Mass grave of train-crash victims, Abergele

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Behind St Michael’s Church is the mass grave of 33 victims of an accident which occurred on the railway near Llanddulas on 20 August 1868. See below to discover who they were (more details coming soon).

The photo of the grave was taken by John Thomas c1875 and is shown here courtesy of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – the National Library of Wales.

Photo of mass grave of train crash victims Abergele c1875The accident involved the Irish Mail running into goods wagons, two of which contained paraffin. The combination of paraffin and wooden-bodied carriages resulted in a fierce fire. You can read how the accident happened on this page.

The passenger train was the prestigious express service between London and Holyhead, for the ferries to Dublin, and the victims came from all classes of society. Their remains were mostly charred beyond recognition, which meant that individual graves were impractical. Unusually, a peer and a judge were buried with some of their family servants.

Only three of the dead could be identified. They were the only victims for whom death certificates were issued.

Two of the 33 buried here were employees of the London & North Western Railway. They were a guard and the fireman (stoker) of the Irish Mail’s locomotive.

The loco driver, Arthur Thompson, survived the accident but was badly injured. He died on 15 October and was buried near his Staffordshire home, leaving his wife Frances and their five children. By 1881 Frances was matron of the LNWR’s Lodging Home in Ince, Lancashire, with daughter Agnes as her assistant.

With thanks to Dr Hazel Pierce, of The History House. Sources include 'Death by Chance: The Abergele Train Disaster' by Robert Hume (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2004)

Postcode: LL22 7AN    View Location Map


Victims of the 1868 Pensarn train crash
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The Right Hon Henry Lord Farnham, aged 69. Henry Maxwell, 7th baron Farnham, was born 9 August 1799 in Dublin. He was Conservative MP for County Cavan 1824-38.dove

Lady Farnham, aged 63. Anne Frances Esther Stapleton, the youngest daughter of Lord Le Despencer, was born on 15 April 1805. She married Lord Farnham on 3 December 1828.dove

The Rev Sir Nicholas Chinnery, Baronet, aged 63. Of Flintfield, Co Cork. Son of Sir Broderick Chinnery and a member of Queen's College, Cambridge. His London home was 18 Hyde Park Square. When he died, his only child was Anna Elizabeth Frances Margaretta and the Baronetcy became extinct. He left £120,000 (over £9m today). A monument to Lord and Lady Chinnery was erected in St Andrew’s Church, Chesterton, where his parents are buried.

Lady Chinnery, aged 54. Anne Fane, daughter of the Rev John Fane Vernon of Aubawn, Co Cavan, married Lord Chinnery (above) in 1843. The couple died while on their way to visit her mother, Mrs Vernon of Clontarf. The remains of a tall, slender female were believed to be those of Lady Chinnery. The couple's daughter was in Scotland recuperating from the birth of her son when she learned of her parents' death. Lady Chinery’s maid was Caroline Stearn, below.

The Hon Judge Berwick

Elizabeth Mary Berwick

John Harrison Aylmer, aged 56. Son of Lieut General Arthur Aylmer of Dondea Castle, Kildare. Studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was deputy-lieutenant and high sheriff of Durham. Lived at Walworth Castle, Durham. At the inquest his butler, Thomas Scott, identified a gold watch, a case of six razors, the lock of a breechloader gun and a piece of cloth which was a portion of his trousers.

Rosanna Louisa Aylmer, aged 47. Born in Ireland. Daughter of Rear Admiral Sir Josiah Coghill. Married John Harrison Aylmer in 1849. The family joined the Irish Mail at Chester and were on their way to visit a relative, Rev Allen Windle of Kingstown, Ireland. At the inquest Sarah Osborn, Rosanna’s lady's maid, identified a wedding ring, a guard ring (worn with another ring to prevent it from slipping off the finger) and a portion of Rosanna’s dress.

Arthur Fitzgerald Harrison Aylmer, aged 18. Eldest son of John and Rosanna Aylmer. Like his father, studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. His possessions identified from the accident wreckage were an opera-glass; shaving-brush marked ‘Arthur Aylmer, Walworth Castle’; meerschaum pipe, silver-mounted, burnt; and sherry flask.

Rosalie Franks, aged 27. A cousin of the Aylmers (above). Fourth daughter of Robert Franks, barrister and secretary to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, Ireland. She was going to Ireland to visit her family. Her brother John went to meet her off the ferry. Drawings sketched by Rosalie were identified at the inquest.

Kate Sophia Askin

Fanny Sophia Thornburgh Askin

Charles Cripps, aged 33. Footman to Lord Farnham (above). Had been married for three years. He was one of only three victims of the train accident for whom a death certificate was issued.dove

Capt Joseph Priestley Edwards, of the West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry. Was a deputy lieutenant and magistrate for Yorkshire.

Priestley Augustus Edwards. Son of Joseph, above.

E Lovell Farrell

Joseph Holmes

Jane Ingram

Mary Ann Kellett, aged 26. Lady’s Maid to Lady Farnham (Above). Born on the Farnham estates in Cavan, Ireland. Orphaned as a child, both she and her sister were cared for by Lady Farnham.dove

Caroline Simcox Lea

Augusta Simcox Lea. Sister of Caroline, above.

William Townend Lund

W Henry Owen, aged 23. Born in Chester in 1845. Aged 22, he became the first organist and choirmaster of St Bartholomew’s Church, Dublin. Son of well-known singer and composer John Owen (bardic name Owain Alaw). dove

Edward Outen, aged 27. From Emsworth, Hampshire. He was the valet of Lord Farnham (above). Supported his widowed mother. He was one of only three victims of the train accident for whom a death certificate was issued. dove

W Bradley Parkinson

Christopher Slater Parkinson

Mary Ann Roe

Whitmore Scovell

Kathleen Scovell

William Smith

Caroline Stearn, aged 24. Maid of Lady Chinnery, above. Born 10 Feb 1844. From Paddington, London. Daughter of coach painter Henry Stearn and chapel keeper Elizabeth. Initially a dressmaker, she became Lady Chinnery's maid in 1864. Caroline always carried Lady Chinnery's little dog in a basket when they travelled. At the train-crash inquest, her sister Elizabeth, a parlourmaid, identified the dog's chain and Caroline’s keys.

Elizabeth Strafford, aged c.71. A long-standing friend and companion of Lady Farnham (above). Elizabeth’s sister Sarah arrived in Abergele the day after the accident and wrote a letter describing the heartrending scene she witnessed at the crash site.dove

Louisa Symes

Arthur Thompson, aged 41. Born in Eccles, Manchester, in 1827. Married publican’s daughter Frances Bolton in 1852. They moved to Castle Church, Staffordshire. Driver of the Irish Mail which crashed near Pensarn. Spotting the wagons on the track he blew the whistle and the fireman, Joe, applied the brake. Before impact, Arthur jumped from the engine. He was struck by wooden debris from the guard’s van and knocked into a ditch, but helped uncouple carriages until becoming giddy from his bleeding head wound. He died of injuries at home two months later, on 15 October 1868, and was buried in Castle Church.