The Pye Nest Tram Disaster

On Tuesday, 15th October 1907, the 5:35 am Tram Number 64 – the first car of the day – derailed as it made the steep (1:13) and slippery ascent from Bolton Brow to Pye Nest Road.

The car was packed with workers travelling through Sowerby Bridge on its route from Triangle to Halifax.

It was a cold and damp morning, and the rails were slippery on account of the fog and rain. About 48 workers were crammed into the downstairs saloon, with many standing, and a further 12 were seated on the open upper deck.

Around 5:45 am, due to a power overload, the electric switch came out on the King Cross and Sowerby Bridge section, the power supply failed and the vehicle began to slide backwards down the hill when it had reached the Pye Nest corner, opposite Edwards Road. Although both Thomas Herbert Simpson, the driver, and Walter Robinson, the conductor, tried valiantly, the automatic brake was ineffective in an emergency.

The tram gathered speed as it rolled back, lost its power pick-up arm and hurtled towards Bolton Brow. At the junction of Pye Nest Road and Bolton Brow, the two tracks converged to a single line. The tram jumped violently and lurched to the right before toppling over, its roof torn off, and then spun round and ended up diagonally across the track opposite the school, where it jumped the rails and mounted the pavement and smashed into Lewis Atkinson's shop between Grove Street and East Parade, demolishing the frontage.

The top of the tram was separated from the lower part.

There were 60 seated passengers and more standing on the upper and lower-decks. Several people jumped off and suffered only minor injuries. Others were thrown violently into the road.

Some of the injured were treated at the Shepherd's Rest pub where the landlady supplied drinks, sheets, blankets and other items to those affected.

The driver, Thomas Herbert Simpson of Halifax, was unharmed. Five people were killed and 42 people were injured. Those who died at the scene were

The injured were

Several medical men from Halifax, and all the doctors of Sowerby Bridge including

were quickly at the scene, assisted by the St John's Ambulance Brigade. Ambulance carriages from Halifax, Sowerby Bridge and Elland took many of the injured to Halifax infirmary. One man who lived in Tuel Lane, was taken home by 4 friends in a wheelbarrow.

At the inquest, the jury returned a verdict of accidental death and decided that the management of the tramways were sadly to blame in sending out a car with 2 different types of brake controllers at each end of the tram. They recommended that no car should go up Pye Nest without 3 men in charge – a driver at one end and 2 conductors, one to remain permanently behind. It was also agreed to carry a brakeman on 6 local gradients:

Within a few days, a memorial fund had raised £25 9s. Of this, £19 13s 8d was spent on a memorial, with £2 4s 9d going to Mount Zion Chapel for preparing the vault, and £3 10s 7d to Robinson's widow.

A memorial stone to Walter Robinson and the incident stands in the grounds of Mount Zion Chapel, Ogden

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 16:10 / 9th June 2021 / 11485

Page Ref: MMP141

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