Today is the 60th Anniversary of the Harrow & Wealdstone Disaster. In remembrance of the tragedy that occured that day, below you will find the article about the disaster that first appeared on this website last year.

Newsreel Footage of the Disaster

The Night Train South

When the Perth to Euston Express pulled into Crewe on the 8th October 1952 in the early hours of the morning it was already 13 minutes late, largely thanks to heavy fog on the journey south. Taking over the train at Crewe were Driver R.S Jones and Fireman C. Turnock, relief drivers attached to the Crewe North shed. Experienced men both, they likely realised that the rest of the journey would probably be no easier.

Indeed by the time they’d managed to attach City of Glasgow, the LMS Coronation Class 4-6-2 tender engine which would take them south, they had already lost another 16 minutes, and watched enviously as the non-stopping Glasgow to Euston Express flashed past on the platform opposite.

Neither Jones nor Turnock were particularly fazed by the weather though, their train’s Guard would later report. At 43, Jones was widely regarded by his colleagues as a careful and conscientious driver. A man who spent most of his time focused on either the job or his family, he had been in service on the railways in some form or other since 1927 when he’d started as a Cleaner. He’d spent time as a Fireman before passing out as a Driver in 1948 (with high marks) and knew most of the routes out of Crewe like the back of his hand. This included the fast run down to Euston, which he’d carried out almost 30 times before without incident.

Despite only being 23, Fireman Turnock was equally experienced. He had joined the railways as a Bar Boy in 1943 and become a Cleaner the following year. He’d been a Fireman since 1945 (appointed at the humble age of 16) and was regarded by most of his seniors as a man well on the way to being a Driver himself. Like Jones, he was generally regarded as a conscientious railwayman who took his job seriously, and had fired London expresses more than 30 times before.

So as the Perth to Euston express pulled out of Crewe and headed out into the pre-dawn light, there was no indication that these two men were about to play a major role in the worst peacetime railway disaster the UK had ever seen.

The Daily Grind

Meanwhile down south, Signalman Armitage was just coming on shift at Harrow No. 1 signal box, just to the north of Harrow & Wealdstone station. Armitage had started out as a Signalman with the London, Midland & Scottish before his career had been interrupted by the war. He’d volunteered for the army upon the outbreak of hostilities and seen service in Military Transportation both at home and abroad. He returned to civilian life with a great deal of experience, and had been serving as a District Signal Reliefman for the Watford Area ever since. By all accounts another competent and able figure, Armitage had the morning shift that day at Harrow No. 1. From here he would be responsible for all the lines in and around the station, of which there were three pairs – slow, fast and electric.

The fog was still lying low across the ground as Armitage took charge, and so he immediately confirmed to central control that – as per standard procedure – he’d be operating under tighter rules with regards to signalling. Broadly speaking this meant taking a more cautious approach to traffic working and allowing greater headways between services, in case conditions meant a driver missed a warning light or signal. By dawn, however, the fog had begun to clear and only a few drifting wisps remained. Overall it looked set to be a bright and sunny day. By 8.10 he could see well beyond the marker-points the signallers used to determine whether fog-working was required or not, and so he informed the relevant parties that Harrow No. 1 would be switching back to normal working.

Slightly before this, at 07.31, the Tring to Euston local passenger service pulled out of Tring station and began its journey into town. It was always a popular service due to its timing, but it had been even busier than usual in recent weeks, as the previous timetabled service had been cancelled due to signalling works. As a result, it wasn’t long before the Tring was running slightly late due to the need to dwell at stations longer to pick up the extra passengers.

Finally, at Euston itself, the Manchester express was preparing to depart. It was to be double-headed by 45637 Windward Islands, an LMS Jubilee Class and 46202 Princess Anne, an LMS Princess Royal Class. Due to leave at 08.00 it too would ultimately depart slightly late, although its drivers would have hoped to quickly make that time up.

A Normal Days Work

So as the clock ticked past 08.00, all three services were running slightly late – although as expected the Manchester Express was soon making up time. Indeed as the crew on the Euston-bound Perth service had expected, they’d actually lost even more time after leaving Crewe thanks to the fog. Luckily, as the fog had started to clear, they’d begun to make this back up, and by the time they reached Watford they found they had virtually caught up with the Glasgow service that had overtaken them at Crewe station (and which itself was now running a few minutes late as well).

As the Glasgow service slowed to a relatively sedate 15mph in order to pass through the Watford Tunnel, Jones and Turnock found themselves being held at a red signal in order to prevent the two services getting too close together. Whilst the Perth service waited, the Glasgow train cleared the tunnel and swiftly accelerated back up to approximately 50mph and continued south.

A few minutes later at Harrow No. 1, Armitage received the call from Hatch End, the next box up the line, to say that the Glasgow train was inbound. He accepted control of it into his sector. Looking south down at the fast platform through which the train would pass, he noted that it was busier than usual, thanks to both the earlier service cancellation and the fact that the Tring stopper was late. Armitage telephoned Station Foreman Fosket to ask him to warn the passengers to stand back as a fast train was approaching.

There was plenty of time to do this, Armitage knew, because after entering his control the Glasgow train had to pass through three sets of signals – the “Distant,” the “Outer Home” and the “Inner Home.” Even at speed, this would take a couple of minutes.

Fosket dutifully passed on the warning, and the passengers stood back as the Glasgow train flew past.

At approximately 8.14am, just as the Glasgow service was blasting through Harrow & Wealdstone, Armitage was asked to accept the local Tring service into his control as well. It was at Harrow & Wealdstone that this service left the slow line and joined the “fast” for its final journey into Euston itself. The Glasgow service had been lucky that the Tring service was running late, as the practice was then (as is still often the case now) to give locals priority over expresses if both were running late. If this meant a late express train crawling into its ultimate destination behind an all-stopper, the theory went, then so be it – as getting regular commuters to work had to be the priority. If the Tring service had been on time, then the Glasgow service would have been held and would have had to crawl into Euston behind it.

Indeed this seemed set to be the fate of the express from Perth, for Armitage had barely accepted the slow train and given it the green signal to advance into the station when, at 08.17, he was asked by Hatch End whether he was ready to receive Jones and Turnock into his care as well. Armitage no doubt dwelt for a second on the lack of luck the Crewe men seemed to have – if they’d been a few minutes earlier he could have let them follow the Glasgow service through with the stopper following on behind. As it was, however, he’d already set the points to allow the Tring train onto the fast line and into the station and it was already crossing them.

This didn’t stop him accepting the Perth service though, nor should it have done. Armitage knew that, like the Glasgow service, it would have to pass through three signals before it reached the station.

The first of these, the bright light known as Distant, he set to yellow for “Caution.” Like the Glasgow service before it, the express from Perth would be coming in fast at 50 or 60mph, and this caution signal would tell Jones to slow down in expectation of a red signal ahead.

Jones would then see that red signal on the Semaphore arm of Outer Home and know he needed to stop, giving the local service time to clear the platform. If, somehow, Jones missed the caution at Distant, then the red at Outer Home would still give him time to hit the brakes before he reached the red at Inner Home. Essentially, it was all perfectly safe and standard operating practice – as long as Jones didn’t somehow manage to miss both the Distant and Outer signals nothing bad would happen, and even then only if he didn’t recognise from his surroundings that he’d done so and shed any speed would there be any real trouble.

Unknown to Armitage though, Jones was about to do exactly that.

Missed Signals

No-one was ever able to establish why Jones and Turnock failed to stop. The Distant signal was working and well located, as was the Outer Home. This was checked after the accident by the investigators, and was confirmed by the driver of the Glasgow train who, it will be remembered, had passed through only minutes before. Even if they hadn’t seen the signals, both men had worked the line before and should reasonably have expected them. Certainly, Turnock as Fireman was badly placed to see the signals but like his Driver he’d been working the route long enough and was conscientious enough to normally spot that they’d probably skipped a signal.

