Mayhem and murder on the Midland Railway

Newbury Branch meeting Wed 14th June 2017

Speakers: Chris & Judy Rouse

The Midland Railway was the backbone of rail communication in the nineteenth century, from St Pancras to Scotland and branching out eastwards and westwards.

Among its many early incidents and accidents was the case of Lady Zetland’s maid in the mid-nineteenth-century, when the aristocracy had their horse-carriages hoisted onto flatbed railway trucks in order to travel in the privacy to which they were accustomed.

But this, sadly for the maid who fell following a fire on the roof of the Zetland carriage, made communication between carriages and the driver impossible. However the maid, Emily Jeffs, survived, albeit maimed, and was eventually secured compensation thanks to her influential employers, who held the railway to account.

The second tale described the sad story of a railway employee, Ralph Thompson, who cut his own throat whilst his wife was delivering to his employer a sick note excusing him from work. His suicide was attributed to temporary insanity, a verdict necessary for his widow to inherit. Thompson’s popularity at work was attested to by an enormous turnout for his funeral, and an ornate gravestone.

The third story concerned murder by railwayman William Thomas, kept on in work as a clerk after he had lost an arm and a leg. Nonetheless he went on to kill his landlady, perhaps because she had repudiated his advances. The treatment of this as a “crime passionel” meant he escaped the hangman, being sentenced instead to penal servitude for life in Portland.

The speakers had painstakingly pieced these stories together from railway records (of which they hold a significant archive which they run as a small business, Wyvern Railway Ancestors), press cuttings and records in the TNA.

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