spotted by volunteers as they visit the cemeteries
The Dover Tramway Accident
In Memory of
Lt William A. Roberts:15th RF
who was killed in the
Dover Tramway Accident
August 20th 1917. Aged 20 years
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them
The Tramway Accident
On 19 August 1917, at
about 3.30 in the afternoon, tram car 20 ran away down the hill
leading to Crabble from the London Road. The tram jumped off the
rails at the second bend at the foot of the 1 in 10½ gradient,
struck the paper-mill wall, ran over the debris, struck the wall
for a second time, and toppled over. Eleven people died as a
result of the accident, and nearly 60 were said to be injured.
Amongst them were Naval Pensioner Maurice Miller, who lost a
foot, and Dragoon Gunner, who lost both feet, both of whom were
credited with trying to stop the tram.
Many critically injured
were taken to hospital. Lt William Arthur Roberts was the last
casualty to die, at 7.45pm the next day, from a fractured
skull. He was 20 years old, and came from 46 Denby Road,
Belgravia. He was buried two days later, on Wednesday, 22
August, with full military honours. The coffin, draped in a
Union Flag and borne by gun carriage, left the Western Heights
at 2pm and arrived at St James cemetery at 3pm, followed by many
men from Lt Roberts' battalion. Men from the Training Reserve
Battalion carried the coffin to the grave, and at the conclusion
of the graveside service three volleys were fired and the Last
Six people died at the
scene, including Miss Charlotte (Lottie) Eleanor Scrase (right), aged
27, the conductress of the tram. She had been on the upper deck,
according to a witness. From 80 Heathfield Avenue, she was the
daughter of the late Staff Sergeant Major Scrase, of the Army
Service Corps, who had died in 1900 at St Helena, and Mrs Lottie
Scrase, formerly Hocking. Her brother, Arthur, was a locomotive
fireman; she left also another brother, William and three sisters, Isabel
(Izzy), Edith (Edie), and Maud. William and Eugene, Izzy's
husband, were both on military service abroad; Maud, married in
1915 to George Paddock* and expecting her second baby, had the
melancholy job of identifying her sister's body..
Miss Scrase was said to
be very popular on the tram service, and was said to have kindly
taken another woman's shift that day. She had been engaged to
be married to Mr Tom Sayers. The wedding ring she would have
worn was buried with her at Buckland.
Amongst the four people
who died upon or after removal to hospital was Mr Arthur David
(left), aged 26, deputy chief clerk in the electrical works. The
Chairman of the Bench at Dover Police Court said, "Our
Corporation has also lost a valuable servant in the person of Mr Axford,
a young man of considerable promise."
A former chorister at
Holy Trinity, Dover, Mr Axford had been living with his wife's
aunt at 51 Church Road. His mother, who had travelled on the car
with him as far as Union Road (now Coombe Valley Road), asked
him to get out with her, but he refused and went onto the top
deck. His sister, Mrs Weller, a widow of 53 Balfour Road, said
that he was in the habit of riding out to Kearsney on Sunday
afternoons, being nervous of the air raids and believing that he
would be safer there. He was buried at St Mary's.
The others who died
Miss Susan Green, aged
29, employed in the Army Records Office, of 4 Norman Street,
Dover (London home - 21 Athathorne Road, Battersea Park).Her
body was taken home to London.
Mr George Ernest Foster,
aged 34, Metropolitan Police constable, 5 Belgrave Road, Dover,
originally from Newtown, Wales, engaged to Miss Green. His body
was taken home to Wales.
Mr Henry Boteler, aged
60, 22 Snargate Street, restaurant proprietor; Mrs and Miss
Boteler had been at chapel when the accident happened. He was
buried at St James.
Mr Walter Skinner, aged
17, son of the landlord of the Red Lion in St James Street, and
managing the business. He was buried at St James.
Walter Joseph, aged 49, a jeweller of 71a High Street,
Folkestone, living at 2 The Leas, Folkestone (also noted as from
34 Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone). He had been celebrating with
his wife the golden wedding of her brother, Rabbi I Barnstein.
He was buried at the Jewish cemetery, Dover, left. The
words on his headstone read, "In tender cherished sorrowing
memory of my beloved husband, Solomon Walter Joseph, who
departed this life 19th Aug 1917 - 1st Ellul 5677 - aged 50
years. And though the voice is hushed, his wonderous spell is in
our hearts. While the light lasts I will remember and in the
darkness I shall not forget".
Seaman David Thomas Cade,
aged 26, former florist, deck hand of the motor launches,
possibly from Herne Bay. His wife and sister-in-law were
injured. His body was taken home for burial
Livermore, aged 36, Royal Fusiliers, father of five children.
His wife was injured. His body was taken home to Willesden.
