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From the Sussex Express, 29th May 1931



On Saturday night the level crossing at Beddingham, near Lewes, was the scene of a terrible accident involving the death of two young men and two sisters. The motor car in which they were proceeding along the road crashed into the level crossing gates at the moment when a passenger train was passing. The car was completely wrecked, the chassis being hurled some 25 yards and finally landing in the ditch by the side of the line. The four occupants of the car were instantaneously killed, their bodies being shockingly mutilated. The names of the victims are: William Edward Sharp, 18 of Cumberland Lodge, Preston Park, Brighton; Donald Stuart Arnett, 22, commercial traveller, of Braemore Road, Hove; Miss Kathleen Close, 24, of Lansdowne Place, Hove; Miss Pauline Beatrice Close, 16, of the same address.

The party were on the way from Brighton to Eastbourne and passed through Lewes, where they made a brief stop shortly before ten o'clock.

After a gentle rise in the crossing is approached by a fairly level straight stretch of road. A few minutes after ten o'clock the car, a two-seater with a dickey seat at the back, approached the crossing and apparently the driver failed to notice the gates were closed against him, indicating that a train was due to approach, until it was too late. When some 30 yards away, he realised his danger, as the skid marks on the road indicate that he must have jammed on his brakes and skidded along, finally crashing into the near side gate with terrific force.


At this moment the 9.40 passenger train from Brighton to Hastings came along, at a speed estimated at from 45 to 50 miles an hour. The engine struck the motor car broadside, hurling it along the track and smashing it into matchwood. The chassis finally landed in the ditch at the side of the line, some 25 yards from the crossing, and the remainder of the car was scattered up and down the line for a considerable distance.

Signalman J E Pocock, who had just come off duty, was a horrified witness of the terrible accident, and Signalman Albert Thomas, who had taken his place in the signal-box, ad made a desperate effort to stop the train, but was too late to do so. The engine pulled up 300 yards beyond the crossing.

The two signalmen, with Ganger H Sargeant, procured torches and proceeded to make a search of the line. In the ditch close by the chassis of the car they found the body of one of the young men, face downwards in the water and nearby was the body of one of the young ladies. The other two bodies were found on the embankment. All were terribly mutilated and it was obvious that death must have been instantaneous. The crossing gate was smashed to pieces, only the upper part of the frame work remaining, and the stout posts were snapped off at the base.

Superintendent A Waghorn and several other members of the East Sussex Constabulary were quickly on the scene, and the bodies were removed to the mortuary at Lewes. The police then set to work to establish the identity of the victims of the tragedy. In the wreckage of the car there was discovered a driver's licence bearing the name of William Sharp, Cumberland Lodge, Preston Park, Brighton, and this led to his identity being established in the early hours of Sunday morning, and the body of Mr Arnett was identified during the forenoon. Subsequently the bodies of the two young ladies were identified, and there were sad scenes as their respective relatives viewed their remains at the mortuary.

There was very little disorganisation of the train service, a gang of men from Brighton quickly clearing the line and temporarily repairing the smashed gate, but a considerable number of motor cars were held up on the road. On Sunday forenoon Messrs J C H Martin's staff, from Lewes, with the assistance of a number bystanders, extricated the chassis from the ditch, and took the remains of the car to Lewes.

On Sunday and Monday a large number of people visited the scene of the accident.


Mr William Sharp was the only son of Mr William Sharp, of Messrs Clark, Sharp and Co, coal and coke merchants, of Queen's Road, Brighton, who is a prominent Freemason and a superintendent in the Brighton Special Constabulary. He was educated at Brighton College.

Mr Donald S Arnett was a son of Mr G J Arnett, of Braemore Road, Hove, and was the Sussex representative of a well known firm of jam manufacturers.

The Misses Kathleen and Pauline Close were the only daughters of Mrs Close, a widow, of 28A Lansdowne Place, Hove, for whom great sympathy is felt in her terrible loss. Kathleen was a dress designer in London, and her younger sister, Pauline, had only recently left the Brighton High School for Girls.


The inquest was held in St Michael's Hall, Lewes, yesterday (Thursday) afternoon, when the Coroner (DR E F Hoare) sat with a jury of which the foreman was Councillor H W Walton. Mr C V Porter appeared on behalf of Mrs Close and Mr H Betteridge on behalf of Mr W R Sharp. The Southern Railway were represented by Mr Vernon Gatty, and Mr E Brownings, Divisional Staff Officer, NUR, Southern District, was present, while Superintendent A Waghorn represented he police. Great interest was taken in the inquiry, the the hall being half filled with people.

