St John’s Station cannot be reached from the road, but is accessed by a pedestrian bridge from St John’s Vale. It is located in the London Borough of Lewisham and was the scene of a terrible accident in December 1957. An early evening electric commuter train outbound from Charing Cross to Hayes was stopped by a red light just past the station, halting with the last carriage beneath a rail bridge carrying the Lewisham to Nunhead line.
Racing up from behind came a delayed Cannon Street to Ramsgate train, hauled by the steam loco Spitfire. There was fog in the cutting between New Cross and St John’s, where signals were on the right. Steam engines were left-hand drive and exhaust smoke made visibility even worse on foggy nights, so it was customary for drivers to ask the fireman to lean out on the right to read the signals.
Driver W J Trew didn’t do so, and failed to spot two yellow ‘cautions’ approaching St John’s. He did see a red signal at the far end of the platform and braked, but Spitfire was still travelling at 55 kph (35 mph) when it hit the back of the stationary Hayes train at 18.20, telescoping rear coaches. The crashing steam train hit the Lewisham-Nunhead bridge, which collapsed onto the first three coaches, crushing them. Above, a quick-thinking driver managed to stop his train just in time to prevent it tumbling from the demolished bridge onto wreckage below. After a difficult and dangerous operation by emergency services, the last victims were extracted by midnight. There were 90 dead, with nearly 175 seriously injured.
Driver Trew was blamed for the crash and tried for manslaughter. The jury failed to agree a verdict and at retrial he was discharged owing to severe stress-induced mental illness.
When was the Lewisham Rail Crash: December 4 1957
Where was the Lewisham Rail Crash: Lewisham, London, UK
What was the Lewisham Rail Crash death toll: 90 were killed and 173 injured.
You should know: After Lewisham, British Rail was again criticized for not speeding up the installation of the Automatic Warning System (AWS) that would have prevented the crash. This had been called for after the catastrophic Harrow & Wealdstone crash five years earlier, but was still not mandatory when the Southwell rail crash happened 40 years later.