The Abergele train disaster, August 20th 1868

During day 8 part 3 of the original diary, ‘Two hundred and fifty miles around North Wales on a wagonette’, (which will be published on our blog next week), the group make reference to the Abergele train disaster, which occurred on August 20th 1868.  To coincide with this, the blog update this week will concentrate on the events of the fateful disaster, using relevant records held in our archives.

Sketch taken an hour after the accident

NTD 407 23 - Country Quest article 1968, detailing the accident in 1868

On August 20th 1868 an Irish Mail catastrophe took place, in a horrible accident between Abergele and Llanddulas.  The accident was, at the time, the worst railway disaster in Britain. 

The accident struck horror into the people of the country, not only for the terrible way they met their ends but for the rank of the people involved.

A goods train was being shunted at Llanddulas whilst five or six wagons loaded with petroleum and spirit were left on the main line. Unfortunately, although the goods train was parked on an incline, the brakemen, failed to set the truck brakes and when the engine backed on to them, the impact set them rolling down the line into the path of the express train. 

In the first class carriages just behind the engine were Lord and Lady Farnham travelling with their servants; the Rev. Sir Nicholas Chinnery, Bart; Lady Chinnery and their suite; and Judge and Mrs Berwick.  All lost their lives, as did the remainder of the victims who were travelling in the second class carriages.

The driver Arthur Thompson, later said that the train was travelling at about 30 mph, when he saw the barrel laden trucks coming round a bend.  He realised they contained petroleum shouted a warning to the firemen, and jumped.  But as he lay on the ground he was struck by a portion of one of the carriages, and received injuries from which he died two months later.

The Marquis of Hamilton, one of the passengers from the rear coaches, said that he saw flames leaping 20 feet high, spreading in every direction.  No one in the front carriages escaped.  The hero of the hour was Arthur Thompson, the driver, who, although injured uncoupled the last six carriages of the train, they were towed away from the scene before fire could reach them.

All 33 bodies recovered were so badly burned, that it was impossible to recognise them.  The final official tally was 10 males, 13 females, and 10 sex unknown.  All the remains were buried in a mass grave in Abergele Churchyard, on August 25th 1868.  Today a memorial to the dead can be seen in Abergele Church.

A picture of the memorial in Abergele churchyard is available to view on The Peoples Collection website at

Information about our holdings is available on

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5 Responses to “The Abergele train disaster, August 20th 1868”

  1. madcarew Says:

    This accident was comprehensively described and discussed in a book published in, I believe, the 1970s entitled “Red for Danger”, dealing with this and other notorious railway accidents

  2. Paul Hubble Says:

    There is also a commemorative plaque sited alongside the railway line in the cutting behind the caravan site several hundred yards east of the viaduct at Llanddulas (or there was some years ago).

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