The day tube staff dropped in on a happy honeymoon couple

The day tube staff dropped in on a happy honeymoon couple

One would think from the title that this was some happy event not ever recorded previously in any blog or other media. You know, quite a big surprise and balloons and a buffet and the rest of it so as to make the honeymoon couple have a most memorable occasion and one to remember… Well this couldn’t be further from the truth. There was an event but it wasn’t even any sort of pleasurable event. In fact its clear the event was undoubtedly one of the most macabre episodes to have ever occurred on London’s underground system…

This follows on from the recent blog post covering the awful incident at Oval tube station in 1891 where a Mr. Thomas Partridge had the rather dubious honour of being the London deep level tube system’s first ever fatality. This newly discovered story is certainly without doubt the first ever where a member of tube staff dropped in on a happily married honeymoon couple going back to their lodgings by tube – except the tube person in question was quite dead when he made his presence…

The GNP&BR at Piccadilly Circus in the early days showing a station name sign and passengers waiting to get on the train.

New tube railway – and a new type of accident that occurred soon after. The GNP&BR at Piccadilly Circus in the early days. Source: Twitter.

In terms of tube staff dropping in on honeymooners, the story is most certainly true – and in short goes something like this. A newly married couple – Mr and Mrs Macaulay – are on their honeymoon and they go to the theatre in central London. They decide to take the tube back to their hotel and it is during the course of that trip that the bride finds herself suddenly spread-eagled by a member of tube staff apparently heavily in embrace with her. The only problem was the member of staff was most dead – and that being because he had dropped in from up high…

How could such a thing have happened? Well its simple. In brief the couple had alighted from their train at Holborn at around 8.15pm that evening and entered the lifts to be taken to the surface. As the lift was about to begin its journey upward at that very moment an employee of the Great Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR) began a dangerous mission.

The tube staff in question was known by the name of Tomlinson. As the honeymoon couple stood in anticipation of their lift about to ascend to the surface, Tomlinson was descending towards them at a speed practically unknowable in those days. That trip took perhaps all of three seconds before there was a powerful impact. And no it wasn’t some early desire to prove the effects of gravity can be negated when one is in free fall.

As is becoming quite obvious, the guy in question, Tomlinson, had hurtled down an extremely deep shaft whilst the lift in question was stood at its lower level. The depth of the Piccadilly line at Holborn is considerable being the deepest in central London in terms of the Victorian/Edwardian tube system that was then extant in London. Evidently very deep lift shafts were needed here – although these were of course not quite as deep as those at Hampstead station in the suburbs.

So yes it seems they guy had evidently not yet reached terminal velocity (one needs about 4500 feet to achieve that) but the speed he was going was so fast – probably somewhere in the region of around eight or nine metres per second – that he was instantly killed as his body smashed through the top of the lift. The by now newly deceased landed on top of Mrs Macaulay and its said the dead body’s legs violently collided with Mr Macaulay’s head. Both bride and groom suffered quite considerable injuries.

Before we go on, the question one probably would want to ask is what on earth was the GNP&BR guy doing taking a trip in free fall down a lift shaft? And how did he even get to bomb down there in the first place? Surely the lift gates had a lock to prevent them being inadvertently opened? They did in fact have a mechanism that prevents this – but it could be overridden with a special key – or some other ingenious method as the subsequent inquiry found.

There was considerable debate as to whether the lifts’ gates had been secure enough in the first place – but perhaps that was the last thing really because, after all, Tomlinson was in fact an employee of the tube company entrusted with the care of its stations at Holborn and Russell Square and no doubt he knew how to override the mechanisms.

In fact witnesses including other station staff stationed in the ticket hall say they had spotted Tomlinson stood at the top of the lifts, the gates being closed at that time. Suddenly the gates were wide open and Tomlinson was nowhere to be seen.

As we know now, he was on his way to collide violently with a lift and its occupants. The fateful day in question was the evening of Friday 12th April 1907 – less than four months since the new Piccadilly railway had opened.

The Railway Magazine for 1908 (Volume 20 p 438) was one of the few specialist transport journals to cover the incident otherwise it was mainly the national press that had the most coverage at the time – yet there’s little left these days to be read upon this particular incident. A lot of research had to be done in order to uncover the fullest details possible.

Railway magazine brief report on the accident published in December 1908.

A rather brief report on the Holborn incident – this being the only such example that can be found on the Internet.

Before we continue any present day tube customer/passenger to Holborn station would probably think to themselves ‘how could this event have even happened? Holborn tube station has escalators not lifts. And there’s no sign of lifts that could have existed there.’

Well that’s exactly right! But the the station was built with lifts (as was the norm on the entire GNP&BR and other early tube railways.) These lifts at Holborn were made redundant in 1933 when a new and enlarged station was opened complete with escalators. The lift shafts happen to be extant still but are well away from the public eye. Part of the concourse off the westbound Piccadilly platform involves passengers passing through the site where Tomlinson smashed through the top of a lift and landed on Mrs Macaulay.

