WARE'S 1927 TRAIN CRASH

By Robert Candlish

Ware Station with its single platform
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Amwell End with the Level Crossing in the background
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

In fog at 8.49 pm on Monday 31 October 1927 (coincidentally the eighty-fourth anniversary of the station opening) Class N7 0-6-2 tank engine number 829 hauling the late running 7.18 pm [see end note] Liverpool Street to Hertford East train collided head on in Ware Station with Class F4 2-4-2 tank engine number 7182 which was departing on time with the 8.43 pm Hertford East to Liverpool Street train. Fortunately there were only about 15 passengers on the train from Hertford and around 30 or so on the one from London and no fatalities occurred, but a total of 21 passengers sustained injuries or shock. The four enginemen were also injured, two of them seriously; and the two guards suffered shock and were slightly hurt.

Two days after the accident the Minister of Transport ordered an official inquiry. This was conducted by Lt-Col Alan Mount CBE of the Railway Inspectorate who reported on Saturday 28 January 1928. Mount had served in the Royal Engineers during the First World War as Deputy Chief Railway Construction Engineer and later (but several years after he had investigated the accident at Ware) became Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways. His report uncovered a catalogue of irregular operating practices on the Hertford East branch which had contributed to the accident.

The Potential for an Accident

The potential for head on collisions at Ware, because of its unusual layout as a single track station on an otherwise entirely double track railway, had been recognised very soon after the line opened in 1843 and the Northern & Eastern Railway Act 1844 required the drivers of all Up (London bound) trains to come to a stop at the signal controlling entry to the station (the Home signal in railway parlance) regardless of whether it was showing “danger” or “all right” and await a hand signal from the gatekeeper before passing over Amwell End level crossing. This Act also legitimised the crossing, since it had been built contrary to the Northern & Eastern Railway Act 1841 which required Amwell End to be taken over the line on a bridge. The 1844 Act also obliged the company to construct Viaduct Road as an alternative route.

In 1927 the line between Ware and Hertford East was worked using Tyer’s Block Telegraph and between Ware and St Margaret’s Sykes’ Lock and Block control was used. The technicalities of how these two signalling systems worked needn’t worry us here, but failure to observe the operating regulations and special instructions for them contributed to the accident perhaps more than the fog did.

Although the line behind it is not normally regarded as clear until a train has passed a Home signal a number of special operating instructions had been issued by the Great Eastern Railway to signalmen at Ware including Instruction No. 354 , which cameinto operation at noon on Wednesday 21 August 1907 and included the following:

1. As all Up trains have to come to a stand at the Ware Station Up Home Signal (in accordance with the Instructions shown in the Appendix”) the Signalman at Ware Station may give Line Clear to Hertford Junction [sic] provided the Line is clear to the Up Home Signal.

2. If, after Line Clear has been given to Hertford Junction [sic], a Down train is required to leave St. Margaret’s, it must only be accepted under the Section Clear but Station or Junction Blocked signal, and in that case, if the Down train arrives in the Station and is ready to leave before the Up train has arrived, the Down train must not be allowed to start until the Up train has come to a stand at the Up Home Signal.

3. The Section Clear but Station or Junction Blocked signal must only be used as provided for in Clause 2 of this Instruction, and in the event of the Down Line inside the Home Signal being fouled for shunting operations.

4. If, after Clear has been given to St. Margaret’s for a Down train, permission is given for an Up train to leave Hertford Junction [sic], the Ware Station Down and Up Home and Distant Signals must be kept at Danger, and the Home Signal must not be lowered to admit one train into the Station until the train from the opposite direction has been brought to a stand at the Home Signal.

In his report Lt-Col Mount pointed out the scope for misunderstanding which these instructions and the 1844 Act allowed. For a number of years prior to 1927 Up trains had not been observing the compulsory stop before crossing Amwell End because the gatekeepers had been giving the drivers “all clear” hand signals before their train had come to a standstill. This had led drivers to believe that the regulations were solely designed to protect road traffic on the level crossing, whereas this was only one of their purposes. The other was to minimize the risk of two trains entering the station simultaneously from opposite directions and meeting head on.

