The 1957 Lewisham Rail Crash

The evening rush hour of Wednesday 4 December 1957 was a very foggy one, while the Clean Air Act had been passed the year before it had yet to have a dramatic impact and fogs made worse by the pollutant laden air of the city were still common.

The train services had been disrupted throughout the day by the fog, the running order of trains had been changed and a Hastings train heading towards Ladywell was wrongly held at a red signal, on the assumption that a train heading towards Hayes was in front of it.  It wasn’t; the crowded electric commuter train was behind and stopped at a red signal close to St Johns, just beyond the point where the line from Nunhead joins, its brakes firmly on as it was on a slight incline at that point.

At just before 6:20 pm a late running steam train from Cannon Street to Ramsgate approached, its driver had missed two yellow warning signals and when he saw the lights of the Hayes train it was too late.  The Ramsgate train ploughed into the stationary Hayes-bound electric, the front coach of the former left the track and crashed into the bridge from Nunhead which partially collapsed onto the first three coaches of the still moving Ramsgate train – largely destroying them. The map above from the Ministry of Transport report shows the location, with the picture below showing the devastation under the bridge was from a few days later (1).

Further up the track two of the Hayes train carriages were forced upwards and together as a result of the impact from behind.  The accident could have been even worse as a train was approaching the bridge from Nunhead; fortunately the damage to the bridge caused a partial derailment and the driver saw the problems ahead and was able to stop in time.  The extent of the damage to the twisted bridge from above became visible as the fog cleared and daylight broke (2).

As was to happen a decade later with the Hither Green crash, local emergency services and people  (such as the unknown woman below (3)) responded to the aftermath of the crash. In a statement in Parliament the next day, the Transport Minister noted:

The Government would like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the outstanding work done, not only by the emergency services and the voluntary organisations but also by those living near the scene, who so unselfishly put their houses and their belongings at the disposal of the rescuers. The conditions in the dense fog and darkness were appallingly difficult and distressing, and there can be nothing but praise for all concerned who worked with such efficiency and determination throughout.

Express 5 Dec

The conditions that the rescue workers operated in were atrocious – one syndicated newspaper report (4) describing it as ‘Dante-esque’  – rescue workers ‘ moving like ghosts in the all-embracing fog guided by the screams of the injured trapped in the wreckage.’  There was too the evidence of everyday life of coats, gloves , handbags and briefcases strewn across the site along with Christmas parcels bought hours earlier in the West End scattered across the tracks – some just visible the following day in a photograph from the official report – the location with the art deco Grover Court to the left is clear.

While many of the casualties went to Lewisham Hospital they were also rushed to various other local hospitals, many of which are long lost to NHS rationalisation – St Alfege’s (later to become Greenwich) ,  the Brook, the Miller, St John’s (Morden Hill), St Giles (Camberwell) and  to the Maudsley – which had a small unit that dealt with serious head injuries and tumors.

In the Facebook discussions on the post there were lots of memories of those who ‘escaped’ the crash through small changes to their normal routine with themselves or relatives leaving work slightly late and not being able to get onto the train and in days before many homes had telephones those waiting fearing the worst – such as a brother, expected home at 7:00 pm, but not opening the door until nearly midnight.  There were those who were lucky in their ‘choice’ of carriages saving them.  There will have been others though where changes to their normal routines will have meant that they didn’t return home that night.

Both parents of one person who commented on one of the threads were involved – her father was in the Civil Defence and so he decided to go and assist. Her mother was found in the wreckage about 11.00 pm – she had moved carriage at London Bridge, a move that probably saved her life.   She was taken to Lewisham Hospital and seems to have been in for a while with operation to dislocated hips and pelvis. She never fully recovered from her injuries but she was stoic and was determined to get back to ‘normal’ as soon as she could.

Many suffered mental scars after surviving the crash or being involved with the recovery – one man described his 15 year old self who worked for a company who had heavy duty cutting gear working most of the night in the recovery efforts. While there was a subsequent court case relating to what we now would refer to as post-traumatic stress none of the survivors or those involved in the rescue received the sort of support that would happen now.

George W Gregory

The story of one survivor is worth telling in a little more detail. George Gregory (pictured), from Accrise near Folkestone, was one of those who, eventually, made it home.  He was an aviation underwriter at Lloyds who commuted every weekday – the carriage he was one of those that the bridge collapsed onto. He was able to get out onto the track, although was very cautious of the live rail.  With other surviving passengers he helped with the initial rescue work until the emergency services arrived – they managed to free 20-30 passengers from the wreckage.  He then worked with a doctor who was administering morphine – marking with a ‘M’ those who had received it with his pen.  He stayed on site for almost 3 hours helping the emergency services.

