History: Train crashes in Havering

The aftermath of the Gidea Park train crash in 1947. Stills: British Pathe

The aftermath of the Gidea Park train crash in 1947. Stills: British Pathe - Credit: Archant

Railways arrived in Havering in 1839. But the area has been lucky – there have been few crashes.

The Gidea Park crash claimed six lives. Stills: British Pathe

The Gidea Park crash claimed six lives. Stills: British Pathe - Credit: Archant

Four people died in September 1840 when a 22-year-old engine driver sped recklessly down what railwaymen call the Brentwood Bank. Near Nags Head Lane the train buckled and crashed.

There was no health and safety in those days. But more than 100 years later, the same section saw another smash, in the other direction.

On a February morning in 1941, the Norwich express halted to get up steam to haul itself through Brentwood. It was hit from behind by a Southend train. Seven people were killed.

The experienced driver should have seen both danger signals and the stationary train ahead.

An inquiry concluded he had briefly fallen asleep after leaving Harold Wood.

When we laugh at Dad’s Army, we forget that Home Guard and ARP volunteers who were on duty all night also had day jobs. Exhaustion was a major wartime problem.

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Late on January 2, 1947, a stopping train was leaving Gidea Park when it was hit by a mail train. There was dense fog around Romford, and the driver missed warning signals.

The local train’s rear carriage was thrown over the station roof. Five of the six killed were from Brentwood.

Ironically, one was a Post Office worker. Three were returning from theatre outings. Surgeons at Romford’s Oldchurch Hospital fought in vain to save Mabel Payton, from a popular Harold Wood family.

There is a silent clip of the grim wreckage on the Pathe News website at www.britishpathe.com/video/aftermath-of-train-crash-gidea-park-1947

An identical crash in late-night fog killed 10 people at Dagenham East in 1957.

Criminal stupidity caused the 1965 Elm Park tragedy.At 6pm on Monday, March 29, the driver of a train from Shoeburyness reported hitting debris on the Fenchurch Street line near Rainham Road. He saw a young teenage boy run across the track, with others nearby.

Within the next hour, three more drivers braked hard as they hit obstacles. Two feared derailment.

British Rail’s policy of reporting and tackling problems was criticised. Could the tragedy have been avoided?

Soon after 7pm, a down train travelling at 70mph hit metal objects on the line. The driver, Ernest Whybrew, had spotted the debris and applied the brakes, but he suffered fatal injuries when the impact hurled him against the control handle in his cab.

The train was travelling so fast that it dragged itself almost a mile to Elm Park station.Passengers were terrified as coaches hurtled through the air.

Remarkably, there was only one other fatality, plus 15 seriously injured.

Elm Park residents rushed to help survivors.

British Rail called the action “imbecile folly” and offered a £1,000 reward for information.

In the Eastern Region, 263 obstacles had been placed on tracks the previous year.

Police investigated fully, tracing 20 youngsters who had been playing nearby.There was no suggestion the children were involved.

But nobody named the vandals who wrecked that train. They might even be reading this column.

The crash stills were kindly provided by British Pathe. For more info go to www.britishpathe.com/