The Train Traffic

In 1927 the maximum booked weekday service through Ware during a 24 hour period amounted to 26 Up and 28 Down passenger, milk, and newspaper trains; 4 Up and 5 Downgoods trains; and 6 Up and 4 Down light engines. All of these stopped at Ware. Movements were timetabled to approach the station from opposite directions simultaneously 10 times a day on Mondays to Fridays and twice on Saturdays. The potential for a head on collision was therefore high, since just over one third of all movements on Mondays to Fridays involved a train approaching the station when another was doing the same from the opposite direction.

Between St Margaret’s and Ware trains were also operated under a special set of regulations intended to prevent head on collisions at Ware, the most relevant of which were Regulation 3 and Regulation 5. The first of these permitted the signalman at Ware to accept a train from St Margaret’s on a normal “Section Clear” basis provided the station would be empty when that train arrived, and Regulation 5 permitted him to accept a train from St Margaret’s on a “Section Clear but Station or Junction Blocked” basis if there was already a train in his station when St Margaret’s contacted him or would be one there when the train from St Margaret’s arrived. These acceptances had to be recorded in separate columns in the train register and those under Regulation 5 were prohibited in fog or falling snow. “Fog” was defined in a notice issued by the Superintendent of the Eastern Section of the London & North Eastern Railway as recently as 6 October 1927 as conditions of visibility below 200 yards.

The Accident

On the night of Wednesday 31 October 1927 Driver Brown, Fireman Ford and Guard Brown on the 7.18 pm Liverpool Street to Hertford East were running about 14 minutes late when they reached St Margaret’s, where Signalman Burton was on duty and the weather was misty. Here an unofficial arrangement had grown up whereby the signalmen would warn a driver that his train was about to be offered to Ware under Regulation 5 by displaying a green flag or lamp from the signalbox as the train passed, which the driver would acknowledge with a whistle, failing which a porter would be sent down to the engine to warn the driver.

In his evidence Driver Brown was adamant that he did not see a green light from the signal box and neither did he receive a verbal warning. This left him under the impression that he was being sent forward to Ware under “Section Clear” Regulation 3. Fireman Ford was also emphatic that Brown had not been warned in any way that he was being sent to Ware under Regulation 5 (“Section Clear but Station or Junction Blocked”).

Burton offered Brown’s train forward to Signalman Turp at Ware at 8.39 pm who, even though it had started to become foggy about 20 minutes earlier, accepted it under Regulation 5 “because I knew the Up train would be offered to me shortly” he told Lt-Col Mount, and Brown’s train left St Margaret’s for Ware at 8.44 pm.

Meanwhile, at Hertford East Driver Capps, Fireman Mead and Guard Copeman  were preparing to depart with the 8.43 pm to Liverpool Street. The signalman at Hertford East offered the train to Turp at 8.42 pm, he accepted it and then received the train entering section signal for it at 8.45 pm. The scene was now set.

Capps’ train arrived at Ware at 8.48 pm, after running across Amwell End level crossing at between 15 and 20 mph without stopping and came to a stand in the station. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Viaduct Road bridge Driver Brown and Fireman Ford had run into heavy fog about three quarters of a mile from the station and had slowed to between 10 and 12 mph. “I was groping my way trying to find some ground marks; but I could not spot anything, and I did not know where I was until I shot through the bridge without in fact seeing the bridge, though I knew we were passing underneath it” Brown later told Lt-Col Mount.

Brown realised at once that he had passed the Ware Down Home signal without seeing it, applied the brake, looked out, and saw the now departing Up train directly ahead. Driver Capps on the Up train said he saw Brown’s approaching train at a range of an engine length; but his fireman, who was looking ahead, realised the situation first and shouted. He did not even have time to close the regulator before the two trains collided at a combined speed of somewhere around 15 mph approximately 4 yards on the London side of the Ware Up Starter signal and 11 yards from the signalbox (which was then at that end of the station).

