On the last Wednesday of May 1853 a terrible accident occurred at the Lea Road station of the Preston & Wyre Railway that had opened in July 1840.
The following day an inquest was held at a packed Plough Hotel, Ashton, before the coroner Miles Myres and a jury of local gentlemen.
Details of the catastrophe that led to the deaths of Mary McCann, aged 18, a servant girl from Preston, and William Holden, aged 56, a manufacturer from Chorley, emerged as witnesses were called.
The jury heard how the six o’clock evening train from Fleetwood to Manchester consisting of 10 carriages arrived at the Lea Road station a few minutes behind schedule and a handful of passengers got off.
Unlike the other stations along the line, there was not a raised platform at Lea, but merely a recognised stopping point, although the station master was on hand when the train arrived, calling out and indicating the place to halt, and ready to assist passengers from the carriages to alight at the left hand side.
However, one of them, John Greenwood, a shopkeeper from Preston, who had business to attend to in Lea, got out of the wrong side of the train and on to the other railway line.
This prompted plate layer James Ballantyne, who knew an express train from Preston was due, to rush towards him shouting to get out the way. Greenwood being quickly ushered to safety by the plate layer who had run some 30 yards up the track to meet him.
Alas, this message was misconstrued by other passengers in the carriages who thought he was telling them to ‘get out’ as the engine, that could be heard whistling towards the station from Preston, thinking it was about to collide with their train.
Unfortunately, upwards of 10 other passengers dashed on to the track, only to see the engine heading towards them on the adjacent rails.
Fortunately, the majority cleared the track, but the two victims were struck down by the engine’s buffers and the express passed over them, cutting them to pieces.
A debate followed about the locking of carriage doors by the train guard, a fairly common practice that would have prevented the passengers leaving the train in panic.
The coroner told the jury that it was up to them to decide if there was any blame attachable to anyone that would constitute a charge of manslaughter.
It had been regrettable that the carriage doors had not been locked on the wrong side, but it was a practice often neglected due to shortage of time.
The jury then retired for a few minutes and returned with a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ in both cases.
They did, however, state that in future guards should be more diligent in ensuring carriage doors were locked to prevent such a tragedy occurring.
A comment that the attendant Mr. Blackmore, the traffic manager of the Leeds & Yorkshire Railway Company who owned the line, took note of.
The coroner expressed his sympathy to the widow of Mr. Holden who was left with a large family to look after and to the parents of Miss McCann, a treasured daughter who had been killed so tragically.
As for the Lea Road station, it was developed in later years with a proper platform and canopy and it remained in service until May1938, when it was closed to passengers.