Mystery over death of Preston railway worker hit by train

Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at a the dangers of the railway in the Victorian era...

Wednesday, 28th November 2018, 9:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th November 2018, 10:30 am
The original North Union (or German) Railway Bridge where the accidents occurred

In the third week of April 1873 two incidents occurred some 300 yards south of Preston Railway Station on the North Union, or German Bridge as it was commonly called at the time of opening in 1838 by Thomas German who was Mayor of Preston.

These incidents highlighted the perils that existed on the railways. On the Thursday afternoon, at about 3.45, an alarming accident happened.

A goods train from the north having been shunted into a siding was returning to the main line, with the tender in front, the signal being down for a clear line. At that moment, however, the Lancashire & Yorkshire Company’s express from Manchester, due in Preston at 3.40, came up, the driver of that train also supposing the signal was meant for him.

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Unfortunately, as the tender of the shunting engine moved across the down line the express ran into it, travelling at about six miles an hour. The resultant collision was quite severe and the front part of the express engine was smashed in, disabling it.

Nearly all the passengers in the express were severely shaken with 13 passengers needing treatment for cuts and contusions mainly about the head and they were taken to the waiting rooms on the station for treatment, where medical assistance was provided by Dr. Brown and Mr. Howitt.

A number of them were from Chorley and the Preston injured were Mary Catterall, Mr. Tattersall and Lt. Col William Henry Goodair, son of John Goodair the cotton manufacturer. It was felt that a defective signalling system was to blame rather than any neglect by the engine drivers.

Just a day later another railway incident was to occur at the same location. At about 8 o’clock on the Friday evening a platelayer called George McCallar, aged 20, being killed in tragic circumstances. He had made his way down the North Union line from Preston station after enquiry about the whereabouts of his father who was a signalman at the German Bridge.

He was standing on the line about a dozen yards from his father, when an engine from Fleetwood came up and knocked him down, cutting off both his legs. He was immediately moved to the Infirmary at Deepdale, where he died shortly afterwards.

On the Saturday afternoon an inquest was held at the Preston police station, by the coroner Miles Myres. The hearing heard that the victim’s father was turned away at the time the incident occurred and did not see it. The engine driver claimed that he was travelling slowly and did not see the deceased until he was run over on a dark overcast night.

The Coroner remarked that it was a mystery why an experienced platelayer would chose to walk along the actual line knowing the dangers of such action. The jury after a brief consultation recorded a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’.

As for the earlier accident the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company was taken to court by three injured people seeking compensation. The hearing at the Liverpool Assizes in December 1873 found in favour of the plaintiffs. Compensation of £50, £220 and £2,000 being awarded, the latter figure to Mr. W. H. Goodair the cotton manufacturer who had spent months unable to attend to business.