No. 36 - p44-49

© APRIL 1971


    On Friday afternoon last, at about three o’clock, an explosion of the "Shannon" locomotive steam-engine took place on the works of the Blackburn, Darwen & Bolton Railway, at a place called Sough, within about three hundred yards of the tunnel, by which one unfortunate man named Thomas Heaviside, an engine driver, was blown a distance of fifty yards; and killed upon the spot, being dreadfully mangled and scalded, and another man, named John Waten, a stoker, was forced under some waggons, and bruised and scalded to a serious extent. So violent was the force of the explosion that the engine boiler was rent completely asunder, and the two ends blown out almost as clearly as if the separation had been the work of a chisel. The engine itself was blown into a thousand fragments, and scattered far and near.

    The "Shannon" was an engine employed upon the line by the contractor for the works, to assist in their construction; and it was stated to have exploded from the rottenness of the metal, owing to its extreme age, the engine being one of those built to run upon the first railway constructed in England; and to have been at least twenty years old. These rumours, however, appear to have been totally without foundation so far as the worthlessness of the engine was concerned, as will be seen from the statements given in the evidence below. This melancholy accident, it is too probable is but another instance of that recklessness so frequently exhibited by men who have the means of destruction completely and constantly at their command; and which shows that familiarity with danger, in ignorant minds, lessens the care, as well as the fear.

    On Monday afternoon, at three o’ clock, an inquest was held at the "Millstone" public-house, before J. Hargreaves, Esq., on view of the body of the deceased, Thomas Heaviside. Mr. James, the Secretary to the Blackburn, Darwen & Bolton Railway Company, was present during the whole of the proceedings.

    The Jury having been sworn, proceeded to view the body, which was in an upper room, and presented a shocking appearance. The back of the head was smashed in, one of the arms were [sic] broken, the legs were wounded, and the back dreadfully scalded. The Jury then went on to the line at Sough, where portions of the boiler were to be seen, and then on to the spot where the explosion occurred. The iron of the boiler, and that of the tube which conveyed the heat inside, seemed to be of good quality, and substantial thickness; and to have been but very little worn; and it was evident that the boiler had only given way from some excessive explosive force. On the return of the Jury to the inquest room, the first witness called was,

    John Monday, of Sough, labourer, in the employ of Mr. John Evans, the contractor for the Blackburn, Darwen & Bolton Railway works. This witness deposed :- On Friday afternoon, the day on which the accident occurred, I was engaged "breaking" the waggons, with Thomas Heaviside, (the deceased) and the fireman, John Waten. I was conducting with the others a train of eight dirt waggons along the line of railway at Darwen. They were drawn by a locomotive engine at the head of the train. We had only two loaded waggons on just then; the other six were coming down the inclined plane. I had just got out of the tender, and was walking round to couple one of the waggons, when seeing the other waggons coming Heaviside got on to the engine to move it and the two waggons attached, out of the way of those which were coming. Heaviside was the driver. He was on the fore part of the engine, and Waten and I were on the tender. I got off to "couple" the waggons which were coming, and the start to get out of the way of the waggons was made just as I was walking round. The engine-boiler burst at that moment, and I flung myself under one of the waggons. I then got up and looked round, and could not see my mates, till one of the other men who came up told me Heaviside was blown up into the fields. I went and saw him lying about fifty yards from the engine, and about ten from the cutting. He was lying on the ground and the blood was running out of his head., and his right arm was broken. I have examined the body since and found that the back part of his head was shattered, the skull bone being broken. His back and down the left side was scalded. He was quite dead. I don’t know where Waten was blown to: I was told under one of the waggons. I have since seen Waten; he is living but very much scalded down the face and his right arm. Deceased’s skull would either have been fractured by the fall, or by portions of the boiler striking him. I have been employed on the works since they first started. This engine had been employed on the line about two months. I knew nothing of it before that time, nor where it came from. It was an old one. I’m no judge of them things. It worked well enough till it was thrown off the rails about a month ago; but that was made right before we started again. One of Mr. Evans’ men repaired it. Heaviside came from Durham, I have heard him say. He would be about 27 years of age. He has left a widow and two children. I cannot form any opinion as to the cause of the boiler bursting.

