On Friday 11 January, 1878, an unfortunate accident happened at Woolwich Arsenal train station. It transpired that a woman had been waiting for a train to take her to the County Lunatic Asylum near Maidstone. She was accompanied by a minder, but when she saw the train coming, she became violent and attempted to escape. From this point onwards, the reports in the newspapers diverge slightly, but unfortunately the outcome was the same. According to Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper(1), a railway inspector, Frederick Alfred Craft – not Croft as his plaque in Postman’s Park would have it – saw what was happening and tried to grab hold of the woman, but in the struggle, she knocked him onto the line. According to The Morning Post(2), however, the woman had thrown herself in front of the engine and Craft jumped after her to pull her away. Whatever the true sequence of events, Craft was run over by the train and died of his wounds shortly after in Woolwich infirmary. At the inquest it was decided that Craft had “expired from injuries received whilst endeavouring to save the life of another”(3).
Frederic Alfred was probably born in late 1847 as he was baptised on the 9th of January, 1848 at St. Andrew’s Enfield as the son of Frederick and Elizabeth Craft. The occupation given for Frederick senior is farmer. In the 1851 census, the family still lives at Enfield, but by 1861 they have moved to Stanford, Kent. In 1871, Frederic senior is no longer farming, but has switched careers and is now a railway porter. Young Frederic is no longer living at home, but lodging in Eltham. He too has taken up a job with the railways and is listed in the census as railway signalman. On 15 September, 1872, Frederic junior, “railway servant”, marries Elizabeth Phillips, the daughter of Edward Phillips, a stone mason. The couple are to have two sons, Frederick Thomas (born 22 January, baptised 6 april 1873) and William Harry (born 22 April, baptised 13 June 1875). In both entries for the baptisms, Frederic Alfred is listed as railway signalman. One of the newspapers reporting on Craft’s accident said that he had recently been promoted from railway guard to inspector at the Woolwich station.(2)
Woolwich station had been opened in 1849, serving the North Kent Line of the South-Eastern Railway Company from London to Gillingham. The building was to be replaced in 1906 and again in 1996 with the present glass and steel structure. The South-Eastern Railway Company instigated a subscription after the accident for the widow and orphans with a £20 donation and the Woolwich Arsenal station master received “numerous subscriptions from various parts of the country” to add to the initial sum. The funeral took place at St. Thomas’s Church, Woolwich and drew a large crowd including many railway workers.(3)
About a fortnight after Frederic’s death, a bit more information about the woman who caused the accident emerged. It turned out that when the board of guardians took possession of her property after she was conveyed to the asylum, a considerable number of valuable articles were found in her house, amongst which “some ready money, a deed representing £900 invested in Three per Cent” and some “very costly jewellery”. The money and jewellery were sent to the bank for safekeeping and the cost of the woman’s maintenance were to be defrayed out of the proceeds.(4) No mention was made in the paper of any sort of compensation or damages for the widow out of these proceeds.
(1) Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 13 January 1878.
(2) The Morning Post, 16 January 1878.
(3) The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, 26 January 1878.
(4) Reynolds’s Newspaper, 3 February 1878.