Seven hurt in 1916 tram smash

Event Start and End Date: 

28th December 1916


Seven people were injured, including the driver and two children, when this Luton tram jumped the tracks and crashed into an earth bank abutting the Midland Railway bridge at the junction of Midland Road and Old Bedford Road at 11.30 am on Thursday, December 28th, 1916.

Motorman (driver) Alfred Lloyd, aged 46, a married man with six children living at 7 Victoria Street, Luton, was unconscious and in a critical condition, suffering from internal injuries, when taken to the Bute Hospital in Dunstable Road, where he was detained. He recovered consciousness as his wife arrived to see him, having initially been told he had been killed.

Mr David Peck, foreman of the Corporation's sanitary department had to use a crowbar as a lever to removed some of the wreckage that enabled Mr Lloyd to be freed. The driver, who had worked on the trams for 12 months previously without incident, was still clutching the brake when he was removed unconscious.

Tram conductor Arthur Eaton, of 21 South Road, Luton, was treated at the Bute Hospital for shock and cuts to his face. He was then allowed home.

The most seriously injured passenger was Mrs Wooding, wife of High Town Road grocer Mr James J. Wooding, who lived at 40 Havelock Road. She was detained in the Bute Hospital with severe wounds to the scalp and face.

Acting Borough Chief Constable Mr Walter James Hagley, of 14 Salisbury Road, Luton, was allowed home after treatment for a dislocated shoulder at the Medical Institute, Waller Street. He also had slight cuts to his face.

Miss Kate Brandham, of 390 Hitchin Road, Luton, was allowed home after treatment at the Bute Hospital for cuts, bruises and shock.

Four-year-old Charles Gregory, of 19 Brache Street, Luton, was detained in the Bute Hospital with leg and arm injuries.

And Constance Gregory, aged 10 and also of 19 Brache Street, was allowed home after treatment by Dr Harmar for a scalp wound and shock.

A Luton News report the following day said the junction was approached from Midland Road down a steep incline that ended in a curve of little more than a right angle and demanded the greatest care to negotiate. There had been other lesser incidents of trams leaving the track at that point.

The tram involved in the smash had come down High Town Road with seven or eight passenger on board. Nothing appeared to be wrong until the tram was half way down Midland Road when, according to eyewitnesses, it was exceeding the regulation pace of 4 mph. But the reason why it was travelling at about 12 mph remained a mystery.

As the tram neared the bottom of the hill it was evident that an accident was unavoidable. The tram failed to negotiate the curve, struck an electric standard and finally crashed through the wooden fence into the earth bank abutting on the Midland Railway bridge.

The body of the tram was quite wrecked. The front was smashed in, with the driver among the debris. An idea of the impact could be gathered from the fact that the seats were literally torn out of their bracings, the staircase at the driver's end was a twisted and broken frame and woodwork splintered and windows broken. The splinters of wood and glass caused most of the wounds.

Acting Chief Constable Hagley told a reporter that had got on the tram at Havelock Road along with Mrs Wooding. "It came along all right the first part, but when we got to Dudley Street I thought it was going rather fast. When the car gathered impetus and began to sway just below that road, I began to feel that we were in for trouble.

"I have seen cars (trams) come down there rather fast, however, and I thought the driver might negotiate the corner all right. I braced myself, however, for the shock which might come, hanging my limbs quite loosely, and it was a good thing I did for in a trice the car jumped the rails at the bottom, dashed over the kerb and crashed into the fence and bank.

"The impact was terrific, and simultaneously with the crash something flew through the car and struck me hard on the shoulder and face."

One eyewitness to the crash said he had been expecting a smash-up at the corner for a long time. But he said: "To me it is a great mystery how it happened, and I know something about tramcars. I also know know that there are four brakes to every car, and all of them could not have failed to act. Also, sand had been thrown down, so the rails were not unduly slippery, and I understand the driver was a most reliable servant of the company...fully acquainted with the responsibility of the task."

Half an hour after the crash, a steam tractor returned the stricken tram to the rails to tow back to the Park Street depot.

At a Town Council meeting in January, it was stated that that accident had been thoroughly gone into with Tramways Manager Mr A. E. Wray and no fault could be found with the overhead equipment or the tram involved. A demonstration, including the application of the brakes, showed everything was in order.

Deputy Mayor Councillor Walter Primett said he believed the regulations stated that on certain gradients the speed should not be more than four miles an hour. He was there to say that trams did not come down only at four or eight miles and hour, but at 10 and 12 mph. He believed one or two men had been sacked because of this very thing.

Councillor Henry Impey said that if the drivers would pay attention to the Board of Trade stops, whether there were passengers waiting or not, they could not gather a speed which would lead to trouble. And Councillor Escott said there was one of those stops within 12 yards of the curve where the accident occurred, so if the tram had stopped there the accident would not have happened.

On February 19th, 1917, there was another serious accident when two trams collided head on in thick fog in Dunstable Road, near Moor Street. Fortunately, no-one was injured on that occasion and neither tram was derailed. A tram heading from town to the laundry in Dunstable Road passed over a loop outside the Gas Works and collided on a single line section of track with a tram approaching the loop from the opposite direction.

And on May 23rd, 1917, a young woman named Olive Byfield, aged 19, was on a Dunstable Road tram and intending to alight at Park Street. But the tram turned into Chapel Street and she was flung from the vehicle on a loop at the bottom of Stuart Street after asking to get off at Pike's Close. Her injuries included a broken collar bone.

When buses replaced trams in Luton in 1932 passenger numbers soared.