Ultimately the accident report tentatively concluded that somehow Jones had missed the Distant, either through a sudden wisp of the remaining fog or possibly the remains of the smoke from a passing freight train. Then – still looking for the Distant (which was deliberately positioned at Driver eye level) – he somehow missed the Outer Home, which being a traditional semaphore-style signal was higher up, as well.

Unaware of the disaster that was about to unfold, Armitage had meanwhile returned his attention to the slow service, which had pulled into the platform. At 08.17 he’d also accepted the Manchester Express from Euston heading in the other direction, which would pass through shortly on the adjacent fast “down” line (lines heading away from London are always regarded as “down,” regardless of geography).

A minute or so later though at about 08.18, to Armitage’s utter horror, the Perth train came storming through the mist about 600 yards to his left, flying through Outer Home at close to 60mph.

Armitage’s experience and training kicked in and he dived for signal lever 40, which set detonators on the track in a last desperate attempt to warn the Euston-bound express it had overrun. Whether because of this or because he had suddenly seen the signal box looming out of the mist and realised his mistake, Jones finally slammed on the brakes.

It was too late.

Realising a disaster was about to unfold, Armitage instinctively lunged for the lever that would signal the outbound Manchester express that was also now rapidly approaching the station to stop. Just as he flipped its signal to red, however, the buzzer sounded indicating that it had already passed it.

At just before 08.19 the 11 car, 364 ton express from Perth slammed into the rear of the stationary 9 car, 332 ton Tring stopper (carrying more than 800 passengers) at over 50mph.

The force of the impact shattered and telescoped the last three carriage of the stopper into a length of a single carriage, jumping the whole train forward by about 20 yards. The carriages of the stopper service were then flung to the left as the Perth train continued to plough under it, landing on the adjacent down line.

Seconds later, With no time to brake and moving at about 60mph itself (as a result, tragically, of its successful efforts to make up time), the Manchester express slammed with full force into the wrecked stopper. The Manchester’s dual engines left the track and ploughed into the station platforms. Momentum carried its carriages forward up and over the existing wreckage, crushing them between that and the station’s heavy footbridge overhead.

As the dust began to settle on Harrow & Wealdstone station, over 90 people were already dead. More would die in the coming hours and days, with the final toll being 112 dead and 340 injured. It was the greatest railway disaster since 1915.

The Need For Change

In railway terms, the accident at Harrow & Wealdstone marked the end of resistance to the systemwide installation of Automatic Warning Systems (AWS) on Britain’s railways. AWS worked by giving some kind of automatic feedback to the Driver in the Engine when he passed a signal at caution or danger, regardless of whether he had seen it or not. It was not a new idea – the Great Western Railway had used AWS since about 1905 and the Pringle Committee had recommended that similar systems be adopted by all Britain’s railway companies. Since then, however, uptake had been virtually non-existent. Attempts to establish a standardised AWS approach across all the players had become bogged down in committees and trials, and the cost of implementation was also a barrier to take up – especially after the War.

Indeed in many circles there was a tacit, unspoken belief that it wasn’t really worth it – that as long as you had experienced, cautious drivers and signallers who followed the rules and the equipment was up to scratch major accidents and disasters could be avoided. Major accidents (such as the 1915 accident at Quintinshil) were the result of failures of men and machines, the argument went, something that AWS would not necessarily address.

The disaster at Harrow & Wealdstone blew that argument out of the water. The subsequent investigation, helped by the fact that so many railwaymen were on site during and after the accident, had a wealth of evidence that clearly established that Armitage had behaved completely appropriately in the signal box and could not have done more to stop the disaster. Indeed Mr. S. Williams, a Signal and Telecommunications Engineer with the LMR had been travelling in the Tring service and ran straight for Harrow No. 1 box as soon as he climbed out of the wreckage to make sure that all the lines in and out of the station had been secured. He discovered that Armitage had indeed done so even as the disaster was unfolding, and was able to confirm that all the gear was locked in the appropriate places that would back up Armitage’s later account of how events had unfolded.

The equipment couldn’t be faulted either – all the signals were working and clearly visible both before and after the crash. Jones and Turnock were also capable and experienced men. Although both died in the accident, post-mortems showed no signs that they had been incapacitated in the cab prior to the accident (indeed Jones was still gripping the brake lever when he was found), and neither had ever shown a failure to give 100% attention to their duties before.

The simple fact was that the human element wasn’t always enough – you needed automatic aids as well. From the moment the Harrow & Wealdstone happened country-wide AWS became inevitable.

Saving Lives in the Aftermath

This story, however, doesn’t just end with the crash itself – nor with the railways. For the rescue and response to the Harrow & Wealdstone disaster in the immediate aftermath would have effects on British emergency response services that endure to this day.

Within minutes of the disaster, the rescue effort had begun in earnest. The stopper was a popular train with railway workers commuting to Euston (indeed a significant proportion of the final death toll were Euston men and women) and those that were unhurt began to pour out of the train and take control of the situation. The wreakage was a mess of broken and crushed carriages, all wedged on top of each other, with wounded and dead trapped inside.

The emergency services soon began to arrive from the surrounding areas to find passengers, railwaymen and locals already trying to help survivors. It soon became clear that the scale of the disaster was greater than anyone had imagined, and soon help was being called for from a wider and wider area.

Overall, control of the site was fragmented – with railwaymen, councilmen, police and firemen all trying their best to work together without really knowing who was officially in charge or should be doing what. Harrow & Wealdstone would prove to be one of the spurs to the establishment of Civil Disaster Plans by Britain’s local councils and their regular testing.

The Special Relationship

The disaster also marked a landmark moment for the fledgling NHS – partly due to a simple piece of chance.

Several men of the US Airforce had been on one of the trains. They were part of the 494th Medical Group which had just taken up station at the newly built and equipped USAF Hospital Station in South Ruslip, and they immediately threw themselves into the process of helping survivors. As the scale of the disaster began to become clear, they quickly approached the Police on site and asked permission to ring back to the USAF Hospital and call for more help. The Police swiftly agreed and, one phone call to their senior commanders later, the 494th were on full alert and ready to receive wounded.

More importantly, the 494th immediately dispatched an emergency response team to the site – 7 doctors and 1 nurse under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Weideman, USAF.

It’s tricky to know what went through the Colonel’s mind when he first arrived on site in mid-morning. The rescue effort by this point was well under way, but it was still a haphazard affair. Ambulances had began to pour in from various hospitals to the site within a few minutes of the disaster, and had been immediately loaded up with any wounded and dispatched on their way. The Colonel must have quickly realised, as had a number of senior medical and emergency service figures on site, that this had been a costly error. Ambulances that had departed with the lightly injured “walking wounded” who had been first out of the wreckage had yet to return to the site, and cars and even removal vans (according to the subsequent NHS Report into the disaster) were now frantically being commandeered to take the seriously injured away.

All around, more wounded were being pulled from the wreckage to add to those already on the station’s remaining platforms, adding to the confusion there.

Colonel Weideman and his team were well versed in the fledging art of combat medicine, something that had begun to emerge from the shadow of WW2. They swiftly realised that right now the situation at Harrow & Wealdstone bore more of a resemblance to the battlefield than a routine accident and their own training now came into play.

The American Medical team swiftly established a triage station on Platforms 5 and 6. Not knowing what to expect at the scene of the disaster, Weideman’s team had wisely elected to throw everything they could think of into the ambulance they had travelled down from South Ruislip with, rather than heading out with nothing. As they found themselves slapping IVs on and carry out plasma transfusions on the station concourse, this decision paid dividends.

There, on the platform, the 7 American doctors – helped by various British Doctors who had been nearby at the time (including some from RAF Fighter Command) – treated the most seriously wounded before they were taken to hospital. It was an act that saved many lives.

