Melton Constable Railway Station and the Locomotive works on the Midland and Great Northern Railway (M&GN) played a significant role in Norfolk. The busy Melton Constable workshops were nicknamed the Crewe Works of North Norfolk where locomotives were built and repaired. The railway provided work and to attract and accommodate the families, a gasworks, Railway Institute, shops and houses were built.
In May of 2017, our reporter Paul Young interviewed John Bishop who worked on the M&GN as a fireman on steam locomotives. He also talks of the railway accident from 5th November 1946 just outside Norwich City Station.
To listen to the interview please click here:
After the interview, John showed me the picture he had of the accident and an in-house account covering the accident which reads as follows, author unknown:
Engine Number 5534 called by the crews “A Knock John”
Driver Henry Scott, Fireman David Jackson (Tuby) Guard Bob Collins.
On overtime and hoping to travel home in the guards van, driver and fireman of an earlier working into City Station, Driver Jimmy Greaves and Fireman John Bishop. John had been up to the engine intending to ride back to Melton on the footplate with Tuby being school pals the natural thing to do, however Henry was having none of that, saying “one of you are enough trouble let alone two!” John returned to the brake van to ride home with Bob Collins the guard.
As it was this was a very lucky event for John, as in the vent that follows he would of without a doubt have been killed that night. There are various views leading up to the accident, though what I have pieced together is very credible.
It had been a recognised procedure over the years and strictly adhered to, that the points out of the good siding being that they were operated by the Shunters and not the Signalman be at all times switched to the stops on the banks of the River Wensum this way no wagon may get out on to the main line accidental. It was not one of the best nights to be out, a foggy night and not improved by the mist rising off the River Wensum. The train now made up and ready to leave Norwich City goods yard for Melton Constable with what was known as the last goods.
The head shunter in anticipation thrown the points over for that train when it was ready to leave considering the conditions at the time, a seemly thing to do. However another member of the yard staff passing and seeing the points in the position they were in and remembering the usual procedure threw them back to direct traffic to the stops.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Greaves and John Bishop enjoying the home comforts of the warm stove in the guards van, not the slightest idea of what was to follow. The guard having exchanged documnents with the head shunter climbs into the guards van to join his welcome company for the return journey. The head shunter to let the signalman know all was ready to leave as and when he was ready to take them.
The crew of the engine all prepared for the return journey awaits the signal to go into the off position that they may move off. It was not long before the clattering of the signal as it was switched into the right way position.
Henry now standing on the raised step by the drivers seat, right hand on the regulator, shoulder leaning on the boiler casing enabling a gradual pressure of steam to the pistons, the damp atmosphere and heavy train behind gave every possibilty of the wheels slipping. Henry increasing pressure as the train was taking momentum, Tuby on the other hand leaning out into the darkness looking for the guards signal. A lamp swinging from side to side from the brake indicating that all was well and the whole train following in the manner intended.
He could not yet see any light from the brake, leaning even further out clinging to the uprights of the steps up onto the engine attempting to draw the guards attention by swinging his own lamp the front lamp from his cycle he had brought with him and still nothing. Above the noise of the engine beat he called out to Henry to give him another blow on the whistle.
Henry reaching up for the whistle cord suddenly found himself being thrown again the boiler and towards the drivers window as the engine struck the buffer stops and started to downward career towards the river and lurching on to its side. His body thrust against the the seat his legs coming up off the step he had been standing on suddenly forced towards the fire hole door by Tuby’s body as he was flung from his previous position gripping the hand rails. Leaning out as he was saved him from the fire irons consisting of a bent dart, straight dart and slack shovel. One of these alone would certainly have caused some serious injury these tools with other loose equipment bedded themselves into the space beside the boiler, exactly where John Bishop would have been sitting had Henry allowed him on the engine.
The engine had now come to a halt the water from the river getting into the ash pan and up into the firebox causing the cab to become an inferno of steam and belching flame. The train wagons loaded heavily still pushing from behind forcing the tender up into the air while two wagons ended up under the tender. In the meantime the tender plate rupturing the floor boards of the cab momentarily making it impossible for Tuby to get up the steam and belching flame making it a very uncomely position. The whistle had now drooped open issuing its ear splitting howl, accompanied by escaping steam from the safety valve all adding to the confusion surrounding the engine crew.
Henry having gone out of the cab leaving Tuby alone watching as the water from the tender filler hole cover now flung back pours over the coal bringing with it small pieces of coal and other items off the tender expecting at any moment to have one of the large lumps of coal to land upon him adding to the already discomfort. Seeing the ring of light below the side of the cab now above him with a final effort makes it out into the night air.
Tuby finds Henry who is fine though shaken, the barb wire put by the river as part of the war defences makes getting up on the goods yard difficult. He walks back down the train and is accosted by the shunter “Who are you!?” He tells the man, who when advised no serious injury had taken place was overcome with emotion with the thoughts of what he may have been responsible for and disappeared into the night.
In the brake van John Bishop was thrown against the the brake sheet causing damage to his right arm. Jimmy Greaves had injury to his body and had to go to hospital the next day. The guard I believe was not injured they had a recessed seat and if he was using it that may have helped to save him.
The staff at the station were in a quandary as how they may get the crews back to Melton, some clown suggest should someone not put the injectors on? With much discussion a taxi was called for and tw very wet dirty engine men and the crew from the brake loaded into this oversized taxi and taken back to Melton. Tuby now had to cycle home with no light this he had lost in the accident his concern was the local Policeman may see him.
The next thing he know is Mother calling him up the stairs she having no knowledge of the whole incident. A man wants you from the works she said thinking someone was enquiring how he was after the accident he came down. The messenger says can you come on duty the other crew that would be John Bishop and Jimmy Greaves are off sick and can’t take their turn today.
This is from the horse’s mouth and I am prepared to believe it fact and true.
Today this would have resulted in serious counselling and compensation. I add railway men played a part in the war effort as many of their counterparts they received no medals for their efforts.