Compiled by Ivan Wilson & Paul Edwards



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the Brighton Motive Power Depots

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During the pioneering years of the railways, a number of Enginemen were killed or seriously injured as a result of their locomotive’s boiler exploding, whilst they were trying to maintain steam pressure. 

Below are some of the early accounts of these locomotives exploding. 



Engraving on a commemorative snuff box, made from the brass dome of locomotive No. 10 'Mars'


 17th March 1853




Brighton residents were dramatically reminded of the railway industry in their midst on 17th March 1953 when 'a loud report resembling the explosion of a large cannon' startled Mr. Craven (Locomotive Superintendent for the L.B.S.C.R.) as he was about to begin shaving. It came from the station, and witnesses reported that a mass of smoke and vapour enveloped everything, but as it cleared off it was seen that a large portion of the western most shed was blown off, and upon the remaining portions were fragments of an engine.' These were the remains of a a 'Rennie Single' tank engine No. 10 'MARS', whose boiler had blown up shortly before it was due to depart with an early morning train for Littlehampton. No. 10, said to have been cut down from a larger engine, had recently been through the works, and with the driver and fireman on this occasion was a fitter who was to watch its performance. All three were killed. an official statement quickly issued by the L.B.S.C.R. said that the Directors "had too much cause to believe that the accident arose from the driver having screwed down the safety valves shortly before the accident took place."

An inquested was held, and Craven was closely questioned by the jury over supervision in his works. No connection could be established between the work which had just been carried out on No.10 and the cause of the explosion but the jury was clearly uneasy about the number of changes that had been made since the engine was new in 1840. In a phrase giving a glimpse of methods, Craven explained that 'engines are like an Irishman's coat; they are patched and patched till they are nearly re-built.' 

Evidently the safety valves had been in order to start with. The assistant stationmaster had 'observed that driver John Young was standing up on the hand railing by the side of the boiler warming his coffee at the top of the safety valve, the steam from which was blowing off.'  Craven was further questioned about his encouragement to enginemen to save steam, which might have led them to tamper with the valve settings, but the line of inquiry proved inconclusive. On the other hand evidence from other railwaymen did show that driver John Young on that day had made adjustments. The inquest was adjourned after 6 1/2 hours. When it was resumed the next day the jury's verdict was 'that the death of the driver, John Young, was caused by his own reckless conduct in placing a higher pressure on the engine than it was fitted to bear.' Driver John Young was found guilty of manslaughter in causing the deaths of two colleagues on the footplate. All members of the jury concurred in and recommendation that 'in future a more frequent and rigid examination be made of the locomotive engines.'


  The Power Of The Naked Flame 

On the morning of the 8th February, 1858, the local air temperature at Caterham Junction was only 16-F. 'Sharp Brothers Singles' Engine No. 37 was leaving London Bridge at 6 a.m., with the Brighton Parliamentary train, (this train was assisted from the rear up New Cross bank, by a 'R. B. Longridge & Co. Goods loco.'  No. 101.  No. 37, stopped at Caterham station with both safety valves gently lifting. A few moments later the firebox collapsed with an enormous explosion, which killed the fireman instantly, but left the driver untouched, although quite naked except for his working boot and socks.


 Boiler Explosion at Ashcombe

3rd October 1859

Involving Brighton Enginemen 

Driver James Jones and his Fireman John Oliver.

& Driver, Charles Redding and his Fireman Henry Temple

The explosion of No.108, locomotive goods engine of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, which occurred upon the Falmer incline near Lewes on the evening of Monday 3rd October, 1859. The engine, with six wheels coupled, and weighing 25 tons, was received from Messrs. Longridge in June, 1848. For the last two years it had been housed at Eastbourne for duty as a ballasting engine upon the eastern branches of the L.B.&S.C.R., and its principal employment had been upon the  Falmer incline taking chalk from a spot upon the incline to some new works beyond Lewes, and returning with loads of ballast for the permanent way.

About a month before the explosion the engine had a tire loose, and had to be sent to the Brighton shops.

The goos traffic at that time is said to have been particularly heavy after the hop season, and the engine, when repair, instead of being returned to Eastbourne, was retained temporarily at Brighton to assist in the goods traffic to and from Brighton upon the eastern branches.

