Memorial Cottage Hanham, 'Erected AD 1877 by public subscription
for the widow and
family of John Chiddy who was killed by an express train whilst removing a large stone from the metals of the Great Western Railway near Conham, March 31, 1876'. Brave Hero John Chiddy from Hanham 'He leapt to die, and for a hundred lives he gave his one'.
John Chiddy was foreman of Birchwood Quarry situated near the eastern mouth of Bristol No 2 Tunnel. Just before 2pm on March 31, 1876, an Up local passenger train dislodged a large stone from the quarry's stack beside the line and
fouled the Down track.
Knowing that the Down 'Flying Dutchman' express was imminent, John Chiddy tried to shift the heavy obstruction. This he succeeded in doing, but at the cost of his own life, for the express engine struck him before he could leap clear. In due course, the train which had been travelling at 50mph, stopped and a collection made. The 'Flying Dutchman' at the point when John saved it was running on a ledge high above the Avon and had it become derailed, would most certainly have plunged into the river with considerable loss of life.
So how much did those thankful passengers give? Just ?3 17s 0d - precious little compensation for a wife and seven children who had lost their breadwinner. Hearing of this stinginess, Lord Elcho was so incensed that he took up the case in Parliament and said that if a man risked his life to save others, he should do so 'with the consciousness that his family would not be dependent on charity, or the workhouse'. In reply, the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained that he had no funds to help such people.
The ensuing press publicity however resulted in an account being opened in Bath and another in Bristol, the Bank of England contributing ?10 when informed that two of its officials were on the train with a large quantity of gold. The total collection of ?400 was used to purchase half an acre of land on which the six-bedroomed Memorial Cottage was built in what is now Memorial Road on the Hanham bank of the Avon. (was called Pit Lane)
The north side of the house carries a plaque with the inscription: 'Erected AD 1877 by public subscription
for the widow and family of John Chiddy who was killed by an express train whilst removing a large stone from the metals of the Great Western Railway near Conham, March 31, 1876'. 'Flying Dutchman' (then the fastest train in the world)
A few yards from St Anne's Park station on the down track towards Bristol, is a stone plinth on which stands an enormous boulder. It bears no date or inscription, but to those who know of its origin it brings recollections of a tragic story. A story that thrilled not only Bristol but the whole of England when it became known through proceedings in the House of Commons.
On Friday March 31st 1876, just after 2 p.m., a local train passed on the up line towards Bath. It is considered possible that this train shook and so dislodged a big boulder. A few minutes later, on the opposite line, the West of England express from Paddington known as the 'Flying Dutchman' (then the fastest train in the world) was travelling towards Bristol at 50 m.p.h.
There are two tunnels on this part of the line, and as the express came out of the Bristol end of one of them its fireman saw a huge stone lying right across the rails. In the same fleeting moment he saw a man trying to move it. By a superhuman effort the man managed to clear the line in spite of the enormous weight of the stone and so saved the whole train from almost certain disaster, for there is little doubt that it would have de-railed and rolled down the bank into the River Avon. However before he could get clear himself the engine struck and threw him a distance of eight or nine yards. On being picked up he breathed just once and then quietly died.
The train had been saved by the courage of a man called Jack Chiddy, who at 47 lived in Hanham with his wife and seven children. He was a foreman-quarryman employed by a Bath firm at Birchwood Quarry. This quarry lies between the two tunnels and is very close to the railway line near a 30ft drop to the River Avon. The evidence at the subsequent inquest three days later showed that it was the practice, after stones had been taken from the quarry, for them to be stacked by the side of the railway line to be ready for loading onto a goods train. There were said to be the most stringent regulations laid down by the Great Western Railway to prevent the possibility of any stone falling on to the track, but no evidence came to light to show whether these rules had been disregarded by the quarrymen. The Coroner clearly thought the regulations were insufficient and the jury agreed with him, considering that the line should have been fenced and that the stone was being quarried far too close to the railway track.
In those days there was no compensation for accidents, nor any state pension for widows. When the train stopped and Ja
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