The Dagenham East Rail Crash

This crash on the LTS in 1958 greatly affected the people of Laindon

Although this accident did not happen within our boundary, it had a devastating effect on a number of families in our community.

It is felt therefore that we need to record the memories and recollections of those families that were affected by the accident.

I will just list the basic details of the accident and leave it to the community to add their comments to tell how they were affected.

The accident occurred on 30 January 1958 at about 19:34, a particularly foul foggy evening. The trains were running late and more crowded than usual.  The accident was the result of the 18:35 train ploughing into the back of the 18:20. This resulted in a number of the carriages of the 18:20 being wrecked and others derailed.

Ten people were killed and many seriously injured. The anxiety of the families at home waiting for their loved ones to come home was made worse by the lack of information (there were no mobile phones in those days).

The cause was put down to driver error – passing a signal at danger- and the poor visibility. (Unless you lived through the fogs / smogs we experienced in those days it may be difficult to realise how a signal could be missed).

These are the basic facts, it is now up to the community to add comments and memories if they wish.

The recollections of those affected

Click on this link to read the recollections of Jean Pattle who was injured in the accident.

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  • Just found out today that my husband is a close relative of Joseph Theobald of Rosemary, Sunnyside Gardens who tragically died in this train crash. Through overlaying maps we have discovered we actually live 200m away from where his house was on the plotlands. Would love to hear any stories or photos you may have. Thank you.

    By Carey Theobald (13/02/2022)
  • My grandfather William Pryde (1913-90) worked for British Rail and was serving as a guard on the train which ran the red signal and caused the crash. He bore no responsibility and, other than at the official inquiry, never spoke about it in detail. Still, what he saw and heard on that cold, foggy night must’ve lived with him all his years.

    By Oliver Coombes (16/10/2021)
  • I was only one year old when the crash happened so I don’t remember it. but I have been reading about it for some time. I would like to get some kind of well overdue memorial placed for them. I found the list of the people that lost their lives and the ones that were injured. There is also quite a lot of info in Valence House museum which is in Becontree Avenue, Dagenham. If anyone can help me I would be pleased as I’m not sure how to go about doing it. There was one unnamed lady who lost her life and from what I can see she was never identified.

    By Chris Ogrady (12/08/2016)
  • My brother Peter usually caught this train but fortunately that day he got off work early because of the lousy weather and was two trains earlier.  Our near neighbour a Mr Theobald, was one of the victims though and Pete often travelled home with him so he was a very lucky lad that fateful day.

    Not being morbid, but is there a list of the fatalities of this tragic event? My sympathies and best wishes to those who were affected by it even today, regards, Ken Page, Australia.

    By Ken Page (30/06/2014)
  • Hi there.  I always lived in Blackborne Road but just moved into 9 Pavet Close and was wondering what number you lived at Burt?? 

    By Jodie (29/06/2014)
  • EDITOR: The following comment may cause distress and bring back unhappy memories to those involved. It shows however how that fateful night has remained vivid in the memory of the victims and the helpers.

    I am still haunted by that fateful night. I was 17 at the time and lived in Pavet Close which was a cul-de-sac off Blackborne Road. That night I was just leaving my house in thick fog to visit my now wife. As I closed our side front door there came the most horrendous, sickening crashing sound of grinding metal and hissing steam followed by an eerie silence. I ran down our garden which backed onto the railway exactly at the spot where the collision occurred. I climbed over our rear fence only to be greeted by a sight of absolute carnage. I went to what was left of the rear carriage and was horrified to see the complete devastation of the rear carriage. I got back to my father’s shed and grabbed a spade in order to prise my way in to try and see if there was any way I could help the victims, which was fruitless because the damage was so severe. Being the very first on this terrible scene, I felt so helpless.  

    At this time my father appeared on the scene, he told me to rush and phone the emergency services.  I remember my father spent the whole night climbing all over the wreckage assisting the services. Right through the night the services were extricating the injured and dying, laying them out in our garden and administering first aid. It was a sight likened to a war zone.  

    My mother was so traumatised by these sights she couldn’t face going into our garden ever again. A few months after this fateful night we were forced to move house to try and erase the horror we witnessed. Unfortunately the memories are still there.

    By Burt Hendy (29/09/2013)
  • I was working overtime and just caught the train that subsequently ran into the first one. There was one almighty crash and was thrown from my seat. Then all was silent and we had no idea what had happened. It was pitch black and a passing District Line train approached and I think stopped. With no one to tell us what to do we jumped down on to the tracks and were finally directed along the line to the nearest station. 

    On arrival home at Hornchuch the ticket office had a group of worried people waiting – including my parents.

    By Rob Humphreys (24/02/2013)
  • While not wishing to disagree with Jean Pattle, I suggest the real reasons for the crash are known. The rules and regulations regarding the switching out of signal boxes at that time were flawed and were subsequently changed. The ministry of transport placed the blame on a driver for failing to see an oil lamp red 14 feet above the ground in dense fog. It is significant that during a coroners inquest into the death no blame was attached to the driver.