A new driver, James Jones, of experience upon other railways was put to the engine, and it had been at work about a week with goods traffic, when it exploded, whilst brining a heavy goods train up Falmer incline.

This incline rises 1 in 88 for a distance of 4 miles from Lewes towards Brighton and from its summit level there is a further distance of about 4 miles to Brighton with a falling gradient.

It has been the practice, especially on Monday when the goods trains from Lewes are generally heavy, to send to the Brighton yard engine to Lewes t oasis the goods trains up Falmer incline.

The Brighton yard engine was in attendance at Lewes. Engine No. 108 was taking the pick-up goods train from Newhaven to Brighton, and after shunting about Lewes station for about 3/4 of an hour it started up the incline with the goods train, was a very heavy one, consisting of 46 trucks, which left the station shortly after 9.0 p.m., drawn by R. B. Longridge & Co. Goods loco.' No. 108, and worked by driver James Jones and his fireman John Oliver. The train was propelled at the hind most extremity by another 'R. B. Longridge & Co. Goods loco.'  Engine No. 50, worked by driver, Charles Redding and his fireman Henry Temple, this was owing to the steepness of the incline from Southover to Falmer, necessitating this description of aid. 

On arriving at that part of the line situated some few yards beyond the first mile stone near Ashcombe, the leading engine No. 108 began to labour badly and slipped with the safety valves blowing off. The driver closed the regulator to ease the slipping and within seconds the crown blew off the firebox, and the ash-pan and fire-bars disappeared into the countryside. Driver James Jones, and his fireman John Oliver, were both thrown with terrific force to a considerable distance, with driver James Jones falling some 30 yards to the front, upon the line, and fireman John Oliver, being discovered 83 yards away on the right hand or north bank; the engine being driven forward, and finally whelming over across the up line, the tender falling in a transverse direction across the up line. A luggage trucked filled with pockets of hops, was next to tender, but owing to the propulsion of the train by the hind engine, No. 50, a cattle truck containing two cows was driven with such violence that it was forced completely over the hop truck and upon the top of the engine. The noise of the explosion was clearly heard at Lewes, and windows in Ashcombe House were rattled and cracked by the concussion.

Driver Charles Redding, on the hind engine, when hearing the explosion had shut off his steam, and was thrown on to the top of his engine, and his fireman on to the break wheel. After they had made their engine safe, they made their way towards the exploded engine were they found fireman John Oliver lying on the metals of the down road. They picked him up in our arms and put him beside the bank; they asked him if he was hurt and he said he did not think he was much, but complained of being cold. When John Oliver complained of being cold we took of our coats and wrapped round him. They then proceeded nearer to the engine and found driver lying on the metals of the up line on the left hand side of the engine. They asked him if he was hurt, and he said he thought his leg was broken. 

The force must have been terrific, there are unfortunately but too many proofs, both on the persons and in the clothes of the unfortunate sufferers. The coat of fireman John Oliver, was found during the night rent to tatters, little else than the collar and part of the sleeves remaining together. One of his waistcoat pockets had been blown away, and was found by Police Superintendent Jenner, on the bank, at some distance from where the sufferer first fell. In his was a pocket book containing the name of “John George Golightly,” As also a memorandum, singularly enough referring to some spot “140 yards from where the man was killed” – doubtless in allusion to some former railway accident.

News of the accident reached the residents of Lewes about 10.0 p.m., causing great excitement was occasioned in Lewes by the report that a steam boiler explosion had occurred. The catastrophe occurred near the site where Ashcombe Turnpike Gate formerly stood, and thither numbers of persons quickly bent their steps, only to find that the rumour was unfortunately but too true.

Assistance was immediately sent for; brandy was obtained from Mr Ingram of Ashcombe, who promptly repaired to the spot, and information of the catastrophe was despatched to the station at Lewes by the means of the hindmost engine. No time was lost in telegraphing to Brighton for aid; while Mr. Turner and his son, surgeons of Lewes, were at once summoned. But a very short time elapsed ere Mr. Brooks, the Lewes Station Master, accompanied Messrs. Turner, and by such force as could be got together proceeded to the scene of the disaster, in a carriage drawn by the hind engine No. 50. The first object was to render assistance to the unfortunate sufferers. On examination it appeared that the driver James Jones had received severe injury and contusions, but not to the extent suffered by the fireman John Oliver, whose legs were said to be broken, and one thigh smashed in the most terrible manner. 

