Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Great Crush at Hampstead Heath Station

Hampstead Heath station opened on 2 January 1860, with staircases to both platforms and a ticket collector’s booth at the bottom of each staircase. The station was used by Londoners who flocked to ‘Appy ‘Ampstead’ at weekends and Bank Holidays, when stalls and barrows lined the roadsides. Today it is on the London Overground line and is the stop for the Royal Free Hospital.

On Easter Monday, 18 April 1892, about 19,000 adults and children came to the station. The weather was fine until 6pm when a dark cloud came over and it looked like rain, so many people decided to go home. They piled into the station, down the stairs for the City-bound trains. In the rush it seems that someone fell, causing an obstruction and the ticket booth created a bottle neck so that, ‘the people were all entangled in one mess.’ Sadly two women and six boys were crushed to death and thirteen other people were seriously injured. Claude Scott, a medical student who tried to give help, saw the boys ‘wedged up in a corner behind the box’ and two women ‘struggling frantically,’ all going blue in the face. William Exton, the ticket collector, said the crowds were jammed on the stairs leading down to his booth and they were singing, ‘Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay’ when suddenly a boy’s head was forced through the side of the booth with his throat trapped over the broken glass. The collector shouted out, ‘Stand back or you will kill him’. Hundreds of people crossed the lines to escape up the other staircase. Some of the injured were taken to Hampstead Workhouse infirmary and the dead to the mortuary opposite. Newspapers reported the story and it quickly spread around the world.

The inquest returned verdicts of accidental death by suffocation.  The local connection is that one of boys caught up in the crush was 14 year old errand boy Thomas Langford from Kilburn. His father John, a labourer and painter, identified his son’s body, saying the lad had gone to Hampstead Heath ‘with some playmates for the Easter holiday.’ The Langfords lived at 101 Granville Road, near the Kilburn High Road. This area of Kilburn was redeveloped after WWII and aside from a corner property with Cambridge Road, which was once The Duke of Cambridge pub but are now flats, all the houses have demolished.

The official enquiry into the accident ruled that Hampstead Heath station was unfit to deal with such large crowds. In early June 1892 many modifications were carried out, including removing the ticket booths from the bottom of the staircases.

A more detailed article by Robin Woolven, ‘The Hampstead bank holiday crush of Easter Monday 1892’, appeared in the Camden History Review Number 36 in 2012.

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