The express train from Paddington to Birkenhead left Paddington at 10.02 am; it was just two minutes late. By the time it arrived at Reading it was ten minutes late, and a brake van and third-class carriage were added.
On departure from Oxford the train was 35 minutes late. The time was 12.15 pm; nobody knew that by 12.30 pm 26 people would have lost their lives and many more would be injured, some critically.
As the train approached Hampton Gay, just after it had crossed the bridge over the river Cherwell and just before it crossed the bridge over the Oxford Canal, the first carriage left the rails as a result of the disintegration of one wheel on the front axle. Several other carriages were derailed, with one or more going down the embankment and into the Oxford Canal.
The River Cherwell bridge - the start of the train accident Mr Langton Pearson (for more about Mr Langton Pearson see here), owner of the nearby paper mill, and his men were the first on the scene. They had heard the crash and the subsequent screams of the injured. The bodies of the 26 people who died at the scene were placed in storerooms belonging to the paper mill.
It was first suggested that the bodies be taken to St Giles’ church which was closer, but the door was locked and nobody knew where to obtain the key.
Another person who attended the scene very quickly was a local surgeon, Mr Mallam. He was at Shipton on Cherwell setting a broken leg for a Mr Prior. Mr Mallam used pieces of wood from the wreckage as splints for suspected fractures.
Parts of the wreckage were also used to build fires in an attempt to keep the survivors warm.
While Mr Mallam and others were still attending to the injured, a pick-pocket by the name of Henry White was apprehended. He had attempted to steal a gold watch and chain from a man who was observing the scene of the accident. According to an eyewitness it was as well that the police arrived when they did as the crowd had got the pick-pocket trussed in telegraph wire and were about to drag him through the canal. See here for more on Henry White, including the eyewitness account.
A special train was laid on to ferry the injured back to Oxford; four people died before arrival at Oxford (including Benjamin Taylor; for more on him see here).
On arrival at Oxford approximately 50 of the injured were taken to the Radcliffe Infirmary. See here for more on the Radcliffe Infirmary. Others were taken to various hotels in the area, including the Randolph Hotel, the Clarendon Hotel, Jones’s Railway Hotel, and New College. Of those who had been taken to the Radcliffe Infirmary, three died as a result of their injuries. One other person, who had continued her journey with suspected broken ribs, died shortly after. This brought the death total to 34 making it the worst national disaster up to that time. See here for a list of the dead together with any information that we have been able to find out about them.
A coroner’s inquest, with 12 county jurors, was held on the 26 people who died at the scene. It was held on 26 December in the drawing room of Mr Langton Pearson’s part of the manor house.
A second inquest, with 12 city jurors, was held on the four who died on the journey from Hampton Gay to Oxford. This was held on 28 December in the first class waiting room of the Great Western Railway station at Oxford. Both sets of jurors then combined to attend 11 further adjournments at County Hall in Oxford. See here for further information on the coroner’s inquests.
A Board of Trade inquiry was held concurrently. See here for the four main recommendations of this inquiry. Several myths arose from the disaster, see here for the main two. If you wish to research contemporary newspapers for reports on the disaster, you will find that it is predominantly referred to as the ‘Shipton’ disaster. This led to the indexer of at least one book citing the accident as having occurred at Shipton under Wychwood (another Oxfordshire parish that is also referred to as ‘Shipton’ by locals). It is also sometimes referred to as the Hampton Gay disaster.