Sad suicide;  Hereford Hay and Brecon Railway, and drunk and disorderlies

1840 – Child Dies from Burns

This is the obligatory token post which I feel compelled to add for each village – there were so so many of these sad cases.

A small boy, the son of William Davies of Norton Canon, was playing near the fire whilst his parents were out.  His clothes caught fire, and he was terribly burnt all over the lower part of his body;  the poor little chap took a whole day to die, in dreadful agony.

1862 – Progress of the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway

At the 5th ordinary half yearly meeting of the proprietors of this railway, held at the Green Dragon Hotel, Hereford, it was reported that excellent progress was being made with the heavy cutting at Norton Canon.

The Rev. R. Venables said that he had read that the line would be opened to Norton Canon, but he felt that just a few miles further to Kinnersley or Eardisley would be hugely beneficial to the public.

Mr. Savin agreed that it would be desirable, but he had viewed the cutting at Norton Canon and found it to be in a shocking state.  There was also a hitch in that one part of the route had yet to be secured.

Problems with the Cutting at Norton Canon

The gradients on the line were generally very good, with the strongest being on the Eardisley side of the Norton Canon cutting – being 1 in 60.

The cutting was not easy work, not just because of the magnitude of the job (some 150,000 cubic yards of earth were excavated), but also because of the quicksand nature of the soil.

However, the resulting neat appearance gave no clue to the massive amount of labour and money thrown at it, nor of the dreadful quagmire conditions of the previous year.

Accidents on the Railway

In the same year, there were many unfortunate and fatal accidents on the railway – one man was crushed to death whilst connecting ballast wagons, and then William Davis and William Kedwards were severely injured in the same way.

William Davis was 60 years old and lived at Norton Canon, – he had only started work on the railway a few days previously,  and he died from crushing injuries to his chest, whilst William Kedwards, aged 36 of Lyonshall, had a compound fracture of his left leg and also broke his right arm.

Joseph Rudge was working on the Norton Canon cutting when he became wedged between two trucks;  his thigh and lower body were very badly injured and he was not expected to survive, but survive he did.

The Line Opens to Norton Canon

In March 1863, the line was completed to Norton Canon, and was opened for transportation of coal and lime.

The line had also been laid and ballasted through, and for a mile beyond Norton Canon cutting, and earthworks towards Eardisley were nearing completion.

Six bridges had been built, and a bridge over the Wye at Whitney was in hand.

An Eye Witness Account of the Journey Through Norton Canon Cutting

” We exchanged the nicely carpeted carriages for an outside passenger’s place on the engine and never shall we either regret or forget the step we took, for it enable us to view and admire one of the most startling and yet most beautiful bits of scenery we have ever seen.

From the station at Morehampton we look in a straight direction up a deep gorge called the Norton Canon cutting, from which some 160,000 cubic yards of earth have been taken, and which has been the bete noir of the undertaking, the earth being a loose, silty or soapy clay, which, when softened by rain, runs like molten lead.

But the scenery – it must be seen to be appreciated.  Nevertheless, we will endeavour faintly to describe it.

As we ride along a thrill, half horror half wonder, seizes the mind as the train appears to be about to rush over a tremendous precipice.  You look nearly to the end of the cutting as through a telescope on a level, seeing nothing between that point and the upper portion of Radnor Forest in the far distance – some fifteen or twenty miles away.  As we said, the voyageur on the engine sees the hills that bound the scene, but the valley (into which you are about to descend for nearly two miles on a gradient of 1 in 60) sleeps in an abyss far below the lower line of vision.  So complete is the illusion that it is with difficulty that the mind rids itself of the impression that it is being hurried headlong into perdition.

While however, the mind is occupied in endeavouring to fill up this immense void or to bridge it over with the assistance of imagination, we approach the head of the incline and the valley opens up to the enraptured spectator a panorama such as we have only see in the Wye Valley.



1862 – Drunk and Disorderly

Stephen Philpott, a brickmaker from Norton Canon became rather drunk whilst imbibing in the Yew Tree beerhouse, Calverhill in Norton Canon.

He was asked to leave by P.S. Christy, but refused to do so – he was fined 3s plus costs.

1863 – Another Drunk and Disorderly

Daniel Smith, a navvy on the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway was charged by Superintendent Dallow with being drunk and refusing to leave the Railway Inn beerhouse at Norton Canon.

He was fined 8s plus costs.

1899 – Shocking Suicide by Platelayer at Norton Canon

A platelayer by the name of Charles Williams was a large chap, and said to be an excellent worker;  however, he was growing old before his time and rather weakened by various ills including bronchitis, heart disease and anaemia.  In spite of all this, he was known as a very intelligent and cheerful man and nobody could have guessed what he was planning.

He was 52 and lived with his family at Norton Canon close to the railway where he worked, but had been unable to work for some ten days and had become somewhat depressed.  To cap it all, one of his sons, said to be his favourite, had died in the army.

Charles Williams took himself to see Dr. Darling at Eardisley, who told him to go home to bed.   A few days later, Williams left the cottage and went up the railway embankment where he sat for a while until the 7.15 passenger train from Brecon to Hereford came into sight.  He stood up and watched as the train approached, then to the horror of the driver, he lay down with his neck across the rail;  his face was towards the oncoming engine and being aware that the “life saver” in front of the engine might knock him aside, he tenaciously grasped the metal rail with one hand to avoid this.

The train was traveling at forty miles an hour, and the driver had no hope of stopping – knowing that Williams was dead, he carried on without slowing down to Moorhampton station so that passengers would not be aware of what had happened.

Charles Williams body was found by his fellow platelayers;  the body was undisturbed, but his head was completely severed, being cut clean through except for a few sinews hanging from the nape of the neck.  It must have been a terrible sight for the men, but they put the head in a bag and covered the body out of sight of other trains.

Witnesses to the suicide rather gruesomely described how the wheels crunched through the bones of the man’s neck and the head seemed to jump.

When the driver of the train pulled in to Moorhampton station, he told the station master and others, who went back to the scene.  There was of course, nothing to be done.

At the inquest, the verdict was “suicide during temporary insanity”.