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WILLIAM HUSKISSON: The Maim, the Myth, the Leg End

Submitted by on September 15, 2010 – 1:33 pm4 Comments

I did a pretty stupid thing at work on Sunday: I got on the wrong train. Now, I’m sure most of you have done something similar but then most of you aren’t train drivers. I wasn’t actually driving the train that ended up in Newton-le-Willows instead of Manchester, but it’s still rather embarrassing.

If you travel regularly by train then you’ll be well aware of the disruption caused by weekend engineering work, and trains were running via Manchester Victoria on this particular day. I’d just arrived there having driven a train from Manchester Airport, and was due to have a break before travelling to Piccadilly station to pick up the next, and last, part of my job. However, as Victoria has poor mess room facilities and I had a lengthy break, I decided I would travel earlier than scheduled to Piccadilly station and have the break there.

As I arrived in platform 6, I saw another TransPennine train pull into an adjacent platform. I quickly made my way over the bridge but the doors were closing as I got to the train. Being staff, though, I said to the guard: “Alright if I get in and come round with you?” before he shut the cab door. “No problem,” was his friendly reply. “That was good timing,” I said and began explaining my well thought out plan of taking my break at Piccadilly rather than Victoria as we pulled out of the station. I noticed he had a strange smirk on his face; as if he knew something I didn’t. “We’re going to Liverpool,” he said, grinning.

As the realisation of my presumptive stupidity dawned on me, and that he really wasn’t joking, I asked what the next stop was. I’ve never liked anything to do with Liverpool, and the fact that Newton-le-Willows were the next words out of his mouth was one of the great joys of recent times. He quickly checked the timetable and, fortunately, I could change there and get a train back to Piccadilly in plenty of time for the last part of my job.

Relieved and shame-faced in equal proportions, I got off at Newton-le-Willows and walked under the railway bridge to change platforms. As I made my way to the top of the stairs to get to platform 1, I noticed a memorial stone to William Huskisson commemorating his death after being struck by a train on the day of the opening of the world’s first passenger railway line between Manchester and Liverpool. The fact that he was the Tory MP for Liverpool lightened my mood; however, I was amazed by the colourful prose used in the tribute which read:

THIS   TABLET A   TRIBUTE   OF   PERSONAL   RESPECT   AND   AFFECTION HAS   BEEN   PLACED   HERE   TO   MARK   THE   SPOT   WHERE   ON   THE 15th   OF   SEPT   1830   THE   DAY   OF   THE   OPENING   OF   THIS   RAIL   ROAD THE   RIGHT   HONBLE   WILLIAM   HUSKISSON   M.P. SINGLED   OUT   BY   THE   DECREE   OF   AN   INSCRUITABLE   PROVIDENCE   FROM THE   MIDST   OF   THE  DISTINGUISHED   MULTITUDE   THAT   SURROUNDED   HIM.
IN   THE   FULL   PRIDE   OF   HIS   TALENTS   AND   THE   PERFECTION   OF   HIS USEFULNESS   MET   WITH   THE   ACCIDENT THAT   OCCASIONED   HIS   DEATH; WHICH   DEPRIVED   ENGLAND   OF   AN  ILLUSTRIOUS   STATESMAN   AND LIVERPOOL   OF   ITS   MOST   HONORED   REPRESENTATIVE   WHICH   CHANGED A   MOMENT   OF   THE   NOBLEST   EXULTATION   AND   TRIUMPH   THAT   SCIENCE   AND GENIUS   HAD   EVER   ACHIEVED   INTO   ONE   OF   DESOLATION   AND   MOURNING; AND   STRIKING   TERROR   INTO   THE   HEARTS   OF   ASSEMBLED   THOUSANDS, BROUGHT   HOME   TO   EVERY   BOSOM   THE   FORGOTTEN   TRUTH   THAT “IN   THE   MIDST   OF   LIFE   WE   ARE   IN   DEATH.”

Apparently Huskisson and the Duke of Wellington, who was the Prime Minister at the time, had travelled on separate trains which had stopped to take on water at Parkside station – nearby and now closed. They took this opportunity to disembark and had met trackside where there was a handshake as a sign of reconciliation between the two following recent disagreements – Wellington was an arch conservative, and Huskisson a reformer.

At this point George Stephenson’s Rocket, travelling at incredible speeds of up to 24mph, approached on the line where Huskisson was standing. Instead of jumping clear, he held on to an open carriage door for protection but the door was wider than the gap between the two trains. Rocket struck the door, pulling Huskisson off balance and under its wheels. His leg was horribly mangled and he was rushed by train to Eccles where he died that evening.

Needless to say, it put a bit of a damper on the celebrations and Huskisson gained notoriety as the world’s first railway fatality although, in truth, his death was the first that was widely reported. Thankfully, my day had a better ending: as I arrived back in Manchester in good time I got a phone call from another driver who volunteered to work the last part of my job, and I got an early dart.

If you’re travelling by train from Manchester you can see the marble tablet on the left-hand side about a mile before Newton-le-Willows station on the Manchester to Liverpool line which opened 170 years ago today.

Timetable Taylor.

4 Comments »

  • SFTB says:

    Your a secret spotter mate,
    The 175 (Hippo) in your picture takes longer now to North Wales than it did under BR!
    Good old John Major I say (tory t**t).

  • scott says:

    No, I’m just a divvy driver that got on the wrong train which is way better than a spotter.

  • 1879 says:

    All we need is Oche’s dad and Stu from the Altay and the square is complete…

  • ladybarnred says:

    As a kid I used to jib on the long, long cargo trains which stopped near Culcheth and go for a “night out” in Newton-le-Willows or Earlestown. If you timed it right you could get another train of containers back. One night I missed the return and had to walk back and saw the big monument next to the railway line in the middle of nowhere.

    As a slight N-le-W aside… I knew Rick Astley which is slightly embarrasing but not as much as knowing what a 175 Hippo is!

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