Fringe Box



A Chapter of Steam Road Vehicle Crashes

Published on: 13 Jul, 2012
Updated on: 19 Jan, 2019

By David Rose

Delays due to traffic accidents in Guildford are nothing new. As soon as motorised transport arrived on the scene, accidents happened. Roads became blocked and the crowds turned out to see what all the commotion was.

Traction-engine crash in Quarry Street, Guildford, 1904.

In the space of a few years during the early 1900s Guildford witnesses several accidents involving steam traction- engines and other large road vehicles.

On July 20, 1904, a military traction-engine and truck, being driven by men of the Royal Engineers, was passing along Quarry Street. It seems that when it was opposite St Mary’s Church it slipped on the stone setts, not helped by the load of steel rails it was pulling. One of the trucks overturned and the engine ended up straddling the road.

I can’t be certain which way the traction-engine and its trucks was travelling. Traffic went both ways in those days. I think that it may have been heading towards the High Street and slipped as it descended the narrow road next to the church.

Cutting from the Daily Mirror of 1905 reporting a crash in Guildford.

Less than a year later on February 3, 1905, the Daily Mirror printed a picture and ran a story under the headline “Curious accident at Guildford”. The picture showed a steam traction-engine on its side. The caption read: “While pulling a furniture van through the streets of Guildford yesterday, this traction-engine ran into a tailor’s shop window and overturned.”

The photo from the newspaper cutting is not that clear, but there is another photo of a traction-engine accident in the High Street. This may be the same incident. In this photo the engine has been pulled upright, but the wagon is still on its side.

This may be the same traction-engine accident that took place in Guildford High Street in 1905.

If this is not the same crash, here’s one that has been forgotten over the years!

It was a steam-lorry that grabbed the headlines after it crashed into the window of an undertaker’s shop on January 26, 1907.

This steam-lorry made the headlines in 1907 when it rolled backwards into an undertaker’s shop in North Street, Guildford,

Luckily, there’s exists a newspaper cutting that gives plenty of detail. It’s worth reproducing it here: “An extraordinary accident happened at Guildford shortly after noon on Saturday. A covered motor lorry, belonging to Messers. R. Ranger and Co., of the Roller Mills, Burpham, was standing outside the premises of Messers. Bowyer and Baker in North-street, when it suddenly began to move backwards down the street. The driver, Walter Lampard, of Woking-road, who had only been in the Company’s employ about a month, was seated at the steering wheel at the time, but he was unable to stop the motor’s progress, and consequently, gaining speed at every yard, the ‘runaway’ eventually crashed into the premises of Messers. A. E. Edwin and Son, undertakers, house furnishers,etc. The rear wheels mounted the pavement almost opposite the door at the junction of North-street and Haydon-place, and the vehicle then forced its way through the woodwork, snapping the iron support in its progress, and became wedged in the general wreckage. The lorry was prevented from ‘backing’ any further by one of the wheels failing to mount the high stone step, which, however, was dislodged. A good deal of glass was broken and other damage done. The singular spectacle of a motor lorry backed into a shop caused a big crowd to assemble. An inspection of the premises showed that there was some danger of the upper floor collapsing owing to the fact that one of the iron columns had been completely broken away. It was deemed advisable to allow the motor to remain until underpinning operations had been carried out. Builder’s men having been summoned, the work was commenced, and later in the afternoon the machinery was set in motion and the obstruction removed. The lorry appeared to be little the worse for wear.”

From the information I have so far, it would appear that there were no fatalities at these accidents. But one man died when another traction-engine and it trailer crashed in Epsom Road shortly before midnight on February 9, 1911. The vehicle was en route to Southampton when it overturned.

Traction-engine that overturned in Epsom Road, Guildford, in 1911, killing one of its three-man crew.

The Surrey Advertiser of February 13, reporting the inquest into the death of David Boxall, 65, of Epsom, said that eyewitnesses saw the traction-engine careering out of control at 12mph. The driver, William Collins, told the inquest that he tried to put the engine into reverse gear when he realised how steep the road was, but the gear pin fell out and he lost control of the vehicle. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

Extremely rare picture of the same vehicle in Epsom Road after it had been pulled back upright.

My thanks go to Fred Smith of Guildford who owns a number of fascinating scrap books containing old press cutting and photos all relating to Guildford. These were compiled by his father from the 1900s on through to the 1930s. Of these traction-engine crashes, I had not heard of the 1904 and 1905 accidents before. I had previous seen a photo of the steam-lorry crash, but the newspaper cutting of it in the scrapbook neatly tells the story. Of the 1911 crash in Epsom Road, I included that in my book Images of Guildford (co-written with Graham Collyer) back in 1998. However, in one of his scrapbooks Fred has a photo of the traction engine once it had been pulled back up on its wheels. I had never seen this picture before.

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