George stayed the night with a dock worker who lived near the station who had also been helping with the rescue effort before returning home the following day.  He was a little overwhelmed by the generosity of the couple he stayed with (and other local people) – the dock worker had given his coat away to a cold crash victim.  They wouldn’t wanted nothing more than thanks from him, but apparently he left some bank notes down the side of a chair before he left.

Despite surviving the crash, George carried the events of that commute home through the rest of his life.  He had survived when close friends and colleagues hadn’t and had given up his seat to a woman who never made it home. He suffered nightmares for years as a result of the crash – often waking his wife up by trying to drag her from their bed and ‘rescue’ her from the crash (5).

In the end, 90 passengers lost their lives that night; there are few, if any, peacetime incidents in Lewisham that caused as many fatalities – the December 1952 London smog with a total death toll of between 4,000 and 12,000 may have well have done over a few days but data doesn’t seem to be broken down by borough.

There was a Ministry of Transport inquiry to find out what happened and to try to learn for the future.  The report found that the driver he had failed to slow after passing two caution signals so he was unable to stop at the danger signal, although some newspaper reports of the inquest suggest that he never saw it due to the density of the fog.  It concluded that an automatic warning system would have prevented the collision, although recognised that there were lines with even more rudimentary warning systems that needed to be prioritised.

The inquest jury found, by a majority decision that the 90 deaths were due to ‘gross negligence’ but it was a verdict rejected by the coroner who recorded one of accidental death.  The driver of the Ramsgate train was charged with manslaughter, but was acquitted at a second trial; at the first the jury were unable to reach a verdict.

The memorial to the crash is slightly oddly at Lewisham station given the proximity of the crash to St Johns, but perhaps it is more visible there at a busier station.  It seems strange that it gives no idea of the sheer enormity of the scale of the loss of life; it is sad that there is almost as much space is devoted to the names of the commercial organisations (a newspaper, two private rail companies and a funeral director)  who ‘made possible’ the installation of the plaque as to the accident itself.

A full list of the names doesn’t seem to be available for the crash, on line at least – something that just wouldn’t happen now.  The names of 85 of the 90 fatalities have been pieced together from on-line press reports, as well as the friends and relatives of those who died responding to this post.    While there are some local (to Lewisham) people, given the routes and destinations of the trains most of the dead were from the areas around Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Dover and Beckenham.

The youngest victim was Graham Freeman who was just three and had visited Father Christmas on Oxford Street that afternoon and was returning to Catford. He was found dead at the scene – a toy drum crushed by him and he was still holding a soft toy when he was found by rescuers (6).

Pat Baker

Patricia (Pat) Baker was 19 and had lived at 9 Lushington Road, Bellingham since she was a toddler. She had been a pupil at Holbeach Secondary School in Catford.  When she she left, she had gone to work in statistics for the Regent Oil Company and liked going to the pictures and dancing.  Her Dad had tried to get the same train but had failed.  In the tangled debris of the crash she had hung upside down for 3 hours but was still chatting and joking with her rescuers before being able to be cut free; she he died in the early hours of 5 December (7).

The impact on the families of those who died was significant too; Anthony Matthews of Tunbridge Wells died of his injuries a few days after the crash. His death left his widowed mother and two younger sisters in financial difficulties as he was the breadwinner. No support came from British Rail.

The crash impacted on multiple generations of the same family – Roy Harold Taylor of Tonbridge was 34 and a partner in a firm of stockbrokers at the London Stock Exchange – he died in the crash, his father was also on the train but survived unhurt. Roy left behind two young children and his wife, Marjorie.

Another victim from Tonbridge was Thomas Marsh; his briefcase was found containing a newspaper of a few days before with a photograph of his son, Keith, competing in 4 by 800 yard relay at Cambridge University.  Thomas had never got around to telling his son how proud he was of him (9).

Unlike the Hither Green crash a decade later, this crash felt a much longer time ago, the smaller hospitals of the early NHS, the pre-nationalisation steam trains and the rudimentary signalling and warning systems (semaphore was still used elsewhere).  They belonged to a different era, much less safe one – although as the 2016 Sandilands tram derailment showed, no rail system is 100% safe.

