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Devon County

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From the Crediton Chronicle and and South Molton Gazette

Thursday January 10 1935







One of the most distressing fatalities on the Barnstaple - Taunton railway line occurred at about five o'clock on Tuesday evening, when a woman and her little boy and a deaf mute who ran to save them were run down at a level crossing* in Dulverton railway station by the train which leaves Barnstaple at 4.09 and is due in Dulverton at 4.51.


The names of the dead persons are:

Mrs Ivy Ellen Thomas of Higher Combe, Dulverton, aged 39, wife of Reyben Thomas, a farm labourer employed by Mr. David Tapp JP at Highercombe Farm, Dulverton.

Robert John Thomas aged 4 years, her youngest child

Albert Tarr, journeyman tailor, unmarried aged 54, of Bucket's Hole, East Anstey, employed by Mr. Tom Miller of Dulverton.


The scene of the tragedy is a level crossing* which leads from the platform to which which trains from Taunton and Tiverton run in, to that at which the Barnstaple train draws up. It is on the Barnstaple side of the station.


It appears that Mrs. Thomas had been with her little boy to Tiverton, it being market day, and she returned by the 4.22 train, due at Dulverton at 4.51. She was laden with parcels and the little boy had a number of toys.

It was one of the cases in which mInor happenings often lead to unforeseen calamities. The Tiverton-Dulverton train was some minutes late, and in ordinary circumstances the passengers would have alighted and crossed to the up-side before the train from Barnstaple ran in at 5 o'clock.

On Tuesday, the passengers were proceeding to cross the line, a usual practice, although there is a footbridge in a central position against which the Tiverton train draws up. The train from Barnstaple was only just outside the station and it is definitely stated that as it came under the bridge, which is some forty yards from the crossing, the whistle was being blown and, of course, the engine and coaches were slackening speed.


Mrs Thomas, followed by her little boy, went down the sloping platform and Mrs. Thomas was nearly across when she became aware of the oncoming train. She immediately turned back to reach her boy and prevent him from coming further. However, to the horror of the onlookers, they were in the direct track of the train.


Mr. Tarr had been on the same platform, waiting for the train that would take him to East Anstey, and he ran on to the line gesticulating in an effort to attract the attention of the woman and child. He reached them and made an heroic effort to pull them to safety, but the engine swept over the trio.


A young man, Leslie Sloman of Dulverton, who is employed at the office of Captain W. H. Duncan Arthur, had also travelled by the 4.22 train from Tiverton and was about to cross the line. He made an effort to pull Mr Tarr out of danger, but his gallant attempt was futile as he himself was in danger of being swept under the moving train.


The scene which followed is almost indescribable. The three bodies were terribly mutilated, and each person must have been  killed outright. The body of Mr. Tarr was carried for some distance.


The railway staff, under the direction of Mr. A. L. Saunders, did all that was possible in the sad circumstances and the Dulverton Police were phoned for. Eventually, the bodies were removed to the mortuary at the P.A.C. Institution.




The tragedy cast a gloom over Dulverton where Mrs. Thomas and Mr. Tarr were well-known. Mr. Tarr lived with a widowed mother, over 80 years of age, at East Anstey and was employed as a tailor by Messrs. Moore and Stimson, before Mr. Price took over the business about a quarter of a century ago. Mr. Tarr was much liked, and as a native of East Anstey, he had many friends in a wide area. At one time, he played cricket for Dulverton; everyone speaks well of him.




It is a pathetic incident that the three other children of Mrs. Thomas were at an entertainment at Pixton Park during the afternoon, and they met their father in Dulverton, and went to meet the bus from the station which would, as they expected, be bringing the mother and little brother. The father asked the driver, Mr. Daniel Roberts, where his wife and boy were, and Mr. Roberts had the sad duty of telling him to go to the station where "something serious had happened."




Mr. Reuben Thomas and his late wife were known in the Tiverton District. Mrs. Thomas had formerly been a widow, and after her marriage to Mr. Thomas, they had lived at Seckerleigh in the parish of Halberton. They moved to Butterleigh village where Mr. Thomas then worked for the late Mr. S. Dadd of Cutterleigh, There are four children in all, the eldest being the child of Mr. Thomas's first wife.


(The inquest was held at Dulverton on the day this was published, and was presided over  by Mr.G.P.Clarke, Coroner for West Somerset. The engine driver was completely exonerated, there being witnesses who stated that the engine had whistled as he came under the bridge.  The Station Master explained that the footbridge was some seventy yards up the platform and that it had proved impossible, over the years, to prevent the public from using the trolley crossing and witnesses said that tickets were always collected by a boy who stood by the trolley crossing, and not in the vicinity of the bridge. Albert Tarr's gallantry was commended as was that of Leslie Sloman, the clerk who had tried unsuccessfully to intervene. A verdict of Death by Misadventure was recorded.)


* Better known as "Trolley Crossings" these crossings are still common on rural railway stations. At the end of the platforms, the  tracks were infilled with timber across the tracks to provide a level surface to use for taking trolleys loaded with heavy luggage, milk churns etc. from platform to platform and were intended only for the use of railway staff. But climbing steep steps, crossing a footbridge and negotiating downward stairs on the far side, especially with small children, prams, hand luggage and shopping was seen as too difficult by the majority of travellers who, in spite of warning notices, invariably headed for the trolley crossing as the quickest, easiest way out of the station.


The  inquest report gives us a brief insight into a long forgotten age when the coroner asked the station master why he didn't put a stop to this practice. He explained that he had put up notices and even, at one time, a barricade, but all to no avail; in fact, on the Friday previous to the accident. he said,  a "gentleman" had threatened to report him to the Railway Company's Headquarters in London for  "insolence" in requesting him  not to use the trolley-crossing route.


Trolley crossing and footbridge in the 1960s
A trolley crossing and footbridge near Sidmouth in the 1960s

Photographer not yet identified




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