The twopenny tube guard who got killed by his own train

The twopenny tube guard who got killed by his own train

In the very early days of London’s premier underground line – the Central London Railway (CLR) or the twopenny tube as it was popularly known, procured its first ever fatality. It wasn’t a passenger but a member of staff and the matter was down to the staff in question having taken offence to someone smoking in a non-smoking carriage. What happened in the course of this was a nasty accident and essentially that was the totality of the guard’s carelessness.

Indeed the rules for train staff (guards, drivers, conductors etc) was they were not to poke their heads out of the train at any time it was in motion. That was a most sensible instruction seeing the trains only just fitted the tunnels – and anyone doing so was likely to incur a fatality. It didn’t stop a train guard (or conductor as some reports say) in the very early days of the two penny tube attempting such a move.

1902 drawing depicting the interior of a Central London tube train. There is a lot going on, adults are chatting while a girl looks on, and others are standing while a man sleeps. In the distance a tube guard can be seen keeping watch on the carriage's occupants.

As this 1902 drawing shows, it was the duty of CLR train guards/conductors to keep a watch on passengers. Twitter/X.

On 6th October 1900 just after two o’clock in the afternoon train guard/conductor James Field was working on a westbound service from Bank to Shepherd’s Bush when he spotted a guy smoking in the adjacent carriage designated as non smoking. The offender was possibly first spotted at Oxford Circus and its not known what, if any action Field took upon that discovery. Its possible he did go into the adjacent carriage to warn the offender off and that could have been easily done as the train stood in the station.

As the train left Bond Street station Field decided to take another look and see if the guy in question was still smoking or not. Rather this time, Field attempted either to look over the top of the gates or opened these in order to gain a view straight into the carriage in question. It was of course possible to see from one carriage into the next because the ends of these had large glass windows.

In the case of the miscreant in question however its likely he was sitting in the corner of the carriage with his back to the guard thus it would have been difficult to observe directly whether they were smoking or not. The simplest answer would have been to have waited until the train arrived at Marble Arch and then Field could easily have checked the carriage itself. No doubt an air of cigarette smoke would have given the game away.

In perhaps what was a rush of considerable inconsideration, Field took to it to stick his head out beyond the confines of his carriage as the train sped through the tunnel. No sooner he had done this his head was struck by a signal which knocked him clear of the train. Field was flung against the tunnel walls and then run over by the train’s wheels.

It seems no-one had noticed the accident, certainly Field was not noted as missing until the train had reached Marble Arch. He was no-where to be seen in order to conduct the usual duties such as giving the other staff and the locomotive crew the all clear to depart. A search was soon underway. A spare locomotive was sent from Marble Arch to search the line and soon Field’s body was discovered, much mangled.

Marble Arch station in the Central London's early days presenting a somewhat dingy atmosphere. It has a wooden platform. This would have been the sort of scene that befell those who had discovered the tube train guard in question was missing. A man can be seen on the seat while another looks on.

Marble Arch’s eastbound platform in the CLR’s early days. To the modern eye this must seem quite dark and dinghy. Wikipedia.

Marble Arch station in present days with a far brighter and more colorful atmosphere yet this is the same exact scene as that in the 1900s. There's a seat in the same location too however no people are present. The tunnel mouth is in the distance.

Marble Arch – the same view today! These pics are merely to illustrate the station at the time of the accident and how it looks today.

Conductor Field was new to this country and according to some reports had only been in England a few weeks prior to the accident. Thus he was a new Central London Railway employee and perhaps his mind wasn’t quite fully accustomed to the health and safety that were extant in those days. As I have written elsewhere, because these deep level underground lines were novel thus many potential dangers were not immediately realised, as in the example accident in April 1892 on the City and South London railway.

In that incident a young man had been given a rare opportunity to see at close quarters the Mather & Platt locomotive at work. The guy was stood by the carriage gates observing the locomotive and its crew as they went about their work. As the young man tried to get a better view of things he lost his footing and promptly disappeared below the carriage. Although the train was stopped immediately it took three hours to recover the dismembered body.

At the inquest the CSLR was found guilty of having caused great negligence and was told to change its procedures, one which would be to prohibit anyone using the carriages’ open platforms whilst a train was in motion. The number of accidents that occurred in the early years of the tube caused one historian to assert that ‘regulations were frequently broken to keep an incredibly intense service operating…’

There were no doubt rules that were meant to protect both staff and passengers but such rules were flouted. In the aftermath of the CLR accident, it was Inspector Tucker of the short lived Central London Railway police who inspected the line looking for any evidence of the fatal incident. The Imspector found strands of Field’s hair on a signal which was proof enough the train guard had been struck by that and then flung onto the tunnel walls and thrown about by the train’s motion before landing on the tracks. And this explains how the body had got so mangled.

An inquest was held at Paddington coroner’s office on 10th October 1900. Dr. Danford Thomas con- ducted an inquiry into the death of James Watts Field, aged 25. After hearing the evidence from Inspector Tucker and testimonies from Central London railway staff, a verdict of Accidental Death was reported.

The tube railway company asserted the authorities it would be placing new glass structures about the ends of its carriages so as to prevent a repeat instance occurring. Despite this promises it appears no changes were ever made to the open ended steel gated carriages in either locomotive hauled or multiple unit mode.

Perhaps the exercise was thought too costly and the line’s first fatality no doubt had served as a reminder to any staff who thought rather too foolhardy. No doubt extra emphasis was placed upon staff during their training of the need not to poke their heads above or around the sides of the gates whilst the train was on the move.

Central London Railway staff decorate a train at Wood Lane depot during the 1920s. As the picture shows, no modifications have been made to the trains and the gates can be opened and the staff can easily look out of the trains.

Twenty Two years after the accident and its clear staff are still able to poke their heads out of the trains! CLR stock at Wood Lane Xmas 1922. Source: Standard.

The Central London Railway was officially opened on this day, 27th June, 124 years ago. The line had been in operation barely more than two months when it procured its first ever fatality.