Next time you are travelling towards Lewisham through St Johns or from Nunhead, while the train probably won’t stop, at least pause for thought – the crash location will be obvious to even the occasional traveller on the line, remember those who died, remember that your journey is that little bit safer because of what happened to them.


Those who died included

  • Ms Agnes Adams (Embleton Road, Ladywell)
  • Mr Richard Allchin (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Joseph Allen (unknown)
  • Mr Leonard Ambrose (Tonbridge)
  • Ms Rosemary Gillian Ashley (Beckenham)
  • Miss Patricia Baker (Lushington Road, Bellingham)
  • Mr R A Baker (Beckenham)
  • Mr Morris J Banfield (Tonbridge)
  • Mr John Barnard (Tonbridge)
  • Mr P B Bassett (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Anthony Berkeley (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr Guthrie Birch (Folkestone)
  • Denise Bridle (Catford)
  • Mr F J Bond (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Charlesworth (West Wickham)
  • Pte Kenneth (wrongly referred to as Arthur) Clift (Hexal Road, Catford)
  • Mr Leonard Colin (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Coombs (Ashford)
  • Mr Roy Coppard (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr C A Davis (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr V B Emes (Abbey Wood)
  • Fusilier Brian England (Dover)
  • Mr C Everard (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Alfred Ernest Fletcher (Southborough)
  • Mr R Gibson Fleming
  • Mr Graham Freeman (Catford)
  • Mr H R Green (Horsmonden)
  • Mr Brian Hallas (Southborough)
  • Mr W J Halsey (Dymchurch)
  • Mr C Halstead (West Wickham)
  • Ms Florence Ada Harries (Persant Road, Excalibur Estate, Catford)
  • Mr Percy Heaver (Dover)
  • Ms Jospehine Henning (unknown)
  • Mr William Hicks (Sunderland Road, Forest Hill)
  • Miss Barbara Hubbard (Beckenham)
  • Mr M Humphries (Tonbridge)
  • Mr S T Humphries (Tonbridge)
  • Mr George Huxtable (Shirley)
  • Mr Colin James (Folkestone)
  • Mr Brian Jarrett (Pembury)
  • Mr Thomas Sydney Kennett (Dover)
  • Mr Sidney Lawrence (High Wycombe)
  • Miss E Leary (West Wickham)
  • Mr Liddle (Little) (Pembury)
  • Ms Eileen Mary Maskins (Downham)
  • Mr T W Marsh (Tonbridge)
  • Miss F L Masters (Mastens) (Grove Park)
  • Mr  Anthony Donald Matthews (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr McGauge (Not known)
  • Mr McGregor (Southborough)
  • Mr A R McGregor (Tonbridge)
  • Mr R D McGregor (Hildenborough)
  • Mr Robert Morley (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Rodney Newbery (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Vernon Newland (Beckenham)
  • Mr T F Nightingale (Tonbridge)
  • Miss A Noakes (Tonbridge)
  • Mr FJR Norris (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr C North (Chislehurst)
  • Mr Harry North (Folkestone)
  • Mr Andrew Phillips (New Romney)
  • Mr Edward Phillips (Beckenham)
  • Mr Colin Pope (Saltwood, near Folkestone)
  • Mr E J Pope (Hythe)
  • Dr Harold Priestley (Lewisham Park, Lewisham)
  • Mr Arthur Reeves (Romborough Way, Lewisham)
  • Mr L Relfe (Tonbridge)
  • Mr R W Reynolds (Crutchley Road, Downham)
  • Mr Derek Rose (Ardgowan Road, Catford)
  • Mr C E Rowson (Beckenham)
  • Mr Royle (Silvermere Road, Catford)
  • Mr Sedgewick (Dover)
  • Mr John Sherrott (West Wickham)
  • Mr John Shotton (Fordmill Road, Catford)
  • Mr Peter Slipper (Tonbridge)
  • Mr Edward Snook (Folkestone)
  • Mr Andrea Sofokis (Pomphret Road, Brixton)
  • Mr F Steeples (Tunbridge Wells)
  • Mr Charles George Stone (Southborough)
  • Mr Roy Harold Taylor (Tonbridge)
  • Mr R W Taylor (London)
  • Mrs S M Taylor (Broadfield Road, Catford)
  • Mr William Tidman (Beckenham)
  • R Wells (Camden)
  • Mr Ronald Williams (Downderry Road, Downham)
  • Mr Vernon Williams (Beckenham)
  • Mr John Wood (Tonbridge)
  • Mr W J Wyard (Hythe)

There were two people called Roy Taylor listed in newspaper reports as having died – one from Tonbridge, one from Folkestone.  The middle name of the former was the one reported as living in Folkestone.  It is assumed that this was an error in press reports.


