A mistake that could have proved costly as a woman knocks a ladder onto the railway lines

Construction of the Metropolitan Railway, London, 1866.

Building London’s underground railway, c.1866

Ellen Childs believed she was doing a good thing when she knocked a ladder over a parapet onto what she thought was waste ground below. She did it to prevent children climbing the ladder which had been left there by men who had been painting girders close to a nearby hoarding. The hoarding itself further obscured Ellen’s view of what lay below the parapet, which was in fact the track of the Metropolitan Railway.

Ellen Childs was walking over the Britannia Bridge (which crossed the railway below) when she had seen a small child clambering up the ladder as it leaned against the parapet. She clipped him around the ears and sent him packing. Her motive was to keep him (and others like him) safe but when she tipped the ladder over the wall it landed on the tracks.

Thankfully before any damage could be done to passing trains it was found by Robert Bloy who was working on the line and heard the ladder fall.  Since trains passed ‘every two to three minutes’ Bloy’s quick actions might well have averted a serious accident as the six foot ladder had landed square across the rails.

Ellen was arrested and  prosecuted before Mr Bros, the sitting magistrate at Clerkenwell. She was distraught at what she had done and swore that there was no evil intent in her mind. It was a serious case however and beyond Mr Bros’ powers to judge. He committed her for trial (probably at Middlesex Sessions as she is not listed in the Old Bailey) but accepted bail and released her in the meantime. It was an honest mistake but it could have been a very serious one.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 9, 1888]

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