On the 10th of August, 1840, Beechwood Tunnel, just west of Coventry, was in need of repair. In fact so serious was it that the mainline was temporarily singled, six extra Policemen were employed to manage the single line traffic, while the tunnel was ‘recased in brick’ which was expected to take 12 weeks.
However in September, an engine driver, by the name of Hesketh, overran the signal of the Policeman stationed at the points. Hesketh’s prestigious train, the Night (Up) Mail only just coming to a stop just in front of the tunnel.
Office Euston Station, 14th Oct. 1840
The Superintendent having called the attention of the Coaching and Police Committee to a transaction which occurred on the 23rd Sept last on the arrival of the Night Mail Train from Birmingham at the Beechwood Tunnel they proceeded to investigate the circumstances connected with it and to examine witnesses as to the facts alleged.
It appears, that on the repairs of the Beechwood Tunnel being commenced the Superintendent establishes certain necessary regulations for the safe conduct of the Trains.
Points were place at a suitable distance from the Tunnel’s mouth, at which the Trains were to cross to the Line not occupied by the works carrying on in the Tunnel – A Policeman was stationed at the points and another at the Tunnel entrance, and it was the duty of these men to see that the Line was clear and in that view to keep up a communication with each other before any Train was to be allowed to pass the points, and to make the usual Day and Night Signals for the guidance of the Enginemen and Guards.
The Enginemen, whether with or without a train were peremptorily required to stop before they reached the points in going on the Up line from Birmingham and the Policeman at the points was to say that the line was clear before the Engine proceeded –
The Regulations expressed in few and simple terms, were communicated to the Locomotive and other Departments and through them to the respective individuals for whose guidance they were intended.
With two or three exceptions when the points were overrun the regulations had been observed and the failure on each occasion was reported by the Police, one of the Enginemen so reported was Hesketh Driver of the Night Mail.
On the 23rd. September Hesketh again overran the points till his Engine was in the Tunnel’s mouth and alleged that the Policeman at the points had failed to shew the red light.
Harrison the Head Guard reported the Policeman for neglect of duty stating that no red light was shewn, that he got off the Train and saw the Policeman come out of a hut on the side of the Lind after the Train had stopped having been apparently asleep – These charges Harrison subsequently admitted to have made on the testimony of the Under Guard and Engineman, that he had no cognizance but from report of any misconduct of the policeman, and that being lame he had not descended from the Carriage on which he was stationed. – On the testimony then of the Under Guard and Engineman the truth or falsehood of the charge rests.
For the right understanding of their tale it is necessary to explain that on the north side of the Line at the west end of the Tunnel there was placed one Police Box and another farther on at the points, and between the two the Plate-layers Repository for tools, and opposite to it a Shed used by Mess. Grissell & Peto for the Clerk of the Works.
Harrison the Upper Guard when called before the Committee stated that he did not see a red light at the points when the Train came up, and knew nothing more of the occurrence than that there were high words between Hesketh and the Policemen.
Gillibrand the Under Guard stated that he was seated on a First Class Carriage with his back to the Engine, that the Train ran past the points, and that he saw no red light – that he got down, and going to the end of the Train saw the Policemen coming out of Mess. Grissell & Peto’s Hut, the door of which was open – That at the instance of Hesketh he took down the numbers of the Policemen and gave them to Harrison on the arrival of the Train at Coventry.
Hesketh the Engineman stated that the red lights not being shewn he ran on with the Train to the Tunnel’s mouth about 200 yards beyond the Points – Seeing no Policeman he then got down from the Engine and ran back towards the Points where he saw a Policeman (502) with a Handkerchief over his head, come out of the Hut and shew a green light, crossed the Train and joined Gilliband (Under Guard) when having abused the Tunnel Policeman for not shewing a light he threatened to report the guard’s if the numbers of the Policemen were not taken down, which was done accordingly.
The Policemen were next examined
Terrington No. 502 stationed at the Points
Harley No. 187 at the west end of the Tunnel
& Williams No. 178 at the north end.
