Inquiry under way into how 14 people killed in Balby Bridge accident

Balby Bridge Crash 1951
Balby Bridge Crash 1951
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Evening Post, Scot Lane, March 1951:

THE inquiry has begun into the Balby Bridge rail disaster in which 14 people died. Seventeen persons have given evidence so far.

The accident happened quite near to the scene of the 1947 disaster, but the two accidents had nothing in common.

Station master Mr Fisher said the departure of the express on that Friday morning was normal and he supervised the despatch of the train to London, which had been formed by two trains joined into one.

The newly-assembled train made a good start and everything went perfectly.

However, a young signalman who was working near the entrance to Balby Bridge said as the engine was passing him he saw its name, Cock o’ the North and then sparks coming from the bogies of the third coach.

He said: “I saw the coach sway off the rail. I shouted to my mate and the next thing I knew all the coaches were coming for us. I jumped into an alcove as the coach smashed into the stonework of the bridge pier The train seemed to be gathering speed and was pumping hard.”

The guard said the train had a good start with no jerk. “The next thing I knew the brakes were going on and I could not get to the door.”

The loco and the first two of the 14 coaches passed safely beneath the bridge but the force of the impact sheared the third coach in half and it folded around the buttress, half in and half out of the short tunnel.

It was from this third coach that most of the bodies were found and from which most of the injured were released.

Other coaches left the line and were partially telescoped. More witnesses were heard, saying more or less the same thing, after which the inquiry went into private sitting.

My own memories of that morning were a call to all reporters to drop whatever we were doing, “clear lower deck” and get to the bridge area. Someone was despatched to the infirmary and the tea girl sent to get a van and find photographers who were out on other jobs.

We were well clear of the accident but could see much that was happening from a strip of land beyond the working men’s club. I recognised my GP but there was nothing he wanted to tell me. He said he had been giving pain-relieving injections.

n Fishlake is profiled in the Chronicle this week as a place off the beaten track and “seemingly asleep… a place where it seemed the inhabitants had just settled down for a nice long rest”.

The reporter did find one old chap awake who recalled (before he nodded off again I suppose), that there had once been three windmills, three blacksmiths, three joiners shops and places where they swingled. I had never heard of swingling. It is apparently what you have to do when you grow flax.

And then there were the floods. Fishlake, as the name suggests, gets wet, very wet.

He said: “In 1886 that was the worst; in 1886 the floods were terrible. Acres of farmland under water. We went round in a rowing boat and took a long pole with us. The water was 9ft deep in places.”

Someone recalled a feast day when the village was crowded with stalls and three days of gaiety were enjoyed with sports and singing.

“When the first reaping machine came to the village everyone turned out to see it and a right old lumbering thing it was.”

n Two tons of miners’ coal was sent from Hatfield to Gateshead under the home coal system. The recipient was related to a Hatfield miner and all her neighbours turned out to watch its arrival on a lorry which carried a poster saying this was coal from Doncaster. This has caused much head shaking but what, precisely, is the problem has not been explained. It appears that the Coal Board take exception to the practice of taking home coal out of the village but they remain silent on the matter.

n A bakery at Stainforth was gutted by fire just as the staff were preparing to bake 10,000 hot cross buns. Another Stainforth bakery did it.

n The Chronicle has started a Hundred Years Ago feature and the big story of the day in 1851 concerned the taking of the compulsory national census.

People, especially the more genteel ladies of a certain age, did not like having to give their personal details to a stranger. One gentleman, who appears to be better off than most, and the head of a household containing daughters, female family visitors and servants, complained that his wife had to give her date of birth which showed she was older than him!

He wrote: “The ages of all my unmarried daughters are requested without the least mercy upon those who are above a certain age. Everyone of my female servants has been interrogated. They must give their place of birth and their antiquity. Worst of all, I have to interview each of my lady visitors and to force from them the confession of their birth dates.

“When this disagreeable process is gone through the paper will be delivered by my manservant. It will be deposited in some dingy office and read over by parcel clerks, some of whom, inquisitive fellows, will be sure to get access to satisfy their impertinence and curiosity. Let everyone refuse to give the ages of the females in his house. Let him leave that column blank. It seems doubtful if there is any penalty for so doing.”

n Work goes ahead on the new power station at Crimpsall. It replaces the ancient building in Grey Friars Road and will cost £6,000,000.

The steel framework will go up next month and the 60-megawatt station will be ready by 1953.

This output will be increased to 120 megawatts at some future date – which will mean twice as much smoke drifting across town.

One third of the concrete floor to house the turbine and two of the eight boilers are complete. Pile drivers work incessantly – their monotonous thumps assail our ears hour after hour and can be heard all across town when the wind is in the right direction.

The piles are 60ft long and made of concrete.weighing five tons each. A thousand of them are being driven down to bedrock. The river Cheswold is to be widened for a coaling wharf enabling barges to come closer.

n Ernest Phillips, a former editor of the Doncaster Chronicle, whose name is synonymous with angling, and who has been called Yorkshire’s Isaac Walton, has told us of his consuming hobby, calling angling the great consoler. “A man my age – 80 – is apt to think what he would do if he had his time again, and in all sincerity I would give more time to fishing than ever I have done in the past. There is nothing more soothing, after the cares of business and office or the control of finances than to put everything down and take a day off for fishing.”

Mr Phillips, known as EP, is a popular after-dinner speaker and the author of many books on his hobby.

He was Conservative candidate for Doncaster some years ago, and more recently he was appointed MBE for his services to public life.

He gave me my first job and as soon as I arrived in Scot Lane that Monday morning, called me to his office: “Here’s half a crown, lad. Go to Gales fishing shop and get me a tin of maggots.”

One of his eccentricities was cadging pencil stubs, the shorter the better.

He could not settle to write anything without one in his stubby fist.