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Jessie’s Seat Memorial Still Maintained After 128 Years On Guildford To Redhill Line

Published on: 12 Mar, 2020
Updated on: 12 Mar, 2020

One hundred and twenty-eight years after a fatal train crash on the Guildford to Redhill line, the Jessie’s Seat memorial is still remembered by train enthusiasts and the volunteers who maintain it.

The memorial is in the form of a topiary bush to Henry Wicks, the guard who was killed on the fated train. It is on the south side of the line between Chilworth and Gomshall stations.

Jessie’s Seat memorial topiary, fondly known as the ‘Chilworth Chicken’ by local train drivers.

And now a packed special train, organised by Great Western Railway on February 29, celebrated the anniversary of the event by a salute to the memorial.

It was named after Henry Wicks’s daughter-in-law, Jessie Wicks, who was said to be very fond of him.

Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, and one of the volunteers who have been carefully looking after Jessie’s Seaton the special train organised by GWR to remember the fatal crash on February 29, 1892.

The crash happened on Monday night, February 29, 1892 to a goods train consisting of 49 wagons, two brake vans and two steam locomotives.

With no continuous braking system throughout the train, it divided at some point. The rear 40 wagons caught up with the front section on a steep downhill section at the location of Jessie’s Seat.

Guard Henry Wicks was instantly killed and his body was thrown clear of the wreckage. It was found the next morning on the embankment.

It took four days to completely reopen the line.

The packed train was the first one organised by GWR to remember Jessie’s Seat. It was such a success that there was talk on the train of making it an annual event.

The memorial, a hardy box hedge buxus balearica, is shaped as a guard’s seat for ‘Guard Wick’s spirit’ to sit upon for ‘tranquil eternity’.

Perched upon the topiary seat is the shape of a pheasant which has inspired local train drivers to give it the good natured nickname of the ‘Chilworth Chicken’.

Over the years it had been maintained by the railway’s permanent way gangs. Since 1981 the work has been undertaken by volunteers from the local operations staff supported by British Rail, then Railtrack and  now Network Rail.

Excerpt from the Surrey Advertiser from March 5 in 1892 going into great detail of the fatal crash which killed Guard Henry Wicks.

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