After an excellent lunch at the Links Hotel in West Runton, we enjoyed a vivid and well-illustrated talk by the author Phyllida Scrivens. Her theme (which is also the title of her book, published last year) was “The Great Thorpe Railway Disaster of 1874”.
On 10 September 1874, late in the evening, a mail train pulled out of Great Yarmouth, bound for Norwich. Also, a train which had arrived from London, pulled out of Norwich, bound for Yarmouth. This train was late, and instead of waiting for the incoming train from Yarmouth to come through, it was mistakenly allowed to leave the station. The two trains met on a single-track section of the line, and the very rainy and windy weather made it harder for the train drivers to see the danger. The trains collided on a bridge over the river Yare. Both drivers and the two firemen were killed instantly; 17 of the passengers died then or shortly afterwards and a further 10 were to die late of their injuries. Although a further 70 were recorded as injured, happily over 100 other passengers were able to walk away from the accident; the casualty toll could have been much worse had the carriages not been separated from the locomotives by some commercial wagons. News of the disaster was published in the local and national press, and investigations, a trial and claims for compensation followed the incident, although one positive consequence was that railway safety measures were considerably tightened up. The graves of the driver (John Prior) and fireman (James Light) of the train from Yarmouth are to be found in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich.
Phyllida’s excellent talk, which also described the very varied backgrounds of many of those involved in the disaster, was applauded by the chairman and members.