    By Mr. James, the Secretary :- The engine had not been standing above four or five minutes in the place from which the start was made. We took water into the tender the trip before that sufficient to last three hours. This was about half an hour before the accident happened. It was windy weather, with rain enough to make the rails "greasy". The wind was against us in going back to Sough with empty waggons, as we faced the incline, and it was hard to get on. We went much slower that day than usual. The full waggons would run down the incline; the engine was only employed to take back the empty waggons. Did not ever observe any escape of steam from the safety valve of the engine while I knew it. I never directed my attention to it. Waten was not in a better situation for observing what took place than I was. He could not tell more than I can.

    John Evans, jun., deposed as follows :- I am living now in Over Darwen. I am the contractor’s son, and an assistant with him. On Friday I went up in the empty waggons from Over Darwen to Sough, the last trip the engine made, at a little after three o’ clock in the afternoon. The engine was driven by the deceased Heaviside. I left the train at Sough and heard an explosion five or six minutes after, and on returning I found the boiler of the engine had burst. I can’t say what caused the bursting. The engine came from the North of England somewhere; and was purchased by my brother for my father’s use. It was an old engine. I don’t think there is much difference between that one and a modern engine they make them not so dumpy now.

    By Mr. James :- If I had not believed it was safe I should not of course have ridden on it. The foreman and others have been in the habit of riding on it. I saw no escape of steam.

    By Mr. Mears, cashier to Mr. Evans. I never heard Heaviside express any fears of the engine. He seemed in good spirits when I left him, just before the explosion.

    By the Coroner. The last remark he made about the engine was a week since, when he said it was working better than it had done since the upset and as well as it did before it was thrown over.

    Richard Livesey, of Livesey-street, Over Darwen, engineer, deposed : I have once or twice been engaged in repairing the engine. Once when it first came, about two months since, I was told to repair it by Mr. Hossack, the head engineer in the employ of Mr. Evans. It wanted a few things repairing, and was in pretty good order. I had nothing to do with the valves. Other matters were left to Mr. Hossack to attend to. It was in good order so far as I saw. I did not examine it thoroughly, all the parts. I did not notice what might have been in bad order; all I saw was in good repair. About a month since I repaired it again by Mr. Hossack’s direction. It had been thrown off the rails. I helped to make the necessary repairs; but cannot speak positively as to the other parts, as I did not direct my attention to them. It appeared generally to be in good order. Last Wednesday I came down with deceased on the engine from Sough. It then appeared to work well, and deceased said it was in better repair then than it had been since it was put on the line. I cannot tell the age of the engine.

    By Mr. James. I only attended to the gearing, and that was in good order. I never had anything to do with the boiler. If an engine stands a month or so unemployed it generally needs some little repairs.

    Henry Rainford, of Blackburn, mechanic, deposed, I am in the employ of Mr. Robert Railton, of Blackburn, Ironfounder, and have been for about twenty years. I have been in the habit of making boilers. I have examined the fragments of this boiler. I think the cause of this boiler’s explosion has been that it was short of water. The flue I can see has been red-hot; and that would not have been the case if there had been a sufficient supply of water. The same thing might have happened to any boiler under similar circumstances even to a new boiler if the safety-valve happened to be fast, or over-weighted. The heat, from the insufficiency of water, might cause the iron of the valve to expand, and so become fixed. The iron of the boiler appears to have been good and sufficient, and the boiler in good repair. The stoker, or fireman, should have seen after the water for the boiler as the tap was at his hand (this was a mistake) and there was water to supply the boiler. The stoker would "feed" the boiler at the order of the engine-driver, who has means of ascertaining the quantity of water in the boiler. My opinion is that for some reason or the other the parties had neglected to supply the boiler properly with water. There could not have been three hours supply of water in the boiler.

    Mr James explained that it was the tender which had the three hours supply as the boiler could only be supplied while running by means of the force pumps put in motion by the wheels.

    The witness further stated that both the stoker and the driver must have known that the boiler was short of water; and to save time they might have put off supplying the deficiency till the next trip. The engine was one of the old original make; but seemed in good working order. The engine and boiler would be about twenty years old; but not the flues — these seemed to have been in very good order.

    Mr James here explained that in modern engines the stoker and engine-driver are together, and both have a controul [sic] over the taps. But in this case the stoker was at one end of the engine and the driver at the other and the engine-driver by means of a connecting-rod could have supplied the water himself without any communication from the stoker, who in all cases was entirely under the controul [sic] of the driver.