The location where the 1907 accident occurred. The site is now a flight of stairs leading to the Piccadilly line's westbound platform.

The location where Tomlinson entered the lift at Holborn in an extremely fast velocity.

What this means is passengers actually pass unknowingly under the remaining sections of the lift shafts. They’re above where the passengers walk but the shafts have been truncated to provide a passenger thoroughfare between the westbound platform and the escalators to the surface.

Okay that’s that sorted! Where exactly would Tomlinson have begin his quick but fateful journey then? A good question! This would have been where the offices are sited now to the right of the ticket gates as one walks into the main station entrance off Kingsway.

One may not realise it but one of the exits from those lifts stood in Kingsway! If one is outside the station entrance and notices the pair of archways either side of the newer entrance these were part of the old Leslie Green station (they’re no longer in their original ox blood red colour scheme) and that on the right (the south side of the station) was the way out from the lifts.

The ‘way out’ was what Tomlinson used in April 1907 in a most different manner to that normally used…..

Holborn station in 2022. The passageway in the background would have once led to the station's former lifts.

Holborn ticket hall in 2022. Gates and escalators to the left. Lifts were on the right where the station control room is. Note the corridor TfL staff is about to enter which would have been the entrance to the lifts area. The LPTB passimeter (ticket booth) seen in the next picture would have been in the foreground area.

This photograph from the 1920s shows the old station (ox blood red of course) and the exit (with its Leslie Green tiles) can just about be seen on the right. The fact the Central London Railway sign is placed by this exit is because some passengers would emerge from the lifts and be looking for a way to reach the line’s former station at British Museum nearby. That sign would of course indicate which direction passengers should take if they wished to change to the Central London Railway.

Just to mention, what happened to the ox blood façade the remaining Leslie Green buildings once had? Did they paint over it? No what they did it seems was to strip the Leslie Green tiling from the frontage and then re-rendered it in concrete – except it would now have much the same blandness as the 1930s concrete station frontage.

Now that we’ve established where the lift exits were, the entrances to the lifts were sited on the other side, this being nearer to the present escalators. I don’t think these exist anymore the shafts have been capped and there are offices for TfL staff on top. However towards the rear the old emergency stairs shaft still exists and these can be used as an escape route from the station if ever needed. Those stairs stood at the bottom (southern) end of the station thus looking from Kingsway there was the emergency stairs, lift shaft no.1 and lift shaft no. 2 (each carrying a pair of lifts.) And these lifts were once the deepest to be found in central London.

Holborn station in 1933. The passageway (seen in the 2022 picture) can be viewed here and this is where passengers would have once used the lifts.

Holborn station in 1933 – twenty six years after Tomlinson took his death-dive. The aforementioned passageway is quite visible. Escalators at left. The top of the emergency stairs (leading to the old the spiral staircase) can be seen (marked with an arrow.) The lifts were to the right opposite the emergency stairs. Its quite possible the lifts were retained for sometime after as a means of transporting materials to complete any outstanding parts of the station.

If one has used Holborn tube station it will be known the Central line is very deep at this point – for Holborn had the second longest escalators on the tube compared to Leicester Square. Of course to reach the Piccadilly line one needs to use another set of rather long escalators and then flights of stairs to reach the platforms. Clearly the depth Tomlinson had fallen down is very considerable.

So exactly how far did Tomlinson fall? News reports vary some saying 90ft, others 140 feet and so on. According to the original plans the lifts had a rise of 125 feet so Tomlinson fell perhaps 110-115 feet which is a considerable drop. The westbound platform (towards Piccadilly and Hammersmith) is at a distance of 135 feet from surface level whilst the eastbound is 115 feet from surface level. This means the level the lifts reached was an intermediate between the two platforms (well four platforms actually when one considers the two additional platforms that once served the former Aldwych branch.)

When its mentioned that the area through which passengers now pass was actually that of the lifts that is very true. The lift shafts extended to about here however the actual entrances to the lifts were somewhat higher than this in line with the passageways from the eastbound platform. Holborn is a sort of odd station because to get from the eastbound platform to the lifts lower landing one had to go down stairs first, which is somewhat contrary to what one usually finds on the tube. The stairs had to go down in order to go under the Aldwych platforms so these routes ended up midway between the level of the two platforms and that’s where the lifts were.

When the incident first occurred it was claimed all three had received minor injuries and after receiving hospital treatment were able to go home. That includes our guy who fell more than 100 feet and had smashed through the roof of a lift! Miraculous! So Tomlinson had after all lived with minor injuries to his being – despite falling more than a hundred feet and smashing through the top of a lift!

That’s what the GNP&BR claimed. It was the first of a string of untruths the company would procure. These early reports were written on the basis of what the tube railway company had claimed in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Later reports however highlighted the fact the newly married couple had received severe injuries and Tomlinson had in fact died. Evidently it seems the press had been to interview the victims and any staff who had been present at the time of the accident.