  1. Illustrated London News 14 December 1957
  2. The Sphere 14 December 1957
  3. Daily Express 5 December 1957
  4. Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 5 December 1957
  5. George’s story comes from both a local paper – the Folkestone, Hythe and District Herald of 7 December 1957 and a emails from his daughter who also supplied his photograph.
  6. Daily Express 6 December 1957
  7. ibid
  8. The Times  Friday,  Nov. 29, 1957


67 thoughts on “The 1957 Lewisham Rail Crash

      1. Carole Lewis

        Hi. Did you find any mention of Anthony Figgins? I was told he died in the crash

        Thank you

      2. Paul B Post author

        Hi Carole
        Piecing together the names of those who died was really difficult, they came from newspapers in the main which I then cross referenced with death registrations. I didn’t find Anthony Figgins name mentioned in reports and I can’t see anyone of that name having died in 1957. Was he known by any other name?
        Thanks for ‘visiting’

      3. Carole Lewis

        We’ve been doing some research and it seems he died in Brighton much later so maybe the first reports had him missing and he was eventually found.

        Thank you so much for replying so soon. That’s sorted a long mystery.

      4. Paul B Post author

        Oddly two Anthony Joseph Figgins died within a month or two of each other in Brighton – one in 1978 one in 1979, the same age but slightly different birthdays. There could of course be some transcription issues….

        I suspect that lots of families have stories which probably aren’t true but in days before the internet couldn’t be checked. Mine certainly does!

      5. Carole Lewis

        Yes. Family stories do seem to vary!!

        Thank you so much for your quick reply and for helping out. It will remain as one of those mysteries!

        All the very best. Carole

      1. Joan Remnant

        I’m glad someone has amended the record to show that Pte Albert Clift was in fact Kenneth
        Clift. I also lived in Hexal Road, and Kenny lived in the next but one block down the road. I too was on that train but in the carriage that got lifted up. After the ladders had been put up to rescue us, I walked all the way home to Hexal Road, wondering why it was there were so many ambulances about. I’d been knocked unconscious and was suffering from concussion although I didn’t realise it at the time. I spent a week in bed, partly sedated, and was then checked over at Lewisham Hospital, but have had no lasting problems.

      2. Paul B Post author

        My goodness, you had a lucky escape! I think that someone mentioned Kenny’s name on a Facebook thread and as there were so many errors in the initial reporting of names I felt that they were more likely to be right. Thank you so much for sharing your memories.

  1. Valerie Waterer

    A schoolfriend of mine, Denise Bridle, was killed in the crash. She was on the Hayes train. I was also on that train along with my cousin and a work colleague – we all lived in Catford. Luckily, the three of us were at the front of the train as that was near the exit at Catford Bridge station. The fog was so dense that we were totally unaware of the carnage behind us – all we heard was the sound of ambulances.

    1. Paul B Post author

      It sounds as though you had a very narrow escape. I have added Denise’s name to the list of fatalities at the end of the post. Thanks for visiting.

    2. Valerie King

      I was in that crash. I was at the back of 5th carriage of the Hayes train, having told my friend Mary that we didn’t need to get in the back of the train, which was running late. If we ran we could get in the 5th carriage, where we always sat with our friends. How lucky was that decision! The 2nd train telescoped through the back 4 carriages of our train. Our carriage turned on its side, lights went out, everyone screamed. Someone said ‘Quiet’, and everyone shut up. I lost my shoes, and a bag of peppermints. Scrabbled around for my shoes, and the peppermints! Found one shoe! We eventually climbed out of the window, walked across the line, through houses, where people were serving cups of tea. The sight of the upended carriages was horrific, and is still with me today. We queued up to call home, to say we were ok, and, in thick smog, started to work out how to find our way home to Elmer End, in the thick smog. We got on a bus, which was finishing at Catford garage, asked if we could use our season tickets as there had been a train crash.’i’ve Only got your word for that’, said the cheery bus conductor! Still not sure how we, 6 or 8 of us, managed to find our way home, in thick smog, having no idea where we were going, and me with one shoe, and a mule slipper that someone lent me, and handing out peppermints, which were well received! But we did all get home safely, and, 60 years on, i’ve Had a good life. Born lucky!
      Valerie King ( then Dagwell)

      1. Paul B Post author

        Thanks for writing about your experiences Valerie, sounds as though you had a very lucky escape, particularly given the numbers who died on that train – there are lots on the list of those who never made it home from around where you lived.


