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1847: Collision between two passenger trains on the Brighton line

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Illustrated London news-Saturday 16 October 1847

Accidents and offences

Collision on the Brighton railway.


A collision took place on Saturday last, between two passenger trains. Some exaggerated accounts of the injury done have appeared, and there is much confusion in them, but the accident seems to have been of a serious character.


It occurred soon after 9:00 o'clock, at the junction of the Keymer branch line, situate between Haywards Heath and Hassocks Gate stations, and about 9 miles from Brighton. The branch, it should be observed, has not been opened more than a week or two, and was constructed to avoid the circuitous route from Hastings, Lewes, et cetera, by the old line via Brighton.

The trains that met with the disaster were, the first down or parliamentary train, and the morning express train from Hastings, the former leaving London Bridge terminus at 7:00 AM and the latter Hastings at 20 minutes past seven. At the junction the company have placed signals, and the instructions were exceedingly explicit as two trains passing from the branch onto the mainline. Both trains were due at this point near the same time, and the custom is to signal the down parliamentary train to wait until the express has passed over.


It appears, in this instance, that when the "parliamentary" approached the junction, the signal was given that all was clear, and to go on, and it did so at the usual speed. On nearing the points, however, the engine driver perceived the express coming up, and the driver of the express engine also laboured under the same impression as to the signal indicating all clear. And they saw their dangerous position, the steam was instantly shut off, and those on the parliamentary train engine, perceiving collision must inevitably ensue, saved their lives by jumping off. Unfortunately, neither of the trains could be stopped in time to prevent the lamentable consequences; and at the moment of the express crossing the junction, it was cut into by the engine of the parliamentary down train.


The chief injuries were sustained by Mr Wyon, the medallionist to the Royal Mint, and Mr Driver, the land and estate agent of Parliamentary Street.


Rail crash on the Brighton line c1850 (see https://sussexhistory.net/2016/03/08/did-a-10yr-old-cause-a-train-crash/)

A gentleman named Lane, a passenger, writes to the Times as follows:-

"The collision was of a most frightful and terrific nature. I was thrown violently against a lady who sat opposite, and who for a few minutes believed that she had met her death. In addition to the general convulsion occasioned by such a shock, my left knee is seriously injured, and altogether disabled, though no fracture has taken place.


After a few minutes the numbness which ensued enabled me to go from the carriage with difficulty and seek a surgeon for Mr. Wyon; I was informed that one had been sent for to set a broken or dislocated arm, and that he would wait on Mr Wyon. While passing several carriages in advance of ours, I saw such evidence of other injuries as is furnished by marks of blood on the steps, and was told that many of the passengers were injured, but no one killed. I saw the demolished horsebox, and the shattered buffer board of the engine, and the broken tender.


When the surgeon examined the injury sustained by Mr Wyon he directed his removal to a farmhouse in the neighbourhood, to which he certainly did walk with the assistance of the medical gentleman and Mr Wyon junior who also suffered from the concussion, and from a similar, though less severe cut to that which his father received.


For some time Mr Wyon was unable to swallow, in consequence, I suppose, of internal bleeding, and his state excited the greatest alarm. Of the eight passengers in that carriage, only one appeared free from bruises; and, although their hurts may not prove serious, who shall say to what extent the violent concussion may entail permanent future evils?


In my own case, I found the knee on Saturday night quite disabled, and during two nights and the whole of Sunday suffered severely from pain, from neurologic symptoms, and from the shock which pervades the whole system. The engineers saved their lives by leaping from the engines".


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