An accident on the streets of London


William Hogarth;s Second Stage of Cruelty

The thoroughfares of the metropolis were crowded with traffic in the later nineteenth century; thousands of horse-drawn vehicles competed with pedestrians and handcarts to make their way across and around the city. Accidents were, as today, a fact of life.

In May 1868 a car-man (the van drivers of their day) was brought up at Guildhall Police Court on a charge of dangerous driving. Andrew White, aged 23, was a van driver for a corn chandler and he had been driving his vehicle along the Farringdon Road at great speed at about 6 in the early evening.

He was seen by a witness just as he was passing the workhouse, it looked like he was losing control as he was trying to pull the horse to a stop. The horse seemed frightened and despite the best efforts of the driver he couldn’t stop the horse and van from careering across the street.

Another man (John Blunt) and his son were riding in the van and, seeing that the van might turn over, the man dropped his son to the road and leapt after him. They were unharmed but the van ran into two labourers, knocking them over. It then crashed over the kerb and knocked down a small child, the wheels running over his neck.

When he had eventually stopped the van the driver climbed down and ‘said he was very sorry for what he had done, but he could not help it’. The boy was killed but everyone seemed to agree it was a tragic accident, not a crime. White was described a ‘sober, hard working’ individual and the magistrate decided that it was a ‘sad accident’ but he ‘could see no blame attaching to the defendant, and at once discharged him’.

[from Daily News , Thursday, May 28, 1868]

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