    Many thanks for this posting. My father who will be 89 shortly was on the Hayes train and still remembers the crash vividly. His friend was on the prior Hayes train and (with his wife) spent many hours with my mother tearing their hair out with worry as to my father’s fate. Thankfully he walked into the house sometime during that evening. The train was packed to the rafters and he was forced to move up to near the front (fortunately). He said that the local residents were magnificent opening up their gardens/houses to let the survivors and rescue services through. The conditions were nothing short than diabolical. It couldn’t happen today, could it??

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thank you. While railways are undoubtedly much safer – there is always the potential for human error as the Sandilands tram crash showed.

  3. Richey Estcourt

    Hi Paul. Excellent post. Have you tried an FOI to the Department of Transport for the names of the victims? Failing that, the @RWLDproject twitter account is linked to a project aiming to record the UK’s complete history of railway accidents (including non-fatal).


    1. Paul B Post author

      That’s a good idea – the latter doesn’t seem to have it. I was hoping that a reader might be aware. I am going to try Lewisham Archives – I need to contact them about something else, but failing that the FOI route is worth trying. Thanks for your kind words.

  4. Mary Mills

    Also the bridge was rebuilt by Greenwich firm redpath brown using what steel parts they could get together really fast. I understand that what remains now still contains much of this collection. I do remember the crash and knew many later having treatment for trauma

  5. QRA

    My father was a survivor of this tragic accident – A little late, but I still have the original newspaper cuttings which show some additional names if you would like me to send them Paul B

  6. Lesley Reed

    My mother-in-law was telling me this evening that her 16 year old cousin was killed in the crash, so that’s how I found this article.

    Her name was Eileen Maskins and she came from Downham, but she seems to be listed here as ‘Makins’ by mistake?

    1. Paul B Post author

      The names were picked up from a variety of newspaper reports, there were a lot of errors in them – I will alter the name in the post. Thanks for letting me know.

  7. Raymond Ivens

    Why has it taken 60 years to get this Plaque put up in Memory of the deceased loved ones. I worked at that station without the knowledge that a Tragic train crash had resulted in such an horrific amount of deaths. Clapham Junction had a Memorial stone placed why not Lewisham & Hithergreen ?

    1. Paul B Post author

      I think that the plaque was put up at Lewisham on the 50th anniversary of the crash – but it seems really inappropriate. There is one at Hither Green although it isn’t that visible. However, when I discussed it with the brother of one of the victims of the Hither Green crash we came to the consensus that the local history photos and storyboards which include one on the HG crash were probably more effective in remembering what happened than another plaque.

  8. Kevin Crawley. Husband of Patricia Crawley (nee Matthews), sister of Anthony

    One name not mentioned is Anthony Donald Matthews of Neville Court, Tunbridge Wells. This may be because he was initially taken injured from the wreck but died from those injuries two or three days later in hospital. Anthony’s death left his widowed mother and two younger sisters in financial difficulties as he was the breadwinner. No support came from British Rail. The Daily Telegraph announced that Anthony was the 89th death.

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thank you for letting me know, I’m about to add Anthony’s name to the incredibly sad roll call and will add a paragraph based on your comment – if there is anything more of his story that you would like to share do let me know. The Telegraph was one of the papers that I didn’t see when I was researching the post. I was surprised that there wasn’t a full list of those who died – it does feel as though we are much better now about dealing with the aftermath of major tragedies. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

  9. maryorelse

    One of the things which always came over with this crash was the disorganisation of the emergency services. Things had to improve – and there had been reports four years earlier following the Harrow and Wealdstone crash and the work there of US army nurse Abbie Sweetwine whose training was about dealing with battlefield casualties!. The authorities had to learn the hard way and many people doubtless died or were traumatised that a proper system could have saved.

  10. Andrew

    Hi Paul,
    I am a resident at Grover Court, next to the rail bridge. I understand the rail bridge was built as a temporary structure. Have you read anything that would indicate this? Also, being so local to such a tragic incident my thoughts to those who lost loved ones.

    1. Paul B Post author

      I am not certain, but have heard that view several times – suggesting that the girders are different lengths. Grover Court is a lovely by the way – how’s it stood the test of time inside?

