Tuesday, September 6, 2011

1906 Tram Disaster

Ask any Swindonian for directions to Victoria Road and you're likely to be greeted with a blank look. Ask for Vic Hill and everyone will know where to send you.

Originally called Victoria Street and extending only as far as Prospect Place, development northwards to the new industrial complex took off in the 1850s. By 1899 building had extended to Regent Circus and in 1903 the two sections were renamed Victoria Road.

Victoria Road cuts through an area once known as Tarrant's Field where Frederick Large records a number of 'phenomenal happenings' in his history of the town, A Swindon Retrospect, written in 1931.

On one occasion a huge waterspout burst over the centre of the field creating a deluge of rain. Another time a tornado like wind whipped up a newly mown crop of hay, and transported it to stabling in nearby Prospect.

However, the cause of the fatal tramcar accident on June 1st 1906 on this same spot owes more to negligence than the supernatural.

The accident occurred at the end of the second day of the hugely successful Bath & West Southern Counties Show taking place at Broome Manor Farm. Hosting the show was a huge achievement for Swindon bringing increased revenue into the town during the five-day event.

The No. 11 tram was packed to capacity with passengers hanging on the outside when it got into difficulties at the bottom of Victoria Road opposite the Queen's Theatre. First on the scene were several soldiers who administered first aid, followed by a team of local doctors.

The Swindon Advertiser covered the accident in great detail, printing updates on the condition of the injured.

There were conflicting reports for eyewitnesses. Alfred Manners, owner of nearby Queen's Theatre described how the overcrowded tram came down the hill "at a great pace" while postman Mr. J. Waine said it was travelling at a moderate speed of 6 or 7 miles per hour.

The driver of the tram, William Lyons, said the brakes had failed and that he lost control. On hitting the points, the vehicle was derailed and overturned.

None of the passengers escaped injury and four were killed - Harry Dyke, a brewers agent from Goddard Avenue; E.H. Coad, licensee of the Railway Inn, Newport Street, Rowland J. Thurnford, a farmer from Draycot Cerne and Charles Phippen from Bath. Thomas Neate, also from Bath, died six weeks later.

A Board of Trade enquiry later found that the new tramcar, although thoroughly tested, had only been in place on the Victoria Road route for one day and was unfamiliar to the driver William Lyons. Negligence was cited when one of the injured passengers later sued Swindon Corporation and was awarded £7,200 damages.

(Photographs of the accident and the funeral of one of the victims were taken by William Hooper and are printed here courtesy of Mr P.A. Williams see www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/)

Frances Bevan

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