ARCHIVES: Desford Railway
Railway Accident – 28th August 1844
There have been many accidents on the Leicester & Swannington Railway but the first passenger fatality involved Elizabeth Atkins, aged 22, who had been visiting her sister in Hugglescote. Elizabeth set off to walk to Bagworth Wharf to catch the train back to Leicester where she lived. Elizabeth was joined by Sarah Daniels who also was on her way home to Leicester. The women were offered a ride in a cart belonging to Mr. Goodacre, who was returning to Desford the next station down the line from Bagworth.
Elizabeth and Sarah purchased tickets at a cost of seven and a half pence and boarded the train. They were sitting in the last compartment of the two passenger carriages which had been coupled into the centre of the train, between the 26 wagons.
On the approach to Ratby the train suddenly began jolting and decelerating rapidly. Several of the wagons behind the locomotive and in front of the carriages became derailed. The 13 trailing wagons crashed with great force into the flimsy carriages with the second carriage, where Elizabeth and Sarah were sitting, bearing the full brunt of the impact.
Elizabeth was trapped, pinned down across her chest between the wagon that had pierced the carriage and the front seat of the compartment, where she was sitting. It soon became apparent that she had not survived the accident and she was taken to the Whitwick Colliery Arms Inn at Ratby. At the Inn she was examined by Thomas Swain, a surgeon from Leicester. Swain’s professional opinion being that Elizabeth had died from asphyxia due to pressure on her chest. Sarah survived and surprisingly, Elizabeth was the only fatality.
Major-General C.C. Pasley, Inspector-General of Railways, Coddington, concluded that the derailment was clearly attributable to the failure of the wagon axle and was highly critical of the railway company’s operating practice of marshalling carriages in the middle of the train. He recommended that in future they should be coupled at the rear.
Some 45 years later the practice of operating mixed passenger and goods trains effectively ceased.
Elizabeth Atkins is buried in the graveyard of the church of St. Mary de Castro, Leicester.
Barry Kendall. Leicestershire Historian 2017, article