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THE EXETER TRAM ACCIDENT - MARCH 7TH 1917

 

From the Crediton Chronicle

Saturday 10 Mar 1917

A serious accident occurred on the Exeter Corporation tramway on Wednesday, involving the death of a woman passenger (Mrs. Findlay, aged 54), and injury to the driver and two other passengers. A horse was also killed, and the driver of a lorry to which it was attached was considerably bruised.

 

The tramcar was on its journey from Heavitree to St. Thomas just after 11.a.m. There were about half a dozen passengers aboard. At the top of Fore Street, the car was stopped opposite St. Olave's Church, and after being re-started it seems to have got out of control of Sanders, the driver. The gradient on Fore Street Hill is at its sharpest some thirty or forty yards from St. Olave's stopping place. the car gained momentum rapidly and by the time it was opposite King Street was travelling at a very fast pace.

 

At that point, the L and SW Railway lorry of Chaplin & Co obstructed the line. Its driver, John Robinson, was leading the horse, to avoid a  barrow which was on the tram track. The runaway car struck the lorry violently, forcing it off the tram track and on to the pavement. So violent was the impact that the horse was dashed into the front of the shop and broke its neck, killing it instantly. Robinson, the carman, had a providential escape, for in falling just escaped the shaft and fell clear of the falling horse so that his injuries were limited to a blow in the chest and grazes on the side of his face and hands. The load was shot across the pathway.

 

Meanwhile the tramcar had continued its course down Fore Street hill. The driver stuck to his post but was powerless to check the pace of the vehicle, which gathered momentum and swayed and lurched in an alarming manner. Its course was watched with consternation by passers-by, and the excitement and alarm were increased by the hysterical and frightened screams of onlookers and women passengers. the latter rushed up and down inside the car at their wits' end with fear.

At the points in Bridge Street, where Commercial Road and Bonhay Road join the main thoroughfare, the car jerked more violently than ever, and a yard or two further on left the rails and ran athwart the up-line, along the wood blocks with which the roadway of the Exe bridge is laid. As the flange of the wheels embedded themselves in the wood paving the impetus of the car was checked, but it swayed and lurched as it travelled some 20 or 30 yards in a slanting direction across the bridge. It struck the kerb, swung round, toppled on its base, striking a lamp standard on the parapet of the bridge, and then came crashing down on its side about  half way across Exe Bridge and right across the roadway, blocking it. Splintered glass flew in all directions, and the crash as the heavy vehicle came down was terrifying; but so far as could be seen, the structure of the car was comparatively little damaged.

 

Exeter tram No. 12 overturned in 1917

Car 12 overturned - March 7th 1917

Courtesy the Isca Collection

 

An eager and excited crowd rushed at once to the scene to assist the unfortunate passengers. Mrs. Findlay's body lay some yards clear of the overturned car, and it is presumed from the nature of the injuries that death was instantaneous. Apparently she was on the top of the car, and as it fell she was thrown upon her head into the roadway.

 

The body was not identified for three or four hours. Mr. Findlay and his boy went home to dinner and found the house locked up. It was known that his wife was going to St. Thomas during the morning and when the news of the accident reached the husband he made enquiries, and was greatly upset when he identified the body at the mortuary as that of his wife.

 

The driver of the car was able to walk when extricated from  the wreckage although blood was streaming down his face, and he and Mrs. beer and a boy named Snow were removed to the hospital with all speed. The boy's injuries were slight and after they were dressed he was allowed to go home; but Sanders (the driver) and Mrs. Beer were detained, both suffering from severe cuts about the head. Other passengers and the conductress were badly shaken and received minor cuts and bruises but otherwise had very fortunate escapes.

When the machinery of the car was removed, it is stated that it showed that the full brake power had been applied by the driver, and the theory is that the wheels were locked and skidded down the hill. An examination of the car showed that after leaving the rails it ran across the road and striking the parapet of the bridge, swirled right round so that the front of the car was facing up the hill. Workmen were at work on the debris all day. This is the first serious accident in the twelve years' history of the electric tram service of the city.

The two patients at the hospital are progressing favourably.

CASUALTY LIST

KILLED:

Mary Findlay aged 54. wife of Alexander J. Findlay, decorator, of Leighton Terrace, York Road, Exeter.

INJURED:

Alfred Snow aged 15 of 15 Hertford Place, Bartholomew Street, Exeter. Cut head and hand.

Alice Beer aged 51 of 51 Bartholomew Street, Exeter. Cut head - detained at hospital.

Charles Sanders aged 42 of Portland Street, Exeter, driver of the car. Cut head - detained at hospital.

John Robinson, carman - employed by Chaplin & Co.

The inquest on Mrs. Findlay was opened on Thursday and adjourned to March 21st."

 

The conductress had a lucky escape. She had the presence of mind to jump clear as the car left the rail in Bridge Street and although she had to be treated for shock, was not seriously injured.

 

The wrecked tram was removed with lifting tackle and taken back to the tram shed where it remained for several years awaiting repair, until 1921 when it was finally scrapped.

 

Mrs. Findlay was buried in Exeter's Higher Cemetery in Heavitree.

 

The accident seen from the other side

The driver's cab on Car 12 - March 7th 1917

Origin unknown

 

 
 
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