By about 10.0 p.m., a train had arrived from Brighton conveying Mr. Craven, Chief of the Locomotive Department, Mr Saddler, his Chief Assistant, and a numerous staff of men. On their arrival it was decided to place the wounded men in a railway carriage, and conveyed to Brighton station and thence to the County Hospital. At first some hopes were entertained that life might be spared, but it was regretted to say that the injuries sustained by John Oliver were so extensive that he died shortly after his admission to the hospital.

Engine driver, James Jones, had only been as few weeks in the service of the South Coast Railway; having come to them from the Oxford were had been engine driver for 19 years on the Wolverhampton line, John Oliver had also not been long in their employed, but was an extremely careful and steady man, and attentive to his duties. He was well known in Brighton, where he has brothers, who are builders, and who, it is said, were with the poor sufferer in his final moments. 

The driver James Jones made a full recovery and ended his days with the company as an inspector.

Fortunately the injury to life and person was confined to the two poor fellows above named. There were two guards to the goods train, riding in the guard-van at its end, and neither these nor the engine driver Charles Redding nor  fireman Henry Temple of the hind engine appear to sustained any injury , although distinctly feeling the shock caused by the sudden check given to the train.

So soon as the train containing the unfortunate sufferers had been despatched, immediate steps were taken by Mr. Craven to clear the line. While the removal of the wrecked was going forward, crowds of person had assembled on the bank on the south side of the line, and these, with the numbers of workmen and others on the railway itself, were brought into prominent relief by the glare of the torches and fires, lighted for the purpose of enabling Mr. Craven and his staff to execute their arduous task. The first thing attempted was to extricate the cattle imprisoned in the truck mounted aloft on the top of the engine. Sledge hammers and saws were quickly in requisition, and in a very short time one side of the truck was cut away, and to the astonishment of all, the two cows dropped out quietly on terra fireman, and the fence being cut through. Walked coolly into the adjoining meadow, where they apparently unhurt, immediately began to graze! These animals having been rescued from their perilous position, and the cattle truck, being found to be damaged beyond repair. it was forthwith knocked to pieces, with the double object of disentangling it from the engine, and of affording fuel for the beacon fires, which it became necessary to make, it in order to enable the workmen to prosecute their labours. 

At about 11.30 p.m., a further train, bearing a fresh relay of workmen, with ropes, chains tackling, and appliances of every description, arrived from Brighton. Thus reinforced, Mr. Craven was enabled to make rapid progress with removal of the debris, and the mode in which the chaos which prevailed was gradually reduced to order seemed a marvel to those who, on beholding the extent to which the line was blockaded, would have been disposed to pronounce a clearance impossible within the next 24 hours. One by one, however, the trucks were disengaged, placed upon the rails, and removed, until at last only the engine and the tender remained to be dealt with. These, however, required the application of great power to effect their removal, as both had been thrown over on their sides. 

By five o’clock in the morning the down line was entirely clear; all the debris of every description had been removed, and the rails and permanent way restored to something like order. The engine however, at that hour still remained off the metals, blocking the up line.





27th September 1879


Involving New Cross Engine Driver William Rookwood 

and his Fireman Wheatley


On Saturday afternoon, 27th September, 1879, a shocking accident at Lewes Railway Station, on the arrival of the 2.5 p.m. train from Hastings to London (running some ten minutes behind schedule). The train was hauled by a Craven Standard Passenger Engine, No. 174 (2-4-0), and was formed of a six wheeled brake van, six assorted carriages and a second brake van, which carried a full load of passengers. At Lewes, Fireman Wheatley took water from the platform column, while Driver William Rookwood went round the engine with his oil can, and as soon as the latter had regained the footplate, the guard gave the right away. Driver Rookwood released the brakes, and on opening the regulator, the engine slowly moved forward for about ten feet and then the firebox exploded with a tremendous crash, showering the station platforms and train with vast quantities of steam, soot, boiling water, coal and ballast. The engine was lifted off the rails by the explosion, partly slewed round and flung against the platform, while the tender was also derailed, but the train was completely undamaged apart from having some paint work slightly burnt by the red hot debris. The ground for fifty yards round was strewn by charred pieces of wood and small black coal.