    The witness, in reply to Mr. James said, if the gauge-cocks were at the driving end, the stoker could only have known that water was wanting by the smell of the fuel; and by looking at the flues which he must have seen were red hot.

    By the Coroner:- It is not usual for the stoker to supply water without being asked to do so by the driver, who has the entire command of the engine and the stoker.

    By Mr. James :- The stoker could have seen the flues were red by stooping down and looking into his fire-box. The casing of the boiler is not effected by the fire and so long as the flues are renewed the casing will be as good at the end of twenty years as at first.

    The witness added that he considered the engine-driver much more blameable than the stoker, because it rested with the driver to direct the stoker, and the driver would have better means of knowing that water was wanting than the stoker had.

    James Kenyon, of Darwen, mechanic, agreed with the last witness as to the cause of the explosion; but differed from him as to the stoker being blameable. He considered that the engine-driver’s negligence alone caused the explosion. The engine-driver, only, should supply the water, or give a direct instruction to the stoker to do it. It was customary for the driver to supply the water himself. Witness gave this opinion from a lengthened experience on railway lines. The materials of the boiler appeared to be sound. Witness had been a principal engineer on the St. Helen’s and Runcorn-gap Railway for three years.

    John Hossack, of Over Darwen, engineer, in the employ of Mr. Evans, deposed that about two months since he had the engine taken to pieces and examined before it was set to work. It came from near Stockton and Darlington. It was in very good repair, and wanted chiefly cleaning. When it was put together again, it was as perfect as that sort of engine could possibly be made. All the working parts of the engine and boiler were in good condition the tube of the boiler was new, or nearly so. After the engine was thrown off the line, about a month since, it was again put into working order. Witness had examined the fragments on the line, and was of opinion that the explosion had been caused by too great a pressure of steam in the boiler arising from too great a pressure having been put upon the safety valve by the engine-driver, who seemingly had done so in consequence of the engine going slower than usual, and with a view to more effectually overcoming the resistance of the wind, which, on that day was very high. Witness went down from Sough to Over Darwen with the deceased, about 7 or 10 minutes before the explosion occurred. Witness then tried the gauge cocks, and ascertained that there was an abundance of clear water in the top cock, which showed the boiler to be properly full. Witness left deceased at Over Darwen, and in the next trip back to Sough, the explosion took place. From these facts witness inferred that there could be no want of water. The time which elapsed between witness leaving deceased, and the explosion was not sufficient to have allowed of the water in the boiler being consumed. Witness had examined the flues, and was convinced that the flues had not been red hot. The appearance of their having been red hot, arose from the fact of the water used by the engine containing much oxide of iron, which left a coloured deposit on the flues.

By a juryman :- The engine was about 20 horse power. I have cautioned the deceased not to use too much pressure. If the valve had been screwed down to 60, the boiler would not have exploded. The high wind would have caused a quicker generation of steam, in consequence of the construction of this engine. The valve could not be screwed down so as entirely to prevent the escape of steam.

    This was all the evidence called, and the coroner having pointed out the chief facts in the depositions, stated that he thought the jury would be fully justified in finding a verdict of "Accidental death."

    After a very brief consultation the jury unanimously returned a verdict of "Accidental death".

    The coroner then expressed his satisfaction at finding that all parties connected with the management of the line, were entirely free from blame; and observed that he had reason to believe that the highly praiseworthy precautions hitherto taken to prevent accidents on the works, would be continued for the future.

    Mr. Mears, on the part of Mr. Evans, the contractor, assured the coroner that there would be no falling off in the care which had hitherto been exhibited.


(We are indebted to Frank Smith for this report which first appeared, together with the names of the jurymen. in "The Blackburn Standard" for Wednesday. 25th November 1846. The Blackburn, Darwen & Bolton Railway obtained its Act on 30th June 1845. and the contract for its construction was awarded to John Evans. The first sod was cut at Darwen on 27th September 1845, and the 5−mile section between Blackburn and Sough (excluding the tunnel) was opened on 3rd August 1847. Through traffic between Blackburn and Bolton (14½ miles) commenced on 12th June 1848.

    In Volume 1 of "The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway" (David & Charles, 1969), John Marshall suggests that SHANNON was an old locomotive from the Stockton & Darlington Railway, and (from information supplied by Ken Hoole) that it was formerly S&D No.18 SHILDON. This was an 0−6−0 with vertical cylinders in front of the smokebox, built at Shildon in 1831 to the design of Timothy Hackworth, and sold out of service in 1835.