Dr J W McK Nicholl was the first witness called, and he described the injuries of the four victims, whose deaths, he said, must have been instantaneous.

George Charles Arnett, 24 Medina Road, Hove, gave evidence of identification in the case of his brother.

William Reginald Sharp, Cumberland Lodge, Preston Park, Brighton, said he last saw his son at 7.30 on Saturday evening, when he understood he was going to call for Donald Arnett. He left home about ten minutes past eight. He had been driving a motor car for about twelve months, and the motor car was his own property.

Replying to the coroner, witness said his son was secretary of the company of which he was managing director.

The Coroner – Did he know this road?

Witness – Thoroughly.

Herbert Dawes of Teddington gave evidence of identification of the two girls.

Sydney Albert Perry, a clerk, of 29 St Phillip's Avenue, Eastbourne, stated that at 9.55 on Saturday evening he was leaving the White Hart Hotel, Lewes, when he noticed two young gentlemen and two ladies enter a car which was pointing towards Brighton. Later, witness saw the car being turned round. A lady and gentlemen were in front and another lady and gentlemen in the dickey seat. Witness went down School Hill and the other car came after him. Before reaching the overhead bridge at the cement works, the car passed, without any warning, on the extreme right. It appeared to wobble from one side of the road to the other, and in a very short space of time disappeared.

The Coroner – Do you mean that the wheels were wobbling from one side of the road to the other?

Witness – Yes. The next I saw of the car was what was left of it at the Beddingham crossing. Witness added that as he approached the crossing gate the red light was showing and he pulled up five or ten yards from the gate. He saw the tail light of the train disappear in the distance and as there seemed to be some delay in opening the gates he put on his headlights, when he saw that the gate on the left was smashed.


The Coroner – When you were at the White Hart Hotel, why did you pay so much attention to these people?

Witness – They seemed to be a little hilarious. I do not want to suggest they were intoxicated but they were a little lively and in rather good fun.

Replying to the Foreman, witness said that as he turned the bend of the road the red light on the gate was visible.

Mr Porter – What was the distance from where the motor car passed you and the level crossing.

Witness – I cannot say.

The Foreman – About a mile and a half.

Witness said he increased his speed and would be on the spot not many minutes after the accident. As he was going along the road he saw the train approaching the crossing.


John Ernest Pocock, the signalman at the Beddingham Crossing, stated that at ten o'clock the signalman at Southerham gave the signal for the 9.40 train from Brighton to Hastings. He looked out to see if there was any traffic in sight, and as there was none he put the gates across the road. That would be two minutes before the train was due to pass, and after closing the gates he gave the train a clear passage. Witness had his hand on the lever, waiting for the train to pass, and as it was at the home signal, about 50 yards from the crossing, he saw the lights of a car approaching at a very fast speed. He did not see it run into the gates, but heard a crash and immediately put the signal at danger. At the same instant the train came along and he heard a terrific crash. He did not see what had happened as the train had got in the way. The inside half of the crossing gate on the down side was smashed and was in pieces on the permanent way. He then saw the bodies of a man and woman lying on the down side apparently dead. Signalman Thomas, who came on duty shortly before ten and was in the box, telephoned to Lewes that an accident had happened. The train had stopped at the level crossing. Witness walked towards the train and on the way saw portions of the car in the ditch on the down side.

Replying to the Coroner, witness said the visibility was good at the time. The light was on the gate after the accident.

By the Foreman - The crash of the car into the gate and the crash of the engine were almost simultaneous.

In reply to Mr Porter, witness said the car was 15 yards up the road when he first saw it. He could not say whether he heard any application of the brakes.

Signalman Albert Henry Thomas said that after he got into the box at 10 o'clock, Signalman Pocock pulled the crossing gates across the road. Both the lamps were lit and the evening was dry and very clear. Witness was waiting for the train to pass when he heard a crash. He got up when the engine passed and he heard another crash. Pocock, who had run down to see what had happened, told him someone was hurt.


In reply to the Coroner, witness said he had been at the crossing for 21 years and did not remember any previous accident like that. He had never heard any complaint about the lights.

Replying to the Foreman, witness said the lights in the box would not confuse people driving along the road.

William Lelliott, of 31 Trevor Gardens, Glynde, another signalman, spoke of having cleaned the lamps on the Saturday morning.

