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A Tribute to

Fred Wood

(1876 - 1934)

A picture of Fred WoodThe blue plaque located on the Buffet Bar at Stalybridge Station was unveiled on 15 March 2002 by Mrs Ellen Bate, as a tribute to her father, Fred Wood

The Early Years

Born in Dukinfield in 1876, Fred was the son of cotton workers, yet chose to work on the then expanding railway industry. At the turn of the century, Tameside was at the core of Britain's industrial heartland. Trains would criss-cross the borough delivering works to factories and mines and taking coal and goods to and from the mills and factories in the area. One of the prime routes in this boom period was the London and North West Railway which would deliver goods to and from the great industrial cities in the north. It was with this company that Fred began work and where in 1907 he was working as signalman at Dukinfield West Signal Box.

A picture of the Blue Plaque to Fred WoodThe Fateful Day

Friday 15 March was just another working day for Fred. Living in Stalybridge, the family man rose at dawn to man the points for the goods wagons and passenger trains that would roll by relentlessly. Everything was running smoothly until just before 6am when the couplings on a goods train from Birmingham to Leeds broke, leaving over fifty wagons careering down the line. The Ashton Reporter at the time described what happened;

"Shortly before six o'clock a heavily laden mineral train of nearly sixty wagons from Birmingham to Leeds passed through Dukinfield Station. The train was going up the incline and curve at a moderate speed and all the wagons were safely attached to each other and proceeding along in the usual way. On approaching Stalybridge Station the driver felt the load lighten and on looking round saw that the coupling of a wagon had broken, about the fourth from the engine. Over fifty wagons laden with coal, timber, minerals and other goods began to travel back down the line."

Travelling down the steep incline, the wagons gathered pace. Numerous attempts to apply the brakes proved fruitless as the runaway train sped down the line. In spite of frantic efforts by a guard, the wagons continued to hurtle backward towards Dukinfield Station and unable to do any more the terrified guard jumped clear. As the wagons thundered past the Dukinfield West Signal Box, Fred acted instinctively.

A picture of Fred Wood's Member's Contribution CardBeing a local man, Fred knew that a "workers" train travelling from Stockport to Stalybridge was due along the same line at any moment. It would be packed with hundreds of workers preparing for their morning shift at the local mills, factories and mines. Among them may well have been friends of the 31 year old. It didn't take Fred long to realise the full horror of what would happen, so he immediately turned the points, forcing the runaway train onto a track and towards Dukinfield goods yards. As the wagons were just seconds from careering past the point of no return, it was only Fred's quick-thinking actions that steered them off course. Thundering away from the passenger train, the goods train sped into the goods yard. So great was the force of the impact that three wagons leapt over the buffers and were hurled into the air. Other wagons were derailed and wreckage was strewn across the line. Miraculously no-one was injured.

Within hours of the accident, Fred was being hailed a hero. That evening, a report of his actions appeared in the Manchester Guardian. Headed "Runaway Train at Dukinfield - Disaster Narrowly Averted", Fred's actions were commended. It read; "The signalman promptly side-tracked the runaways and the express was also stopped, possible disaster being thus averted."

News of Fred's deed spread quickly and reached one of the shareholders of the London and North West Railway, Mrs FJ Robinson. The next morning, Fred received a hand-written letter from Mrs Robinson who thanked him for his actions and enclosed the then princely sum of two guineas.

A picture of a Hand written letter Fred received from Mrs. F.J. RobinsonA picture of a Hand written letter Fred received from Mrs. F.J. Robinson

Later that year Fred was presented with a medal from the railway firm. It reads: "Presented in recognition of his prompt action in averting a great disaster at Dukinfield Station. "The medal, letters and newspaper cuttings of the time are now the only reminder that Fred's daughter, Mrs Ellen Bate has of her father's heroism. Ellen, who lives in Ashton, was just five years old when her father died of a brain haemorrhage in 1934. When he was alive she knew little of the remarkable actions of her father and how he probably saved hundreds of lives. Now 73, Ellen says, "My mother showed me the medal when I was older and it's still hard for me to think that my father prevented what could have been an awful train accident. I think about what he did, especially when I hear of tragic accidents that are still taking place today."

Ellen continues to piece together more details of her heroic father's actions. She is aware that Mrs. Robinson presented Fred with his medal, but has so far been unable to find out when and where it was awarded or any details surrounding the shareholder, who apparently lived in Buntingford in Hertfordshire.


The assistance of the following are gratefully acknowledged:

  • Mrs Ellen Bate (Daughter of the late Fred Wood)
  • David Baxter (Stalybridge Station Manager, First North Western)
  • Susan Spray (Property Assistant, First North Western)
  • John Hesketh and Sylvia Wood (The Station Buffet Bar)

You can click here for a Comprehensive listing of further Blue Plaques featured around Tameside.