Shocking Railway Accident in 1898

On the morning of 1 April 1898 a gang of three platelayers from Hildenborough was working on the line near Hildenborough Station.  The team was made up of George Goldsmith, the foreman, James Goldsmith, his 19 year old son, and George Upton, aged 30.  A noisy London bound train passed the platelayers who continued with their work on the other track but George Goldsmith, who was standing between the other two men, looked up to see a train from London rapidly approaching from round the curve 40 yards away .  He shouted a warning to the others who had their backs to the approaching train but they failed to hear this above the noise of the up train which had just passed.  Tragically James Goldsmith and George Upton were knocked down and killed instantly.

The whole of Hildenborough was deeply moved by the tragic accident and members of the inquest jury launched an appeal to support the bereaved families.  They were supported enthusiastically by members of the Hildenborough Gardening Association at their meeting a few days later and the appeal was met with overwhelming support from the whole community.  Over 150 donations were received; no one had refused to contribute.  It was also hoped that some of the money raised would pay for a headstone in memory of the two railwaymen.  On 7 May 1898 the Tonbridge Free Press reported that the fund for the railwaymen had reached £71-6s-6d.  The equivalent today would be about £7,096.  This was an enormous sum considering the population of Hildenborough was a lot less than it is today and most of the villagers were living on agricultural wages.  George Upton and James Goldsmith were buried together in the village churchyard.

Until fairly recently, the wording on their headstone was still just visible but, now sadly, the face of the headstone has largely fallen away and with it the dedications to the two railwaymen.  The headstone was paid for by the villagers at the time and some of today’s parishioners feel that they owe it to their predecessors to restore it to keep alive the memory of George Upton and James Goldsmith.  Hildenborough History Society has organized for the existing headstone to be repaired with the inscription reinstated in the style of the original.  It is also planned to erect a memorial plaque at Hildenborough Station.

(Article in Leigh Parish Magazine, September 2016 and printed with permission of the Hildenborough History Society)