    2. Bernard Hulland

      Yes, replacement spans for those destroyed in the accident were constructed, within a few weeks, from military trestle material held in stock by BR Southern Region against the potential risk of unforeseen bridge damage. The undamaged truss girders were left in place. The intention was that the whole bridge would be replaced within 3-5 years, and I understand that a design was in fact completed, but, for various reasons the rebuilding never happened, and the “temporary” trestle structure is still in use today.

      Peter Tatlow’s book “Lewisham St John’s, 50 Years on: Restoring the Traffic” (Oakwood Press 2007) gives a very full account of the accident and the reopening of the railway afterwards.

  11. Elizabeth Tomas

    Colin James was my Dad’s best friend. He was also the best man at my parents wedding. He and his father were on their way home and a friend of his father’s got on the train, so Colin went to the back of the train so the friend could sit and talk to his dad. Colin was killed, his father and friend were not.

    1. Paul B Post author

      There were lots of stories like that, some perishing, some surviving as a result of what seemed like unimportant decisions at the time. For others it was a minor change to routine – getting an earlier or later train. I always reflect on those who died when I pass through St Johns station. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Alison Tapley

      Colin James was my uncle. I was 3 when the crash occurred and I have no memory of him. Since my parents died (Colin was my Dad’s brother), I have been tracing family photos and members etc. I think Colin and his parents were living in Folkestone.

      1. Paul B Post author

        The newspaper I found, I think mentioned that he was living in Folkestone prior to the crashes – there were so many deaths in that area, must have been so hard for the community as well as the families who lost members.

  12. JohnCNZ

    First rail accident I ever heard about, aged just eight. I can still remember the sketch plan on the front page of the Evening Standard, showing the crashed trains, the demolished bridge, and the third train that so nearly fell on to the wreckage.

    Worth noting, by the way, that it was the driver of that train who unveiled the memorial plaque in 2003..

  13. Bob

    My Dad was in the rear carriages of the Hayes train. He was “late” home and me and my sister went to bed. My Uncle and Mum searched by phoning all the hospital’s and found him in Lewisham the day after the crash. He was badly injured – mostly legs and spent months in hospital. He had one leg shorter than the other after healing, a problem that was fixed when he had a knee replacement in Australia many years later. He was told he would be in a wheelchair by the time he was 50 but still played tennis and golf at 75. The crash changed our family existence. We moved from a council maisonette to a semi-detatched in Bromley that my parents bought with the crash compensation received. The sale of that house funded a new adventure in Australia as we emigrated in 1962. Dad died aged 90, 10 yrs ago – he didn’t talk a lot about the crash but some of the anecdotes have become part of our family folklore.

  14. Carol Hughes

    My mum was in this crash. She stopped to help an older gentleman into a carriage and didn’t have time to walk to the end of the train, where she normally sat, an act which probably saved her life. She remembers sitting in the waiting train before the other train crashed into it and, when we were young, would always experience anxiety whenever we were in a train stopped before a station. She damaged her lower back and has suffered in pain for years, which is worse now she’s in her 80’s. However, it’s the trauma that still haunts her and I wish she would seek professional help to talk about this.

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thanks for sharing your Mum’s story Carol; there really wasn’t the understanding of post traumatic stress then, I’ve heard lots of similar experiences. I guess though she was a lucky one – the slight change in her routine probably saved her. Sadly there will have been others where the routine changed with fatal consequences.

  15. Brian Jenkins

    My uncle died in the crash and seems to be mentioned twice on the list; he was Roy Harold Taylor of Exeter Close, Tonbridge, Kent. Roy Taylor was aged thirty-four in 1957 and a partner in a firm of stockbrokers at the London Stock Exchange. That evening he was travelling home to his wife Marjorie, nee Jenkins, son Ian aged seven and daughter Judith aged five. Roy Taylor’s father Harold C. Taylor of Crossways, Coolinge Lane, Folkestone, Kent was also on the train but sat in another carriage and was unhurt. Roy Taylor was buried in the RAF Cemetary, Hawkinge, Folkestone, Kent since he had served as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm.

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thanks for commenting Brian. Trying to piece together the casualties was really difficult in a way that wouldn’t be the case now, and wasn’t a decade later with the Hither Green crash. They appeared piecemeal in press reports with loads of errors. I did wonder about the repeat Taylor names but because of the different locations assumed that they could be different people. It must have been so hard for your family coping with the aftermath of the crash in an era when there was little understanding of Post Traumatic Stress. I will amend Roy’s details, hopefully during the week and certainly ahead of the anniversary. Thank you for taking the trouble to comment, it really is appreciated – it is one of the posts that moved me most in researching.