Seaman Ernest Alfred
Royal, 3757DA, 28, born 16 March 1889. Drifter patrol, "Devon
County". From Lowestoft. His companion, Miss
D/Polly Hunt, was injured. His body was taken home to Lowestoft;
his address at the time of his death was 1 Horn Hill, Lowestoft.
His brother Kerry, at 11 Alpha Road, Millwall, was notified of
the death. Buried at Lowestoft, Beccles Road, on 25 August in plot L/14/520.
The driver of the tram,
Albert James Bissenden, aged 28, stated that he had done all the
could to stop the tram as it gathered speed on the incline, and
when he had realised he could do no more, had jumped off to save
his own life. He immediately came down the hill to render aid
to the casualties. A soldier since 1907, he had been discharged
on 1 June 1917 as a private from the Army Ordnance Corps after a
nervous breakdown owing to the heat in Egypt and his work of
dealing with explosives. He had joined the trams on 21 July
1917 as a learner driver, qualifying to drive in 9 days and
being passed as competent on 1 August.
The coroner, in summing
up, stated that the case was on the borderline between
accidental and criminal negligence; the driver could be liable
for a charge of manslaughter. The verdict at the inquest was of
death by misadventure, and that inexperience and lack of
judgment on the part of Albert Bissenden were the causes. The
coroner commented that misjudgment "could happen in a moment of
forgetfulness, without knowing or wishing to wrong.
Something forgotten or something to attract the attention in a
moment and then something happened."
|The tram on its side, with the
||The marks of the second impact may be
seen on the wall. The upper deck is completely destroyed
However, it is probable
that there were other causes and contributory factors. One
passenger claimed that the car had not stopped as quickly as
usual at the Buckland stop prior to Crabble Hill (although this
may have been normal practice for Sundays and the driver may
have been beckoned on). Several witnesses stated that the car
had not stopped at the brow of the hill, as demanded by the
regulations. This stop enabled the controller to be turned off
and the slipper brakes applied; once the handbrake was released
the car would proceed down the hill under its own weight,
checked by the slipper brakes. Driver Bissenden stated that he
was most aware of the regulations and the procedure at the top
of the hill and had tried to stop the car with the handbrake but
in vain. He maintained that the handle of the handbrake "turned
easily and met with no resistance", so he concluded the brake
would not stop the car. Indeed, the chain was unconnected when
the tram car was examined after the accident. However, this was
dismissed as there were no scrape marks on the chain, as there
would have been had it been loose and dragged, and the chain was
likely to have dislodged during, rather than before, the
There were three braking
systems; the slipper brakes were also examined, being the drag
mechanism on going down Crabble Hill. Blocks were replaced about
once a month; the blocks on car 20 were worn, but evidence given
suggested that worn blocks were better at gripping than new, and
that the extent of wear would not have contributed to the
accident. The driver had been seen attempting to use the slipper
brakes, but they were unable to stop the car. The third braking
system, the emergency brake, failed to operate; this, it was
stated, was owing to the driving current not having been turned
off. The driver stated that the brake was "jambed". The Depot
Mechanic, Mr Nye, stated that he had examined the car before use
that morning, and passed it and the brakes as fit, although he
had not examined the emergency braking system, stating that this
was done once a week, and that drivers rarely had occasion to
use it. He added that the handbrake had been reported slack on
30 July and taken up. The controllers were tested once a week,
sometimes twice. No driver had registered concern about the
performance of the car since. When questioned by Mr de Wet, who
was representing the friends of casualties Mr and Mrs Joseph and
Mr Barnstein, Mr Carden, the General Manager of the tramway, was
reproved for uncertainty in his responses regarding maintenance
schedules and reporting of the cars.
On examination of the
wrecked car, the controller was turned to full speed, and the
direction lever was placed at "ahead". Driver Bissenden stated
that he had turned the controller off before descending the
hill, exactly as regulations required. This was dismissed, the
coroner stating that he believed the current had been on.
However, passengers on the car, notably Dragoon Gunner, had
attempted to stop the car, and children subsequently had played
with the levers, which were then removed by Mechanic Knott and
handed to Inspector Elgar. This was over 90 minutes after the
accident, whereas Mr Fred Cook, former driver and then clerk to
the tramways, stated that upon his examination twenty minutes
after the accident, the levers were in the "drive" position.
