Man assaulted woman on Lancashire train and threw her on rail tracks

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a near-fatal attack on a woman using public transport around 100 years ago...

By Henry Widdas, Communities Content Page Manager
Thursday, 19th December 2019, 5:00 pm
The assault in the railway carriage
The assault in the railway carriage

On the second Monday of March 1911 Miss Elizabeth Townson, aged 26, caught a late evening train from Manchester where she worked as a domestic servant.

Her intended destination being Ulverston where she was due to attend her grandmother’s funeral. At Preston the young lady changed platforms and boarded the North-Western express train that left Preston station shortly after 10 o’clock.

When the train stopped at Lancaster a man entered her carriage and after questioning her about her destination began to behave improperly towards her.

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She resisted his advances and warned him she would pull the emergency communication cord if he didn’t leave her alone.

Unfortunately, the stranger, who appeared to be drunk, continued to pester her and then seized her, throwing her down onto a seat. She struggled to free herself from his grasp and he almost strangled her as she made a spirited attempt to defend herself. Then as the train slowed down on the approach to Carnforth Station the man opened the carriage door and threw her onto the rails.

She appeared to lose consciousness for a few moments before she became aware of being on the rails. Somewhat battered and bruised from her ordeal she could not stand and her cries for help were heard by a couple of railway employees who carried her to Carnforth Station.

Her bruises were apparent and thumb marks on her neck were a reminder of the brutal treatment she had received. In his rush to flee the scene the attacker had left behind in the carriage a Manchester Regiment kit bag inscribed with his name.

A few days later ship’s painter James Molloy, aged 29, appeared before the magistrates at Lancaster and despite claiming he had never seen the girl in his life he was accused of grievous bodily harm. After hearing details of the incident the magistrates committed him to stand trial at the next Manchester Assizes.

He appeared before Mr. Justice Avory in early May 1911 and Alice Molloy, the mother of the accused, was amongst the witnesses. She testified that her son had lost the kit bag a week before the incident whilst visiting Preston.

His wife Winifred Molloy, mother of their four children, was also called and admitted her husband had arrived home on the night of the incident after midnight in a drunken state. According to the victim her attacker had a moustache, but Mrs. Molloy claimed her husband was clean shaven when he returned home.

When Molloy was called he stated that he had met a man whilst visiting Preston and that the pair had visited a couple of public houses. The man of similar build to himself had a moustache. After their meeting he realised his kit bag was missing.

He claimed that on the night of the incident he had been out drinking in Barrow and then walked the four miles to his home.

Without retiring the jury had a short consultation before returning a guilty verdict. A stern looking Justice Avory then addressed the prisoner stating that women must be protected from such outrages whilst travelling in railway carriages. He then informed Molloy that he was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude.