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A dreadful accident occurred last Tuesday evening on the South Coast Railway, at the point where the Beddingham turnpike road crosses on the level. The circumstances appear to be these:- Mr T Ellman, the well-known agriculturalist of Beddingham, despatched his shepherd, whose name was George Payne*, with a horse and van to Lewes Station to fetch home a ram. He took up a fellow labourer in the employ of Mr Ellman, of the name of Charles Moore, who was on his way to his lodgings at Southerham. When they arrived at the Beddingham crossing the express train from London at 4.00 pm, and timed from Lewes at 5.18, was overdue some few minutes. The gate was shut across the turnpike road. The horse, however, by some means got onto the line, and the only account that can be got at as to the cause is given in the evidence of the gate-keeper at the inquest. The animal made down the line at a considerable pace; but not so fast, of course, as the train, which came on at its usual speed, and the buffers of the engine struck the cart with fearful violence. The result was, the men were thrown out and killed on the spot, the horse was killed, and the cart broken to pieces, some of its shattered remains being propelled by the engine as far as the bridge which crosses Glynde Reach. Happily, the engine and carriages maintained their position on the rails, or the consequences, most probably, would have been a fearful destruction to human life. As it was, the shock felt by the passengers was only comparatively a light one, and the train was only detained a very short time, while it was ascertained that the victims of the catastrophe were beyond all human aid. The body of Moore was thrown such a distance (130 yards), that it was not discovered (the night being very dark) till half-an-hour after the accident, and then it was found in a most frightfully mutilated state. Payne was thrown 58 yards. Both bodies were conveyed to the Trevor Arms Inn, Glynde.
* Editor's note: This is a mistake for Samuel Payne - see inquest report, below. It was not a misprint as several other newspapers made the same mistake.
Editor's note: all text in [square brackets] has been added to give more information to the reader.
The Coroner's Inquest was held at the Trevor Arms Inn, Glynde, on Thursday, before F H Gell, Esq. Mr Faithfull attended on the part of the Railway Company, and Mr Hillman (Messrs Auckland and Hillman, Lewes) was present to watch the proceedings on behalf of Mr Thomas Ellman and the friends of the deceased. Superintendent Jenner was in attendance on the part of the County Constabulary.
Mr Farmer, deputy-manager of the traffic department, was likewise present during the inquiry. The following gentlemen were sworn on the jury:- Rev W De St Croix [vicar of Glynde] (foreman), Messrs R Woodman [farmer, Great Farm, Glynde], Thomas Holmden [farmer, Glyndebourne Farm], H M Weller [butcher and grocer, Glynde], W Underwood [landlord, Trevor Arms], H Ockenden, W Medhurst [miller, Beddingham], H P Hart [farmer, Cobbe Place], Charles Briscoe [Master of West Firle Union Workhouse], James McLeod [head gardener, Glynde Place], Henry Saunders [carpenter, Glynde], and Herbert Morris.
The Coroner observed that they were about to engage in an enquiry of a somewhat painful character, as they were going to endeavour to discover as far as they could, how and in what manner two human beings were at one moment in the possession of life and in the next moment in eternity. He did not feel called upon to make any observations at this stage of the proceedings, because their verdict must be decided entirely upon the evidence that would be brought before them. All the evidence that could be obtained would no doubt be produced, and he had thought it right to have medical evidence for a reason that might appear hereafter.
The jury then proceeded to view the bodies which were near at hand, and upon their return the following evidence was taken:
George Moore, labourer, Beddingham, said - I have this day seen the bodies of two men lying at this house. One of them was my cousin, Charles Moore. He was a farm labourer at Beddingham. The other man was a shepherd to Mr Ellman; his name was Samuel Payne. Between 5 and 6 o'clock on the evening of the 29th November I helped them to put the horse in the van. Payne was to go to Lewes to fetch a ram. They both got into the van and drove off, Moore having charge of the reins. It was dusk at the time. The horse went off steadily. I have known the horse for at least a year. I don't know its age. It was a steady animal. I never saw any vice about him. He was not 'skittish' or given to starting at anything. I had been about with him a good deal. The deceased were both sober when left me.
By the Jury - I heard nothing of the crash. We heard the train stop quick about five or ten minutes after they left; I believe it was between the crossing and Beddingham Bridge. I cannot tell that it slackened speed before it got to the crossing.
Mr Faithfull - how far were you from the railway?
Witness - I was at the lower end of the cart lodge, close to Mr Ellman's house.
By the Coroner – I heard of the accident about half past six and went to the spot. I there saw the body of Payne, it was a short distance from the Beddingham gate, on the Glynde side near the hedge.
Dr Lewis Smythe deposed - On Tuesday evening, between seven and eight o'clock, I was sent for, and I came here on a special engine, accompanied by Mr Brook, the Lewes station master. The bodies were lying at the Trevor Arms. I examined them at that time, and have examined them again today. In the case of Moore there were several scalp injuries, the left forearm was amputated, he had a fractured right leg, and a severe wound in the face, the nose being very much fractured. There was no fracture to the skull. The injuries about the head were the immediate cause of death. Payne's ribs were extensively fractured, and the injuries in the chest were so severe as to be quite sufficient to cause death.
By the Jury - The bodies have not been undressed. The ribs lying near them now are the ribs of a horse, and not of a man. Payne is not lacerated, nor could I detect that his head is injured.
John Norman, an elderly man, who seemed in a very nervous state, said - I am employed by the Railway Company to keep the gate at the Beddingham crossing. The line from Lewes to Hastings runs over the turnpike road at the spot, and is on a level with the road. There are double gates on each side of the line. My duty is to watch those gates, and whenever a train is expected it is my duty to close them, so as to prevent any traffic from the road on either side. When no train is expected the gates are set open and the signal is put against the train. Occasionally, but very seldom, I close only one gate on each side. We use a flag by day and a light by night as signals to the train. I cannot say how far the signal can be discerned from my signal post. I have time-tables of the time all trains are expected at my gate and, according to Act of Parliament, we ought to stop all road traffic as soon as a train is due. But we are told by the head gentlemen to exercise our discretion to accommodate the public. The express train was due at 5.30 on Tuesday evening. I closed all the gates as I have done for eight years before. After I had closed them I saw a horse and van on the Beddingham side. Someone in the van called out 'Gate'. I went to the gate, and when I got there the horse came right up, and the shafts of the van came against the gate and forced it open. We fasten the gates with an iron hasp, which drops over the end rail. The horse appeared to be violent. If the other gate had been open he would have gone right across the line. I caught hold of him, but he got out of my hands and ran down the line. It was a very dark night, and I did not notice who as in the van. The express train then passed by at its usual speed. After it had passed I went to my neighbour, Edward Blaber, who went down the line. I remained at my post, and did not go down the line. I shut the gates on the Beddingham side. After the train went by I can hardly recollect what I did. I was in so much trouble. I did not see the bodies. I have no recollection of Blaber telling me that anything had happened.
The Foreman - Do you say the horse forced its way through that gate? - Yes, it did.
Mr Faithfull - You did not say the horse just now.
Witness - It was the shafts, I think; but it was so dark I can't tell how it was.
The Foreman - It strikes me that the fastening of those gates is such that if they had been right the horse could not have forced them open.
Witness - I don't think it could; I think it was moved by someone.
The Foreman - Can you tell how it was done? - No.
The Foreman - Now, is it not the custom, in coming from Beddingham to Lewes, to open the Lewes gates first? - Yes, sir, the furthest side always first.
The Foreman - But you did not do so in this instance? - No, sir.
Mr Faithfull - He did not mean to let them through. The horse, he says, pushed the gates open.
Witness - Yes, sir.
The Foreman - Don't you consider the fastenings a sufficient protection against a horse; this generally seems pretty secure? - Yes, sir.
He Coroner - How near was the train? - Very near. I tried to get to the signal, but I could not get the chance.
Mr Woodman - Were you in your box or in your own home when the van came up? - I think I was in my box.
Mr Woodman - Was the horse standing still when you first saw him? - I can't tell; it was dark.
Mr Woodman - But you must know whether he was still or moving about. - When they called out 'gate', he came against it, and I 'catched' for him.
Mr Woodman - Where was the horse when you first came out - close to the gate or a yard or two away? - Some distance from the gate; but I can't tell how far.
Mr Woodman - Could you see the train then? - I can't say, I got hold of the horse as soon as it got in.
Mr Woodman - Which way was the gate standing when the train came up - towards Beddingham road or towards the railway? - I always shut the gate.
Mr Woodman - That is not what I mean.
Mr Faithfull - Did the gate force in or outwards. In towards the the rail or not? - Inwards.
Mr Faithfull - Just so, that is what I understood.
Mr Woodman - But it could not have reached across the line? - No, no; it could not.
Mr Hart - I believe there is a stump which prevents the gate from going beyond a certain distance? - Yes, there is.
The Coroner - When the horse went down the line, did he go at a rapid rate or slowly? - Very fast.
The Coroner - Did he appear to you to be frightened when he went down the line? - Yes, very much so.
Mr Morris - You said, just now, that if you had had time, you would have turned your signal. How far was the signal from where you were standing? - I can't tell you exactly.
Mr Morris - Was it anything like eight rods? - I can't say.
Mr Morris - Was it six rods? - No, I should think it might be three.
Mr Morris - Have you examined the hasp since? If it was not broken open, you would soon see whether it was injured or not - Yes, it is all right.
Mr Morris - Just the same as before, then? - Yes.
Mr Woodman - How long was it that you closed the gates previous to the accident? - I did not notice.
Mr Woodman - Had you gone away from your signal box after you closed them? - Yes, I went indoors.
Mr Woodman - Then you can't tell whether anyone else opened them? - No, I can't tell.
Mr Briscoe - I should like to know whether if, after the train became due, you have any instructions to open the gates? - No, not after the train was due.
Mr Briscoe - Are there any printed instructions to that effect issued by the company? - No.
The Foreman – Have you any printed orders? - Yes.
Mr Briscoe - You said something just now that some of your head gentlemen gave you discretionary orders about it; is that true? - I have had no orders.
Mr Briscoe - You said you had some conversation with some of your head gentlemen, and the public would find fault if you kept the public waiting? - (Witness made no answer).
The Foreman - When a train is over-due I suppose you put up a signal to stop the train, if anything should want to cross the line? - Yes, we don't like to keep the public waiting.
Mr Briscoe - Is that in the printed instructions? - I don't know.
The Foreman - Have you any printed instructions here? - I have not.
Mr Farmer produced a copy of the instructions.
The Foreman - Had you the signal up that night? - I lowered the signal to let the train pass, as it was due.
The Foreman - Could the horse have lifted the hasp up with his head? - I can't tell you.
The Foreman - Did the horse come up where the hasp was? - It was very dark and I could not tell.
Mr Hart - Was it possible for for any horse to force that gate open without damaging the gate? - I can't tell.
The Foreman – Did you try to stop the horse by putting your hand in any way against the gate? - I can't tell, it was so dark, I can't say.
The Foreman - You might have done so? - Yes.
Mr Morris - Is there not a bolt as well? - Yes, but that is kept set up.
Mr Morris - Then you don't always let the bolt or spike down when you fasten them at the top? - No.
Mr Hart - Did you tell Payne the train was due when he called out gate? - Yes, I told him it was due.
Mr Hart - The horse must then have been standing still? - I can't say.
The Foreman - If anybody told you the horse pushed them open should you believe them? - (No answer).
Mr Hart - When did you shut the gate after they were open? - I can't say.
Mr Hart – How far were they open, as far as the stump? - No, not so far.
By a Juryman - Had any foot passengers passed through within a few minutes of this time? - I can't say - so many people pass that way.
The Foreman - They do not pass through the same gate.
Mr Hart - Do you recollect any vehicle passing through shortly before this van? - Not that I know of.
Mr Briscoe - In daylight, how far off can you see the train? - I can't say; very near the signal.
Mr Briscoe - How far is the signal? - Very near a quarter of a mile.
Mr Briscoe - Then would there be time for anyone to cross the line? - No.
Mr Briscoe - You say you have your instructions? - Yes.
Mr Briscoe - What rate would the train have to come to allow time to cross after it was in sight? - I can't say.
Mr Briscoe - I see these instructions say 'you must not open the gate if a train is in sight or due'. How could you in the face of this rule break through it?
Mr Faithfull - No; he had refused to let them through. He says if anybody comes and the train is overdue he must signal.
Mr Briscoe - Then what am I to understand by 'head gentlemen'.
Mr Faithfull - I don't know anything about 'head gentlemen'.
Mr Briscoe - Is he to go by the printed instructions in that book or the instructions from any other head gentleman; I should like to know who the head gentleman is.
Mr Faithfull - The rules speak for themselves.
Mr Hart - You mean that the rule about stopping the train is not in the book?
Mr Briscoe - It is not.
The Foreman - I don't know that we can ask this witness any more questions.
Supt. Jenner - Did you hear any reply when you said the train was due? - I heard no reply.
Supt. Jenner - Might the hasp not have slipped by instead of going over the top? Is it not necessary to be very careful to put it on? - Yes.
The Coroner - When you fastened the gate was it shut or not? - It was very dark indeed.
The Coroner - Are you quite sure the hasp was over? - So far as I know I did.
Mr Hart - Will you swear you did not put your hand on the hasp, with the view of letting them through, and that you saw the train coming? - No.
Mr Hillman - I appear on behalf of Mr Ellman, and I should like to ask this witness one question.
The Coroner - Certainly.
Mr Hillman (to witness) - Have you not said you had opened the gate about a yard when you saw the train approaching? - No, sir; not that I know of.
Mr Hillman - Not that you know of. Recollect.
Witness - I was so agitated that I hardly knew what I did say.
Mr Faithfull - In what shape does Mr Ellman appear?
Mr Hillman - As the owner of the property, (to witness) - Did you not tell Mr Ellman's nephew what I have just asked you?
Mr Faithfull - That's not the question to ask him.
Mr Hillman - I presume I have the right to ask that question.
Mr Faithfull - If you are doing anything you are trying to make this man incriminate himself. I shall advise him not to say anything.
Mr Hillman - Was the gate hanging over the down line or the up line? - The up line.
Mr Hillman - What height are the gates? - I can't tell.
The Foreman - Are they as high as you? - Yes.
Mr Hillman - Was the horse a short or high one? - I don't know.
The Foreman - Could you reach the hasp? - Pretty well.
Mr Hillman - Was the train overdue? - It was nearly due.
The Foreman - And not overdue? - I told the man it was due.
The Foreman - Can you recollect how long before that you put the signal down? - I can't.
Supt. Jenner - Did the horse hurt you? - No, sir, not much.
Edward Blaber, labourer, in the employ of the Company, said - I live close to the Beddingham crossing. On the evening of Tuesday, Norman came to my house and said there had been an accident, and he was afraid a poor man and a cart had been run over. I went down the line. I had no light, and I came against several things. I first fell over the remains of the horse, and 130 yards from the crossing I found the body of Moore. The guard from the train came to me, and after examining the man , who was dead, I moved him off the line. A man named Wickham came along and we cleared the line as well as we could. I was not aware there was more than one man killed till we afterwards found him as we were removing the other body to the Trevor Arms. I did not examine the gates after the accident. Norman told me when I got back from Glynde the horse took fright. I can't say exactly what he said; he said something about opening the gate. He said nothing about the horse forcing the gate.
By the Jury - I did not notice the state of the gate at the crossing. There were several persons there when Norman spoke about the gate. The horse was over 100 yards from the crossing. I did not notice where the wheels had been. It seems to me that the engine struck the man about 25 yards from the crossing. The gates are between six and seven feet high.
The jury then proceeded to view the spot and examine the gates. After they had been away about an hour and a quarter they returned to the room and resumed the enquiry.
James Steel said - I as the driver of the express train in question. We left Lewes about half past five, the train being a little late after its time. The train consisted of five carriages, namely two first class, one second, and two breaks. When we came to Beddingham crossing, going at the rate of about 40 miles an hour, I saw that the white light was on, which signalled that all was right. When we came to the crossing I saw something white in front of the engine and tried at once to pull up. The train passed over something. I stopped the train as soon as I could. Part of the tilt* of the van was left on top of our smoke box, and I cleared it away. I examined the engine, but found the damages were not sufficient to prevent our proceeding. We left the underguard there and proceeded on our journey.
By the Jury - I cannot say whether the horse was moving or standing still when we ran against it. It seemed to me from the appearance of the tilt, and its position on the smoke box, that the engine struck the tail part of the van.
John Bailey, sworn - I was the underguard to the train in question, and the Beddingham signal was alright. When we had passed the gate 200 or 300 yards several stones came through the break window. I thought something was wrong and applied my break. When I got out of the train I found a portion of the footboard of the second class carriage splintered off. I picked up several pieces of harness. I found the hand of a man close to the metal, I stopped the goods train that was coming down, and proceeded to Lewes, and reported the circumstance to the station master there. When I left the Beddingham crossing I saw Norman, and I said to him, 'It is a bad job'. He made answer, 'the men forced their way through the gate and the horse took fright down the line'.
Richard Chatfield, platelayer, in the employ of the Company, said he accompanied Blaber when Norman called him. This was about quarter to six. Norman said there was a man killed and he wanted assistance. He (witness) found both of the bodies. Payne was about 60 yards from Moore, and was lying in the hedge. An hour elapsed between the time he found the two bodies. He took no notice of the gate.
Mr Charles Peachey, [miller] of Firle [Cottage], said he drove through the gate before the express train passed. He thought the train was about due then. The gates were open both sides of the line. He saw a man near the gate. He left Lewes about ten minutes past five.
By Mr Hillman - Mr Berry was with me.
By the Foreman - Near the bridge he met a van or cart going along quietly.
By the Coroner - He did not hear the express train come down the line.
By Mr Hart - He had never noticed the gate thrown open towards Beddingham instead of across the line.
By Mr Faithfull - He had no recollection of meeting any other vehicle near the gate.
Henry Hudson, labourer, West Firle, said - I left Lewes on horseback about ten minutes past five, and reached Beddingham crossing about 25 minutes before six. The express train had not passed at that time. The gates on the Lewes side were shut, and one of the gates on the other side was open. I saw it was open when I was quite two rods from the crossing. Norman was standing at the gate and he opened it and let me pass. I met a van with a tilt on between Beddingham and the bridge. The horse was proceeding very steadily.
Mr Hart - Which way was the gate on the Beddingham side open, towards Beddingham or across the line?
Witness - Towards Beddingham.
Mr Woodman - Are you quite sure of that?
Witness - Yes.
Mr Woodman - Was the man opening the Beddingham gates when you first saw them two rods off?
Witness - No.
By Mr Faithfull - I passed Mr Peachey at Firle Crossways. The place where I heard the train was at Beddingham Post Office.
The jury wished to know the kind of horse that was in the cart and, at the suggestion of Mr Hillman,
Mr Thomas Ellman was examined - He said he had had the gelding nearly two years. His age was five years. He was the quietest horse he had on his farm; there were not the least symptoms of being forward or of any vice in him, and he was very tender in the mouth. He (witness) frequently sent him to the railway station; he was very quiet. In fact he had been standing in a meadow near where trains were continually passing. He was never the least afraid of a train, and when standing with his back towards a passenger train he would not even move his ears. He was 13 or 13½ hands high.
Supt. Jenner, in answer to the Coroner, said he had no further witnesses to call, unless they would like to examine PC Doust, who had inspected the spot and measured the distances. There was also a witness who could give evidence as to what the old gatekeeper told him respecting the cause of the accident, which was different from the statement he had made today.
The Coroner observed that if a witness was called to give evidence to incriminate the old man, they must first ask the old man whether he did make such and such statements. It seemed to him (the Coroner) that he hardly knew what he did say.
Mr Hillman said he did not intend to call any witnesses.
The jury expressed no desire to hear any more evidence, and the Coroner at once proceeded to read over the most important parts of the deposition. During this he remarked that what made the case the more singular was that the gates were not in the least injured; and in conclusion he observed that it was for the jury to decide what was the cause of the accident. They were to draw such a fair inference as they could. He would say, so far as the evidence went, there was certainly no moral guilt. The case, however, had better be in their hands for them to exercise their own judgement and give their verdict.
The room was then cleared to enable the jury to deliberate, and after the space of about an hour and a quarter, the reporters were again admitted.
The coroner remarked that it would not be be necessary for him to read the whole of their verdict, including the names of places, and the technical terms, etc, but the jury had come to the conclusion that the death of the two men was accidental, but they had thought it right to append to their verdict the following:- 'That in their opinion, if sufficient care had been exercised in the management of the gates at Beddingham crossing the unfortunate occurrence would not have taken place'.
This terminated the enquiry, which had occupied from one till nearly eight o'clock. The arrangements at the Trevor Arms were all that could be desired for the occasion. As the last train from Glynde to Lewes had long departed, anxious enquiries were now made as to the most convenient and ready way of reaching the latter place, that being the destination of the Coroner and several others connected with the enquiry. Thanks to the foresight and obligingness of Mr Farmer a special train was in waiting and, after a short precautionary delay at Glynde, the distance was soon accomplished.
During the enquiry Mr Faithfull complained that no less than three policemen had been to see the old gatekeeper since the occurrence and questioned him. He strongly deprecated such a course, and observed that the matter would probably not rest there.
* tilt - the cover or awning for a van or waggon.
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