Albert James Hammond

Author: Julie Goddard
Date published: 13/04/2021



By Julie Goddard

For a long time the people of Newbury had seen work progressing on the building a railway line to connect Newbury with the villages along the Lambourn Valley, finishing at Lambourn itself. It would be a boon to people, easier and quicker than walking, or by carrier's cart. They could bring goods in from the countryside to the town markets, or even to find employment in the town but still live at home.

The work on building the embankments and bridges to cross the Kennet was hard work and expensive. Several prospective financiers had withdrawn either before or after work had started. Work progressed so slowly that Newbury families began to make a habit of walking along the line at weekends. The new embankments, built to make a level track for the trains, opened up to show new views of the countryside - as the Newbury Bypass was to do a hundred years later.

The line was officially declared open on Saturday April 2nd and a scheduled timetable began on Monday 4th April 1898 using the one engine that the impecunious LVR owned at that time. Attached to the engine were four smartly painted carriages capable of carrying eight first class and fifty-six second class passengers.

The following Friday was Good Friday and the LVR staff wanted to make a few experiments and calculations on the timing of the journey between Newbury and Lambourn. It had been calculated that it should be 35 minutes, but the length of time the train stopped on the way to pick up or put down passengers must be affirmed and also how many engines it would be needed for the most advantageous pecuniary return. Was the one engine enough?. Besides the schools being closed many ordinary people were free, either to take a trip on the train, or to inspect the finished track. The weather was fine and dry, if a little windy.

Two school boys, Edmund Walter New aged 13 and his friend Albert James Hammond aged 11 were good boys: so good that they attended the extra Sunday School at St Nicolas church and then the service afterwards. Edmund was the eldest son of Mr Edmund New of the "Two Brewers" in West Mills and Albert was the son of widowed Mrs Hammond of Westfields. Having done their duty in the morning the boys were eager to go out to play. Albert's elder brother Edward was at his mother's house when Albert eagerly made his escape. "Keep away from the railway" was his mother's last admonishment. Needless to say the words went right out of the lad's head and he and Edmund climbed up the embankment, either at Craven road, or the canal bridge. Excitedly they ran along the lines to where they crossed the River Kennet at Speen Moor. Although early in the season some boats were out on the river below. Seeing a pleasure boat approach the bridge on the Newbury side and disappear underneath, the boys waved and shouted to the passengers and ran back across the tracks to see it come out the other side. Unfortunately they had not understood, or remembered that trains were now using the track.

A train had left Lambourn at 2.15pm and was expected to arrive in Newbury at 3.02pm. At Speen the driver, William Young, had found that the coach axle boxes were "running hot" but decided to continue at a reduced speed of about 10 mph. As the train entered the straight part of the line leading to the bridge at Speen Moor the driver saw three young women gaily walking along the line ahead apparently without a care in the world. The driver blew the whistle and stopped the engine, probably exasperated at their stupidity. The young ladies hurriedly removed themselves. It was at this point that, as he looked back down the line to the guard for the signal to restart, to his horror the fireman Ernest Gardiner, saw two bodies by the track. Realising that they must have been run down by the train he shouted as much to the train driver. The driver told him to go and make sure. Passengers, alerted by the train stopping, began to climb down to see what was the matter — and then perhaps wished that they had not. The two bodies were not a pretty sight. Albert had been hit on the head and seemed lifeless; Edmund had been run over by the train wheels and his legs were badly mangled and he had other injuries to his upper body. Mr Gipps, the general manager of the railway and Mr. Brain, the Lambourn station master, both of whom were on the train, took charge. The train was backed alongside the boys and they were pliced in a carriage with the guard in attendance.

The station at Newbury was alerted and an ambulance was waiting as the train drew in. The guard, who alone had travelled in the carriage with the boys, said that Albert had died as the train travelled the short distance between Speen Moor and Newbury Station. His body was taken straight to the hospital mortuary. Edmund, still alive but in intense pain,was tenderly carried into the Hospital and all the medical staff assembled and discussed what could be done. His injuries were truly horrific. His parents arrived at the Hospital and were asked for permission to remove Edmund's mangled legs above the knee. Being told that this was his only hope, they consented. The boy was given ether, the only anaesthetic available at the time, while Dr Jenner Clarke swiftly performed the operation. However, the shock and loss of blood were too much for the young lad and he died on the operating table. He was the New's eldest child; while Albert was the son of a widowed mother.

The inquest was held in St John's parish room on the next day, Saturday, before Dr Watson, J.P., and a jury, the foreman of which was Mr Walter Church. Both bodies were formally identified by their families- his father for Edmund and his older brother for Albert. Both agreed that children had become used to having the railway line as a playground.

The engine driver stated his part in the affair. At Speen Moor his eyes had been on the young ladies walking on the line ahead. He had stopped the engine so that they could get off the line as quickly as possible. His gaze fixed ahead he had seen no sign of the boys . He had directed the fireman to get permission from the guard to continue. Looking back along the line, the fireman had seen two bodies at the track side and had cried "Mate, I think we have knocked down somebody on the viaduct."   The driver had stayed where he was and suggested the fireman go and see if this was true — probably hoping all the time that it was not. The fireman had been joined by Mr. Gipps, the branch manager, an authoritative figure, who had the bodies moved into an empty carriage and hence to Newbury Station and medical assistance.

There was much discussion at the inquest over whether the railway should have had more notices along the line forbidding trespass. Mr Gipps resignedly stated that notices were just ignored. There were even sightseers on the line that afternoon he said. Despite this there was still more discussion, but eventually a verdict was called for and finally the Coroner recorded "Accidental death through being runover by a train."

It had hoped to have the funerals of the two boys could be held together, but for one reason or another this could not be organised. Albert Hammond's funeral took place on Tuesday afternoon and that of Edmund New on the Wednesday; both at St Nicolas' Church. There were large congregations at each, relatives and friends, both adults and youngsters who had been to school or Sunday school with the boys. The coffins were carried from the church on the shoulders of four of their young friends. Both were buried later in the Newtown Road Cemetery. Albert's grave was later marked by a headstone for him and his mother.

"In loving memory of Albert James Hammond,

youngest son of Charles and Mary Hammond,

who met his death accidentally on April 8th 1898 aged 11 years,

and of his mother Mary Hammond who departed this life February 5th 1911".

The Lambourn Valley Railway lasted for seven years. In 1907 it was taken over by Great Western Railways and became just a branch line. For several years in and after the Second World War it was used by the RAF and United States Airforce to access their establishment at Welford. After their withdrawal the line was used by fewer and fewer passengers and it was finally closed in 1973 as being uneconomic to maintain.

Julie Goddard

Sources:as above

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