Posted: Fri 2nd Sep 2022

100 years ago this week 4 railway workers were killed in a tragic accident in Flintshire

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Sep 2nd, 2022

This week is the centenary of the death of four railway workers who were killed in a tragic accident in Flintshire.

The four, led by Alfred Jones, were working on one of the main lines, just west of Holywell Junction station, on the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) where they were going to change some of the track.

According to a report by Ministry of Transport inspector JAA Pickard, at about 1.40pm on September 1, 1922, the Irish Mail approached, so they stood clear of that line.

Unfortunately, they stood between the tracks on the adjacent line ‘where they were all run down and instantly killed’ by the passenger train from Rhyl to Chester.

This service was running alongside the Irish Mail ‘the steam from which was blowing across its path, and must have hidden it from the view of the platelayers.’

Research project

The tragedy came to light as a part of a project looking at accidents to British & Irish railway staff before 1939.

Researchers are now looking for descendants of the men to find out more about them.

The University of Portsmouth, the National Railway Museum (NRM) and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick (MRC) are undertaking a joint initiative called Railway Work, Life & Death project.

The project is researching and publishing data about railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland from the late 1880s to 1939.

A blog published this week by Dr Mike Esbester, a senior lecturer in history at Porstmouth Univesity, details what happened to the men.

Dr Esbester said, “Normally at this (Holywell) location the men would have had a clear line of sight for over a mile.”

“This probably partially accounts for the fact that the men were working without a look-out – that is, one of the team dedicated to keeping watch for approaching trains.”

Dr Esbester said that in similar cases, “there were other very strong reasons why the men didn’t appoint a look-out.”

“As the LNWR would not have been provided with an additional man for the role, they would have had to have taken one of their team of 4 from the work.”

“The Company wouldn’t have allowed them extra time to do the work, however, so there was a strong incentive not to appoint a look-out.”

The Flintshire County Herald (8 September 1922) reported that no-one was aware of the accident until one of the bodies was discovered.

At that point the station staff were all called out, recovering the bodies and placing them in one of the waiting rooms.

Posed LNWR safety image, showing a similar issue to the one at Holywell Junction.

Later that afternoon two senior Company representatives visited the location to make internal enquiries.

The coroner’s inquest was opened on the following day, and included representation from the LNWR and the two main trades unions involved, ASLEF (for the loco crew) and the National Union of Railwaymen.

The Coroner noted that no accident had occurred in the district for over 25 years that had killed more than 2 people.

After expressing sympathy for those affected, he adjourned the inquest.

The four men

The four who died were: Alfred Jones was the ‘Ganger’ – meaning he was in charge of the group of men involved in the accident. He was born in 1872, in Bagillt (close to Holywell). When he was aged around 21 he married Louisa (probably nee Probert, born in Chester, around 1873).

Richard Jones, He was born around 1888 to John and Caroline Jones. Richard was still living with his parents on the 1921 census, at Level Cottage, Holywell. His mother was listed as undertaking ‘home duties,’ and his father as a general labourer for Courtaulds silk works in Flint. Richard was a platelayer for the LNWR

Daniel Roberts was born in 1887 in Holywell. In 1907 he married Margaret (Maggie) Jane Howell. By 1911 they had two children, John Hugh (1909) and Ethel May (1910). At this point Daniel was a farm labourer.

Josiah Jones was born in Whitford, Flintshire, in 1881, to Owen, a carpenter, and Elizabeth. He had an elder brother, John (c.1877), and several younger brothers and sisters.

Funeral

Details of the funeral were published by the Flintshire County Herald, 8 September 1922, Dr Esbester’s blog notes that “whilst the four men attended two different churches, they were buried together, at Greenfield cemetery ‘amid every manifestation of sympathy and grief’. Several thousand people were reported as attending.”

“A short service was said outside the station by ministers from the two churches. The men’s bodies were carried by fellow track workers, from the station to a lorry ‘draped with deep black, relieved with white silk ribbon bows’.”

“The procession then made its way to the cemetery, followed by several hundred railway workers. ”

“When they reached the Welsh Congregational Church, Josiah and Richard were taken inside for a service in Welsh; Alfred and Daniel’s service took place in Holy Trinity Church. After the services the bodies were taken to the cemetery and interred in a single grave.”

Dr Esbester said: “As ever, the process of looking at these cases from our new project data raises more questions than it answers – so we’re always glad to hear from anyone who knows more than us about the men involved and their families.”

“In the meantime, hopefully we have been able to help remember the four men who died, and their families and communities, at the centenary of their accident.”

Dr Esbester added: “So far we don’t have any images of the men, and limited time has meant we’ve not been able to locate any descendants of the men.”

“We would love to be able to find any descendants, so do please contact us if you can help – it’s important that where possible we work with the families of those involved.”

You can contact the team here: [email protected]

[Main image: c.1912 LNWR Courtesy National Railway Museum]

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