Leap for freedom on railway track

The escape bid sketch from the Illustrated Police News

The escape bid sketch from the Illustrated Police News

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Historian Kieth Johnson looks at a dramatic bid for freedom from yesteryear...

On the first Saturday of August 1880, the Bamber Bridge railway station platform was a busy place as locals and market people waited for the 8.20am into Preston.

Mingling amongst the crowd were a couple of known thieves who preyed on railway travellers.

When the crowded train reached Preston Junction station (later known as Todd Lane), a female, named Elizabeth Sharrock, who was in one of the third class carriages, complained to the guard that she had been robbed of her purse containing 25 shillings.

In consequence of her statement the train was searched, and in one of the compartments two suspicious looking characters were found, one giving his name as George Rossett of Lancaster; and the other that of George Brown of Manchester.

Mrs Sharrock, on observing the men, at once accused Brown of having picked her pocket whilst on the platform at Bamber Bridge station.

Although the pair protested their innocence, the railway officials took them into custody and placed them in the guard’s van.

The carriage in which they had been travelling was then searched, and the missing purse was found on the floor, but no money had been taken out.

When the train had run on about a mile and was travelling at about 20 miles per hour, Brown suddenly made a rush for the open door of the guard’s van and leapt right through. He alighted head foremost hitting a stone sleeper on the adjacent railway track and lay there stunned.

The engine driver, hearing an alarm from the van, shut off the steam and quickly stopped the train.

The guard and a passenger then ran back to where Brown lay and found him in an unconscious state, and bleeding profusely from his head. They carried him into the van and the train proceeded to Preston. Dr. Charles Brown was at once sent for to attend the injured man whom he found to be suffering from a severe fracture of the skull.

His wounds were at once dressed and he was removed to the Preston Royal Infirmary for further attention.

Rossett was given into the custody of the Lancashire County police, taken before the magistrates and charged with being implicated in the robbery.

The hearing heard that a memorandum book belonging to Rossett had also been discovered in the carriage and it had notes inside about their intended locations for street robberies and pocket picking.

Initially, there had been fears about the survival of Brown with the Illustrated Police News reporting that he was not expected to recover after a desperate leap for freedom.

Fortunately, thanks to the skill of Dr Charles Brown and the hospital staff ,he had recovered sufficiently three weeks later to appear at the Preston Intermediate Sessions before the chairman Mr. W. H. Higgins and a bench of magistrates.

Brown chose to plead guilty, but Rossett protested his innocence with a plea of not guilty. He claimed that he had nothing to do with Brown that day and that it was just a coincidence they were in the same carriage.

A detective employed by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway testified that he had often seen both men travelling together about the wayside stations along the line. The jury after a short deliberation returned a guilty verdict against Rossett.

The Chairman, in passing sentence, said Brown had already spent six months in prison, and that Rossett had served a three months sentence for similar thefts.

He also recalled Rossett coming before him a few months earlier at Salford Sessions when he was acquitted.

In his opinion, both men were a nuisance to society and as pick pockets they needed to be punished accordingly.

He then informed both men that they would be locked up, with hard labour, for 18 calendar months.