Elizabeth Palmer & Dixon Palmer

Inquest, 20 May 1899

skip to report of funeral




A double fatality of a terrible character occurred at Desborough Station on Saturday morning about ten o'clock. A woman named Elizabeth Palmer, 30 years of age, wife of Charles Palmer, a gas man, and her child Dixon Palmer, aged five years, were knocked down by a goods train and killed instantly.

Mr. J. T. Parker, the Divisional Coroner, held an inquest on the bodies at the Temperance Institute, on Saturday evening. Mr. F. C Fenton was chosen foreman of the jury, and there were also in attendance Inspector Butlin and P.S. Thomas, of the County Police; Chief Inspector Loveday (Derby) and Inspector Lovatt (Wellingborough), representing the Midland Railway Company; and Mr. C. W. Lane (Kettering), who represented the relatives of the deceased and the Desborough Urban Council. Mr. F. Barlow, J.P. (Rothwell) was also present at the enquiry.

—The Coroner having stated the nature of the enquiry, Dixon Palmer, manager of the Desborough Gas Works, formally identified the bodies of Mrs. Palmer, who was his sister-in-law, and was 34 years old, and the deceased lad Dixon, four years old. The two were going to Northampton that morning, and were accompanied by another lad named Harry Palmer.

—John Keech, farmer, residing at the Hermitage Farm, near Desborough, deposed that he was on the down platform at Desborough Station that morning, waiting to go by the 9.49 train to Northampton. The deceased woman took her ticket just before witness, and as the station bell ran[g] witness thought it was for their train. Witness found a train standing on the whole length of the down platform, blocking both crossings. Before he got to the northern crossing, however, the train backed a few yards, leaving the crossing clear. Just as witness was crossing he saw a train coming on the up line, and as it was travelling much faster than he expected witness ran to get out of the way. When witness got clear he looked back and saw the deceased woman coming over the level crossing towards witness leading a little boy. Witness called to her to come on quickly, but before she could do anything she was knocked down with the boy. After the train had passed witness got down on to the line and picked the boy up. The lad was not quite dead, but expired directly witness laid him down in the waiting room. The woman was carried further down the line by the train. Witness thought the approaching train was the one by which he was going to travel, and the deceased might have thought the same. He could not say which side of his mother the deceased boy was.

—By Mr. Lane. There were no officials on the platform at the time to caution passengers. Witness was not cautioned, neither did he hear anyone else. There were only five passengers, and he did not hear the approaching engine whistle.

—Wm. Riggall, farmer, of Pipewell, who was one of the passengers by the 9.49 train from Desborough that morning, said he crossed the line before the last witness, and he saw the woman and children attempt to cross. The woman had no chance; if she had been a yard forwarder she would have been out of the way, for she was struck by the near side of the engine. He thought the lad must have been a little bit in advance of his mother, or it would have carried him with her, but he dropped where he was struck. There was no porter on the platform at the time. When witness crossed the line the mineral train on the down road stood over the crossing at the Harborough end, and witness went round the engine. The engine was not making a noise, and there was nothing to attract anybody's attention. Anyone could see a train approaching from the bridge.

—By Mr. Lane: There was no official there to give any caution, and he heard no whistle.

Henry Gibbon, surgeon, Desborough, deposed to seeing the bodies in the waiting-room at the station. The woman was extremely cut about, and must have been killed instantly, and the boy had a wound on the left side of the head sufficient to cause almost instant death.

George Allen Smart, a fireman in the employ of the Midland Railway Company, stated that that morning he was with an engine and train standing on the down line at Desborough Station about 9.45. He saw a woman and two children cross in front of his engine to go to the up platform, and he saw a fast train approaching from the direction of Market Harborough. Witness shouted to the woman when she commenced to cross the line, and he also held up his hand. He did not know whether the woman saw or heard him, but she did not stop, and was knocked down by the approaching train. It was a fish train, and was not intended to stop at Desborough. It was going between 10 and 40 miles an hour.

By the Jury: He heard the whistle of the fish train after it got in sight of the station on the south side of the Harborough Bridge. He was quite sure about this, and he believed the whistle sounded twice. He had not had any conversation with the driver of the fish train

—By Mr. Lane: He heard the whistle of the fish train after he had shouted to the woman. He could not say whether the train was going between 10 and 40 miles an hour.—Mr. Lane: I won't ask you any more; it's disgusting. (Hear, hear.)—The Coroner (to witness): You are too cautious.

