Staplehurst Rail Crash - 9 June 1865
"The most disastrous accident which has ever happened on the South-Eastern Railway" was how the newspapers described the events of the afternoon of 9 June 1865, when the Folkestone to London Boat Train "The Tidal Express" with 110 passengers on board, was derailed near Staplehurst at "a very common bridge, with no wall whatever to protect it, and underneath it, at a depth of about twelve feet, runs a sluggish stream".
The bridge had been under repair for some three months and the last part of the work required the replacement of two large beams which supported the rails. Two lengths of rail had been removed and the work gang of platelayers and carpenters were about their business when the unfortunate accident transpired.
Normally you would expect this type of repair to be completed without incident but in this case a set of fatal circumstances occurred.
The Folkestone to London Boat Train did not run at the same time each day, the time it left Folkestone was dependant upon the tides and the arrival of the cross-channel ferry from Boulogne. If the timetable were read incorrectly it could mean up to an hour's difference in the train's anticipated arrival. Whilst the 9 June was a Friday, the Foreman of the work gang (Henry Benge) had apparently read the time for the Saturday train! In addition Benge, although a requirement of his appointment as Foreman, himself carried no watch to tell the time of the trains, although a number of men within the gang had their own watches. A "flagman" was placed about 500 yards up the track to warn of any approaching trains although none were expected!
The line at Staplehurst is a long straight piece of track and the engine pulling the Boat Train was one of the most powerful that the South-Eastern Railway had at that time, the Boat Train was also non-stop to Redhill and the combination of these three points meant that it was travelling at full speed between 40 and 50 mph. The t...