    Frank Smith has forwarded two further cuttings dealing with SHANNON and contractor John Evans, the first being from "The Bolton Chronicle and South Lancashire Advertiser" of Saturday. 31st October 1846.

    A VILLAINOUS ACT. On Saturday afternoon, as the locomotive engine "Shannon" was proceeding from the tunnel mouth to the embankment forming near Trinity Church, [Bolton], with a laden train of earth-waggons, it suddenly came in contact with an iron chair, placed across the rails by some miscreant, when the engine and tender were thrown off the rails and overturned . ..The engine is, in these advanced days, quite an oddity, being one of the originally constructed locomotives, similar to those first used on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, long before the Liverpool and Manchester line was opened. A reward of £20 has been offered for the discovery of the wretch who placed the chair upon the rail.’

    The same newspaper, in its issue of Saturday, 23rd September 1848, advertised a forthcoming sale by J. Carruthers, an auctioneer of Over Darwen. On completion of contract for the Blackburn, Darwen and Bolton Railway, John Evans, Railway Contractor, had given him instructions to sell by auction on 2nd to 7th October 1848 various items of p/ant and equipment including ‘one LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE and TENDER, about eight-horse power'. SHANNON. per the first paragraph of the explosion report, was ‘blown into a thousand fragments’: even should this have been a journalistic exaggeration and should SHANNON subsequently have been repaired, the horse-power quoted differs from that given by one of the juryman (about 20hp). One presumes that the locomotive for sale was one brought in by Evans to replace SHANNON.

    I learn from correspondence with Ken Hoole that S&D No.18 SHILDON was an 0−6−0 with vertical cylinders at the chimney end where the driver stood: also at this end was a separate water tank, and at the other a coal bunker, both these tenders presumably being carried on four wheels. None of the reports we have quoted make specific mention of two tenders, but from the explosion report one can infer that SHANNON did have two. John Monday related how he ‘got out of the tender’; one can’t imagine him meaning the water tender which had three hours’ supply of water according to Mr. James. The newspaper reporter assumed (paragraph 2) that SHANNON was of S&D origin, yet none of the witnesses if he reported them correctly expressly said so. He didn’t mention SHANNON’S cylinders so we don’t know whether they were vertical inclined or horizontal. Would a locomotive with vertical cylinders in 1846 have been considered ‘quite an oddity’? John Monday’s evidence was that SHANNON’S driver ‘was on the fore part of the engine’ just where he would have been if SHANNON was a vertical cylindered locomotive.

    Ken Hoole remarks that "although SHILDON is mentioned in one source as being sold to the Great North of England Railway, I cannot confirm or deny this without checking at York. However, the S&D and GNE were co-operative and the GNE was under construction at the time SHILDON was sold. Although a very remote possibility this could have influenced Evans’ evidence that it ‘came from the North of England somewhere'. Certainly the S&D had no engine named SHANNON, and nothing like it. Therefore it is only a possibility that SHANNON was ex−S&D. There is. as far as I know, no evidence to prove that SHILDON and SHANNON were one and the same the only links being the date and the type of loco. SHANNON could have come from anywhere and the similarity between the two names could be merely a coincidence."

    In view of all these points, one might feel inclined to assume that the boiler explosion reporter had botched up the name, and that Evans' loco was SHILDON. But as we have seen SHANNON was featured in both "Standard" and "Chronicle". One must conclude, therefore, that whilst it may have been SHILDON at some time it most certainly wasn’t so named at Darwen. Experts on early locomotive history may care to comment KPP.)

    ‘Railway locomotives have been powered by steam, electricity from rails, diesel oil and electricity from overhead wires. Indicate the historical development of the use of these power sources and explain why the development occurred.’ (A question set by the Joint Matriculation Board for the Advanced Level Metalwork examination in June 1970. SAL)

HENDON, one of the fleet of crane locomotives operated by Doxford’s shipyard at Sunderland, shunts the lower yard on the banks of the Wear one morning In June 1964. This engine was one of a pair originally ordered by the New Russia Co from Hawthorn Leslie in 1918 (works Nos. 3327 and 3328). The order not being fulfilled, parts were stored until utilised in 1940 by their successors, Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns, to form BOXER and HENDON (works Nos. 7006 and 7007).        (R. E. West)