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Page 7 of 7
The Real Railway Children of Feniscowles
Page 7 of 7
The Landslip of 1956
IF you recall in the E. Nesbit story, there is a landslip onto the line and the children have to alert an oncoming train of the danger. Well, there was a landslip that occurred at Feniscowles, when John and Stephen were just toddlers, but of a much more serious nature than the one in Nesbit’s story. It all happened one day in 1956, on Sunday 26th August to be precise. It had been raining heavily, constantly over a period of several days. At a point several hundred yards south of the station, a culvert ran under the line, where the railway was on an embankment, and at a point where the Leeds Liverpool Canal came quite close. Our Dad was the resident signalman at Feniscowles but because it was Sunday and it was his ‘Rest Day’, all the signals had been pulled off in the ‘all clear’ position. This was standard practice because there were very few trains on a Sunday. However, on this particular Sunday the line was being worked on by men at Brinscall, two stations further along the line towards Chorley. A local farmworker was going for a stroll along the towpath of the canal, and as he looked across towards the railway, he noticed that part of the embankment had collapsed and the railway lines were suspended in mid-air! He quickly went to Feniscowles Police Station but there was nobody there. He then tried to contact a Policeman he knew, who lived nearby, but he had just gone on duty at Cherry Tree. He then ran to Feniscowles Station to raise the alarm. Straight away, our Dad then raced up the line to the signalbox to put all signals at ‘danger’, and telephoned the box at Cherry Tree to stop the 5.40pm train there, which had already left Blackburn. The culvert had washed away a large chunk of embankment due to the heavy rain and several tons of earth had crashed into the field below, leaving approximately a 25ft drop.
After inspection, it was decided that the train from Blackburn could carry on to Chorley, as this side of the line seemed to be okay. This train had to proceed with extreme caution past the danger area. Then notification came of another train running in the opposite direction. On the telephone came the voice of the man in charge of the workmen at Brinscall. He had been informed of the landslip but must have seen the train from Blackburn arriving. Thinking that the problem at Feniscowles had been resolved, he was going to allow the train from Chorley to continue down to Blackburn. Our Dad informed him that if he did, the whole train would end up in the canal!
The story became news and it appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. Then, about 45 years later, a strange thing happened. One of my work colleagues had retired and he used to visit all of us at work occasionally and one day he came by with something for me. He had a set of stand chairs, the ones with seats that can be upholstered. During its life, one of these chairs had been padded with paper due to the seat being flattened down through constant use. However, by now the fabric covering was nearing the end of its life and so he decided to re-cover the seats. As he peeled back the old seat covering, the artificial repair revealed itself in the form of a number of old newspapers, one of which was that very copy showing the landslip of 1956! Now do you believe in fate?
The Collision of 1879 – A lucky escape
DOCUMENTED in the National Archives is the account of the 1879 collision, that occurred on the afternoon of 27th January of that year, involving a passenger and freight train which collided at Feniscowles at 1.38pm, just south of the station. Judging from the report, the accident occurred in approximately the same place as the 1956 landslip. It involved the 12.45pm Wigan to Blackburn passenger train, consisting of a tank engine and four carriages which ran into the rear of a goods train travelling in the same direction. The passenger train was travelling at over 30mph. The goods train consisted of 16 loaded coal wagons and a brake van which was running slowly ahead on the same line. None of the vehicles left the rails and the only damage to the rolling stock was to the brake van. There were about twelve passengers on board and just one passenger complained of injury, having had a tooth knocked out. The outcome could have been far worse.
Signalling rules at the time were that no train must be allowed to follow another train until 10 minutes had elapsed. Following trains had to be stopped and sent forward with a caution and a goods train must be shunted out of the way of a passenger train at least 10 minutes before such a passenger train was due. On the day of the accident, the above rules were not adhered to and, in fact the goods train was only 5 minutes ahead of the passenger train when it left Withnell. The report concluded that the collision might have been prevented by either the signalman at Brinscall or the Stationmaster at Withnell. The former ought not to have allowed the goods train to start from Brinscall only 6 minutes before the time that the passenger train was due and the latter ought to have stopped the goods train at Withnell in order to shunt it out of the way of the passenger train. Shortly afterwards, an improved signalling system was installed on the line using the block system (which had been ordered two months before the date of the accident). This system allowed only one train at any one time to enter each section of track and so theoretically a re-occurrence of this type of accident would be impossible.
Above A Lancs & Yorks Railway engine similar to the one involved in the accident Photograph courtesy of Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Society. www.lyrs.org.uk
Above The day after the landslip, with workers repairing the damage Photo courtesy of Lancashire Evening Telegraph
Below The site of both accidents today – in the trees on the embankment, above the Leeds & Liverpool canal