Abergele rail disaster

Abergele rail disaster

A carte-de-visite showing the memorial in the churchyard at Abergele in North Wales to the thirty-three people who died in the rail accident at Llanddulas, near Abergele, on 20 August 1868, when, during a shunting operation, the last six wagons of a goods train rolled back down the line and collided with the Irish mail train en route to Holyhead.

The heavy loss of life was due less to the impact itself than to the fire which immediately engulfed the wreckage. Two of the runaway goods wagons were carry paraffin oil, some 1700 gallons of the highly flammable liquid. Some of the barrels broke up in the collision and their contents caught fire, enveloping the engine, the tender, the guard’s van and the first four carriages of the mail train in thick smoke and flames. Given that the train’s carriage doors were locked between stations, as was the custom at that time, the passengers stood little chance of escape.

Most of the bodies of the victims were so badly burnt that formal identification proved impossible. The dead, some of them little more than ashes, were buried together in a mass grave at St Michael’s Church in Abergele.

According to one contemporary report: ‘No other collision has ever yet, in this country at least, been attended with such a loss of life, nor presented such horrifying features. The crashing of the engine and carriages into a heap of splinters, each of which wounds unfortunate passengers like a sword, is horrible enough to contemplate; but when fire in its fiercest form is added to the scene, no more frightful occurrence could be imagined’ (The Railway News, 22 August 1868).

It is still, to this day, the worst railway disaster in British history.

Photographed by Abraham Findlow of Warwick.


Code: 126602
© Paul Frecker 2023