Heritage: The tragic accident which killed a Romford MP in the 1890s

Romford MP James Theobald.

Romford MP James Theobald. - Credit: From the collection of Andy Grant

This week, historian Andy Grant tells the tragic tale of former Romford MP James Theobald and the accident which led to his death.

During the course of June 1885, James Theobald of Havering-atte-Bower had been selected to represent the Conservative Party as its candidate for the Romford division.

At the general election on July 1, 1886, he succeeded in ousting the incumbent Liberal MP John Westlake, to become MP for Romford.

Mr Theobald proved to be a popular and hard-working MP and was subsequently re-elected in the general election of 1892.

Having undertaken his duty as a justice on the bench at Romford Petty Sessions the previous day, on Friday March 9, 1894, he had planned to travel to London on the 2.16pm train and return by 5.30pm.

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Accordingly, he summoned his brougham from Bedford's House to convey him to Romford Station. As the brougham arrived in South Street at the incline leading to the London-bound platform, Theobald noticed the train was already pulling into the station.

Stepping out of the brougham, he dashed up the incline, hurriedly purchased a first-class ticket and made his way towards the first-class carriages at the rear of the train, which was by now departing.

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Realising he could not make it to a first-class carriage, he managed to open the door of a second-class one and grabbing hold of the handrail, managed to get his right foot onto the footboard.

A nearby porter saw him lose his footing and rushed over to hold him up, but he couldn’t retain his hold with the increasing train speed and had to let go. Another porter, witnessing the events, signalled for the train to stop.

Theobald pitched forwards, tumbling headfirst between the carriage and the platform. As he was drawn below the level of the platform, his body doubled over and the momentum of the train dragged him a further 30 to 40 yards.

The station master rushed over and caught hold of his shoulder before the train stopped, but the MP was too heavy and he lost his grip. When the train halted, he managed to carry him to his office, where his wounds were bathed and he was given brandy.

At around 2.30pm, local practitioners Dr Ryan and Dr Alexander Mackenzie arrived and found Theobald was still conscious.

At his own request, he was removed by a police ambulance to a back room in the Golden Lion Hotel, where he was attended by Dr Wright. Theobald’s wife and sister were informed of the dreadful news and made their way to the hotel.

Mr Jacobs, a surgeon from Guy's Hospital, had been summoned by telegraph and arrived at around 7pm, confirming the extent of the injuries and that there was no hope of recovery.

To deaden the sound of traffic outside the hotel, straw was laid in the road and the yard gates were kept closed, in order to make his last hours as comfortable as possible during the night.

A trained nurse tended to him and he appeared to show some improvement around 4am. However, the severity of his injuries inevitably led to his death at 6am that morning with his wife, Dr Wright and Dr Mackenzie at his bedside.

At the Coroner's Court it was stated that he had sustained a bad scalp wound, four or five ribs were broken - some in several places - his right lung was perforated and he had extensive lacerations to the back of his right thigh and buttock.

A verdict of accidental death was delivered unanimously by the jury, although they added a low platform was a contributory factor. Alfred Money-Wigram was subsequently elected Conservative MP for Romford at a byelection on April 2, 1894, but he resigned his seat on January 16, 1897.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group. 

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