The Angel of Platform Six

In order to allow the doctors to focus on care, Nursing Lieutenant Abbie Sweetwine – the sole nurse that had accompanied the American team – focused on triage. Calmly and carefully, she managed the triage process on the platforms, identifying the most seriously injured and marking them out for attention. She also handed out cigarettes, tea and comfort to the shocked and lightly wounded. For many who found themselves on the platform that day, Sweetwine would be the face of hope and help – the “Angel of Platform 6” as she soon became known.

Sweetwine was also responsible for the seemingly simple (in hindsight) act for which all of the receiving hospitals would be most grateful – using a tube of lipstick she had on her person, she began marking patients.

Those that had already been treated had an “X” marked onto their forehead, those that had been given morphine were given an “M.” Through this system (which she passed on to the ambulancemen so they knew what the marks meant) Lieutenant Sweetwine gave to the receiving hospitals something incredibly precious – information. Hospitals receiving victims that had passed through the hands of the unit from the 494 were quickly able to build up a basic idea of their treatment so far, helping to prevent overdoses of drugs like morphine and giving them a headstart in identifying and treating the most critically injured.

None of the concepts put into practice by Colonel Weideman, Lieutenant Sweetwine and the USAF medical team were entirely new. Triage and indeed the concept of the “Golden Hour” in which it was vital to treat patients, even if that meant doing so on-site, dated back to WW1 and before. Harrow & Wealdstone, however, represented the first time that these concepts, baptized in the fire and horrors of WW2, were publicly used in full force in a civilian setting – well before they became more familiar to both the public and healthcare industry at large after their refinement in the Korean War.

The NHS Takes Note

It was a lesson not lost on the NHS and Britain’s emergency services. Just as the disaster marked the point at which AWS was rendered inevitable for the railway industry in the UK, it also marked the point at which the British medical establishment acknowledged that focusing solely on getting the victim to hospital as quickly as possible wasn’t the answer. The life-saving work of the American medical team on that October day served as clear and demonstrable proof that ambulances shouldn’t just be about “scoop and run” – there was a time and a need for “stay and play” as well and ambulancemen needed to be combat medics just as much as they needed to be drivers.

In essence, Harrow & Wealdstone was crucial to the invention of the modern Paramedic.

When Jones and Turnock took over the Perth – Euston express on that fateful day, they could little have suspected that they were about to be involved in a railway disaster almost unparalleled in British history. One that would not only carry a tragically high death toll but which would also, in various ways, shape the future of both the railways and British healthcare.

Proving the Dream

The story of the Harrow & Wealdstone disaster, however, is still not quite done.

Take a look again at the newsreal footage at the top of this article showing the aftermath of the disaster – specifically the section about a minute in where the medical team from the USAF appear. Clearly visible in that clip, standing at the back, is Nursing Lieutenant Sweetwine.

Abbie Sweetwine was black.

It’s something that barely registers now, but back in 1952 Lieutenant Sweetwine was very much an exception – one of the few African-American women serving in the USAF and possibly the only one in the 494th. When we look at the campaign against racial discrimination in both the UK and USA, it easy to focus on the headline events and figures. In doing so we forget that discrimination is often overcome through the quiet acts of bravery as it is through the loud ones.

Lieutenant Sweetwine thus played both an important primary role on that 8th October and, accidentally, an important secondary one as well. For through the simple but very visible act of carrying out her duty, and through saving lives at Harrow & Wealdstone, the Lieutenant put another tiny crack in the ridiculous notion that somehow her ethnicity made her less capable at her job than others.

As “the Angel of Platform Six” (a title bestowed on her by the Daily Mirror) Sweetwine enjoyed a brief period of minor fame, and if you dig deep enough today you can find mention of her in the archives of various newspapers and magazines of the time. In all cases – whether it’s coverage in a Hertfordshire local of her picking up an award from the people of Croxley Green for her actions, or answering questions for a small piece in Life Magazine – Sweetwine comes across as a smart, humble individual who firmly believed she was just doing her job.

In its own way, and for many people, that was just as important and inspiring a message as any civil rights speech.

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There are 115 comments on this article
  1. Greg Tingey says:

    I used to commute to Harrow daily, many years ago.
    One of the people I worked with was a narrow-survivor of the crah. He’d got OFF the up ex-Tring, and was crossing the bridge. He said (he’s dead, now) that he remembered a great grinding noise – the next thing he remembered was being actually at work, about 10 minutes later ….
    There is still a trace of the tragedy, if you know where to look – inside the footbridge.
    The wreck destroyed the bridge from underneath, where it crosses the fast lines.
    Now, if you note, the bridge is RIVETED across the electric and slow lines, but WELDED where it crosses the fast.
    A tiny mark of a great event.

    A valuable source for more on this, is a book by Oakwood Press: “Harrow & Wealdstone 50 years on”
    ISBN: 0 85361 593 4

  2. John Bull says:

    Cheers Greg – I had no idea the bridge still carried the scars.

    In my research for this, I came across multiple accounts from people who described it as sounding like a great roar and a twisted scream. A chilling image

  3. Greg Tingey says:

    William Nash, BR employee and noted railway photographer was one of those killed.
    He was travelling to work at Euston in the rear of the up Tring.
    Oakwood also publish some of his work …..

  4. timbeau says:

    Really interesting: a lot of detail of an incident I only knew the bare bones of before.

    On a couple of points of detail – was the Glasgow train really limited to 15mph in Watford Tunnel, or is that a typo for 50 (the speed the Perth is reported as passing through)?
    It seems strange that in four years (driver) and seven (fireman) they had each only crewed a fast train to London thirty times – that’s not even once a month.
    Oh, and in two places you have mis-spelled “brakes”

  5. John Bull says:

    yeah, there’s a couple of annoying typos in there which I’ll fix when I get back from the pub

    All services were limited to 15mph at that time through the tunnel, they’d then briefly accelerate before coasting (at speed) downhill into Euston where possible.

    With regards to those route figures, I think they’re low – they’re what’s in the official accident report, but my gut is that they actually mean over the previous 2 years, but I can’t prove that so thought it best to err on the side of caution.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic – one of the most interesting articles on here

  7. Stuart says:

    What dies it mean by ‘securing’ the lines around the station after the accident? Is it just putting all signals to red or was/is there the practise of locking everything off for evidence too?

    Also why did the Perth – London train have to change engine at Crewe?

  8. George Moore says:


    How you managed to write nearly 4,800 words in less than 24 hours I’ll never know. Excellent article! 🙂

  9. Jon says:

    A really excellent article – you have a talent!

  10. Mike says:

    5 years later, Lewisham.

    Again, potentially preventable if AWS had been installed.

    If the airline industry had responded in as timely fashion as the railways to necessary safety measures, would it be as successful as it is today ??

  11. George Moore says:

    What happened to other trains (i.e. the Bakerloo line and other mainline services)? How long did it take to notify the drivers that they were approaching a crash site and to stop immediately or at the next station, and when was the line fully open again? I assume the Bakerloo line was suspended north of Queen’s Park and all mainline services were suspended south of Watford Junction or Tring. Is that correct?

  12. Anonymous says:

    one minor point – “their train’s Guardsman” – shouldn’t that be “guard”

  13. Matt-Z says:

    Great article on a tragic tale, thank you for sharing it.

    Lt. Sweetwine sounds like an amazing woman. A bit of googling suggests she died in 2009. Perhaps a candidate for a memorial statue, in memory of all the victims, as she seems to encapsulate the disaster.

  14. Hreh Tingey says:

    Train engines were changed, usually because they were out of COAL – or would run out before the next proper stop.
    IIRC the longest run ever made by a single loco. was after the 1948(?) flash-flood washouts on the N part of the E coast.
    An A-4 ran from LKX to Waverley via Newcastle, Carlisle, and over the Waverley route.
    Water was ok (troughs) but I think there was about a cwt of coal left at the end …..
    The “Electric” lines were oddly enough, vary late to open.
    Remember Windward Islands 45637 had completely cleared platforms 2/3 and ended up on its side right across the double-slip crossover leading into the H&W electric reversing sidings.
    The up/dn slow lines were re-opened early the following day (9th Oct) subject to a 5mph TSR.
    The “electric” lines were re-opened at 04.30, Sat 11th Oct
    The main was re-opened at 20.00 on the 12th, and a temporary scaffolding footbridge was up and in use by the same time.

