I AM grateful to Tim Edmonds for the following article. Tim is a former High Wycombe resident, Honorary Fellow of the Marlow & District Railway Society, and researching the history of railways.
In St Lawrence Cemetery atop West Wycombe Hill is a gravestone commemorating Edward Algernon Stone, born February 16, 1906, who was “accidentally killed on December 5, 1929 in the line of duty as a postman at Bradenham Railway Crossing ”. His mother, Elizabeth, had died two years earlier and Edward was buried in the same plot – he was the youngest of six children. The fatal accident occurred on a public pedestrian crossing and led to attempts to divert the public road to avoid a repeat offense. However, this did not happen for over 70 years.
Edward Stone was a postman on the West Wycombe-Bradenham Tour, which included deliveries to various farms and outlying hamlets. It was very stormy at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday December 5, 1929 when he left his home in West Wycombe to cycle to Bradenham. At 8.45am, he leaves on foot from the village post office to deliver the mail to Noble’s Farm, which means crossing the A4010 near the Red Lion and taking a path over the level crossing. The railway had been inaugurated in 1862 as a single track line from Wycombe to Princes Risborough and Thame. It was rebuilt 40 years later as a dual track main line and became part of the new Great Western & Great Central Joint Railway in 1906. This meant more and more trains on the line.
At around 9:00 a.m. Edward delivered letters to Herbert Kingham at Noble’s Farm, then headed back to the main road to continue his tour. Meanwhile, the 8:57 a.m. local GWR train to Aylesbury had left High Wycombe. It was a motor train, also known as an automatic train. The locomotive was pushing two cars, with the Herbert Buckingham of Aylesbury driving from a special compartment in the front. He was accompanied by James Reed, a permanent inspector of Princes Risborough roads. The fireman, on the locomotive in the back, was Harry Carter of Aylesbury.
The train left West Wycombe station at 9:05 am in heavy rain and gale force winds and climbed to its next stop at Saunderton. As he approached Bradenham Crossing at around 40 mph, Buckingham and Reed both saw Edward Stone approaching the edge of the line from the left and the driver immediately sounded the warning gong on the coach and braked. However, the postman continued to cross the line and was struck by the train, dying instantly. Buckingham stopped the train, then backed up to the crossing. The body was moved to the side of the railroad tracks and Carter walked over to the Red Lion for help. PC Adams from West Wycombe arrived to take charge and Dr Love from Princes Risborough confirmed death from fractured skull. Meanwhile, the hapless driver and firefighter had to catch his train to Aylesbury.
The next day, The Bucks Free Press reported that the mailman had not seen the train due to the extreme weather conditions and that South Bucks Coroner MAE Charsley had arranged the inquest for the afternoon of Saturday 7th. December at the Red Lion. The following week, the BFP reported on the proceedings, which took place before a jury of seven local men. Other people present included representatives of the railways, post office, trade unions and the police.
The jury took into account the weather, the duties and health of the deceased, the actions of the railway workers and the safety of the level crossing. James Reed pointed out that there had been no accident at the crossing before and that there was good visibility in both directions, which was confirmed by PC Adams. However, Farmer Kingham, a regular user of the crossing, described it as “a very dangerous place and I am always happy when I walked through it, especially at night”. It appeared that Edward Stone was wearing his cycling cape over his overcoat and it obscured his view as he crossed the tracks, but it was not clear if he had put it on his head. to protect himself from the storm or if he had simply been blown away by the wind. Time was the critical issue and the jury concluded that the death was accidental and that no blame was placed on anyone.
While the jury was away while reviewing its verdict, it emerged that near the crash site there was another safe way to cross the line. It was a low sub-bridge just south of the crossing, which gave access to the fields to the west of the tracks. The issue was raised by Vice Admiral Mortimer L’Estrange Silver, a retired naval officer living in the White House Bradenham, who said the path under the bridge was private, but the owner “would not raise no objection “to people using this. MA Standing, representing the railroad, asked Silver to make a commitment that if the crossing was closed, the public could use the sub-bridge instead. Silver couldn’t give that assurance. It looked like the owner would allow public use of the bridge as an alternative, but wanted the official public road to stay above the crossing. In 1930, the railroad cleared a request to divert the public trail across the bridge, but the owner’s wishes prevailed – the diversion did not take place.
So who was the owner? The land on either side of the railway line was part of the Bradenham Estate, owned from 1902 until his death in 1915 by John Hicks Graves, whose wife Henrietta was the daughter of Sir Robert Tempest Tempest, 3rd Baronet Ricketts. Upon John’s death, the Bradenham Estate went to Beatrice Graves, his only surviving brother, who was not married and lived in Hereford. His wife Henrietta, already a very wealthy woman in her own right, inherited his personal effects and continued to live at the Manor.
Beatrice made a will in June 1929 which indicates that she would have left the Bradenham estate to Henrietta, her sister-in-law, but that she had already passed on her interests to him. Thus, at the time of the accident, it was Henrietta who owned the path under the railway bridge and who did not want to change. Family influence in Bradenham was complemented by Vice Admiral Silver, who was John and Beatrice’s cousin and, as justice of the peace, should have approved any changes to public rights of way.
Despite the 1929 demise, public use of Bradenham Crossing continued until 2003 when it was closed and the trail diverted. This was part of the line modernization program carried out when Chiltern Railways reintroduced mainline services to Birmingham. Several other crosswalks were closed as part of these improvements, usually involving detours or walkways, but in Bradenham there was a ready-made alternative in the sub-bridge, which eventually became a public right of way. Fortunately, the delay of more than seventy years was not marred by another serious accident.