Tom Capewell, of Derby, said that he drove a special fish train from Leicester to Bedford. It was an extra train owing to the mackerel trade beginning. He went through Desborough Station at 9.45 a.m., at a rate of between 25 and 30 miles an hour. He saw a man cross the line just in front of his train, and he then saw a woman and two children follow from the down platform. Witness, who was on the right hand side of the engine, whistled before he saw the woman. He had had the brake on, and stopped as soon as he could, which was within about 200 or 300 yards. Witness opened his whistle as soon as he caught sight of the platform, because they always whistled if there were any passengers standing there, or a train on the other road. It was one long whistle which was blowing when the engine struck the woman. Witness could not have pulled up from the bridge to have stopped at the station.

—By Mr. Lane: Witness did not know that there was a passenger train due, and as the signals were off he would have been justified in going through even faster than he did.

William Samuel Orchard, station master at Desborough, said that he was on duty at the time of the accident, in the yard. A train was due to leave for Northampton at 9.49. Witness was coming from the signal-box at the south end of the station at the time the fish train was coming, and he then heard someone cry, he believed it was a guard, that someone had been run over. Witness went along the line towards the station, and there saw the mangled remains of a woman, part lying in the four-foot way and part between the rails and the platform. Witness heard the fish train whistle, and he believed it was a long one. Witness had the bodies removed to the waiting-room. At the time they had a porter on the platform doing various duties, but there was no porter appointed to look after the platform when no train was in. The porter in question was attending to other duties at the time. There were two crossings, and if witness had men to warn passengers he should have done so. The bell rang just before the fish train ran through, but that was for a telegram, but a passenger might mistake that for his train being due. Since he had been station master he had heard that previously the Urban Council had made recommendations as to a foot-bridge being needed. He had also heard that a man named Coe had had a narrow escape.

The Coroner: Isn't it more dangerous at night because you can't tell whether a lamp is five or fifty yards away?—Witness: I do not say it is dangerous at all. I have had complaints from customers.

The Coroner at this point adjourned the enquiry.

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The shocking occurrence at Desborough Station last Saturday, when Mrs. Elizabeth Palmer and her son Dixon, aged five, were kill by a train, was investigated at the adjourned inquest on Thursday, held at the Temperance Institute, Desborough, before Mr. J. T. Parker.—Mr. C. W. Lane (Clerk) and Mr. G. W. Sumner (Chairman) attended on behalf of the Desborough Urban Council, and the Midland Railway Company were represented by Mr. J. P. Young (solicitor to the Midland Railway Company, Birmingham), and Mr. F. Barlow, J.P., was also present. A good number of the public were also present throughout the enquiry.

At the outset the Coroner reported that he had communicated with the Board of Trade in respect to the accident, and the wish that the Board would be represented at the adjourned enquiry. He had received the following telegram: "Board will not be represented at inquest to-morrow, but they will consider question of holding an enquiry into the accident. Any representation of the jury will receive attention of Board of Trade Railway." As Mr. Lane was present on behalf of the Urban Council, he would ask him to produce any evidence that he had.—Mr. Lane then called

George Ward Sumner, Chairman of the Desborough Urban Council, who stated that on the 10th of January, 1893, a minute was passed calling the attention of the Midland Railway Company to the serious danger of the level crossing at Desborough Station, and a letter in accordance with that motion was sent to the secretary of the company. On May 18th another letter was sent to the Company stating that only a formal acknowledgment of the letter of the 10th January had been received, and asking for some definite reply to the communication. On May 30th, 1893, a letter was received from the Company stating that the directors regretted that they could not see their way to erect a footbridge at Desborough Station. On July 30th, 1895, the Clerk again wrote to the Company calling attention to the danger of the level crossing, and stating that the Council were prepared with evidence as to several narrow escapes. Only a formal acknowledgment was received to this letter, and again on January 14th, 1896, the Clerk was instructed to press for a reply. In reply to this communication, a letter was received from the manager of the company on 28th January, again stating that the company could not see their way to erect a footbridge. Upon this it was decided that representation should be made by the Council to the Board of Trade, and application was made to the Company for information as regarded the amount of traffic at the station, the Company being informed of the purpose of the required information.

Mr. Young: That information was supplied.