    By W.H.Diment (16/01/2013)
  • I read with much interest all the comments with regard to this accident all those years ago added to this site. I was little more then a child when this happened to me and at the time and for many months after I was told nothing about what really happened. Therefore I can only comment on what I went through and how much I have been affected and know. But I find the views of other people who understand more about this point interesting.

    By Jean Pattle (16/01/2013)
  • I have read with interest and some comfort the comments added to the sit of the memories readers have of family and friends they know who all had thier lives affected by that fateful night. I as a happy sixteen year old had my life changed forever and it has been very difficult. 

    I don’t expect the real reason why this accident happened will ever be known and the one thing we can not do is turn back time. Thank you all for your good wishes.

    By Jean Pattle (15/01/2013)
  • Another sad victim of the crash was the guard of the 18.20 who sustained severe injuries and never worked again but died three years later and up to the time of his death had not received any financial compensation.

    By W.H.Diment (30/05/2012)
  • Yes my memory of that fateful day is not vivid but I do recollect my mother in tears and going to the aid of her friends, 2 of them, to try and comfort as best she could. One being Ken’s mum Auntie Hilda, and the other lady was Auntie Alice White. John White who has been previously mentioned died on this day. 

    Auntie Alice earwigging as one does, did not know what was to become of her and her 5 children, what a terrible time, but I was to young to really know much (seen and not heard was the order of the day). I did know that we used to visit her quite a lot and my sister and I had quite a few new dresses made by Auntie Alice in next few years.

    By Valerie Kingsley (Boatwright) (30/05/2012)
  • My recollection of that night in January 1958 is that of sitting around the radio and TV set hoping for some news of any further developments after the crash. Dad was returning home from his work in Manor Park, I think he used to get a District Line train from East Ham, then into Barking and onto a main line steam train back to Laindon. Certainly he was very late that night but came home safely much to the relief of mum, myself and little brother Phil who was only three at the time. 

    How horrific it must have been for those on the train struck from behind, those locomotives were big and powerful and would have had a terrific impact on the relatively lightly built coaches. I have read Jean Pattles article on this which is so well written and deserves to be kept as an important part of Laindon’s history, hope you are keeping well Jean. Our dad was doing evening classes that night which was extremely fortunate. 

    Not long after this, on February 6th the aeroplane carrying Manchester United footballers crashed in Munich and killed several members of the first team including Duncan Edwards one of Englands greatest talents at the time. So, two tragic and unhappy events very closely spaced, and both making headline news back in that cold dark winter which I remember so well, being then just a ten year old schoolboy at Laindon Park.

    By Richard Haines (29/05/2012)
  • The comments by Anthony (Sass) Steel shows how deeply this crash affected his father, who acted as per regulations and was without blame as the situation was outside his control and he could not bring the train inside the protection of his home signal, as it was already occupied. I cannot imagine how the family of the driver felt, when blame was attached to him for passing the signal at danger, as in dense fog, an oil lamp signal 14 feet above ground should not have been considered adequate protection without the provision of a fog signalman at the point to give audible warning by placing detonators on the line. 

    Many people today have no conception of the thick yellow sulphorous fogs which prevailed in those days. I have stood on Barking station during such fogs and have been unable to see my own feet. 

    In true justice, no primary blame should have been attached to the driver who was just a human being doing his job not possessing x-ray eyes, which affected some of those involved till the end of their days.

    By W.H.Diment (28/05/2012)
  • My father (Michael Sass) who died 2 years ago was the signalman on that tragic day, porter M. Sass. I was 5 years old at the time and never discovered the full facts about this case until 20 years ago. My father was reluctant to speak about it, but I know that it haunted him up to the day he died. My father suffered immensely, which I had to witness over the years. My name is, Anthony (Sass) Steel, originally from London, now living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. All those involved and their families lost something on that foggy day 54 years ago, and even if we have never met, we are all connected by the events of that tragic accident. I have a family history website and have published an article regarding the train crash and my father here. Family website

    I send my heartfelt condolences to all those who were involved, survived and died in the Dagenham East Train Crash Disaster.

    (Please note that the link to the Sass family website is no longer active)

    By Anthony (Sass) Steel (27/05/2012)
  • While Ian correctly reports the cause of the rail crash as the findings of the official enquiry as being due to driver error. I suggest this was a whitewash of the true cause. 

    At the time, the LT&S although part of the Eastern Region was still operating under LMR rules and that if they had been working under LNER rules the crash could never had occurred, a fact which must have been known to the authorities, as they changed the rules as a result of this crash.

    The main cause was due to the fact that LMS rules allowed for a signal box to be switched out, before “out of section” had been received and Becontree box did, quite correctly within the existing rules while the previous train was still standing unprotected at the outer home signal of Dagenham East. While the next train did in fact miss the starting signal at the box in rear of Becontree due to extreme fog it would have received three green signals at the closed Becontree box which would not have been possible under LNER rules. 

