“Accident on the London and Birmingham Railway”

On Friday last a serious and fatal accident occurred near the Iron Bridge which crosses the Grand Junction Canal, at Long Buckby Wharf. It appears that Mr John Tilley, a blacksmith residing at the above place, incautiously ran upon the line for the purpose of obtaining a view of the fox hounds, which were running past that neighbourhood, when one of the up-trains approached, and the driver perceiving some one upon the line gave the usual signals, but to which the unfortunate man neglected to attend; he was, consequently, knocked down and killed, – the carriage passing over his head, which was split in half, and one arm nearly severed from the body. The deceased was a very respectable man, about forty years of age, and he has left a widow and five or six children to lament their loss, An inquest was held, and a verdict of “Accidental Death” recorded, but not the slightest blame could be attributed to the conductors of the train.

Banbury Guardian 1845 Thursday 13 November

There are two other newspaper reports of this incident with slightly more details and distinctly more gruesome descriptions of John’s injuries. Without including those unnecessary details, it was mentioned that John was “a sober, hard working man” and “he was struck by the train, by which he was carried forward for some distance. The engine immediately stopped, when it was found that he had been killed on the spot…”(from the Morning Post). The Northampton Mercury stated that “Almost instantly the engine struck him and he was propelled forwards four or five yards when he was struck a second time.” “When deceased was struck by the engine there was a very brisk wind, which, doubtless, greatly obstructed the sound of the whistle.”

Both of these reports state that there was a Deodand of one shilling applied. The Merriam Webster dictionary states that a deodand is a thing that by English law before 1846 was forfeited to the crown and thence to pious uses because it had been the immediate cause of the death of a person. So effectively the engine, or presumably the London and Birmingham Railway company, was charged one shilling for killing John Tilley, and the money given to the local church or parish perhaps. History Extra states that Parliament abolished deodands in 1846 while at the same time passing the Fatal Accidents Act, which enabled families of those killed to claim compensation. Too late for John’s widow to claim any compensation unfortunately.

John was 50 years old when he was killed by the engine on Friday 7 November 1845. It is intriguing that he supposedly climbed up the bank to the railway line and stood on it to watch the hunt – the Wharf was in the middle of the Pytchley Hunt, John would have seen and heard the foxhounds many times. The railway line had been running since 1838 and his smithy (roughly where the aptly named Smithstone bungalow is now) was practically next to the line – he would have known the speed at which the trains passed, and a steam engine is not something that sneaks up on you, even with a ‘brisk wind.’ The Coroner had no doubts though and recorded a verdict of accidental death.

*Updated to add the details on John’s death certificate. His death was registered on 8 November 1845 with the Long Buckby Registrar, William Judkins. The cause of death, as recorded by the Coroner (George Abbey of Northampton), was “Dislocation of the neck occasioned by a wheel of a railway engine passing over him.” The newspaper reports referred to John being at least partially decapitated – perhaps dislocation was the medical term of the time.*

Blacksmith John Tilley was baptised 1 November 1795 at Long Buckby and was buried there on 10 November 1845. John’s first wife was Ann Simonds of East Haddon, they were married there in 1822. They had one child, John Simonds Tilley, born 1823. Ann died in 1825 and John remarried 4 years later to Susannah Warwick of Welton. Their four children were born at the Wharf, where John ran the Boat Inn. He sold his furniture and brewing vessels in 1836, possibly to the Tomalin family. He stayed in the beer industry though, becoming a beerseller at the Three Horseshoes beerhouse, as well as running his smithy. After his death Susannah took over the business, being recorded as a blacksmith on the 1851 and 1861 Censuses. John junior followed in his father’s footsteps and eventually took over the business. On every census he is recorded as being Susannah’s son and he lived with her until her death in 1883. Her four biological children had all moved away from the Wharf, to Birmingham, Cheshire, and Buckinghamshire. John Simonds Tilley was one of the Wharf blacksmiths for most of his adult life, but by 1901, whether through poverty or illness, he was an inmate at the Daventry Union Workhouse where he died in 1904 at around 80 years old.

  • Banbury Guardian 1845 Thursday 13 November
  • Morning Post 1845 22 November
  • Northampton Mercury 1845 Saturday 15 November

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