    Come on!, the s.o.p. was followed: “Line-obstruction – Danger” Control was informed, and trains were stopped where they were until instructions could be issued.
    Diversions then occurred, usually to St. Pancras or Paddington for long-distance trains, and freight was also diverted.

  15. GT says:

    Proof-read the main entry, but not my own name!

  16. John Bull says:

    I assumed it was your posher brother.

  17. timbeau says:

    If I recall LTC Rolt’s account in “Red for Danger” correctly, an electric train was indeed approaching the station, but came to a stand when the power failed as a result of wreckage shorting the live rails.

    Locos were often changed, as “Greg’s posher brother” said, because it was the quickest way of refuelling. Often it was also because different types of loco were suited to different sections of the route (were “Duchesses” allowed north of Glasgow?), to stop locos straying too far from their home depot, and because the driver needs to be familar both with the route and the type of loco he is to drive.

  18. John Bull says:

    I think one of the leccy lines was indeed shorted, but Armitage had the presence of mind to shut down the other (going from memory of the Accident Report).

  19. Anonymous says:

    When poking about that station prior to TfL getting the overground services a few years ago I thought some of the old columns for the footbridge looked out of line as well. After looking up the history of the station I put it down to this incident although there was nothing like the information available in the article above. Good work!

  20. Pedantic says:

    timbeau, you do indeed recall “Red for Danger” correctly.

    Hreh seems to be a much nicer chap than Greg – and very informative.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Interesting, thanks.
    (typo – wreakage)

  22. Greg Tingey says:

    Stop being silly – we’re not playing “Mornington Crescent” in THIS entry (are we?)

  23. Graham says:

    Truly rivetting read – Excellent stuff

  24. Lewis says:

    Fantastic article! Thanks!

  25. Chris says:

    I was only 6 years old in 1952, however Harrow and Wealdstone was my local main line station (until 1969). I have some personal things I can remember to add to the story superbly told in the article. There were seven (not six) lines in the station until 1962. [1] The seventh line was a local branch to Belmont (Originally to Stanmore when built in the 1930’s) it was located on the opposite side of the station to the Bakerloo and had no part in the accident as far as I know, so not surprising it gets no mention.
    I was too young to remember anything directly of the accident although it undoubtedly overshadowed the district for some time. My elder brother’s friend received a certificate of commendation from Harrow for his rescue and first aid efforts on the day. It was overlooked that it was a school day and he was not en route to school! He was intent on a day of truant.
    Much later, I married the daughter of a railway employee who had been in the train going to Euston where he worked. He was part of a large contingent of people who had been transferred from Derby when the railways were reorganised and centralised. Wealdstone was expanding at the time and most found new homes in the district. That explains the large number of railway men present as mentioned. He realised that his wife would soon hear about the accident and be extremely worried about his fate. His solution was to call her by phone on some pretext so that she could know he was alive before she heard about the accident. He was late that morning and ran to join the train; he was in the guards van when the crash occurred. He put his survival down to that. He spent the day helping to drag his workmates from the wreckage and was affected for the rest of his life by the experience. Although he had a first class pass, he always travelled in the guards van after that day.
    The subtly of the rivets and weld on the footbridge has never been noticed by me but I certainly cannot use the station without looking at the footbridge and noting the repaired sections.

  26. Pat says:

    My mother-in-law (Lilian May Grantham) was working in the cafe on the forecourt of Harrow and Wealdstone station at the time of the crash. Her overriding memory was the number of people injured. The cafe supplied endless cups of tea for survivors, rescue and railway workers.

  27. Anonymous says:

    A very interesting account of the tragedy, thank you.

  28. Caz says:

    Having found this via the link to Lt Sweetwine in the 2012 quiz, I’m shocked that I have never heard of this horrific event.

    A well written and important piece of text to help people learn more about such an important, yet tragic incident in our history.

  29. George1507 says:

    I read an article a few years ago – sadly I don’t recall where – which mentioned that someone who survived the Quintinshill disaster as a schoolchild in 1915 was killed on the Perth train at Harrow & Wealdstone, 37 years later.

    I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s an extraordinary story.

  30. Oliver says:

    My brother, who was 13 at the time, went to school in Harrow. There was a boy in his class who would normally have been on the 7.31 Tring to Euston stopper, but halfway to his local railway station he realised he had left his season ticket at home, so he had to go back home to get his ticket. This made him miss the train. Very lucky !

  31. Ben says:

    Thank you for this wonderfully informative article. I particularly enjoyed the way the events were contextualised and related to the evolution of race relations and emergency services.

    One question: Why did the Tring service need to change from the slow to the fast lines? I understand there is convergence of the slow and DC lines nearer Euston but was it not possible to run on the slow lines all the way to Euston in those days?

  32. timbeau says:

    As I read in “Red for Danger”, Harrow was the last stop before Euston for this train so, to allow it an obstructed run to the terminus, it used the fast lines – unobstructed by goods trains heading for Wembley yard, or stoppers calling at Wembley, Willesden Junction (which had platforms on the slow lines until the 1960s) and Queens Park. The policy was to prioritise commuter services over late-running sleepers, hence the decision to hold the Perth train until the local had cleared the station.

  33. Ben says:

    Thanks for that explanation timbeau

  34. Ian9f says:

    I am a signal engineer, and one of my first supervisors was Cyril Thorpe, who was the signal lineman at Harrow, and was in Harrow no2 box when the accident happened. I wish I had written his recollections down. It was an experience I hope I never have to face.

  35. johna says:

    Very interesting article tks

  36. Anonymous says:

    What a fascinating article – thank you.

  37. Quo Vadis says:

    An excellent account of the accident, and its consequences. I wish all blogs were as interesting & informative as this one!

  38. timbeau says:

    Reading this again, I noticed a minor innaccuracy – “Due to leave at 08.00 it too would ultimately depart slightly late, although its Driver hoped to use the raw power of his two engines to make up the time soon after leaving the station.”

    Multiple-unit operation is not possible with steam locomotives – a double-headed train required two crews: although the continuous (vacuum) brake would be under the control of the leading driver, the locomotives’ steam brakes and regulators could each only be controlled from their own footplates.

  39. John Bull says:

    Good point. I’ve rephrased.

  40. Derek Sidey says:

    Excellent article.
    I was 5 years old at the time of this accident and Harrow & Wealdstone was my local station.
    I well remember my parents and school teacher discussing the accident and of course it was the main news in the newspapers for days.
    My Father was from Perth and we had travelled on the Perth to Euston train after a visit to my grandparents only a week before.My parents often thought of their luck in the timing of that trip.
    As a train spotter later in my youth I seem to remember that one of the engines in the accident was re-built but two scrapped. Can anyone confirm this?

  41. timbeau says:

    “46242 City of Glasgow” was the one that was salvaged – the newest of the three at twelve years old. The others were both 17 years old, although parts of the “Princess Anne” (46202) were only a few months old, as it had been extensively rebuilt earlier that year, retaining the original and conventional “Princess Royal” class boiler and firebox but replacing the original experimental “Turbomotive” parts with a spare set of “Coronation-class” frames and cylinders. Some reports suggest that the frames and cylinders were used in the repair of “City of Glasgow”.

    This month’s Railway Magazine has an extensive article on the subject of the Harrow accident and of 46202

  42. Transtraxman says:

    An excellent article.

    Talking about accidents I seem to remember two specifically in Greater London which particularly stick in my mind.

    -Hither Green rail crash, 5 November 1967; 49 killed, 78 injured: broken rail, poor track maintenance; derailment at 70 mph.
    -East Coast Main Line, Potters Bar, 10 May 2002; 7 killed, 76 injured: undetected points fault; derailed carriage rolled, coming to rest on platforms.