502 – declared that he was at the points when the train came up and had heard it ten minutes before it arrived, that as the Train ran past him he was shewing the red light and had a glazed cap on with the usual lace round it.
That the Train overran the points to the Tunnel and that he followed with his red light till he came up to the place where Hesketh was abusing 187 in the grossest terms, that Gillibrand was on the Carriage and at the requestion of Hesketh got down to take the numbers of both Policemen.
187 – stated that hearing the Train coming up and seeing the red light shewn at the points he used his speaking trumpet to ascertain from 178 if all was clear, and received his reply.
That the Train instead of stopping at the points ran on to the Tunnel when Hesketh got down from the Engine, and began kicking violently at the Police Box – abusing the Policeman for not shewing a light – That on 187 who was at his post on the opposite side of the Line remonstrating, he was assailed with the grossest abuse and menaces of being knocked down (which Hesketh admits in his evidence) and he added that he should have felt it his duty to use the strong measures towards Hesketh if he had not considered that he might be so doing delay the Mail train.
178 – Confirmed the evidence of the preceding witness.
Mr Barker the Superintendent stated that Hesketh had been before reported for overrunning the points.
That Terrington and Harley had been specially selected for the duty at the Beechwood Tunnel as men on whom he could rely for their general regularity of conduct.
Mr Mann, Coventry Station, Stated that he remembered the arrival of the Train on the 23rd Sept. – that the Engineman and two Guards reported that the Policemen were both asleep and that 502 shewed the green light – that the Engine Driver declared with an oath he would not drive through the Tunnel if both the policemen were not removed from it.
That both Guards concurred in the statement and gave him reason to believe that they were acquainted with the facts.
Mr Mann remarked that it had struck him to be inconsistent for the Policeman to have been asleep and at the same time to have shewn a wrong signal – That Hesketh was much excited.
Documents were submitted to the Committee which proved incontestably [sic] that the Policemen could not have had access to either Mess Grisell & Peto’s Huts or the Platelayers Tool Receptacle (both being locked up) and that the statements to that effect were a gratuitous falsehood.
The Committee have not thought it necessary to give the Evidence in detail and have to observe generally that both the Guards were guilty of making false statements, but that Gillibrand carried his to greater lengths than Harrison.
That Hesketh’s testimony was characterized by great violence and bad feeling throughout, and was disproved that the evidence of the Policemen on the contrary was clearly and temperately given and with all the character of Truth – and that the charge against Terrington was disproved by the Documents referred to and by the evidence of the other two Policemen.
The Committee after a deliberate consideration of all the evidence came to the following
That there does not appear to be the smallest imputation upon the Policemen (no. 502, 187 & 178).
That the Committee confirm that the suspension of Under Guard Gillibrand, and order that it be made up to one month from the commencement.
That Harrison Upper Guard be suspended for a fortnight, and that both be admonished to be more cautious in future, and be specially apprised that any further offences reported against them will be severely visited.
That the Committee deeply regretting the evidence of bad feeling towards the Police which the proceedings have disclosed, declare their marked disapprobation of it, and instruct the Secretary to lay before the Locomotive Committee a copy of the report with reference specially to the conduct of Hesketh.
Hesketh’s rather mean attempt to blame the Policemen for this error is exposed by evidence provided by Thomas Grissell and Morton Peto’s company, that the Policeman could not have been sleeping in the hut since it was locked.
It is interesting that there are clear loyalties within ‘teams’ here between the engine crew and the train guards and the lineside staff at the station and along the line. Also that Hesketh’s fate, as an engine driver, is in the hands of the Locomotive Committee, but the guards and policemen are disciplined by the Coaching & Policing Committee.
Top Left: Beechwood Tunnel (Coventry or North end) from Lecount & Roscoe, Top Right: Driver 1852, Fore's Contrasts.
Middle Left: Beechwood Tunnel (Coventry or North end) JC Bourne , Middle Right: Tunnel Policemen
Bottom: Imaginary plan view