27th JANUARY 1887


Driver George Sargeant and his Fireman George Brown

Driver George Norris and his Fireman Arthur Holter  

Both depots unknown
extracted & adapted from the report by

C.S. Hutchinson Major General R.E.

A collision occurred on the 27th January, 1887, at Blue Anchor signal-cabin, near Spa Road station, on the South-Eastern Railway. In this case, during a dense fog the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company’s 6 p.m. down fast train from London Bridge for Brighton, just as it had got into motion after having been stopped at Blue Anchor signal-cabin, was run into at the rear by the 6.5 p.m. London, Brighton, and South Coast Company’s stopping train from London Bridge for Brighton. 

Fifteen passengers, all in the 6 p.m. train, have complained of injury.

In the 6 p.m. train-which consisted of engine, tender, and 11 vehicles, fitted through- out with the Westinghouse automatic break-the buffer castings and springs, side chains, couplings, headstocks, and break hose pipes in eight of the carriages were slightly damaged, and the train was separated about its centre.

In the 6.0 p.m. train-which consisted of engine, tender, and nine vehicles, fitted throughout with the Westinghouse automatic break-the side chains, break hose pipes and draw-bars of two of the carriages were damaged ; this train was also divided between the third and fourth carriages. No vehicles were knocked off the rails.

Blue Anchor signal-cabin is intermediate between Spa Road and up Croydon cabins, the former being half a mile distant towards London, and the latter 17 chains distant towards New Cross. In each of these cabins the working of the up and down main lines used by trains both of the South-Eastern and Brighton Companies, of the two up and one down line used by only the South-Eastern Company, and of the up local line used only by the Brighton Company (six lines in all) is carried on.

The only signals to which it is necessary to refer are the Spa Road down main line distant and home signals, situated 400 yards and 40 yards on the west side of the cabin and on the south side of the up local line, and the Blue Anchor down main line distant and home signals, situated about 400 yards and 15 yards on the west side of the cabin, and also on the south side of the up local line.

The Spa Road cabin is between the up and down North Kent lines, and separated from the down main line by the up North Kent line; the Blue Anchor cabin is on the south of the up local line, and separated from the down main line by the up main and up local lines. In each cabin a signalman, signal lad, and telegraph boy are employed ; the signal lad (under the supervision of the signalman) attending to the block telegraph instruments (of which there are 12) and keeping the train register.


I. Henry Dunton, signalman; 36 years in the South Easten Companys service, 28 years signalman. I have been employed in the Spa. Road box11 years, and I came on duty there on the 27th January at 6 p.m. to remain till 6 a..m., the heavy work ceasing at about 12.45 a.m. The usual spell is eight hours, but one of the three men working this cabin was discharged about fortnight since, and his place has not yet been filled up. There are six lines to attend to, two down and four up lines, and there are15 signal-levers for six home, six distant, and three starting signals. There are no point-levers. A signalman; lad works the block instrument and books the trains, and there is also a telegraph boy for the speaking instrument; I work the signal-levers. The signal post for the down main line is on the London side of the cabin, and separated from it by four lines of rails. When I came on duty a very dense fog had suddenly come on, and there had been no time for fosignalmen to come to their posts. The first train that passed on the down main line was the p.m. Brighton train, for which the line was clear to Blue Anchor. Both home and distant signals were off’ for this train, and I put them both up after the train had passed at 6.10 p.m. At this time the fog was too dense for me to see either the down home-signal or the train as it passed. The 6.5 p.m. Brighton train was given out from No. 4 box that a train had run past the signals there; this would have been 6.10 p.m., down Croydon train. Hearing this train coming I was just in time to stop it by shouting and showing the driver a red signal ; it stopped with the tail end just past the cabin, Directly the 6.5 p.m. train had run past, the signal lad telegraphed to Blue Anchor that it had done so, and the message was acknowledged. At 6.14 p.m. Blue Anchor blocked the down main line. The fog signallmen came on duty a.t about 6.20 p.m. For my own part I had myself rather work the block signals. I consider the block signals under my direct charge, though I do not work them. We sometimes have as many as eight or nine trains to deal with at one time very rarely more.

2, Frank Holdsworth, Signal Lad; four years in the South Eastern Company’s service, signal lad all the time. I am 18 years old. I have been five months in Spa Road cabin and I came on duty there on the 27th January at 2 p.m. to remain till 10 p.m. When I first came on duty the fog had lifted, and the fog signalmen who had been out all the morning had just gone away. The fog again came on slightly at about 5.30, and I first noticed it coming on thick at 6 o’clock; the fog signalmen returned at about 6.30. The 6 o’clock down Brighton train passed to Blue Anchor with clear signals at 6.10 p.m.; the 6,5 p.m. down Brighton train was 
taken on from No.4 box at 6.10 p.m., but the signals were kept against it as the previous train had not been cleared. It did not stop, but ran past. I could just see something passing at about 6.13 p.m. About 6.13 1/2 p.m. I sent a message to Blue Anchor, “train coming on down main line against signals,” the message was acknowledged. About 6.14 I received a block signal (6 bells) from Blue Anchor; just before 6.17 p.m. one ring on the bell for the down main line was received from No.4 cabin; Duntion said, “I wonder what that is for, but as the 6.5 p.m. train has run past you had better block the road.” I did so accordingly about 6.17 p.m., three minute after Blue Anchor had given the block signal. About 6.18 p.m. Duntion said, “Here comes another,” and by shouting and showing a red light he stopped the train when about half of it had passed the box. I saw this train. The fog was too thick to see the home signal from the cabin.