Driver William Rookwood, was blown a considerable height, and fell dead on the top of the second carriage from the engine, Fireman Wheatley was thrown on to the opposite platform apparently in a lifeless condition, while Fraser, the guard, who was just entering his brake, was thrown on to the platform with great violence. The noise of the explosion immediately attracted hundreds of persons to the scene of the accident, and every, assistance was promptly rendered. The unfortunate Driver Rookwood had sustained the most frightful injuries, his skull being fractured and both legs broken. Fireman Wheatley and Guard Fraser were at once conveyed to Lewes Infirmary. As may be imagined, the explosion caused the greatest excitement and alarm to the passengers, but they were prevailed on by the officials to keep their seats; and after a delay of half an hour, another engine was procured, and the train taken to its destination, the traffic being carried on by the down line. The body of the Driver Rookwood in the meanwhile had been taken to one of the waiting rooms and singular to state, his watch was found to be still going. A passenger, who was travelling third class, and found he could not proceed to London by this train, had gone on to the bridge over the station, and saw the unfortunate man hurled into the air, and, after describing several  somersaults, alight on top of the carriage next the guard's van.

On Monday morning the remains of Driver Rookwood were placed in a shell, and subsequently removed to New Cross for interment.On an examination of the wounds received by the Fireman Wheatley, it was found that he had several very serious scalp wounds, and was shockingly bruised and scalded about the legs and arms, so much so that he was thought to be in a very precarious condition. The guard was also seriously scalded and cut but happily neither of the man had any bones broken and although the shock to the system was very great, under the careful treatment of the medical gentleman assisted by Dr. Sanger, the resident medical officer, and Mrs Webb, the matron, they are making satisfactory progress.

In addition to the above, Inspector Hayden and one or two others received some injury. Inspector Hayden, who was standing close to the guard at the time of the explosion, was blown down the platform and rolled off into the siding. The appearances he presented when assisted to his feet was a truly pliable one, for not only was he bruised and cut about, but he was literally blackened from head to foot, while a porter named Skinner and a lad a lad employed in the refreshment rooms were similarly disfigured. The platform too, was completely covered with grit and coal dust and the grass in a small field adjoining the station was blackened in a like manner. Immediately after the accident, Mr. Moore Station Master, telegraphed to Brighton, and the breakdown gang, under the charge of Mr. Woodhead, District Superintendent, were quickly on the spot with their tool van, and they managed to get the damaged engine, tender, and guard's van on to the rails, off which they had been bodily lifted, in three hours’ time, and at six o'clock the up line was clear.

The wreckage was examined by Stroudley at 5.30 p.m., when he discovered the left hand side of the firebox ruptured between the 2nd and 3rd rows of stays, the smokebox door lying on the platform, the tube and back plates ripped up, the fire-door lying in the tender, which had lost most of its coal, and the ash-pan and fire-bar bearers blown off. The spring balance safety valves had been tampered with and reset to blow off at below 140 lb. per sq. in., instead of 120 lb., while in addition a hard wad of cotton waste had been tightly wedged beneath the right hand balance. At the time of the explosion the steam pressure gauge recorded 132 lb. which on test at Brighton Works was found to be reading 8 lb. low, thus indicating that the firebox ruptured at about 140 lbThe friends of Driver Rookwood, who had been married about three months, arrived at Lewes on Monday, and were permitted to see the body. The sufferers in Lewes Infirmary, were also visited by their relatives and on enquiry had everything the report as to their condition was favourable, although they were suffering much from the scalding.

Mr. A.T. Otway, M.P. for Rochester, one of the Directors of the Railway Company, with Mr. Stroudley, Locomotive Superintendent, and Mr. Moore, the Station Master, Lewes, also paid a visit to the sufferers at the infirmary, on Monday afternoon, and expressed themselves as highly satisfied with the arrangements made for the comfort of the poor fellows. Both Fireman Wheatley and Guard Fraser recovered from their injuries and later returned to duty.



Click on the icon above for

the Brighton Motive Power Depots

Click on the icon above for

the Sussex Motive Power Depots & ASLEF Branches

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