Whether attempts to stop the car had moved the levers is
uncertain; it was however stated that the accident would not
have moved them.
showing the second bend and the railway bridge where
the driver jumped off. The first bend is beyond the
bridge. The tram car first crashed into the wall in
The site of the
paper-mill. The two-panelled section of the wall has
replaced the gates; the three-panelled section
adjoining was the site of the first impact, the
section beyond of the second impact
War-time conditions may
have contributed. On considering the driver and the conductress,
the Coroner in his summing up said, "I do not think these are
times for anyone in a case of this description to be too
critical. We are in troublesome times and we have to do the best
we can with very little material ... our expert men are gone,
and what is left are boys and girls and invalided men." It was a
general view, nevertheless, that business at home should carry
on as best possible. Driver Bissenden's discharge from military
service was not considered significant. He had qualified as a
driver after the minimum period of instruction, and was said to
be quick at picking up his duties, exceedingly alert and
intelligent, and one of the best men Mr Edward Carden, the
tramways General Manager, had "had to deal with". He had shown
no signs of nervousness during instruction, and stated that he
was most interested in his work, keen to demonstrate his
suitability to his employers, and that furthermore he had
suffered no nervousness during his work; indeed it was doing him
"the power of good".
It was the
responsibility of Lottie Scrase, the conductress, to ensure the
behaviour of the passengers, and that the car was not
overcrowded. She had instructed Driver Bissenden to proceed
without stopping at St Bartholomew's church, well before
Buckland, as they were carrying so many there was no more room.
The tram was overcrowded when it crashed. The capacity was 22
people downstairs and 26 upstairs, yet some 70 people were
casualties. The exact number on the tram was not ascertained. Lottie's grave at St Andrew's, Buckland, is left, marked
by the blue folder.
It was, however, common
for the cars to be overloaded, and the Corporation Tramway
permitted extra people to be carried provided it was safe and on
the level portion of the track. Mr Carden stated that "since the
war the population had increased" and their "service had been
reduced, and it is very difficult to prevent people
overcrowding". Only on the River route were the regulations
strictly enforced; an inspector at Buckland was responsible for
ensuring the cars were not over capacity before descending Crabble Hill. Inspector Elgar stated at the inquest that he did
not see car 20 go past, and that he had other duties to attend
to in addition. The former tram shed is right.
It may have been that
passengers also paid little regard to the tramway staff.
Conductress Scrase was said to have been on the upper deck,
perhaps asking passengers to sit down as standing was not
permitted or trying to persuade some to alight. Driver Bissenden
noted that a gentleman had been standing on his platform, having
got on at Buckland, and the gentleman's wife was standing on the
steps. The driver had told the man he could not stand there, but
did not make him move as "one got sick of asking people to move
as they often said they had a right to be there" and he also had
been told to speak to no one. It is possible that the gentleman
distracted the driver, and thereby contributed to the accident.
exacerbated the situation. Although a section of the mill wall
was demolished by the impact of the car, Miss Laura Bomford, in
charge of National Registration and a passenger at the accident,
stated that she was surprised "there was not a violent crash",.
The tram appeared to have fallen over on to its side slowly and
smoothly, before sliding a couple of yards along the ground.
Too many passengers in the top deck would have raised the centre
of gravity of the car, and rendered it unstable and therefore
contributed to or even caused the fall. Furthermore, many of
those hurt were thrown from the open-top car. The extra weight
would also have influenced the speed of acceleration down the
hill, and rendered the brakes less effective. Mr Carden noted in
mitigation that there were fourteen children on board, who would
not weigh as much as adults.
The trackway down
Crabble Hill followed a steep gradient in which there were two
sharp bends, the first having a radius of 90 feet and being the
most acute on the entire system, and the second near the bottom
of the hill. The rails on the outside of the bends had been
elevated in order to help prevent the car leaving the rails, and
the braking power had been increased, with the addition of the
slipper brakes. The combination of curves and gradient meant
that the place, nevertheless, was regarded generally as
dangerous, though Mr Cardin said that he "did not look upon that
as the most dangerous part of the tramways for a tram driver".
In addition, owing to the war, it was difficult to maintain the
system and to obtain spares for the rails and trams.
Above, right, is David Axford's grave, at St
Mary's Dover, to the right of the standing gravestone. Mr
Axford's headstone is now laid flat; the words inscribed on it
read "In Loving Memory of my dear husband, Arthur David Axford,
died 19th August 1917, aged 26" Mrs Axford was described as
"extremely prostrate" at the funeral. There is space on the
headstone for her name to be included.
In summary of the accident, although the
verdict was that the driver had been at fault, it would appear
that war-time conditions had their impact but that there was a
slackness in the running and the upholding of the tram network
beyond that. Fortunately the prevailing conditions also led to
the Corporation being able a little to ameliorate the effects of
the accident. Owing to the air raids they had set up an
organisation to manage emergencies and ensure prompt medical
care. They had also bought and hired extra hospital beds.
Casualties were being treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital
until 10pm, with the help of two naval surgeons, and the
soldiers had been removed to the Western Heights Hospital.