The engines met coal bunker to coal bunker, and were badly damaged, but not derailed. In the Up (London bound) train which consisted of ten coaches the four leading ones were derailed, smashed beyond repair and telescoped, three others were also damaged. In the case of the Down train bound for Hertford East and comprising fourteen coaches, the two leading vehicles also telescoped, and six more were heavily damaged. The stock was gas-lit throughout and it was fortunate that fire did not break out. Damage to the track was only slight however.

An interesting factor in the accident is that for the engines to have met bunker to bunker Class N7 number 829 on the train to Hertford East must have been running the wrong way around for some reason. Normal practice on the Eastern Section of the London & North Eastern Railway, which was continued by British Railways, was that tank engines worked boiler first out of Liverpool Street, even if this involved turning them when necessary and bunker first running in the Down direction was very rare indeed. This cannot have made Driver Brown’s task in the fog any easier because all of the engine’s controls would have been behind him as he was looking ahead and his fireman would not have been able to help him look out for signals as he usually would (although Fireman Ford later admitted to Lt-Col Mount that he did not know the Hertford East branch well as he seldom worked on it, so may not have been able to avert the accident).

The Reporting

The day after the accident the LNER issued the following press statement:

“At about 8.50 last night, in foggy weather, the 7.48 [see end note] passenger train from Liverpool Street ran into the 8.43 passenger train from Hertford just as the latter train was leaving Ware Station. Several passengers were injured or complained of shock, but none was detained in hospital. The two drivers, one fireman and one guard were injured, all but the last named being detained in hospital. The engines kept the rails. Four coaches, however, were derailed, and five were badly damaged. Arrangements were made to convey passengers between Hertford and St Margaret’s by road. The line had been cleared by 4 a.m. today.”

Also on the day following the accident a reporter from The Evening News visited the scene and wrote:

“Ware Station, the scene of the head-on collision between two LNER passenger trains last night, looked as though some big shell had dropped on the railway just outside the platform with disastrous effects.

“Heaps of splintered woodwork, twisted iron, and broken glass lay between the tracks, and at different places on the three lines of sidings were six wrecked coaches.

The two engines which collided are in another siding a little further away.

They are still head-on to one another … one of them has lost its smoke stack. Its wheel rods are smashed, and the buffers are twisted out of shape and hanging downwards”.

The chimney-less loco which he saw was almost certainly number 7182, the class F4 2-4-2 tank engine on the Up train. The chimneys on these locos were almost three feet tall, making them very susceptible to damage and it was probably swept off as the leading coach over-rode the loco in the accident.

After inspecting the scene of the crash the reporter visited Driver Capps at his home in Buntingford to interview him. Capps told him “Driver Brown of the other engine climbed up into our cabin. His face was covered with blood. He asked if we were alright …”.

The Injured

All of the 27 people injured in the accident were treated on the scene by two Ware GPs, Dr Walter Stewart and his colleague Dr F Ellis. Eleven of them were then taken to Hertford County Hospital for further treatment and three were detained; the driver and fireman of the Down train (Capps and Ford) and the fireman of the Up train (Mead). Driver Capps of the Up train sustained a broken arm but was taken home after treatment at the County Hospital.

The Inquiry Results

Lt-Col Mount was lavish with his criticism. He blamed Signalman Turp and Station Foreman Smouten at Ware for not instituting special fog signalling procedures, and also blamed Turp for accepting a train from St Margaret’s under Regulation 5 in foggy conditions. When he compared the train registers at Ware and St Margaret’s he found a number of discrepancies.

For example, the 3.37pm from Broxbourne on the day of the accident had been recorded by Turp at Ware as having been accepted by him under Regulation 5 but was recorded by Burton at St Margaret’s as having been accepted by Turp under Regulation 3. Additionally there was no entry at all in the St Margaret’s register for a Down light engine movement immediately preceding the accident, which Turp had recorded as accepted under Regulation 5at 7.51 pm and arriving at Ware at 7.57 pm. Looking at the register entries for the period of a week before the accident Lt-Col Mount found that out of the total of 228 movements in the Down direction during that time, 59 had been recorded by the signalman at Ware as having been accepted under Regulation 5, whereas the corresponding number recorded at St. Margaret’s was only 16. Since Regulation 5 working only applied between St Margaret’s and Ware in the Down direction this was a very serious discrepancy.

