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8th July 1870

extracted adapted from the report by W. Yolland Colonel

A collision occurred on the 8th July, 1870, close to Sydenham station of the the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, 

between two passenger trains; 33 passengers have complained of having been injured, one of number seriously; and the guard 

(C. Coomber) of one of the trains jumped out of his van, was run over by the most of the train carriages of one of the trains, and 

was so severely injured by having legs fractured, that died in hospital under amputation; and the guard of the other train was a 

good deal shaken.

Sydenham is situated on the main line of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, 6 1/2 miles from London Bridge 

station. The next station to the south is at Penge, 52 chains from Sydenham, and a branch line from the Crystal Palace joins the 

main line at Sydenham, the up line joining the up Croydon line about 180 yards south of the Sydenham signal box. The branch 

to the Crystal Palace is one mile and five chains in length, and there is an intermediate signal box, called Bank Top, between 

Sydenham and the Crystal Palace, 1,084 yards from Sydenham signal box.

Sydenham station is well protected with signals as regarding the up traffic. There are station signals over the signal box for each 

line of way, and two stop signals, placed beside each other, between the up Croydon and the up Crystal Palace lines, for those 

line, 171 yards south of the junction points, or 352 yards south of the signal box. The up distant signal for the Croydon line is 

820 yards south of the signal box, or 468 yards south of the up stop signal, and the up distant signal for the Crystal Palace line is 

951 yards from the signal box, or 599 yards south of the up stop signal.

The Sydenham up distant signal for the Croydon line can be seen from an engine while standing alongside of the up platform at 

Penge station, at a distant signal for the Crystal Palace line can be seen from the engine of an up train for upwards of 300 yards 

before it is reached.

The Crystal Palace up lines falls towards Sydenham on an incline of 1 in 60 for a length of 50 chains, succeeded by an incline of 

1 in 103 for a length of 20 1/4 chains to the junction; while the Croydon line is on a falling gradient of 1 in 660 towards 


The traffic south of Penge, and as far as Bank Top signal box, is worked with the assistance of the electric telegraph, and on 

portions of the company’s lines on the absolute block system, but between Penge and Sydenham and Bank Top and Sydenham 

the absolute block system is not in force, as up trains are permitted to approach Sydenham station on the up Croydon and up 

Crystal Palace at the same tine, dependence being wholly placed on the driver’s obeying the indications of the out of door 

signals; in this instance, distant and stop signals, which are so locked in the signal box that “all right” signals cannot be given 

for trains to proceed on the both these lines at the same time. When they are at “all right” for a Crystal Palace up train, they 

must be at “ anger” for a Croydon up train, and vice versa.

In the company’s book of regulations, page 17, rule 32 states as follows: “They (distant signals) must be worked strictly in 

conjunction with the semaphore signals: that is to say, whenever a “stop signal” is shown at a semaphore post the distant signal 

must show stop likewise.

33. Drivers and guards are required to pull up  their trains at the distant signals when at stop; having done so, they must, without 

moment’s delay, more gently forward, as far as the road may be clear, to await a signal from the semaphore to proceed; and to 

be within the distant signal as far as possible for protection against following trains.

According to the statement of the signalman on duty in the Sydenham signal box (Judge), confirmed in all respects by the lad 

who works the telegraph and makes the record in the signal book, he received a telegraphic signal from Bank Top signal box, by 

four rings of a bell, for a Crystal Palace up passenger train at 1h. 31m. p.m., and a similar signal was received from Penge 

station, by one ring on another instrument (while the four rings were being given), for an up train on the Croydon line. At this 

time all his signals were at danger, and he set the points right for a train to come out of the Crystal Palace line, pointed off the 

up stop and up distant signals, as were as the up semaphore signal over his box for that line, and also the Sydenham up starting 

signal, as the Crystal Palace train was a through train, and not intended to stop at Sydenham station.

