Mass grave of train-crash victims, Abergele

sign-out button-theme-irish-welsh

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.

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
Where you see this icon dove click to view page about that person

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, aged 68. Retired Judge of the Bankruptcy Court, Dublin.dove

Elizabeth Mary Berwick, aged 58. Half-sister of Judge Walter Berwick (above).dove

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, aged 47. Wife of Francis Askin, principal of Townshend House Boarding and Day School, Kidderminster. Like her husband, Kate (nee Thornburgh) was born in Dublin and was on a visit to Ireland with one of her daughters, Fanny, when she was killed. On hearing reports of the crash, her brother immediately left for Abergele as Francis was delayed at the school. He returned to break the bad news but Francis had already left for Abergele “to find there shocking confirmation of his fears”. At the inquest Francis identified a keyring with his name and address which had been in his wife's possession. 

Frances ("Fanny") Sophia Thornburgh Askin, aged 21. Eldest daughter of Kate, above. Fanny was born in Kidderminster. On the morning of the accident, her father escorted her and Kate to Kidderminster station and asked the guard to hand them over to the next guard to ensure they were assisted throughout their journey. On the Saturday following the accident there was “a deep feeling of sympathy” in Kidderminster when their deaths became known. In December 1868 Francis Askin’s pupils presented him with portraits of Kate and Fanny. He thanked them for “the likeness of a beloved wife and daughter” and “a loved mother and sister”.

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, aged 49. Of Fixby Park, near Huddersfield. Captain in the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry, Deputy Lieutenant and JP for West Riding. Described as “a quiet, unostentatious country gentleman”. In 1844 he married solicitor's daughter Margaret Jane Norris, but they were in the process of divorcing when he was killed. His brother, Sir Henry Edwards MP, identified a mourning ring on the finger of one of the bodies. It was inscribed with their father's name and this enabled the coroner to issue Joseph’s death certificate.

Priestley Augustus Edwards, aged 23. Eldest son of Joseph, above. In 1865 he matriculated at Oxford University and in 1866 joined the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry. He and his father were going to Ireland to visit his father's sister, Mrs Clarke. They left Huddersfield at 9am and met the Irish Mail at Chester. The following year it was reported that the LNWR paid £52,000 in compensation to the Edwards family.

Lovett Ferrall (written as E Lovell Farrell on memorial), aged 67. Born in Ireland, where he owned land and property. Lived in Ellesmere, Shropshire. On 6 April 1826 he married Anne Birch from Ellesmere. At his death they were living at Higher Grange, along with Anne's unmarried sister Amelia. On the morning of the accident he was driven by his coachman to Wrexham station for a journey to Ireland. His solicitor, Mr Salter, identified Lovett’s watch among the remains of the accident. Anne died in 1873.

Joseph Holmes. Fireman (stoker) of the Irish Mail which crashed. Lived at Cross Street, Castletown, Stafford. Joe applied the brake when he saw the trucks on the line but remained in the cab and was killed. The procession from the local station to St Thomas' Church, Castletown, for Joe’s memorial service in September was led by Arthur Thompson, the engine driver who was injured in the crash (see below). A collection was made for Joe's widow and child.

Jane Ingram, Lady’s maid to Elizabeth Mary Berwick (above).dove

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, aged 29, daughter of Thomas Simcox Lea and Lavinia Ann Tarbutt, of Astley Hall, Worcestershire.dove

Augusta Simcox Lea, aged 27, daughter of Thomas Simcox Lea and Lavinia Ann Tarbutt, of Astley Hall. Sister of Caroline, above.dove

William Townend Lund, aged 39, cotton manufacturer and coal agent. In 1857 he married Jennet Parkinson, sister of William and Christopher (below). The Parkinson and Lund families had lived near each other at Richmond Terrace, Blackburn. Jennet died in 1866 aged 30 after two years of ill health. In December 1868 each of their three children, then living mostly with William's older sister Alice, was awarded £1,450 in damages by the LNWR.

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

William Bradley Parkinson, aged 41, cotton manufacturer, older brother of Christopher (below). At 9.15am on the morning of the accident the brothers and their brother-in-law William Townsend Lund (above) left Blackburn. Newspapers reported there was some doubt whether their train would arrive in time to catch the Irish Mail at Chester and so William, “always fond of quick travelling ... gave a gratuity to the engine driver to induce him to lose no time”. 

Christopher Slater Parkinson, aged 24, brother of William (above). Both unmarried, they were sons of wealthy industrialist and self-made man Christopher Parkinson JP of Blackburn, and his wife Ann Slater. The brothers and their brother-in-law William Townsend Lund (above) were going to Kilkenny to begin a tour of Ireland. Their brother Robert travelled to Abergele after the accident and identified Christopher’s watch.

Mary Ann (“Annie”) Roe, aged 60, of Nutley, Donnybrook, Dublin. Daughter of Rev Peter Roe (1777-1841), Minister of St Mary's, Kilkenny, for 36 years. The head porter of the Queen's Hotel, Chester, testified that she entered the same carriage as Lord and Lady Farnham which was nearest to the engine. Her cousin, Miss Ryder, identified her watch. Although buried in Abergele, Annie’s name was added to her parents' gravestone at St Mary's Church, Kilkenny.

Whitmore Scovell, aged 45. Managed his family’s London warehouses, which burned in 1861 in a two-day blaze. Lived in Croydon.

Kathleen Scovell. Lived in Bray, County Wicklow. Sister of Whitmore (above).

William Smith, aged 41. Was a guard on the Irish Mail. Left a widow and eight children.

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, aged 10, the youngest victim. She was travelling home to Ireland with Judge Walter Berwick and his sister Elizabeth Mary Berwick (above).dove

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. In September he walked on sticks, with his head bandaged, as he led the procession to Joe’s memorial service in Staffordshire. Arthur died of injuries at home two months after the crash, on 15 October 1868, and was buried at Castle Church.