    2. Geoff Wardle

      I have just stumbled upon this thread. My late father, Phil Wardle, was a survivor of this accident. He was in the Ramsgate train on his way home from work in the City to Exeter Close in Tonbridge. He often traveled with a number of other residents of Exeter Close, Roy Taylor being one of them. Dad was also in one of the coaches that the bridge collapsed onto but was so very fortunate in escaping serious injury. I was four years old at the time but I remember clearly my mother being so concerned. I seem to recall that somehow, Dad arrived home early next morning having spent some of the night helping in the aftermath. I now live in California and by one of those strange coincidences about 15 years ago, by chance, I met an older German lady who was a nurse at the Lewisham hospital when the accident happened. She recounted how she had been at the scene helping as a medic. I appreciate your dedication to piecing together this archive of the human connections and facts.

      1. Paul B Post author

        Thank you – yes, that’s what I tried to do – it felt as though the victims of the crash were forgotten about, in a way that wouldn’t happen now.

  16. David Silver

    As an eleven year old boy living in 1 Osberton Road Lee in the top flat I can remember the neighbours below and others waiting anxiously for news about family members coming home. Fortunately to my knowledge no member of a family was hurt.

  17. Helen Mary Scott-Cooper

    Thank goodness for people like you; recording this relatively recent historical horrific accident. How stoic the survivors are/were. Glad to know this history, although saddened by the reality of the tragedy……

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thank you – that’s really kind of you to write. I wanted to make sure that the human element of what happened that awful evening wasn’t forgotten. It was quite distressing and depressing to piece the story together and it will be added to with some of the comments made on Facebook threads, it is one of the great things about on-line history it can evolve.

  18. Sue Nea (Hillman)

    We rented the upstairs rooms of a house in Elswick Road, Lewisham; our garden backed onto the railway lines and the crash happened very close to us. I was 4 years old at the time and I clearly remember that I sitting on a chair at the table eating my tea when the impact of the crash shook the house and threw me off my chair onto the floor. My dad was still at work and my mum wanted to go and help our neighbour, Mrs West, whose house was being used to lay the dead bodies. So, mum took me downstairs to Mrs Rich, the old lady (she probably wasn’t that old but to a 4 year old, she was) who owned the house where we lived & asked her to look after me. I remember Mrs Rich putting my winter coat on me and taking me out into the back garden where she helped people from the crash climb down the grassy bank into our garden, she took them indoors and made them all numerous cups of tea. As any ladies were helped down the bank, I was given the job of holding their handbags for them and then, once indoors, I helped carry their cups of tea. Such vivid memories for me still. Soon dad came in from work, he was late home because his train had been delayed due to the crash. He immediately went through the garden, up the bank onto the track and began to help look for casualties. Years later, he told me how he could still hear the screams & groans of the injured, how he thought he had found a body but after digging through the wreckage that was burying it, found it to be just a foot. Mum told me that night was the first time she had ever seen dad cry.

    1. Paul B Post author

      That would be brilliant – I found lots of memories of relatives being on the trains, but much less in terms of those who lived in neighbouring homes who became involved by their proximity and supporting the rescue efforts.

  19. Jonathan Marsh

    Thank you for writing this piece which I have only just come across. I wanted to correct the name of my Grandfather who died in this tragedy 9 years before I was born. His name was Mr Thomas William Marsh (not March) from Tonbridge. The rescuers recovered his briefcase in which there was a copy of The Times from a few days before in which there was a photo of my father, Keith Marsh, running for Cambridge University in an athletics event. My father, who died in 1998, always remembered that his father had kept a copy of that newspaper in his briefcase during the days before his death as he had never been sure I think whether his father had actually been proud of him. I think he was very proud of his son but perhaps had just not really shown it during his lifetime. Of course after Lewisham he would never be able to tell my Dad in person but his briefcase was a comforting reminder to my Dad that his father Thomas had been proud. Thanks again for helping us all to remember this tragedy.

    1. Paul B Post author

      Hi Jonathan
      Thanks for getting in touch. I’ve amended the name. It was strangely difficult to find the names of those who died that night and there were lots of errors in the reporting of them in the press. I’ve added a paragraph in the post, I thought it was a poignant story, it includes the photo of your father which I found quite easily in the Times archive.
      Thanks again for commenting

      1. Jonathan Marsh

        Thank you Paul for your comment which I have only just seen and for including the photograph of my Dad running – I love the fact that you have tried so hard, and successfully, to bring so many human elements to the story of this tragedy. I think you have done a wonderful job and I am so grateful.
        Incidentally your article has prompted someone to contact me only yesterday who lives in the house in Tonbridge that my grandfather would have been travelling back to that evening in December 1957. He is interested in the history of the house and has been able to identify from your piece that it was my Grandfather that lived in it in the 1950s and contact me. So warmest thanks again.

