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The Great Train Crash of 1868

Robert Hume investigates the first major railway disaster in Britain, which took the lives of over thirty people in a collision in North Wales.

At 7.30am on Thursday August 20th, 1868, the Irish Mail left Euston station in London on its daily journey to Holyhead. The train – which had the reputation of being the fastest in the kingdom and was the only one in the world to carry a name – transported some of the wealthiest men and women in the country to their estates in Ireland via the Holyhead ferry. It comprised four carriages for first- and second-class passengers, a post-office van and a travelling post office where the mail was sorted on the journey.

At 11.30am the Mail reached Chester, a busy junction where four extra carriages were attached to the front of the train. Many passengers joining here had stayed overnight at the Queen Railway Hotel and arrived at the station after walking through a special connecting tunnel. As they emerged from the tunnel, most passengers turned left and boarded the newly attached carriages; but some turned right, perhaps to join their friends who had travelled from London. Their decision was to be hugely significant that day.

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