    I suggest that while the driver was blamed for missing an oil lamp signal in appalling conditions, surely the British Railways Board were the prime cause by allowing a railway to operate where one possibly excusable error could cause disaster. They did rectify this but too late.

    The Ministry of Transport enquiries do have a history of blaming staff errors as has happened many times in unproven signals passed at danger and blame was unfairly placed, as pilot error in the case of the Mull of Kintyre helocopter crash which took ten years of campaigning by the dead pilots families to get this decision reversed.

    By W.H.Diment (09/04/2012)
  • My mother, Phyllis Cole, was badly injured in this crash. She only just managed to catch the train at Fenchurch Street, running to get into the last compartment (a Ladies Only compartment, as it turned out). The locomotive of the following train smashed into her carriage, and she later learned that three people in her compartment were killed. She was taken to King George V hospital in Ilford, where she spent several weeks recovering from the particularly severe leg injuries which she had suffered. In the circumstances she made a good recovery, and it did not cramp her spirit. 

    She went on to serve as a Councillor on Basildon Council for fifteen years (1967-82), for some of that time as deputy leader. 

    There was one unusual outcome to her experience of the crash. Born in 1916 as Phyllis Shackleton, she had been orphaned and adopted as an infant into another branch of the family. She was unaware that she had five older brothers and sisters – and her adoptive mother had sworn all relatives to silence on the matter. In 1958 one of her brothers, aware of her married name but unable to find her, spotted her name in one of the accident casualty lists in the national press, and had the wit to get along to King George’s hospital to seek contact. His first attempt was rebuffed: my mother assumed he was mistaken when a nurse said that her brother wished to see her, my mother believing that she had no brothers. He made a second visit a few weeks later, when she was in a better shape, and this time got to see her, and through relevant recalls of earlier experiences they soon realised that she was indeed Lawrence Shackleton’s little sister. It turned out that there were two older brothers and twin sisters. Thus did the horror of the rail crash have an unexpected outcome.

    By Rodney Cole (24/01/2012)
  • I can also remember where I was when news of this crash broke. I was in Laindon Memorial Hall having watched The Revellers doing another of their Brilliant shows, and during the interval, a lady came in to tell everybody. One next door neighbour was also on one of the trains, remaining uninjured. As the Railway Enthusiast I am, I have a collection of books and in one, there are photo’s, as well diagrams and a write-up on the crash.

    By Brian Baylis (01/01/2012)
  • I remember the following morning very well. I came rushing out of my bedroom late for my paper round, complaining vigorously. Shouting, why had dad not woken me up, like he did every day. (My paper round was for ‘Pollard’ in the Arerial Road near Pound Lane). My mother was in the sitting room with one of my Aunts. She said, you are not going into day, I have rung the shop and told them – enquiring why, she told me that dad (Frederick Porter) had been seriously injured following a train crash and was in Old Church Hospital. He had a broken pelvis, cracked ribs and a suspected cracked back. Mum had only heard that morning that he was badly injured from a report in the daily paper my Uncle had bought in. It was a few days before I went to see him but he was in fine humour and had even persuaded the doctor to let him have a pint ofr Guinness a day. The doctors had however told him that it would be six months before he couold walk and twelve months before he could go to work. They did not know my father, he was walking in three months and back to work inside six months. You will never find me in the last two carriages of a train.

    By Ken Porter (21/08/2011)
  • One of the fatalities in the Dagenham rail accident of 1958 mentioned by Gloria Sewell was John White from Worthing Road. Following his discharge from military service at the end of WW2 having served his time as an apprentice plasterer before the war, he had taken up a position training future plasterers at one of the London Techs which required him commuting to London and the 1820 service from Fenchurch Street was his “regular” train home. Inevitably, a lot of Laindon passengers suffered as a result of the collision because the rear coaches were favoured for being closest to exit at Laindon. It was these vehicles that came off the worst when the engine of the 1836 from Fenchurch ran into them at Dagenham on that particularly filthy night with its extremely poor visibility. In the late 1940s John had worked voluntarily as an assistant Warden at the Laindon Youth Centre held at the High Road school, having been recruited to that task by Jim Hill who had appealed for adult help in running activities.

    By John Bathurst (24/05/2011)
  • I do remember clearly the train crash of 1958 we had 2 people on the 18:20 in our road my father who luckily survived unscathed, we all waited up for him to get home as there wasn’t any way of finding out what was going on we only new something had happened by the radio. My best friend Jennie Pattle was not so lucky she was trapped under the engine and suffered a broken back and bad burns I recall the whole street stayed up all night waiting for news, she spent a long time in hospital. We lost touch after 1970s but after all these years we found each other again through facebook she also now lives in Suffolk about twenty miles from me. She suffers a lot with her back now. I have sent her your details and told her how much I enjoy your site, we both lived in King Edward Rd bye for now Gloria

    By Gloria Sewell (20/05/2011)

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