Nevertheless, it was estimated that there was spare capacity for
medical care for another thirty cases, should it have been
required. The same was not true of the mortuary, which had room
for only three bodies. The Market Hall was used instead.
to Lottie Scrase
came to her with honour,
madness smote the Hun,
she had ta'en upon her,
to serve the gun.
Britain! With set faces
noble task upon
who fill your places,
who "carried on".
Jno Mc G, August 19th 1917
information based on reports
in The Dover Express, The Dover Standard, and The Dover
List of People Injured
supplied by Joyce
The injured taken to Dover Hospital and detained there were as follows:
Mrs Marie Etchells, 4 Victoria Crescent - bruised back.
Joan Etchells, 2 years 4 Victoria Crescent - injuries to arm.
Maurice Miller, 23 Vale View Road - injuries to foot (since amputated)
Mrs F. Miller, 23 Vale View Road - both arms fractured
Iris Smith, 9 years old, 23 Vale View Road - injuries to foot.
Clarence Christopher, aged 7 years, 30 Minerva Avenue - injuries to head and arms
Matilda Christopher, 11 years - injuries to head and arms.
Thomas Jarman, 41 Snargate Street - injuries to head and arms.
Mrs May Jarman, 41 Snargate Street - injuries to face.
J. Morrell, Liverpool Street - cut head.
Charles Tomlin, 33 Trevanion Street - fractured thigh-bone.
Mrs Tomlin, 33 Trevanion Street - cut arm and shoulder.
Ethel Reader, 62 Buckland Avenue - fractured ribs.
Winifred May Reader, 62 Buckland Avenue - concussion.
Winnie Long, (visitor from London) staying at 13 Blucher Street - injuries to face.
Mrs Livermore, (wife of soldier who was killed) - smashed foot and injuries to head.
Miss Tomlin, 33 Trevanion Street - concussion.
Mrs Cade, (wife of sailor killed) - concussion.
Dolly Hunt, York House Snargate Street (who was in company with the sailor Royal
who was killed) - concussion.
Daisy Marlow, servant at the Hotel Burlington
- injuries to face.
Mr Barnstein, 29 Liverpool Street - slight wounds.
Mrs Hardy, River - slight injuries.
Kathleen Freeman, 2 years old, 5 Primrose Road
- slight injuries and shock.
Lucy Brewer, 7 years of age, 5 Primrose Road - slight injuries and shock.
Emily Brewer, 12 years, 5 Primrose Road - slight injuries and shock.
Jack Head, 14 years, "Glenlyn" Folkestone Road
- injuries to arm and head.
The following attended the hospital and were allowed home after treatment:
Mrs Agnus Hinkley, 1 Barton View - fractured arm and injuries to back and chest.
Robert Hinkley, 12 years, 1 Barton View - various cuts about the body.
Dulcie Eastman, 16 Park Street - injuries to arm and back.
Pte. Hubbard, R.F.C. - injuries to head.
Rose Brockman, 12 Dublin Cottages River - slight injuries.
Nellie Green, 12 Dublin Cottages - slight injuries.
Hilda Tritton aged 11 years, 55 Mayfield Avenue - slight injuries.
Hilda Beacham aged 12 years, of 162 Snargate Street - slight injuries.
The following were taken to the Military Hospital for treatment ---
Major Charwood Atkins, East Surrey Regt. - injuries to face and right arm.
Second Lieut. Davis, East Surrey Regt. - abrasions and shock.
Lieut. Read, East Surrey Regt. - injuries to arm.
Lieut. Beer, A.O.C. - injuries to shoulder and shock.
Lieut. Kent, East Surrey Regt. - injuries to head.
Capt. Carpneil, - contusions to elbow.
Lieut. Meadow, East Surrey Regt. - injuries to head and chest.
Lieut. Williams, East Surrey Regt. - injuries to head.
Pte. Hallam, R.A.M.C. - abrasions and shock.
Pte. Simpson, The Buffs - bruised ribs and shock.
Lance-Corporal Pettitt, Royal Fusiliers - contused elbow.
Pts. Davis, Royal Fusiliers - contused head shoulders and back.
Pte. Taylor, East Surrey Regt. - fractured jaw.
Pte. Ingham, R.A.M.C. - abrasions and shock.
Corporal Etchells, T.R.B. - lacerated wounds of the right hand.
Trooper W. Gunner, 1st Dragoon Guards (attached A.P.C.) - both feet smashed and
Pte. H. Franklin, T.R.B. - scalp wound.
Chief Mechanic G. Bellhouse was removed to Deal Infirmary, and his injuries are not known.
In February 2015 The Dover Society unveiled a blue plaque at
the site of the accident.