      2. Paul B Post author

        Thanks Jonathan that’s kind of you to say! My aim was to try to piece together the stories behind the number who died – most of the press coverage failed to even mention the people and the impact on their families. I wanted those who died to be remembered, I’ve still got a couple of names to find and get contacted every few months by friends and relatives of those that never made it home and add to the post. The post, more than anything I have written, is a joint effort and so much better for it. I often reflect on the individuals and the crash when I am passing through St John’s or heading over the bridge whose predecessor collapsed.
        I am so glad that the post has been of help to you.
        Kindest regards

  20. Trish Seabrook

    Thank you so much for doing this…..
    My Grandfather (AGL Ives) was involved in this rail disaster but I know very little about it other than the fact that he was seriously injured – broken pelvis among other things. He survived after spending 6 months in hospital. My father says he remembers clearly being called to the Headmasters office where he was away at school to be told the news.
    I don’t think my Grandfather ever spoke about it and I just can’t imagine how traumatised he would have been. He lived in Tonbridge and this was his daily commute in and out of London. Just looking through the list of those who sadly lost their lives, many of those were from Tonbridge and I imagine he would have known them or certainly known of them. So, so sad.
    Thank you for remembering them.

    1. Paul B Post author

      Thanks for the kind words; it was a generation that didn’t talk that much about traumatic events, perhaps conditioned by experiences in the two World Wars but there wasn’t the counselling that would be available now.

  21. Helen

    My grandfather Guthrie Birch was killed in this accident. I was not yet 5 and remember him clearly. He made a crib for my doll that I’ve carried with me throughout my life as a connection to him. Thank you for this article. Sixty three years later I’ve finally learned the details of what happened and shared them with my younger siblings here in Canada.

  22. Jennifer Avery

    by Reading the book “Small Pleasures” by Claire Chambers which opens with a press description of the Lewisham train disaster brought back a sharp memory. In the papers that morning my engagement was announced and as I was about to leave the office a phone call was put through to me from a very dear friend working in the city suggesting I should meet him that evening so that he could celebrate my news , I had made arrangements to go out with my fiance a little later so I said “could we make another time” I heard him call out to his father that he would be catching the usual after all and we said goodbye. The following evening reading the “Evening Standard on the bus to my flat in Victoria I was horrified to read his name but that his father who had been sitting opposite him had survived . I found it very hard to come to terms that had I just re-arranged my evening he might have lived , all these years later (I am one year short of 90) I wept for him again.
    May 7th 2021

  23. Pingback: The 1967 Hither Green Rail Crash | Running Past

  24. Hugh Rainbird

    I was 9 years of age at the time, and I was born in Lewisham Hospital, and after living in Hither Green, just down the line, we’d moved to New Eltham. The railway through St John’s was the way we travelled up to the West End for days out like Christmas shopping, and I was already a keen railway enthusiast, so this tragedy on our local line affected me very much. My father was the South of England representative of a Manchester textile company, and that day had been visiting a customer in Kent. Two friends of this customer were to make the journey to Central London, and my father offered them a lift into to our nearest station as the trains were already disrupted due to the fog, which was a common occurrence in those days. Afterwards we wondered how they had managed with the final leg of their journey, which would have been impossible by train after the accident.
    My Uncle Jack Wade worked in the City for a timber importing company called Entores, and sometimes caught the Hayes electric train that was involved in the crash to return home to Hayes in the evening, but was one of the fortunate ones who avoided being involved that night, though no doubt my Aunt and cousins were concerned about him until he got home.
    In my working life, I commuted almost daily under or over the rebuilt bridge, and was reminded of the circumstances of that tragic night.

  25. Barry Mellish

    My uncle, Jimmy Davis was slightly injured in the crash. He was a tattooist in the Waterloo Road where he had a small shop. I do remember that he went on a train as soon as he was able to after the crash. He said that if he hadn’t “forced” himself to go then he would probably never gone on a train again. He was badly shaken for several months

  26. Susan Smith

    How very sad that accident was!.
    I have vague memories of it as I was 10 at the time and the family next door were Salvation Army people who went to help with the rescue .Interesting but harrowing to read the details and comments all these years later.


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