I should explain that the setting of the points right for an up train to come out from the up Crystal Palace line prevents any of the 

up signals for the Croydon line being taken off; they must, when the points are to be remain as “danger.” I should also remark 

that the Crystal Palace train was three or four minutes behind its proper time; and the signalman says that when the two 

telegraphic signal bells rang out together, the telegraph lad asked him which train he remained to stop to go first, and he 

answered, “The Palace train and then she will be clear of the Croydon without delay.” He says also, “ hat as soon as the Crystal 

Palace train passed the up distant signal, he was watching for both trains, but did not know which he saw first; he noticed that 

the Crystal Palace train appeared to be drawing up at sharp as it could even when he found that the Croydon train did not stop 

he threw up the Crystal Palace up stop signal to danger in the face of the Crystal Palace train before it passed it.

The two train came into collision with each other some 155 yards more or inside of the up stop signal; the engine and tender and 

two carriages of the Crystal Palace train were thrown of the rails to the left, and about six carriages of the Croydon train, which 

was in advance of the Crystal Palace train, which ran into it, were also thrown off the rails; but very little damage was done to 

the rolling stock, although no less than 11 carriages were slightly damaged. The head gard of the Crystal Palace train, seeing 

that a collision was imminent out of his van at the front part of the train, as he was passing the stop signal, and fell in some way 

or other with his legs across the rails. Had he remained in his van it is probable that he would not have been seriously injured.

The two trains which this came into collision were the 1h. 5m. p.m. passenger train from Victoria to Crystal Palace and thence 

to London Bridge, and the 12h. 40m. p.m. passenger train from Epsom Downs through Croydon also to London Bridge. As 

already signal the former runs through Sydenham station without stopping and the latter is due to leave Sydenham after 

stopping at 1h. 32m. at which time the collision is said to have taken place.

It is very long since I have met with statements which are so directly contradictory of each other in reference to the 

circumstances which precede this collision.

The Crystal Palace train consisted of engine and tender and 11 vehicles including two third class break carriages and two 

guards, one riding in the break carriage next to the tender, and the other with three carriages behind it. The Croydon train 

consisted of an engine and tender and 10 vehicles including two breaks with two guards, one riding immediately behind the 

tender, and the other in the sixth vehicles from the tender, with four carriage behind the break.

I have already stated the evidence of the signalman and telegraph lad in the Sydenham signal box with reference to the up 

signals, and I should now add that the driver and fireman and under guard of the Crystal Palace train, the head guard having 

been killed, all state that the up distant and up stop signals were at “all right” for that train to proceed through Sydenham station, 

when they first came in sight of these signals; that a signalman who was walking up the line from Penge in order to relieve the 

signalman in the Sydenham signal box, observed the signals pulled off for the Crystal Palace train, and at danger against the 

Croydon train; he was near the Penge down distant signal at the time, and he heard the Croydon train starting from Penge, and 

when it had nearly reached him he thought the steam would be shut off; but finding that was not done, he held up his arms and 

called out in order to attract attention; he was about 20 yards south of the stop signals when he called out, and there were four 

men on the Croydon engine, three were standing up, and one was sitting on the tender; this man jumped down and ran to the 

break, and the regular fireman went to the break immediately afterwards, and the steam was shut off immediately after the train 

passed him. This signalman also observed the Crystal Palace train approaching, and after the Croydon train passed him, there 

was a good deal of whistling, first from one engine and then from the other. He is positive that the signals were against the 

Croydon train all the way from Penge.

The signalman at Penge notice that the Sydenham up distant signal for the Croydon line was at danger when the Croydon train 

reached that station, but he did not observe it when it left, after waiting not more than a minute.

The signalman at the Bank Top, and a platelayer employed on the Crystal Palace branch observed that the Sydenham up distant 

signal for the Crystal Palace line was off, for the Crystal Palace train to proceed; while a ganger of plate layer on the line 

between Sydenham and Penge, the head porter, and another porter at Sydenham all speak to the signals being right for the 

Crystal Palace train, and at danger against the Croydon train. The ganger ran towards the Croydon train, held up his hands, and 

threw gravel on the rails, in order to facilitate the train stopping; and the second porter who was standing on the up platform 

waiting for the Croydon train, when he heard the signals over the signal box drop, looked up and saw that the bottom signal for 

the Crystal Palace train was the one that had been lowered to all right and the stop signal for the same line was also down, and 

neither train was in sight at this time.