Richard Niner, 80 Bulverhythe Road, St Leonards, the engine driver of the train, said he left Lewes at 9.59, and before reaching Beddingham crossing looked out and saw that the signals were off. He was then travelling at from 45 to 50 miles an hour. He passed the crossing when he found the engine jumped badly. He thought it had struck something, immediately applied the brakes, and brought the train to a stop in about 300 yards. He found the side step had been bent back, the overflow pipe bent, and the front headlight on the near side knocked clean off. The visibility was good. He did not witness the accident.

Thomas Betts, 2 Edwin Close, Clive Vale, Hastings, the guard of the train, said that before the train reached the Beddingham crossing he looked and found the signals were off. After passing the crossing the train pulled up sharply. As he was going down the train a signalman told told him that a car had run into the crossing gate and smashed it, and some persons were lying there dead. As the engine was fit to travel the train went on.


Sergeant G Chidley, of Lewes, gave evidence that some 26 feet from the gatepost he found the body of Kathleen Close, and 65 feet from the same gatepost he found the body of Arnett. In the ditch 60 feet from the gatepost they found the body of Pauline Close, and 9 feet from her body was the body of Sharp. Next morning he took measurements of the road. Sixty-seven feet from the crossing gate the near side wheel of the car entered the grass verge, and continued on the grass verge right up to the crossing gate. There was a skid mark apparently made by the offside wheel extending 39 feet right up to the post. That skid mark commenced 28 feet from where the car ran on to the verge. The road where the car ran on the verge was 18 feet 6 inches wide. The gates crossed the road diagonally. There was a triangular indication post 6 inches thick, which was snapped off at the base. There was no warning sign indicating the presence of the gates before reaching them. The lights on the gates were still burning. It was a clear night and the road dry.

Replying to Mr Gatty, witness said the gatepost was broken off and considerable force must have been exercised to break it off.


This concluded the evidence and the Coroner said there as only one merciful thing about the occurrence and that was that the four victims died instantaneously.

'I do not know what your views may be as to the anachronism of level crossings in the present days of very quick road transit,' said the Coroner. 'However, it has not much bearing on this enquiry, because they are lawful, and they are lawful on certain conditions, that reasonable precautions are taken to prevent accidents to road users. There is evidence that such precautions were taken. As regards the behaviour of the signalman, not only did he do all that was his duty, but when he appreciated that there was a special danger likely to arise as the car approached, he actually did a special thing and tried to put the signal against the oncoming train, but he was a little late and the signals were not seen. If they had been this might have been avoided. Every precaution was taken by the railway company.


'It is sometimes overlooked that the duty of drivers of cars is not only to themselves and their passengers, but also to the public in general. It seems to me that this unfortunate driver, by his lack of observation, not only killed himself and his three passengers, but also imperilled the lives of dozens of other people, and it is only by an act of Providence that many more people were not killed by this train being derailed, as it might easily have been. You have some evidence of the condition not only of the driver, but of the four people in this car. There is no suggestion that they were under the influence of drink in the sense that they were unfit to manage the car. They seem to have been in a happy and interesting frame of mind, and perhaps not taking very much notice of what they were doing. You have the man coming behind them, and who saw them rolling from one side of the road to the other. He sees the train, he sees the lights, and it remains a mystery why the other people did not do likewise. It must have required considerable force to smash through the gate and the post supporting it, and it may be inferred that the car was certainly out of control.

'If you think the railway company are free from blame, you ought to say so,' added the Coroner. 'If you have any suggestions as to the road, you may also, perhaps, add them. I asked the constable, and he said there is no warning signal on the road. There is in many places a sign to indicate a level crossing, and the erection of such a sign might add to the safety of the road.'


The jury deliberated in private, and on their return the foreman said:- 'We are unanimous in returning a verdict of 'Accidental death' in the case of each of the four persons. The railway company is in no way liable for what has occurred. We consider that each of its servants acted with very creditable celerity, and were prompt in the discharge of their duties'. The jury expressed deep sympathy with the relatives of the deceased. They trusted the accident would show that the time had arrived when some suitable road sign should be placed at a sufficient distance on each side of level crossings.

Mr Gatty, on behalf of the southern Railway, offered their deepest sympathy with the relatives.

Mr Brownings, on behalf of the National Union of Railwaymen, also joined in the expression of sympathy.

Mr Porter, on behalf of Mrs Close and Mr Arnett, expressed their thanks.

The jury gave their fees to the Police Orphanage.

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