Construction of the new London to Brighton Railway line commenced on 19 March 1838 and was undertaken by a total of 6,206 men, 960 horses and 5 locomotives. The first track was laid at Hassocks in February 1839, but it was to be another thirty months, on 12 July 1841, before the line opened, and then only from London to Haywards Heath with a connecting coach service to Brighton. The line opened to Brighton itself on 21 September 1841; the first train set out for the City at 7 a.m., and the first down train arrived in the town at 2 p.m. amid scenes of great celebration. Just two weeks later there was the first dreadful accident at Haywards Heath ... and the newspaper description is brutal ...
Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser
Tuesday October 5 1841
Dreadful and fatal accident on the London and Brighton railway–four persons killed
Hayward’s Heath Sunday
Yesterday considerable excitement took place at Brighton in consequence of the non-arrival of the second train from London, and the news quickly spread that a dreadful and fatal accident had occurred on the line near Hayward’s Heath. Numerous anxious enquiries were made during the afternoon, as, up to a quarter before seven, four trains were due. About that time they began to arrive, when a general
gloom pervaded the town.
From the particulars collected on the spot the following account may be relied upon, although not the slightest information is given by any of the parties connected with the railway:- it appears that is the second train, which left London, about a quarter before 11, had proceeded at a steady pace up to the time of the fatal occurrence, which happened in a deep cutting about a mile and the London side of the Hayward’s Heath station, at a place called “The Copyhold,” the engine and tender dashing off the line, dragging with it several of the carriages; by the concussion, the engine, tender and two of the carriages were literally smashed to pieces. The shrieks of the passengers were dreadful. Assistance being procured, it was discovered that the engineer and stoker where smashed to atoms, and young woman nearly cut in half, and so completely disfigured that she can only be recognised by her clothes. The fourth was a young man, a servant of one other passengers. Several medical gentlemen shortly arrived from Cuckfield, and rendered every assistance in their power.
The line being strewed with the fragments of the broken carriages and engine, prevented the train is proceeding, and the consequence was that the greatest confusion prevailed, as four trains had arrived on the spot from London. It is a most extraordinary circumstance that the rails are not at all injured where the occurrence took place, and the engine is being described as having "jumped off" and being in a cutting anyone would have considered it the most unlikely place for so an serious accident to have taken place. Some of the fragments of the carriages still remain by the roadside covered over with tarpaulin, and numbers of men are employed clearing them away.
A coroner's inquest will be held tomorrow on the bodies which are deposited in a shed near the spot where the accident took place. Some people who were walking on the line had a very narrow escape, as a man and a woman with a child were knocked down, but only received a few bruises.