Such is the testimony in favour of the signals being as all right for the Crystal Palace train, and at danger against the Croydon 


The driver, fireman, and two guards of the Croydon train all positively state that the Sydenham up distant signal for the Croydon 

line was at all right for the train to proceed before they left the Penge platform. The driver and the two guards also state that the 

Sydenham up stop signal was at all right for them to proceed when they came in sight of it. The driver says that as he was 

approaching the stop signals in fact  close to them, the one for the Croydon line was rated to danger and the Crystal Palace one 

lowered to all right. The two guards also state that the Croydon stop signal was placed at danger box do not say that they saw it 

raised; while the fireman says that he was attending to the fire after leaving Penge, until the driver called out, notice and then he 

looked up and saw both stop signals at danger.

It appears that another driver and fireman got on the Croydon engine at West Croydon for the purpose of going to New Cross to 

go on duty and this driver states that he can say nothing about the signals, as he sitting in a position in which he could not see 

them; but when they were approaching Sydenham he observed a plate layer holding up his hands, this was the ganger of the 

platelayers, and he told the driver of the engine to hold on, he wants you to stop and then he looked round, and saw the Crystal 

Palace train coming down the bank and that the driver of the Croydon engine go ahead  and the steam was turned off to try and 

get the Croydon train clear of the Crystal Palace train. The second fireman also could not speak as to the signals, but he 

observed the signalman who was walking up the line from Pengeheld up his arms, and he jumped down from where he was 

sitting, and began to apply the break. It further appears that the driver of the Crystal Palace train endeavoured to stop short of 

the fouling point, while the driver of the Croydon train put on steam and tried to get clear of the Crystal Palace train. The 

evidence is conflicting as to the speed at which the two trains were approaching the junction, and the statements vary from 15 to 

30 miles an hour.

On the evidence places before me, I have arrive at the conclusion that the signals were at all right for the Crystal Palace train to 

run through Sydenham station, and at danger against the Croydon train; and, in consequence, I should say that the collision was 

entirely due to the neglect of the company’s servants in charge of the Croydon train.

Rule No. 33, which I have quoted, is not very clearly expressed, but as I read it, the Croydon train should have been stopped at 

Sydenham up distant signal, and then without a moment’s delay moved gently forward, as far as the road may be clear, to await 

a signal from the semaphore to proceed. But, from all that I can ascertain, I believe this rule is seldom if ever obeyed. Had it 

been obeyed on this occasion the collision would not have occurred.

In the same manner, it is probable that the collision would not have occurred if the absolute block telegraph system of working 

had been in force between Sydenham and Penge, and Sydenham and Bank Top signal box. It probably would have been avoided 

if the two trains had been furnished with a larger proportion of break power by means of continuous breaks worked from the 

two break vans in each trains; and I think it likely that the signals would not have been passed in the reckless manner which they 

appear to have been by the Croydon train if only the regular driver and fireman had been on the engine, as a much better look 

out ahead would then have been kept.

Rule No.110 says, No one, except the proper engine driver and fireman, is to be allowed to ride on the engine or tender, without 

leave in writing from the secretary, the resident engineer, the locomotive superintendent, or the traffic manager. For every 

infraction of this rule the engine driver will be punished by a fine of twenty shillings if the person riding on the engine is in age 

service of the company, or by dismissal if he is a stranger.

But the rule is no longer obeyed, as engine drivers and fireman proceeding to a station for the purpose of going on duty are 

allowed to ride on the engine.

The head guard of the Croydon train gave in his resignation of the Company’s service on the 9th instant, the day after the 

collision happened. His reason for resigning was that this affair had upset him altogether, and that the number of hours which he 

was required to work were too long, amounting, sometimes for two or three days consecutively, to 18 hours a day; although for 

six or seven hours he would be unoccupied at the Crystal Palace, and although he would be paid for the extra hours.

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