Most biographers of Charles Dickens recognise that the rail crash at Staplehurst, Kent, on 9 June 1865 influenced the final five years of his life for the worse.
He certainly felt nervous about any form of transport after the accident, especially by train, and expressed his feelings in both private letters to friends and public letters to the newspapers.
It also seems to have reduced the volume of his literary output, although some of his best short stories and an intriguing murder novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) followed the events of June 1865.
Sadly, the novel remained unfinished. The Christmas supplement of All the Year Round for 1866 (known as Mugby Junction) is a collection of short stories about the railways, and includes The Signalman, a well-known short story about the premonition of accidents and disasters.
No doubt the story reflected Dickens's own experience of the Staplehurst tragedy.
The accident at Staplehurst was caused by railwaymen working on a low bridge who misread the timetable for the "tidal train" from Folkstone. They were replacing the wooden beams within cats iron girders which formed the structure, and thought that they had time to mend the final part before any trains arrived.
But the train arrived earlier than expected and ran onto the bridge, crushing and breaking the girders.
Dickens was travelling with his mistress, Ellen Ternan and her mother in a first class carriage at the front of the train and was very lucky to escape serious injury, judging by the severe damage to the compartment in which they were travelling.
He clambered out and gave assistance to many of the injured and dying passengers, as famously recorded at the time.
But for ever after and until his death exactly 5 years after the accident, he had a morbid fear of travelling by train, suffering it seems, from a form of post-traumatic stress.
- Format: Paperback / softback
- Pages: 192 pages
- Publisher: Amberley Publishing
- Publication Date: 01/01/2020
- Category: Biography: literary
- ISBN: 9781848687936