  43. timbeau says:

    Lewisham in 1957 had some similarities to Harrow – steam-hauled train ran into the back of stationary suburban train in fog, with further damage caused by something else hitting the wreckage (in this case a bridge brought down by the first collision: and this was no flimsy footbridge but the one varrying the Nunhead spur connection).

    Other big ones in London were Clapham Junction (another double collision caused by a wrong side signal failure), Southall and Ladbroke Grove (trains overran signals) and possibly the most influential, although the death toll was mercifully small (only four) was the Hatfield derailment which changed the whole business culture of Railtrack and ultinmately led to its renationalisation as Network Rail.

  44. Pc6 says:

    Thank you for this excellent article!
    Nicely written and very informative.

  45. Anonymous says:

    My mum and dad were on the tring train even now she relives the event every time we stop at the statin on our way to euston

  46. Peter says:

    Timbeau –

    Lewisham – no, nothing else hit the wreckage.

    The intial collision brought down the bridge (unfortuantely crushing many in the process) but the driver of the next Nunhead train over the damaged overhead track managed to stop in time when he saw the rather unusual angle!!

    ‘Merely’ a two-train collision…


  47. timbeau says:

    Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear: the “something else” to which i referred was indeed the bridge span, rather than a third train, which hit the wreckage of the first collision.

    At Clapham Junction a fourth train narrowly avoided the wreckage of the other three, as the signal that had failed to protect the first train so that the second ran into it (and a third coming the other way ran into the wreckage) was still green when the next train came along, but fortunately the driver swa the back of the second in time to stop.

  48. Driverg says:

    Timbeau. You are wrong about the fourth train at Clapham. The guard of the train that ran up the back in the first collision managed to get emergency protection down. Detonators and Red flag. The driver of the fourth saw this and stopped. I used to work with the chap.

  49. Anonymous says:


    Potters Bar is not in Greater London. It is in Hertfordshire, and has been so since 1 April 1965.

    By the way, the reason that there could be no prosecution at the time is that, according to a contemporaneous article, someone tampered with the points before the scene was secured for investigation.


    It is likely that the reason for the lax attitude to track inspection was that the phenomenon of gauge corner cracking in relatively new continuous welded rail had not yet manifested itself. Presumably the people carrying out the inspections believed that failure of the relevant CWR sections was practically impossible. Similar cause to the Camden Town tube derailment – combination of new wheel profiles and new rails.

    JB – Thanks, excellent article.

  50. timbeau says:


    I was relying on the information in the Hidden Report (paras 3.16 and 4.20 to 4.25) which says that the Weybridge roundabout train had passed WF138 at a proceed aspect (single yellow) – the photograph on the cover confirms that it had indeed passed that signal and stopped only three car lengths short of the rear of the Poole train. The report says that the Weybride train was coasting because of he loss of tractoin current, and the driver was alerted to the presence of the train ahead by seeing it. This is not to say that there was no other protection in place, but the report suggests that the driver saw the train before he reached the detonators.

    The report does mention that the train guards were, at the time, about to put “more” protection down, and I am sure that the prompt actions of all the staff on the day prevented an even bigger pile up. The report mentions that by the time the Weybridge train came on the scene, there was already a train stopped on the up slow just short of the scene.

  51. Rob Jennings says:

    I can put you in touch with an 80 year old survivor of the express train who is happy for his memories to be recorded for the record. He was in the 2nd class sleeper car and was returning from National Service before going up to Oxford.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Not on this thread but did anyone else notice this on Railway Eye regarding WCML franchise kerfuffle:

    This from Railway Questions in the House of Lords yesterday:

    Earl Attlee (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative)

    “The department expects additional costs from mobilising Directly Operated Railways…”

  53. Jacky says:

    My grandad was a police officer and attended the train crash shortly after the accident. Although he never really talked about his work in the Met, I do recall him saying that he had seen awful sights that he could never forget.

  54. Czyrko says:

    @Chris 02:10PM, 11th November 2011

    The Stanmore branch was opened in 1890. Belmont halt was added in 1932 in open countryside where Kenton Lane crossed the line and as suburban residential development was beginning in the locality.

    Great article Mr Bull. My brother and I were spotters on Platform 6 about 8-10 years later and it was only when I read the Accident Report that I realised that the Tring stopper was at Platform 4 rather than 6.

  55. Mark Edwards says:

    This is late but it is only now that my family are talking

    My step daughters grandmother was 20 at the time and was on the train from Perth travelling to Brighton via London.

    She had completed a red cross training course and had the red cross on her arm.

    After the accident she took care of a number of injured and was mistaken to be one of the nurses although she was actually a passenger on the train.

    She clearly remembers the day and the horror of the events, she was talking the other day on how she brought a baby out of the wreckage and took this to an ambulance but the baby had not survived.

    She is thankfully still alive and I would like to hear from any survivors who may have memories.

  56. Tresco says:

    To John Bull,

    I came across this account by accident. I am so pleased I did. It spurred me to download the accident report, which gave so much more of the detail, but nothing of the human dimension evident in this powerful and so well written account.

    Your summary of the actions of the first responders’ and the effect that had on the conduct of emergency services is well thought out. Your notes on the role of Lt. Sweetwine is very poignant: tragedy has no color, as she said later.

    Thank you for taking the time to research and share such a powerful reflection.

    ATG, Midland, MI

  57. Phil says:

    According to books I have read about the Harrow & Wealdstone train crash, the Northbound (down) express was a Liverpool express, not a Manchester express.

    The Perth to london train was running an hour and a half late, the Tring to Euston local was running fifteen minutes late and the “down” express was running five minutes late.

    The guard of the Tring-Euston local was returning to his cab to give the driver the signal to go. He saw the express train approaching st speed and jumped down onto the railway line from platform 5 to take cover from the impending crash.

  58. timbeau says:

    Phil – it was both

    The Official Report into the crash says that the northbound train was the “8.0 a.m. Down express from Euston to Liverpool and Manchester”, although it is referred to in the rest of the report simply as “the Liverpool train”). Presumably the Manchester portion was to have been detached at Crewe.

  59. John Bull says:

    Yeah – basically it ran to both.

    Timings here are based off the accident report as well.

  60. Greg Tingey says:

    Phil 8th Jan
    The book I referred to much earlier gives the full consists for all the trains involved.
    The “Liverpool” is quoted as being of 15 coaches for Liverpool & Manchester. or Crewe Coach 4 was a brake-3rd, as were coaches 6 & 11.
    From the text of the book, it says that the first 4 were for Lime St, the remainder of the normal coaches for London Road, and the last 4, all “full brakes” were to have been detached @ Crewe …..

    Repeat info:
    A valuable source for more on this, is a book by Oakwood Press: “Harrow & Wealdstone 50 years on”
    ISBN: 0 85361 593 4

  61. Alan D says:

    Very interesting read. I was 8 years old in 1952 and well remember this case. My mother was working part time for a lady in Coledale Drive, Stanmore at the time (we lived about half a mile away). The lady’s next door neighbour was a Mr Cole. I always remember that because of the similarity in his surname to the name of the road. He commuted into Euston every day.

    On that tragic 8th October he went off to work as usual but never returned. Obviously the accident was front page news and there was a lot of discussion as to the cause. I distinctly remember Dad saying “Looks like they’re trying to blame it on Armitage”. I must admit that for many years afterwards I thought that there must have been a mixup with the signalling, and surely the driver of the express train would not have carried on through the station against adverse signals.

    I recently read through the transcript of the court proceedings and it was obvious that Armitage felt that the authorities had him marked out as the villain of the piece. Gradually, however, the witness statements began to paint a different picture and finally it emerged that the three signals were indeed against Driver Jones and he had inexplicably ignored them. Of course, we’ll never know the reason – maybe it was fatigue having come down from Crewe in the fog, maybe he was just trying to make up time – who knows.