3. Charles Prickett, Signalman; 12 years in the South Eastern Company’s service, nine years signalman. I have been two years at Blue Anchor box, where I came on duty on the 27th January at 2 p.m. for eight hours. The fog signal men went off duty at about 2.15 p.m., on the fog lifting. It came on again suddenly at about 5.30 p.m., and the fog signalmen came out again about 6.45 p.m.; the fog had become very dense at about 6 o’clock. The 6 o’clock Brighton train arrived at the box about 6.12 p.m., the line having been clear for it between me and Spa Road, but I having been clear for it between me and Spa Road, but I had my signals against it, as I had not received “Line clear” from the Croydon box. The train stopped with the engine ad two carriages past the signals, and after having been stopped about two minutes I told either the driver or fireman, who had come back opposite to the box on the ground, that he could go on. He started aonce, and the last carriage was just opposite the box when the collision occurred at 6.15 p.m. About 6.14 p.m. I had received a message from Spa Road that a train had run past signals on the down main line; this was just before had told the driver to go on. The engine of the 6.5 p.m. train ran only a very few yards after the collision. The fog at this time was very thick, could just see the train from the box. A signal lad and telegraph boy were in the box with me. The signal lad works the block instruments under my supervision. should prefer to work them myself as well as the levers.

4. George Sargeant, driver.; 19 years in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company’s service, 15 years driver. I started from London Bridge with the 6 p.m. fast train for Brighton on the 27th January. My engine was a tender engine; and the train consisted of 11 vehicles; the Westinghouse break being fitted throughout. There was a dense fog all the way down from London Bridge to Blue Anchor. I saw the distant-signal from No. 4 box against me. I proceeded cautiously, and stopped at the home-signal till I saw that it was lowered ; I was unable to dee the Spa Road signals, and almost stopped nearly opposite the cabin ; I then got a shout and white light from the signalman, and went on towards Blue Anchor. could not see the distant.signal, and though saw the lower part of the homsignal post could not see the arm ; was going slowly and at once applied the break, and stopped the train when about the engine and break had passed the signal. at once sent my fireman to the signalman to know if the line was clear.He at once came back and said that it was all right to go on to the next box. started at once, and had just got the train into motion when I felt had been run into from behind. The blow was not very severe.stopped in 11bout a carriage length. The train was severed about the centre, and a gap left of about a carriage length. heard no whistle from the other engine before the collision. could not have been standing after had stopped more than a minute before the collision.Dunton recalled. I deny having given a white light to the driver of the 6 oclock train, or having shouted to him. My lamp was not alight at the time.I heard no whistle from the engine.

Holdsworth recalled.- I corroborate Dunton’s last statement.

5. George Brown, fireman: 10 years in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Companys service, nine years fireman. was Sargent's fireman on the 27th January. We started three minutes late. agree with his evidence, except that my train may have stopped two to three minutes at Blue Anchor with the centre of the front break-van opposite the box ; when the collision occurred the third carriage from the rear was about opposite the cabin. The train was separated for about a coach length.

6. Thomas Smith, guard ; 7 1/2 years in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Companys service, five years guard.-! was the rear guard of the 6 p.m. Brighton train on the 27th January. The train consisted of 11 vehicles, and was in the last vehicle, a third-class break carriage; from it I could apply the Westinghouse break. We started three minutes late, and went down slowly, there being a thick fog. saw no signals at all. We first absolutely stopped at Blue Anchor, and just as we had started after a detention of two or three minutes the collision occurred, when the last carriage was nearly opposite the box. I heard no whistle before the collision ; it took me quite unawares. was knocked down but not hurt. The engine of the 6.5 p.m. train was not close to my break, could not see it. The tail-lights were both alight after the collision, which occurred about 6.13 p.m. My train moved forward three or four carriage lengths after the collision.

7. Joseph Halsted, guard; 28 years.in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company’s service, 25 years guard.-I was in charge of the 6 p.m. Brighton train on the 27th January, riding in the break-van next the tender. We started three minutes late. I. saw the down home-signal at Spa Road showing a green light, but did not hear any shout from the signalman as we passed the box. I could not see the Blue Anchor signals from where we stopped beyond the signal-box. We had stopped about one minute, and had just got again into motion when we were run into. My break-van was some distance past the cabin when we stopped. 
The collision occurred about 6.11 p.m.