The GNP&BR were taken to court. The company disavowed that Tomlinson had been in their employment at the time of the act thus the GNP&BR were not responsible for what happened. The company tried to run the idea their employee – whose full name was Walter Robert Tomlinson – was not their responsibility and he had in fact left the company’s employment some days before.

After being contested by lawyers representing the injured party, the company reneged by first claiming that Tomlinson had ‘not been on duty at the time of the accident and had no right to be on the premises’ (meaning Holborn station.) It eventually transpired Tomlinson was indeed still employed by the GNP&BR on the day of the accident. It also turned out a few days earlier Tomlinson had undertook an examination (surprise! surprise!) in the workings of the company’s’ lifts. Evidently in the light of that very knowledge Tomlinson had no problem getting the gates open and jumping into the lift shaft!

On the day of the unfortunate incident Tomlinson had been working at Russell Square station. Although he lived at Finsbury Park instead of going home at the end of his duty he instead headed south to Holborn. What happened next is anyone’s guess, for example the state of his mind at the time and what he was thinking and what caused him to go to Holborn. There are also lifts at Russell Square. For some reason Tomlinson saw Holborn a better alternative perhaps by way of the lifts being slightly more out of sight of the ticket line than those at Russell Square were, thus giving him more time to over-ride the lift gates without being caught by other staff.

It is thought initially that Tomlinson in fact had headed to Holborn to enquire about a pay sheet or a letter – as some sources have suggested. Others (including colleagues and his wife) observed no untoward or abnormal behaviour in Tomlinson so there was no reason to suspect Tomlinson harboured any motives which would harm others in the process.

Tomlinson arrived at Holborn and ascended to the surface buildings by way of lift no. 4. Instead of going to the station master to deal with this pay sheet/letter (as some have postulated) Tomlinson headed for lift no.3 where he was seen trying to open the doors with a hook. A member of tube staff, Stephen Harvey told the courts that he had seen the deceased at the upper level at that very moment with the lift doors open, but there was no lift to be seen. Harvey shouted out ‘Tomlinson come back!’ Harvey ran towards Tomlinson in an attempt to grab him and stop whatever he was doing. But it was too late. Tomlinson had disappeared into the void.

Arthur Welling, the operator in no.3 lift, told the court he had just started the lift on its ascent when there was a massive crashing sound and he looked back to see Tomlinson, lying very dead with a massive injury to his head. There was a huge hole in the roof of the lift.

A curiosity of this particular case is although a pay sheet (or letter) is mentioned a few times its not said what this was. Had it in fact been a note to inform Tomlinson he had failed his lift examination? Thus he wouldn’t be getting perhaps a promotion or a pay rise? And if so had Tomlinson in fact thought to himself ‘I’ll damn well show them how these bloody things work!’ One shall never know.

1906 poster advertising the new Piccadilly railway. 'Holborn' is printed in the largest font of all the stations here so clearly was an important stop.

Holborn station – as evident from the capitalisation in this new 1906 poster – was obviously the company’s best station – and perhaps why they didn’t want to draw too much attention to the unfortunate incident. Source: Twitter.

Interestingly none of the GNP&BR staff mention the Macaulays – which seems perhaps another ploy by the railway company to mitigate any publicity the case would receive.

However the Macaulays brought their own action against the GNP&BR for negligence and damages and evidently the company were trying their best to deny they had any liability. Apparently the GNP&BR didn’t want to make any official statements in regards to the accident and they stuck to the story that Tomlinson had fell from the lift engine room. The company’s staff insisted there was nothing absolutely wrong with the lift or its machinery and Tomlinson had merely suffered shock and cuts with no danger of his losing his life.

The Macaulays were not having it and despite injuries and illness caused by Tomlinson’s act, they spent the better part of two years pursuing the tube railway company through the courts – and that despite the railway company’s continued protestations it was not liable. Right to the end the company’s solicitors were asserting there was no case to be made against it and that negligence had not been proved. In December 1908 the couple were awarded £950 damages – £750 to Mr Macaulay and £200 to the unfortunate Mrs Macaulay.

The final judgement which took place on 30th April 1909, more than two years after the accident, was a sort of mixed bag. The plaintiffs’ case was upheld as was the damages that had been awarded. However in the case of the GNP&BR there was much doubt as to whether they were actually responsible for the incident. Had they been negligent in not having lift doors that could not be opened when no lift was present? The court concurred whether the lifts were more secure or not it was Tomlinson who was most determined to open those doors. Whether it was suicide or accident no one was able to quite agree.

It follows there was a recommendation for the GNP&BR to adopt a more safer means of ensuring its lift doors were secure and not able to be opened when no lift was present. It wasn’t a legally binding requirement, but merely an avenue the company should pursue.

One can be sure the impact of the incident upon the new honeymooners’ lives must have been considerable.