    We often come down to London via Watford Junction, and that clock tower at Wealdstone seems to stand as a memorial to the victims of the tragedy.

  62. Alan D says:

    Very interesting read. I was 8 years old in 1952 and well remember this case. My mother was working part time for a lady in Coledale Drive, Stanmore at the time (we lived about half a mile away). The lady’s next door neighbour was a Mr Cole. I always remember that because of the similarity in his surname to the name of the road. He commuted into Euston every day.

    On that tragic 8th October he went off to work as usual but never returned. Obviously the accident was front page news and there was a lot of discussion as to the cause. I distinctly remember Dad saying “Looks like they’re trying to blame it on Armitage”. I must admit that for many years afterwards I thought that there must have been a mixup with the signalling, and surely the driver of the express train would not have carried on through the station against adverse signals.

    I recently read through the transcript of the court proceedings and it was obvious that Armitage felt that the authorities had him marked out as the villain of the piece. Gradually, however, the witness statements began to paint a different picture and finally it emerged that the three signals were indeed against Driver Jones and he had inexplicably ignored them. Of course, we’ll never know the reason – maybe it was fatigue having come down from Crewe in the fog, maybe he was just trying to make up time – who knows.

    We often come down to London via Watford Junction, and that clock tower at Wealdstone seems to stand as a memorial to the victims of the tragedy.

  63. Dave K says:

    A utterly fascinating read. Being a bit of a train enthusiast I have heard about it but didn’t know the full details – probably because as it happened before I was born. Clapham had the most personal effect on me, I first heard about it minutes after it happened. 35 miles away I stood alone in my signal box, feeling powerless, saddened and shocked that it should happen on ‘our ‘modern’ railway.

  64. G.Evans says:

    Why is there no mention of the down freight that was passing Harrow at that time. In the book Red for Danger all the passing times are recorded but not when the freight actually cleared the Harrow crossover. An interesting point as the up Tring local had to cross this line in order to arrive at the up fast platform.

  65. timbeau says:

    Interesting – I don’t recall ever reading before of what, if anything, was using the down slow at the time. I supose it’s not of direct relevance as it must have cleared the station some time before the Tring made the crossing move, which was itself sometime before the Perth train arrived. – or are you suggesting the signals on the up fast were originally cleared for the Perth and then the signalman changed his mind and let the Tring in first?

    Red for Danger does, I think, mention that the Stanmore shuttle was in the bay.

  66. Greg Tingey says:

    ONE] If something had been using the Dn slow, then, as you say, it would have cleared, or the transfer via the x-over up slow->fast would not have been possible. … Notes ….
    TWO] A switch forward-&-back SHOULD have shown in the record log of the box – remember all manual logging at the time.
    THREE] No such record was found, nor even suggested at the time
    FOUR] Signalman Armitage did everything right, & only went into bad shock AFTER he had put dets out, sent “Obstruction-danger” etc & his actions were noted by surviving senior railwaymen present at the scene (survivors of the up local, in fact)

    FIVE] Yes, the Stanmore shuttle was present & completely unaffected
    SIX] Often not mentioned, at least one bakerloo/electric lines train was stopped short & there was an bakerloo ecs in the Harrow headshunt sidings ….

    1) the guard of the up local W. H. Merritt, survived, because he was on the platform, supervising the loading of his train when he heard/saw the Perth approaching – he dived for cover under the parapet of the dn slow, whilst the world disentegrated about him.
    2) Similarly, there was … “Arthur E Arnold, of Wyman’s bookstall, went to retrieve a paper that had blown on to the platform, and stood, dumbfounded as debris fell around him” He was also unhurt.

  67. Greg Tingey says:

    To which, I may add …
    the crew of the: “04.32 Norwood – Northampton freight” were also called as witnesses for the official enquiry, a copy of which is available on line, HERE:

  68. Anonymous says:

    Page 9 of the report refers to the freight train leaving Harrow No.1 at 8.10, and p10 says that the crossover had been set at approx 8.11, after the Glasgow express and the freight had passed. The Tring train left Hatch End at 8.13 on the slow and arrived at Harrow No.1 at 8.17 on the fast (p9), so the freight was out of the way before the critical sequence of events had begun.

    An aside, but it surprises me that the train was “freight” rather than “goods” – when did the former term start to replace the latter? I would have thought that it was later in the 50s/60s, but not so.

  69. Anonymous says:

    Re change of loco at Crewe on the Peerth train: two Princesses were stationed at Crewe North equiped with coal ;pusher tenders to handle the Perth sleepers, probably due to the extra distance over Glasgow. Hence the change, to prepare the Princess for the north bound journey later that day.

  70. Carl W. Goss says:

    Excellent presentation. I’ve heard the story of the crash, the help from USAF docs and med team, but I was unaware of a black nurse at the site. Especially an officer nurse. Few blacks held commissioned office in the Armed Forces at the time. As I say, great presentation.

    Los Angeles CA.

  71. Singerbruce says:

    One of the best written and most informative articles of this type that I have ever come across. Many many thanks

  72. James E. Petts says:

    Interesting article. One thing missing, however, is the impact of this disaster on carriage design. The carriages on the express were the BR Mk. I carriages, the latest design at the time and only a year or so old. They were built on the traditional principle of a heavy underframe, which took all the weight and stress, and a light shell on the top in which the passengers were carried. In earlier carriage designs, the panelling and framing for this shell had been wood, but gradually the panelling then eventually in the Mk. Is the framing too had been made from steel, which was thought better to resist the forces of an accident. In this accident, the heavy underframes rode up over each other and caused serious damage to the light passenger-carrying shells of the carriages and the passengers in them.

    It was realised that steel shells were not enough: what was needed was for the passenger carrying part of the carriage to be as strong as the underframe; and so was born the carriage of integral construction. Having no separate underframe, these carriages carried all of their weight and stresses through strengthened shells in which the passenger accomodation resided. Although Mark I carriages were built for a time after this accident, Mk. II carriages and all subsequent designs were of integral construction. All railway carriages regularly running on the main line to-day (with a few minor exceptions, such as the Princess Risborough to Aylesbury branch and old Mk. Is used with special excursion trains, often hauled by preserved steam locomotives for the benefit of enthusiasts) are of integral construction. The death tolls in modern accidents, even at high speed and involving multiple trains, are much lower because of the use of carriages of integral construction.

  73. Anonymous says:

    “Although Mark I carriages were built for a time after this accident,”

    I doubt that Harrow, or even Lewisham in 1957, were the triggers for this.

    It would be twelve years before the first Mark 2 was built, and a further ten before the last Mark 1s were built – the additional Bournemouth line emu stock. The entire modernisation scheme dmu and emu fleets, not to mention the majority of the SR EPB fleet, were built after 1952, and all had separate underframes.

  74. Greg Tingey says:

    J. E. P
    Err… the book I referred to , way back, has, as an appendix a list of the train consists.
    The up local had, counting from the front, as is usual, 6 ex-LMS coaches, the newest dating from 1937, then a BR bake, built in that year – brand new, in other words, follwed by two ancient extras, tacked on to the end, an L&Y coach of 1921 & an MR one of 1920. Those last two would simply have shattered when (4)6242 smashed into them.
    The said up sleeper had ONE post-war coach in it, a BR brake-third of 1950 build @ no 4 in the consist.
    The down express was a right old mix! In order, the build dates were:1950, ’47, 50, 51, 50, 52, 46, 26, 49, 50, 51, 25, 26, 28, 28…….
    And, of course, being on the ex-LMS, none of the couplings between any of the vehicles would have been close-fitting buckeyes.

    The Mk 2’s were preceded by the trail “XP64” set(s) IIRC

  75. Anonymous says:

    I knew the guard of the up local William (Bill). H. Merritt, who survived the Harrow Crash. In later years he was the Station Foreman at Watford Junction and during his latter years on the railway, he had yet another scare. He was based in the Station Foreman’s Office which was located at the south end of platforms 7 & 8 at Watford Junction. I cannot remember what year it was, but there had been work down on the Sunday on the slow lines section of Orphanage Road Bridge just south of Watford Junction. During that following week the bridge had actually moved slightly, causing a kink in the line of the rail across that bridge. Several 6-wheel milk tanks (with fixed wheelbases) on a mixed traffic train on the down slow, were unable to negotiate the slight kink in the rail and came off the rails running along the sleepers. Some box vans in the train also came off the track and travelled towards the station until they caught the down slow junction gantry stay wires and pulled the complete gantry down. With the quite high speed of the train milk some the milk tanks became uncoupled and so did some carriages carrying several cars each. The whole mess ended up with milk tanks hurtling up the branch line to land between platforms 11 & 12, and more dangerously for Bill Merritt, one of the carriages carrying cars slid sideways up the southern ramp of platforms 7 & 8 just as Bill was coming out of his office to see what the noise was all about. Bill apparently saw the carriage sliding up the ramp and quickly ran the opposite direction northwards along platform 7. Another lucky escape for Bill. The engine of the train finally stopped under the St Albans Road bridge just by Watford Loco Shed. As I remember it took over 48 hours to clear up that mess which blocked all lines. I was a Fireman at Watford Shed at the time.

  76. Burgandi Alexander (Sweetwine) says:

    My grand aunt was the “Angel of Platform 6″. She took a lot from this tragedy to her grave but humbly as I follow in her footsteps as a nurse she truly humbly felt she was doing her job to the best of her physically ability. I miss her terribly but she will forever be the ” Angel of Platform 6″.

  77. Greg Tingey says:

    This is you, perhaps?

    I understand your great-aunt also came back here, at least once, and was welcomed by the locals in that part of London as an honoured guest (??)

    And, thank you, very much, for letting us know!

  78. Jeff Gibbs says:

    Been researching a story I am writing that merges the lives of 6 fictitious people whose lives all converge and are changed forever by the H&W disaster. Your article was most informative. Thanks. I have had a fascination with the crash since childhood (I was actually born 2 months after), ever since my father told me of how he, being a trainee fireman at Hendon, suddenly got the call for all available appliances to attend H&W. I recall sitting and listening in awe as he descirbed how he and all the other rookie firemen were told to get ready to be thrown in at the deep end and they all clambered on a rickety old training engine with my dad ringing the huge handbell as they raced through the rush hour traffic en route. He said there were cars and buses all pulled onto the pavements to let the convoy of fire engines and ambulances through. He described the scene of carnage as the engine came over the bridge over the railway as the worst he had ever seen. He said that the things he saw that day were far more harrowing than any he had witnessed during the war. He spoke of finding children scythed in half and of a woman’s leg laying in a splintered carriage, complete with shoe and stocking. He worked tirelessly attaching himself to a trained fireman and was so fatigued and traumatised that he was unable to continue his training. He left the fire service a few motnhs later and became a London bus conductor. But I never forgot his intricate tale from the firefighter’s perspective. My story contains a fireman who is based solely on my (now late) father and his reluctant heroics.

  79. Terry says:

    An excellent article. I was not born until 1958 but traveled the line extensively in later life and have always had an interest in the events of 1952.

    I find it interesting that, in times of crisis, race, creed etc is not important but human instinct comes to the fore.

  80. John Wall says:

    Very good article. Just one point: You say the Manchester express slammed with full force into the wrecked stopper. Actually it slammed into the huge obstacle of City of Glasgow, which was lying across the down line. It was this factor that caused the mammoth pile-up of the express and the destruction of its engines. Amazing that City of Glasgow survived for another day.

  81. Alan Lawson says:

    I was an assistant lineman in training working at Harrow with Cyril Thorpe at the time, however on this day I was on loan to Wembley depot and also had a day off.
    My Father a railwayman, used to catch this train every day.
    On this particular day he slept in and missed the train, his friend who he always sat next to was killed.
    I new Alf Armitage when he was signalman at Bourne End box when we were doing some work in the relay cupboard in the signal box.
    I am curious to know the identity of Ian9f I probable knew him.
    [email protected]

  82. Andy Bartram says:

    Sorting through some of my parents things I can across photographs of the above
    railway crash. My grandfather was a railwayman on the LMS in 1952 – and I also
    have a letter of thank to him for working beyond the call of duty. If these are of interest, I could scan and copy them.


  83. Greg Tingey says:


  84. timbeau says:

    @Andy Bartram
    “a railwayman on the LMS in 1952 ”
    It was the London Midland Region of British Railways in 1952, although little had changed in practice by then, and old loyalties can hold sway for many years so older railmen may well have continued to call it by the name they grew up with.

    But I echo Greg’s plea: these would indeed be of interest.

  85. Andy Bartram says:


    If you can give me your email address I would be only to pleased.


    [I will forward it to you. Cancel that. I see super-efficient LBM has beaten me to it. PoP]

  86. allan says:

    My sister, who worked at that time in London, regularly travelled on that Tring train from Watford Junction. On that day she had arrived by bus as usual and because the train was late decided to sit in one of the front carriages rather than a rear one as she usually did, this would give her less distance to walk when she reached London.
    She survived without injury, but would never talk about it afterwards.

  87. Trevor says:

    I was 7 at the time of H&W, and heard it on the radio as l prepared to leave for school. I cannot remember where l was when Kennedy was killed, but H&W I will always know. Superbly written and so informative. Thank you..

  88. Maddy says:

    Thank you for this article – I am studying emergency management and my lecturer mentioned the crash particularly in respect of triage – the information about the use of lipstick as a marker, and the emergency treatment given on the platform, is fascinating.

  89. Ken McKee says:

    Fascinating article, especially about the ‘Angel of Platform 6’, I hadn’t read about that. Curious that like the Quintinshill disaster, it involved a local train, a sleeper, and a fast running passenger train, albeit a troop train. Just for accuracy, the non-stop London to Kings X trains that were diverted because of flooding didn’t go via Carlisle, but at Tweedmouth they branched onto the mostly single track branch to near St. Boswells on the Waverley line. I think that 17 trains managed it non-stop. Excellent article.

  90. Pamela Phillips says:

    I was a 12 year old schoolgirl. After school I rode my bike to the station area to try to see something of what had happened that morning. I got to the road’ t’ junction and a policeman standing there just said go back.=, of course I did. I could not see anything. There was a large hosepipe in the gutter which I thought was a fire hose. That’s all I remember but it is something I will never forget.

  91. Spotter says:

    An experimental predecessor of the GWR’s ATC can be found in the book ‘Railways of England’, written by W M Acworth in 1889. A raised ramp located at distant signals between the rails blew a warning whistle on the loco when the signal aspect was ‘danger’ (there being no ‘caution’ aspect in those days). This book has just been republished in Kindle format.

  92. Greg Tingey says:

    Note to the site editors.
    Taken together with selected pertinent comments, I think this article would be an excellent choice for inclusion in a future magazine edition.

  93. Anonymous says:

    I understand from my dad that his dad was on that train. His name was Stanley clark. Is anyone able to point me to a list of victims or casualties? I understand that he passed away as a result of injuries sustained. All info would be highly appreciated. Thank you.

  94. timbeau says:

    There is a list here – part handwritten and part typed.

    I haven’t looked at it all, but I noticed the first name on page 45 is a Clark (initial indistinct)

  95. Robin says:

    I was 4 when H&W occurred, but was conversant with Lewisham St Johns, as I was at prep school in Robertsbridge, and used the line to Charing X. BUT, I was friendly with an elderly lady, in Alderney, C.I. in 1968, and she recounted that on the H&W a/c day, she was lying, ill in bed, at home in Harrow, and dozing. She said she was awoken by a sound like thunder, and as she was trying to work out what it was, the noise was repeated almost immediately, and all to the accompaniment of a drumming roar (no doubt escaping steam). This was followed by the bells of the emergency services. As a young woman, she was riding upstairs in a London bus, which was damaged by a nearby V1 or V2 strike. If the latter, not so near

  96. Anonymous says:

    I survived – and still travel regularly on the line 63 years later. The Crewe North mess room never believed that Driver Jones passed the signals and – twenty years later – despite all the evidence – were still blaming the signalman. As regards the engines like 60077 at Castlecary very little of the original 46242 survived – but the LMS could afford to lose one 8P but not two. So 46242 was repaired or more accurately rebuilt from spare parts – 46202 remained in stock until 71000 Duke of Gloucester was built as its replacement in 1954 when it was finally condemned.

  97. Greg Tingey says:

    Which train were you on?

  98. Richard Dickinson says:

    I was a police motor cyclist and received the call whilst in Harrow. I was on the scene in five minutes and spent some 10 hours in the recovery and rescue.The entire operation required all the rescue services to improvise and commandeer tools and transport over a large area and many hospitals were involved. The local Police Chief Inspector Bray, who resided at Wealdstone, wrote a long hand report on the disaster which was a masterpiece.
    This day will remain in my memory for ever.

  99. Greg Tingey says:

    Is Chief Inspector Bray’s report reproduced in any form, anywhere?

  100. RichardB says:

    @ Greg T – I am only guessing but I assume Chief Inspector Bray was a member of the Metropolitan Police in which case there is a good chance the report survives in the records of the Metropolitan Police or the Home Office who would also have been interested in the consequences of the accident. If so I suggest you try The National Archives at Kew.

  101. gilbert says:

    there was an almost identical accident at H&W back in I think the 1860s. a slow train had crossed to the fast line to pick up passengers , and as in 1952 was hit by a train on the fast line running thro the signals . fortunately on this occasion ther was no 3rd train to compound the damage . this was also in foggy conditions .

    I have always thought it odd that nobody has ever mentioned the signals on the London side of the road bridge . they were extremely high, and could be seen from the country side of the station . it is my belief that these may have been set clear for the local to proceed . the report mentions low lying fog . is it possible that the driver of the perth train saw this signal above the fog and relied on this rather than the correct ones , and took it to mean he had a clear road .?

  102. Keith Knight says:

    Re the comment about (partial) restoration of the electric service. On the following day, the LM electric trains ran from Euston as far as Kenton. This was achieved by normal running to Wembley Central at which the train ran forward and then reversed over the crossover into the “up” platform. This manouevre took place with passengers on board. The crossover and the ground frame (located in a small shed) were both located under the overbridge at the North Wembley end of the station. The train then ran (presumably with a pilotman but I don’t remember) wrong line (i.e down on the up) to serve North Wembley, South Kenton and Kenton from where it returned now correctly on the “up” calling intermediately to Euston. The Broad Street to Watford service was suspended and the Bakerloo terminated at Queen’s Park.

    So far as I recall, full service recommenced on the local lines through to Watford within a few days.

    Prior to its rebuilding, the turbomotive was often rostered on the 5.25 from Euston to Liverpool (subsequently a turn of the prototype Deltic).

    Keith Knight

  103. Timbeau says:

    Is there a reason it used the up line rather than the down between Wembley and Kenton? That would have allowed the train to use the trailing crossover at wembley without an awkwad double reversal.

  104. Keith Knight says:

    I can only guess at the reason(s) and it would need a signal engineer to confirm my thoughts or provide an alternative scenario. There were no signals controlling the crossover and there was/maybe still is a section break just over a 6 coach LM electric length ahead of the crossover.
    However, the signals along frm Wembley to Kenton on both tracks were automatic under the LMS system developed in the 1930s so the starter at Wembley Central would have cleared to green after the train ahead had cleared the starter into North Wembley. This would, of course, have been catastrophic. In fact I recall when running down wrong line, the signals actually cleared to green in the “up direction” as the track circuit was cleared on the Wembley side of the signal activated as the train continued to run “down”. This, of course, meant that running “up” correctly, the signals showed the correct aspects. Just my thoughts as to why.

  105. timbeau says:

    @Keith Knight
    That seems possible, although of course under the emergency arrangements no train should have proceeded past the Wembley Central starter unless the pilotman was on board.

    The crossover points: although not signalled, would their position have been detected by the track circuits, so that their reversal would have held the starter at red?

  106. Roy-V says:

    I was 18 when this H&W accident happened. I worked at Stanborough Park food factory at the time and was doing night duty. So, being a steam railway enthusiast I headed off to see the accident aftermath on my bike as soon as I left the factory the following morning. As I approached the station I noticed just one police car and one ambulance in the station car park and wrecked carriages piled 40 feet high! I went up onto the road bridge to look at it from that viewpoint and will never forget seeing those great steam engines on their sides with steam still wisping up from them (this was 24 hours after it had happened). I spoke to a lady who lived in the neighbourhood and she said she heard nothing at the time it happened, which seemed rather surprising. The daily papers were full of the story as one would imagine. It was a sight that has lived in my memory ever since right until now at age 82!

  107. Alan Blair says:

    Just for information poor Mr Armitage became a Station Master at Harlington Station in Bedfordshire. I was a booking office clerk there in the late 1960s and the poor man was a nervous wreck. Having that accident happen almost in front of you and unable to do ANYTHING to actually stop it, must have been a terrible thing.
    What a brilliant read, thank you.

  108. Anonymous says:

    Is there any information about Matron Edith Martin from Harrow Hospital who attended some wounded and prepared the cottage hospital to take as many wounded as it allowed. Stories from hospital staff of this time related that mattresses even in the corridors were made available and she personally attended to the wounded.

  109. Windsor Lad says:

    See the link below for a very tasteless commemoration of this sad event.

  110. James at Somerset says:

    Just learnt today that my friend, who was 17 at the time, was in that aweful train crash. She is alive today and told her story of events that and how her two girlfriends were killed as they sat around her.
    I was 3years of age at that and this was the first I had heard of this tragedy and her part in it.
    I will look at her in a different light in future as a very very lucky person to have survived.
    The Angel of Platform 6 and all the other people involved in the rescue were clearly exceptional whose efforts those days contributed to our NHS of today.

  111. Anonymous says:

    Having just returned from an evening with my dad, he informed me that a family member received an award for their rescue work at Harrow. Does anyone recognise the name Carter as being involved? Apparently the family were well known in the area, my Grandad Carter being an ex boxer and Sgt Major. Anybody know anything?

  112. Ian Fielding says:

    Great article. My grandad was one of the drivers on the Manchester bound train. (William Darton) he survived the accident. Reading this has brought back the memory of him telling me what happened. I always think of the incident every time I pass through the station.

  113. Pete Boor ex Stratford and Penzance Driver says:

    This was along with Quintinshill and Ais Gill were taught to us by instructors on British Railways to young Driver’s Assistants at Stratford and I assume elsewhere. The importance of which were cross referenced with the rules and regulations being taught at the time. As a retired driver I have always studied accidents ( in order to not fall into the same trap)and tried to see them from a driver’s perspective, even where driver’s have been blamed for accident’s and there are many, thinking from a driver’s viewpoint you can see what happened and why, something lawyer’s, judges and police are unable to do. Even the Railway Inspectorate cannot see this point, as most of them have civil engineering backgrounds or were military men in time gone by. Rules and Regulations are broken everyday by railwaymen, if they didn’t the railway would stop.

  114. Mum of Twins says:

    My late Mum was at Harrow Wealdstone station that fateful morning on her way to work in Railway accounts offices in St Pancras Chambers, she was met with a collegue, white as a sheet, running out of the station, he said he didnt know why but he just had to get away totally panicked, sixth sense?
    Minutes later the disaster occured, Mum having been a nurse during the war offered her services & spent the day helping victims.
    She would never say much about it but i know it affected her greatly & i imagine it haunted her everytime she went on a train.

  115. Greg Tingey says:

    Londonist appear to have finally woken up to “our” article!
    However, they do seem to have found an alternative source for more contemporary photographs: “The Illustrated London News group”

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