clear for him to pull out of the drive.

Heyford’s first motor bus 

NetherHeyford_FirstMotorVehicles

Photo lent by Judy Armitage (daughter of Mrs Blaney)

Mrs Blaney recalled how the village’s first bus was actually a coal cart. It was owned Harold Botterill of Bugbrooke and was used during the week to carry coal. On Saturdays he put a wooden structure on top with seats in it, and with this he made two journeys into Northampton and back with passengers.

There was also a bus from Weedon to Northampton. If walked up the lane to Upper Heyford you could catch the bus there.

~~

Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 2 of 4 | Chapter 1 of 13 | Page 2

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Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

The Story of Heyford: Memories of Heyford Scouts in the 1950’s V1C11

Heyford Scouts was formed in 1952. The School headmaster, Mr Woods, was the scoutmaster, ably assisted by Mr Bert Wilkinson. During the 1950s it had a thriving troop of more than 20 boys. The troop was split into several patrols – peewit, kingfisher, etc., each with their own patrol leader, and weekly meetings were held in the school hall.

The Scout Troop in the 1950s

StoryOfNetherHeyford_Scouts1.jpg

Back row: Terry Randall, Norman Denny, Tony Lovell, David Butcher, Brian Eales, Anthony Hinnick, Colin Haynes, Michael Eales, John Smith, Colin Harrison, John Haynes
Seated centre: Gordon Cabbam, Bert Wilkinson 
Front row: Michael Royle, Roger Wilkinson, Richard Danby, Ken Garrett

Photo lent by Mrs Mary Butcher

Gang shows
Gang shows were very much a part of the scout year and were always a great success. They were presented on stage in the church rooms on the corner of Church Street and Church Lane and consisted of the normal songs (such as Ging Gang Gooly) and sketches. Rehearsals seemed to go on for ever and parents must have torn their hair out trying to provide costumes for some of these. The show was sometimes taken on tour for one night only to places as far afield as Flore, and it was just as daunting performing to strangers as to family and friends.

Soap Box Derbys
During my time in the scouts the troop entered the National Soap Box Derby. We built our soap box with a lot of help from Grose’s garage, and to our great delight we reached the national final held in Morecambe. To reach there we had to leave the village at about five o’clock in the morning and didn’t return home until late. The excitement of winning, however, got us through. The ‘car’ was on display for a month in the garage showroom, which at that time was in Marefair where the Barclaycard building is now situated. Boy, were we proud!

David Butcher winning the Soap Box Derby at Morecambe

StoryOfNetherHeyford_Scouts2

Photo lent by Mrs Mary Butcher

Camps
From later Spring until early Autumn several weekend camps were held fairly locally, and once a year the annual camp took place. This was always further afield and normally lasted for two weeks. One of these camps took us to the Pendle Hills in Lancashire, and inevitably it was raining when we arrived. After showing us to the field in which we were to make camp, the farmer pointed to the hill behind us and solemnly declared that, “If you can see those hills it’s going to rain, and if you can’t see them it’s already raining.” If memory serves me right we had about one day of dry bright weather in the whole fortnight and I seem to remember using washing bowls to scrape mud away from the front of the tents. No-one suffered any ill effects from this experience however and all returned to the village quite healthy.

During these camps one patrol was responsible for cooking the breakfast each morning and the others all went for an early morning run accompanied by the scoutmaster in order to work up an appetite. Each patrol took it in turns during the week so that nobody missed out on the joys of the run. Breakfast consisted normally of porridge made in a large billycan and coated with golden syrup diluted with hot water. This was followed by bacon and omelette. It was never a surprise if you found a generous helping of grass in either or both courses, but it never had any adverse effects on anybody.

The morning ablutions were always an adventure as we normally washed in cold water. One camp in the Lake District was near to a small stream and this was used by one or two hardy souls.

Street cred
Uniforms were strictly shorts (even the scoutmaster wore them!) and the distinctive hats with the stiff brim, reminiscent of the Canadian Mountie. These were terribly difficult to get flat again once you had bent it out of shape. This often happened, especially at camp.

I spent many pleasant and happy years in the scouts and during that time learned to cook, tie knots (some of which I still use, especially the granny), semaphore and Morse codes (all of which I have forgotten!). I also learned that it was easy to be polite and helpful and that this didn’t damage your street cred. I feel that I am better for the things I did and look back to this time with much pleasure.

Ken Garrett

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Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 1 of 4 | Chapter 11 of 13 | Pages 30 to 32

TheStoryOfHeyford_NetherHeyford_Footer

Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers