When A Runaway Tram Crashed Into A Funeral Procession In Archway

When A Runaway Tram Crashed Into A Funeral Procession In Archway
The aftermath of the crash, photographed by the Penny Illustrated Paper. © British Library Board

The driver of the electric tram had lost control of the vehicle. Now it was hurtling down the Archway Road at 25 miles an hour... straight towards a funeral procession.

This horrifying story we found in the British Newspaper Archive recounts the fateful afternoon of 23 June 1906, when the brakes of an electric tram coming from Whetstone malfunctioned, causing it to careen downhill towards its terminus at Archway.

The incline of the hill and the weight of the tram — which had some 60 passengers on it — added to the velocity of the vehicle, which first crashed into a funeral procession coming from a cemetery in Finchley. It just about missed two carriages of mourners, but hit and wrecked the horse-drawn hearse, injuring the horses and sending the coach driver flying.

The tram sent a Vanguard bus flying into the front of a stationer's shop. Daily Mirror, 25 June 1906. Image British Newspaper Archive

Next, the tram struck a furniture van, sending it veering into a lamppost. By this point, panicked passengers had moved to the rear of the tram in a bid to escape, only to find it was moving too fast (a lone youth is said to have clambered over the side of the roof and to safety).

The worst was still to come, as the tram then collided with a Vanguard bus; it "lifted bodily into the air" before crashing through the window of stationer's shop and killing two workmen. The tram then caught the back of the bus, which was still overhanging the tram line, pivoting it, and wrecking a restaurant.

Finally, the out-of-control tramcar arrived at the terminus it was bound for (close to where Archway tube station is today), colliding with another tram which was loading up with passengers. The force of the runaway vehicle dragged both trams into the road, where another lamppost was struck, and a cab overturned.

A Mirror reader defends the actions of the tram driver. Daily Mirror, 2 July 1906. Image British Newspaper Archive

A harrowing report from the Larne Times describes "the cries of terrified women and the blowing of police whistles" as the mayhem played out. Three people were killed in the tragedy, and 20 more injured — making it one of London's worst traffic disasters of the time.

Some criticism of the driver followed (he apparently threw himself free of the tram following the first collision). But as a Daily Mirror reader wrote into the paper: "It is quite easy for Father Freeman to sit at his writing-table or stand in the pulpit and complain of the cab-driver's action, but let him be in front of a runaway car coming from the top of Highgate Hill and face Death!"

Last Updated 13 October 2021

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