[Luton News, December 29th, 1916; January 11th, 1917]


Tram crash December 1916
Tram crash December 1916

Event Place: 


Passenger's story of tram crash


Some remarkable facts were revealed in the story of injured passenger Miss Kate Brandham, of 390 Hitchin Road, following the tram crash on Thursday, December 28th, 1916.

She said: "I was going to work [Messrs F. J. Elliott & Co, hat manufacturers, Guildford Street] and got on the car at Round Green. I sat on a seat on my right towards the back of the car. There were a good many people in the car then, and Mrs Wooding [a High Town Road grocer's wife] got in and sat in the middle of the car.

"We were all somewhat alarmed at the speed at which the car travelled down the hill from Round Green. The car went very quickly - quite double the regulation speed, I am sure. We reached the top of Midland Road all right, and there a number of passengers got out.

"A remarkable fact is that a woman told me she dare not go down Midland Road in the car after its rate down the first hill. But I said I had paid my fare, and I would remain in the car. I wish now I had followed that woman.

"Well the car started quite nicely at the top of the hill, and it gathered speed towards the middle. Then it seemed to give a lurch or jump forward, and we were all terribly frightened. We dare not move then, for the car was dashing down the hill. We could not jump out.

"It was over in a few seconds. I have a recollection of the driver trying to get the car round the turn, but of course it was hopeless. The car jumped clean into the bank. We screamed, and then all I remember is the crash and being flung to the other end of the car.

"I lost consciousness, and when I came back to my senses I was on my back and bleeding from the head. I was in great pain and seemed to be pinned down with my feet in the air. I am badly cut and hurt about the body.

"I was pulled out by some soldiers and, after being taken to the hospital, came home."

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: December 30th, 1916]


Tram crash: passenger sues for damages


A sequel to the December 28th, 1916, tram crash came in a three-hour hearing at Luton County Court on Thursday, August 9th, 1917, when one of the injured passengers, Miss Kate Brandon, sued tramway lessees Messrs Balfour, Beatty and Co Ltd for damages for personal injuries sustained and loss of wages.

Miss Brandon, whose address then was 390 Hitchin Road, had given an interview to the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph for its edition following the crash. Her address at the court case was given as 39 Round Green.

Tram crash 1916The court was told that Luton Corporation's application to the Board of Trade for an inquiry into the smash never reached fruition, and the cause of the accident had never been revealed and remained a mystery.

Mr W. A. Wardley, appearing for the plaintiff, said she was thrown from her seat against the glass window and then on to the floor of the tram. The jury could judge something of the force with which she was thrown when he told them the impact was so great that the seats were torn from their bracings, the iron staircase was twisted, and the woodwork and windows of the vehicle were reduced to splinters.

The effect upon the plaintiff was very serious. Up to that time she was employed as a machinist and had been earning an average weekly wage of 30 shillings. She had not yet been able to resume work, so she had lost 30s a week in wages alone since December 28th, a total now of £39 10s. In addition, she had to pay 10s 6d for medical certificates, extra nourishment £8 5s and travelling expenses of 7s 6d. The total out-of-pocket expenses alone were about £50.

Following the crash Miss Brandon was assisted in walking to a doctor's, but as he was not in she was taken to the Bute Hospital. She was attended there and then taken home, where she went to bed for a day or two. It was then found advisable to return to the hospital as an in-patient and remained there for 10 days before being taken home at her own request.

Mr Wardley said matter was brought to the attention of the defendants early in the year, but not until July 19th did they make any admission of negligence. Their officials and the Corporation had expressed regret, and he believed investigations had taken place and were still taking place, and steps were being taken that there should not be a recurrence of so great a danger to the poublic.

It was not a case of opposing the tramways or the Corporation. It was simply coming to them as reasonable, practical men, and asking as to what compensation should be awarded.

Mr H. Head said the case for the defence was that Miss Brandon was a malingerer.

When called, the plaintiff said she had formerly worked as a straw hat machinist for Messrs F. J. Elliott & Co, Guildford Street, for about 10 or twelve years, and her average earnings were about 30s a week.

She had got in the tram at Round Green to ride to work. In the accident her head was cut open and her ribs, back and arms hurt. She had been pinned in the tram before three or four soldiers went to her aid. She still suffered pain all over and had had to have a change of diet which included milk plus port wine twice a day. She wanted to get back to work.

Mr Head put it to Miss Brandon that she had been having a very nice time since strappings were taken from her arms in March. She had a lodger named Abrahams who spent his £2 to £2 10s a week earning from Skefko in the home.

The defence case devoted time to medical evidence in support of its claim that Miss Brandon was a malingerer.

Dr Verdon has seen the plaintiff in hospital and stitched her scalp wound before she left hospital against his advice. When she returned there was tenderness over the eighth rib and he thought it might have been fractured, but not a complete fracture.

Mr Head maintained there had been an error on the part of her own doctor and another who had later examined her over the extent and effects of Miss Brandon's injuries. Dr Oldfield, who was asked to examine her, said his conclusion on March 26th was that strappings she was still wearing should be removed as she was fully recovered. His report to the Tramway Company and Corporation was to that effect.

Summing up, Judge Wheeler said he did not like two phrases used by the learned counsel. It was not a bogus claim, and the lady had been called a malingerer. Whether she was or not, she had followed the advice of a competent medical man. The merits or otherwise of the strapping being retained was not the question. The defendants admitted they had to pay damages and it was up to jury to award such damages as they thought would meet the case.

After private deliberation, the jury returned a verdict for £60 damages, inclusive of expenses.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: August 11th, 1917]