Thackley Tunnels: Passengers: accidents, attacks, and strange behaviour

The railways and their numerous routes transformed the lives of many, but using them might not have been such a pleasant experience as they hoped.  Steam  trains were dirty, smoky and draughty.  They provided rigidly class conscious accommodation and travel, with strict segregation between the classes.  Each class had separate waiting rooms, and different standards of comfort and convenience throughout.  Generally carriages had no corridors, compartments opening directly on to the platforms at stations, and thus had no facilities such as refreshments or toilets even on long journeys. Travellers could be trapped in sometimes unpleasant situations.   Women in particular felt vulnerable, and campaigned for women-only compartments.  But despite frequent delays, accidents and inconveniences, the Victorian railways became the main means of transport, both for passengers and freight, transforming the country and its industry.

The Thackley tunnels held additional dangers for passengers, especially as some carriages were unlit, and sometimes doors appear to have been insecure.  In August 1846, not long after the railway opened, J. Kitchen, of Manningham, received a severe leg wound and was seriously crushed in a curious incident. Kitchen appeared to be in a state of intoxication and whilst in the tunnel had attempted to get out of the third-class carriage, but was prevented by other passengers.  Undeterred, however, on the train leaving the tunnel he managed to climb out again and attempted to clamber on to the top of a second-class carriage.  Whilst he was doing so he fell on to the track and was lucky to escape with relatively light injuries.  Railways were, and continued to be a magnet to people who ended up injuring themselves.  In May 1892 Martha Ambler a thirty year old married woman from Clayton was run over by a goods train near the Shipley and Guiseley junction.  The woman’s foot was cut off by the train and she was taken by horse ambulance to Bradford Infirmary where it was found necessary to amputate a further part of her leg.  Mrs. Ambler made a rapid recovery but refused to say how she had come to be on the track when she was knocked down.

A strange accident occurred in December 1896 when a soldier was killed near the tunnel.  The man, B. Mulligan, a gunner attached to the 39th Battery, Southern Division, Royal Artillery, was found lying on the railway line near Thackley tunnel.  He was suffering from a scalp wound, a dislocated arm and a fractured skull.  He was taken to Shipley Station but died before a doctor could arrive.  Mystery surrounds how Mulligan met his death.  He was travelling with another soldier and they had boarded the train at Carlisle and were en route from Leith to join their regiment at Gosport, near Portsmouth.  Mulligan’s companion stated that he had been asleep and when he awoke he had discovered the open carriage door and no sign of Mulligan.  On arriving at Leeds he informed the officials and a search was started and Mulligan was found insensible on the line.  A strange tale with no satisfactory explanation; had Mulligan just fallen from the train or had he been pushed?

Another man fell out of a carriage in 1899.  This seems to have been a problem on this line, especially in the tunnel.  In February William Stevens, a commercial traveller from Shipley was travelling from Leeds to Shipley.  As they entered the tunnel he got up to close the window.  Whilst doing so the carriage door flew open and he was thrown onto the line fracturing a kneecap amongst other injuries.  Unable to stand he managed to drag himself to the side of the tunnel just before another express train dashed by.  Attempting to crawl towards the nearest entrance he was only able to cover about 200 yards in two hours before he collapsed again exhausted by his efforts.  Fortunately an alert signal man noticed an open carriage door and initiated a search of the line.  Stevens was eventually found and carried to the nearest station where his injuries were treated by the Ambulance Corps. and he was later taken home.  Later in the year William Harvey, a porter guard from Shipley was awarded a gold medal for the first-aid he had given to Stevens. Stevens eventually sued the company for damages and was awarded £500 by Leeds Assizes.

Accidents were not the only dangers facing passengers in the early years of the railways.  As mentioned before, there was a widespread fear of being attacked, especially among women.  In these early days passengers travelling in enclosed carriages with no connecting corridors made many people feel that they were vulnerable if travelling alone.  In June 1855 the Bradford Observer reported a cautionary tale.  A lady was travelling from Leeds to Bradford in a first-class carriage, accompanied by two ladies and two gentlemen.  Also in the carriage was a stranger who appeared to be dozing in one corner of the carriage opposite the lady.  His demeanour and conduct were to point him out later to be a thief.  On arriving in Bradford the man suddenly disappeared on the side furthest from the platform.  Shortly afterwards the lady came to pay a cabman and discovered she had been robbed of her purse which contained nine sovereigns and nineteen or twenty shillings.  The lady remembered she had taken her purse from her pocket in the carriage at Armley and it is supposed it was stolen while passing through Thackley tunnel.  The paper reports that it was strange that, although it was a first-class carriage, the compartment was without a light.

Another disturbing robbery was reported in March 1892.  When the 3.20p.m. train from Bradford to Leeds arrived at Apperley Bridge a passenger was found lying in a dazed condition on the floor of a third-class compartment.  The stationmaster, Mr. J. Randall, was summoned and he considered the passenger was intoxicated and sent the train on its journey.  The passenger was Charles Foreman Hood, a twenty eight year old engine fitter from Bowling Back Lane, Bradford.  It took Hood some time to recover his senses, but when he did he told the Stationmaster he had been assaulted and robbed on the train between Shipley and Apperley Bridge.  He was sharing his compartment with a stranger with whom he had been talking, amongst other things, about the Rainhill murders (a notorious series of murders in 1891).  As the train left Shipley station, Hood said he got up to close the carriage window and whilst he was doing this he was attacked from behind.  His fellow passenger forced some drug into his mouth which made him feel faint.  He was then thrown down on to the floor where his assailant took his watch.  As it was of little value the man put it back in Hood’s pocket.  He then searched him and found a chamois-leather bag containing £37 10s. in gold which he managed to secure after a violent struggle, tearing Hood’s trousers in the process.  Hood was going to use the money to buy furniture in Leeds to furnish a house prior to his forthcoming marriage.

Hood said the train was at this point in Thackley tunnel and his attacker then opened the carriage door and attempted to throw him out onto the rails.  But Hood prevented this by keeping a firm hold on one of the seats.  Finding it impossible to break Hood’s grip his assailant jumped out of the train to make his escape, despite the fact that it was travelling at thirty miles an hour.  On hearing this tale the Stationmaster immediately sent out search parties and one group found an empty leather bag in the tunnel, about 500 yards from the entrance.

There was a follow-up report in the next edition of the Bradford Observer which stated that Hood had confessed to Detective Inspector Evans of the Midland Railway police that there was no truth in his story.  He admitted he had opened the carriage door himself and thrown the bag out. He could give no explanation for his conduct which had wasted a great deal of police time, as they had visited all lodging houses and other places during the night to try and find the culprit.  From the first, it was felt there were serious improbabilities in Hood’s statement, but his simulation of excitement and distress on arriving at Apperley Bridge was so apparently genuine as to disarm suspicion.  The Stationmaster said Hood wept and conducted himself in a most excitable way.

Gussie Fink-Nottle

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