8. George Norris, driver; 24 years in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company’s service, 14 years driver.-I was driver of the 6.5 p.m. stopping train from London for Brighton on the 27th January. It consisted of a tender engine, running engine first, and nine vehicles, all fitted with the Westinghouse break. The leading and driving wheels of the engine were coupled. We started at 6.9 p.m., four minutes late. I saw the "A.B." signal and the distant-signal from No. 4 all light, also the home-signal for No. 4. I could not see the distant-signal from Spa Road. I was proceeding very cautiously, and saw the Spa Road home-signal three parts off, showing three parts green and one part red. I took this as an all right signal, and did not stop at the box to ask what it was, though the fog was very thick, and no fogmen were out. I then went on to Blue Anchor, did not see the distant-signal, and was running at a speed not exceeding eight or ten miles an hour, with steam oft’, when about 10 yards off' I saw the two tail-lights of a train in front near the Blue Anchor box. I had just time to apply the air break when 1 struck the tail of the train, which was, I believe, in motion. We did not go more than a carriage length after striking. The train in front stopped about half a carriage length oft’ from my engine. My engine was just opposite the cabin when I stopped. Nothing was off the rails. I have noticed the Spa Rood home-signal not working properly since the collision.I have not reported it.

9. Arthur Holter, fireman ; 11 years in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Companys service, nine years fireman.-I was Norris's fireman on the 27th January. 1.agree wit.h his evidence,· especially as regards the Spa Road down home-signal not working properly.
10. Augustus Barley, guard; 41 years in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company’s service, 39 years guard.-I was in charge of the 6.5 p.m. stopping train from London for Brighton on the 27th January. The train consisted of nine vehicles. I was in the rear break van, from which I could apply the Westinghouse break. We started four minutes late, the six o’clock train having been late. saw no signals at all on the way down, the fog being too thick. Five or six minutes after starting felt the train stop, and was not aware at first there bad been a collision. My train was parted between the third and fourth vehicles, where the screw coupling and Westiughouse break pipe were broken. There was about two or three yards interval between the two parts of the train, the engine of my train was just past Blue Anchor signa.l- box. My driver said the Spa Road signal was partly off as he passed it.
11. Edwin Croucher, station-master at Spa Road; 29 years in the South-Eastern Company's service, eight years station-master at Spa Road.-The fog on the 27th January had commenced about 7.0 a.m., and lifted about 1.20 p.m., when the fog signalmen commenced to leave duty. It came on again about 5.50 p.m. very suddenly, and in less than 10 minutes it was quite black. I at once took means to recall the fog signalmen ; some got back at 6.30 p.m. and others at 7, some of them living· at New Cross, Deptford, &c. I had last seen the down main line home-signal at about p.m., when I believe it was working properly, and I have not beard it complained of either before or since the collision, nor have I seen it working badly.


This collision, during a dense fog, between two down main line passenger trains belonging to the Brighton Company, was caused by the driver of the second train having passed the down home-signal at Spa Road, which signal both he and his fireman admit to have been a doubtful one (showing three parts green and one part red), without stopping at the cabin to inquire what the signal was intended to indicate. He must then have approached the Blue Anchor down home-signal at an injudiciously high speed, or his engine would hardly have struck the tail of the preceding train (which was already in forward motion after having been stopped at Blue Anchor) about 10 yards inside the down home-signal with so severe a blow as to cause a severance in each train, as well as a certain amount of damage. The fog was no doubt very dense when the collision occurred, and it had come on so quickly that there had not been time to re-assemble the fog signalmen, who had been sent home at about 2 p.m. after a fog, which had prevailed all the morning, had dispersed. The absence of fog signalmen should, however, have made drivers all the more cautious in their proceedings, and I am afraid the statement made by the driver and fireman of the 6.5 p.m. train was merely to excuse them for having passed the Spa Road down home-signal at danger without seeing it or without stopping at the cabin to ascertain what it was indicating.

The sudden occurrence of fogs, such as the one soon after the commencement of which the present collision took place, again draws attention to the great advantages to be derived from the general adoption of some thorough reliable mechanical or electrical system of fog (or, in other words, audible) signalling. The South-Eastern Company alone employ no less than 130 of their station staff and plate layers as fog signalmen in their London district, and the other companies having termini in London must also have large numbers told off for the same purpose. There is, of course, considerable difficulty in promptly assembling these men, as they live in many cases at some distance from their posts. They have to be taken from their regular duties, and are paid extra wages while employed as fog signalmen. I have great hopes that combined and vigorous action on the part of those railway companies, whose traffic suffers most from fogs, would lead to the introduction of some satisfactory system of audible signalling; this would both conduce to safety, would be a measure of economy, and would prevent the necessity of removing, during foggy weather, from their ordinary employment, large numbers of plate layers and others.

Make a free website with Yola