Driver Brown on Class N7 number 829 was criticised for his handling of the train and his guard, who could have used his own brake valve to stop it if he saw it was passing a signal at Danger, for failing to keep a look out. Mount did though give Driver Brown credit for the frankness of his evidence and the calmness he displayed after the accident, for example even troubling to see if the crew of the other train were alright before he did anything else.

In his conclusions Lt-Col Mount wrote “Fortunately the accident had no serious results; but its investigation has brought to light certain irregularities of working, which, in the absence of untoward incident in the past, have been allowed to grow up. In an uncommon situation, such as this, where trains upon a double line simultaneously approach a short single line platform section, it would appear to be advisable to ensure, at any rate in fog, that both trains are brought to a stand before one or the other, according to the desired preference, is admitted to the single line. The case in question certainly illustrates the additional security which would thereby be afforded, such operation safeguarding the mistake, on the part of a driver, of over-running signals”.

Laxity of working practices on the branch can be inferred from the length of service of some of the key figures in the accident. Signalman Burton had 35 years service, all of it at St Margaret’s, Signalman Turp had worked for 29 years at Ware and Driver Brown had 35 years service, 16½ of those as a driver. Even though he seldom worked on the branch Fireman Ford had 10 years service, 8 spent as a fireman, and Guard Brown had worked on the branch for 7 years. None of them could therefore be described as inexperienced.

The Aftermath

Following the accident both locomotives were taken to Stratford Works where their repairability was assessed. Class F4 2-4-2 number 7182, which was built by the Great Eastern Railway at Stratford and had entered service with them in December 1908, was there for almost a year and did not return to service until October 1928. There was probably only a borderline case for repairing it anyway because of its age, which is why it was at Stratford for so long. It was finally withdrawn for scrap on 21 January 1931; a very short career, which probably didn’t justify the cost of repairs to begin with.

On the other hand, Class N7 0-6-2 number 829 was a much newer locomotive which had only entered traffic in February 1926 and was built for the LNER by Beyer, Peacock & Co at Gorton Foundry in Manchester. It was taken to Stratford for repairs on 11 November 1927 and finally returned to service on 9 February 1928.  In 1944 it was rebuilt as a Class N7/5, and was renumbered 9635 in 1946. British Railways finally withdrew the engine for scrapping on 9 March 1959, by which time it was numbered 69635 and had probably passed safely through Ware many more times.

The foregoing is an extended version of my article about the accident published during 2010 in The Bunt, the quarterly journal of the Buntingford Railway & Local History Society. That in turn was an expanded version of a piece published earlier by the Ware Society in their Newsletter. I am grateful to David Dent (author of 150 Years of the Hertford & Ware Railway, published by Rockingham Press in 1993) for his assistance with my researches for these articles and also the present one.

NOTE

There is some confusion about the Down train’s scheduled departure time from Liverpool Street. The LNER’s press statement, issued the day after the accident, states 7.48 pm, yet in the official inquiry report Lt-Col Mount quotes 7.18 pm.

It seems likely that the LNER’s time is correct and that given by Mount is a misprint. Allowing for the fact that the train was 14 minutes late at St Margaret’s, Mount’s time infers a 1 hour 31 minute run from Liverpool Street compared with the LNER’s 1 hour 1 minute (comprising 48 minutes travelling time and 14 minutes lateness, which appears reasonable.

SOURCES

The Evening News (1927): The Luckiest Train: Wonderful escapes in a head-on collision, issue dated Tuesday 1 November 1927 [unpaged]

The Hertfordshire Mercury & County Press (1927): Alarming railway collision: coaches telescoped at Ware, No 4848 Vol XCIII, dated Saturday 6 November 1927 [Page 5]

The Ministry of Transport (1928): Report of an inquiry into the accident at Ware on the London & North Eastern Railway which took place on Monday 31st October 1927, London, His Majesty’s Stationery Office

This page was added on 22/10/2011.

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