Mr. Lane: Oh, yes. The average number of passengers was given at 80.

Witness, continuing, said a letter was written to the Board of Trade pointing out the dangers of the level crossing at Desborough Station, and asking for their intervention. On the 3rd of July 1896, a letter was received from the Board of Trade stating that they had no power to intervene in the matter. The Board had communicated with the Railway Company on the matter, and the Company had replied stating that in the opinion of the directors the circumstances did not warrant the outlay involved in the request of the Urban Council. (A Juryman: "Shame.") On March 31st, 1897, the Council decided that the Clerk should again write to the Company urging that as an additional danger had been created by the construction of new sidings near the station, a footbridge should be constructed. On April 13th a letter was received from Mr Turner, the general manager stating that there had been no change in the circumstances since the previous application was made, and the Company did not see their way to erect a footbridge at the station. On May 11th this letter was read at a meeting of the Council, and a resolution was proposed that the Council received with deep regret the decision of the Company with regard to the dangerous level crossing at Desborough Station, and looked forward with grave concern to the safety of those who are compelled to use the same. On May 17th a formal letter of acknowledgment was received from the Company.

Mr. Lane said this closed the case so far as the communication between the Council and the Railway Company was concerned.

Mr. G. W. Sumner, in reply to the Coroner, said that he had no additional facts to lay before the jury, but he only wished to point out that the Council had done everything in its power, both by approaching the Company and the Board of Trade, to alter the existing conditions.

Mr. F. Barlow said he considered that the Council had made out such a case that if it had been an individual instead of a Company, it would have been a serious matter. He could say nothing beyond what Mr. Sumner had stated.

The Coroner, in summing up, said that the only question for the jury to decide was whether the accident was by the neglect or default of any person. There was no difficulty in finding how the poor people came to their deaths. He pointed out that the Company were not bound to keep a person to tell passengers where to go, or to see where they went, even if it was a fact that two level crossings would further involve matters. It was no duty cast upon the Company to have men there specially to warn passengers. There was no proof of any negligence on the part of any of the officials, and they could not find the Company guilty of culpable negligence. They had had their attention called to the matter quite sufficiently and quite fully by the local authority, the Urban Council. It was not exactly the Council's duty to do this, but they were probably carrying out the desires of the people they represented. It was a duty which did not devolve upon them by law, and no one was legally bound to take any notice of their applications. The Council took the next best step in applying to the Board of Trade, who were supposed to govern the railway systems in the country, but after full consideration the Board replied that they had no power to intervene in the matter. He (the Coroner) thought this was quite true, for railways were constructed under Acts of Parliament, and in those statutory powers nothing was said about level crossings or bridges. It was another question where a Company had a monopoly of the running powers in a certain direction, they should not have considered the application from the people who were their customers, to make better accommodation. Now that this unfortunate accident had happened, it was possible that some better means would be adopted. As far as his opinion went, he considered it dangerous, because there were a great number of trains running through the station, and that danger was increased, he thought, at night time. Again, a train standing on the down line was an additional danger. He hoped now that the Company had seen this danger they would do something to remedy this state of affairs.

The jury considered their verdict in camera, and after half an hour's deliberation, returned a verdict of "Accidental death," and added the following rider: "We consider the Midland Railway Company to blame in not providing an official to warn intending passengers of their danger, and further we censure the Midland Railway Company for neglecting to provide, after repeated requests, a safe means of crossing, and that the Board of Trade be requested to make an enquiry into the whole matter." (Applause.)

Before the jury were dismissed, Mr. F. C. Fenton, the Foreman, expressed with the relatives of the deceased the jury's deep and heartfelt sympathy in their bereavement.


The funeral of the woman and child who were killed at Desborough Station on Saturday morning, took place on Tuesday afternoon at the new cemetery. As the mournful cortege wended its way to the cemetery, the streets were literally lined with sympathisers, although a heavy shower was falling at the time. The weather cleared up during the latter part of the proceedings, and a large crowd congregated at the cemetery. The Rev. I. Near conducted the service, which was of a most impressive character, and when the remains of the two victims were committed to the earth, hardly a dry eye was to be seen. The grief of the bereaved orphans was piteous to behold. The coffins were interred in the same grave. Among those at the cemetery were most of the members of the Urban District Council. There was a large number of beautiful wreaths.

Northampton Mercury, Friday 26 May 1899