Hero John Chiddy from Hanham
In March 1833, the 27 year old Isambard Brunel was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. The strategy was to build a railway that would link London and Bristol. The first section of the track that went from London to Taplow (Maidenhead) was opened in 1838. The line was completed to Bristol in 1841. The Great Western Railway was the first to install electric telegraph alongside its line.
John Chiddy was foreman of Birchwood Quarry situated near the eastern mouth of Bristol No 2 Tunnel. Just before 2pm on March 31, 1876, an Up local passenger train dislodged a large stone from the quarry's stack beside the line and fouled the Down track.
Knowing that the Down 'Flying Dutchman' express was imminent, for several decades the world's fastest train. John Chiddy tried to shift the heavy obstruction. This he succeeded in doing, but at the cost of his own life, for the express engine struck him before he could leap clear. In due course, the train which had been travelling at 50mph, stopped and a collection made. The 'Flying Dutchman' at the point when John saved it was running on a ledge high above the Avon and had it become derailed, would most certainly have plunged into the river with considerable loss of life.
So how much did those thankful passengers give? Just £3 17s 0d - precious little compensation for a wife and seven children who had lost their breadwinner. Hearing of this stinginess, Lord Elcho was so incensed that he took up the case in Parliament and said that if a man risked his life to save others, he should do so 'with the consciousness that his family would not be dependent on charity, or the workhouse'. In reply, the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained that he had no funds to help such people.
The ensuing press publicity however resulted in an account being opened in Bath and another in Bristol, the Bank of England contributing £10 when informed that two of its officials were on the train with a large quantity of gold. The total collection of £400 was used to purchase half an acre of land on which the six-bedroomed Memorial Cottage was built in what is now Memorial Road on the Hanham bank of the Avon. (was called Pit Lane) The building still stands today close to Hanham School in Memorial Road.
The north side of the house carries a plaque with the inscription: 'Erected AD 1877 by public subscription for the widow and family of John Chiddy who was killed by an express train whilst removing a large stone from the metals of the Great Western Railway near Conham, March 31, 1876'.
Chiddy is buried in Christ Church graveyard Hanham, but the grave has no monument by which it can be distinguished.
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