June 18, 2013
Death on the railways: part 2
My local station at Reading is undergoing a multimillion-pound redevelopment that includes five new platforms and a state-of-the-art passenger footbridge. Already, parts of the station are unrecognisable from how they were just a few months ago and it’s quite exciting to watch the new station take form.
The first railway station in Reading opened on 30 March 1840. Designed by Brunel, it was one of a number of key points on the Great Western Railway line between London and Bristol. In 1844 the Great Western Hotel opened opposite the station and it is alleged to be the oldest surviving railway hotel in the world. However, the beginning of this important phase in railway history was marred by a fatal accident.
On 24 March 1840, just a week before the station was due to open, a loud noise like the crashing of timber was heard in the town centre. A strong gust of wind had struck the men working on the construction of a waiting room next to the station house. There were several casualties as the wind blew down the lantern, which was on a wooden structure on top of the building. Weighing four tons, it was carried over the station house, damaging a chimney before it fell to the ground. Young worker, Henry West, 24, was blown with the lantern and his body was found 200 yards away from the site. His death was instantaneous.
Henry’s bereaved workmates erected a memorial to him in St Laurence’s graveyard in the centre of Reading, where he is buried:
IN MEMORY OF HENRY WEST
Who lost his life in a WHIRLWIND at the
GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY STATION, READING
On the 24th of March, 1840 – Aged 24 years.
Sudden the change, in a moment fell
And had not time to bid my friends farewell.
Yet hushed be all complaint, ‘tis sweet, ‘tis blest,
To change Earth’s stormy scenes for Endless Rest,
Dear friends prepare, take warning by my fall,
So shall you hear with joy your Saviour’s call.
The current station is due for completion in summer 2015 and hopefully this time there won’t be a whirlwind to herald its opening.