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Clapham rail disaster remembrance

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

30 years ago today, at 8.10am, 35 train passengers were killed and a further 484 suffered injuries in a three-train crash very close to Emanuel School.

There was a representation from the school this morning at the 11.00am remembrance service. Our head boy, Sinan Mahmud, and deputy head girl, Lucy Rosenberg, followed London Mayor Sadiq Khan and other emergency services by laying a wreath on behalf of Emanuel School.

A number of the school community went on to the remembrance service at St Mark's Church. The Mayor read the names of the 35 people who lost their lives and candles were lit in their memory. At the school itself, a parent who was involved in the legal inquest in 1988 gave a talk to middle school pupils.

Below is how the Portcullis of 1989 remembered the disaster, written by the late headmaster Mr Peter Thomson.


At 6.30a.m., as the Bournemouth train set out for Waterloo, Serjeant Smith was on his rounds opening the School for the cleaners. At 7.18 a.m., as the Basingstoke train left for Waterloo, the Bursar was at his desk. At 8.03 a.m., as the Waterloo train set off for Haslemere, Mrs Bedding opened the Medical Room and the usual Monday morning meeting of Senior Staff continued in the Headmaster's Study. At 8.13 a.m. the Bournemouth express crashed into the Basingstoke carriages and the Waterloo train piled into the wreckage.

Mrs Reynolds, a school secretary, made the first 999 call while the Headmaster and Second

Master ran to organise assistance at the gate. Two other masters and six boys were already over the fence and down on the track. They helped the walking wounded out of the carriages and up the railway embankment. Other boys formed what passengers were to call 'a chain of comfort'. This chain escorted the injured across the bridge and up the drive to the main school buildings.

By the time the police arrived two medical rooms were in operation and the dining hall was full of the shocked and distressed. The police wanted to close the School but the Headmaster refused. A refusal based on the belief that Emanuel staff and pupils were best placed to guide the passengers to medical rooms, refreshments and telephones. In addition it was stressed that the Headmaster had to keep the School open to register his pupils.

Anxious parents were ringing throughout the morning to ask if their sons had arrived at school. There was registration by forms at 8.55, at 10.20 and again at 12.20. By 12.20 there were 750 boys in school and the secretaries were ringing round the homes of the 14 missing pupils. There was particular concern for those who used the Basingstoke trains but eventually all were traced-the last boy on Wednesday rather than Monday ("Down with 'flu and couldn't answer the 'phone").

Normal lessons were attempted from 9.00 a.m. to 12.20 p.m. but some staff and prefects

continued with the rescue operation. Our first aid specialists tended the wounded while the three school buses ran a shuttle service to St George's Hospital. The catering staff provided tea for the passengers and for the police, firemen, telephone engineers and railwaymen. The tea trolley was up and down the drive throughout the day and far into the night.

By 12.25 the last of the 120 walking wounded had departed to hospitals or had been collected by relatives and friends. At that stage the Headmaster sent the juniors to lunch and the seniors to a long overdue assembly. The dislocation of local transport posed additional problems for journeys home but by 1.45 p.m. all the seniors had gone and it was time for a junior assembly. With help from staff cars most of the juniors were on their way by 2.15 p. m. The choir remained on duty singing at the local hospital in the afternoon and at the School Chapel in the evening. With so many roads closed and the emergency crews still operating in the school drive, there were doubts about numbers for the Carol Service. Fear not, by 7.30 p.m. all seats were taken. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Chapel Services that night and throughout the final week of term.

The school catering staff were still on duty, serving tea and biscuits to the railway engineers, as we walked home from the Carol Service at 9.15 p.m.


Monday's rescue operation had been punctuated by cameramen scrambling over walls and up our trees to photograph wreckage. School staff and police could evict these trespassers but the reporters proved more tenacious. The police suggested a press conference at the School to ease the pressure at the gate. The reporters who attended were courteous and co-operative but their less reputable colleagues were already besieging the homes of staff and pupils. After a very long, hard, distressing day it was difficult to remain civil when the Night Editor of a national paper claimed that he had been directed to call at 10.35 p.m.

Few of us slept much that night so back to school early on Tuesday morning. Camera crews from all over the world were positioned on the railway bridge and zoom lenses made a mockery of attempts to return to normal access for staff and pupils. Police protection continued throughout Tuesday but that had gone by Wednesday when the Headmaster and the Bursar evicted salesmen who had set up souvenir stalls in the school grounds. IRA activity in Northcote Road took the English press to another part of Wandsworth but Italian journalists remained. They were determined to claim the Stoppani brothers despite documentary evidence that these boys were Battersea born and bred. Fortunately, Thursday brought some relief, with seven seniors on a sponsored train trek. The first boys back to school ran past a delegation from the Home Office. Lord Ferrers and his team applauded as the boys brought in their £1000 for the Spina Bifida Association.


Friday, 16th December meant form duties, house meetings and final assembly. By 12 noon our end of term rituals were accomplished and the boys took home their reports. Senior staff could then return to Monday's diary of loose ends and appointments postponed. If a week is a long time in politics that week is a very long time in the politics of Emanuel.


That week in December is still with us in January. The Senior Registrar of St George's Hospital had warned the Headmaster of the problems ahead. "The full force of the horror of such disasters hits home in fits and starts." She has treated the staff and boys most involved in the rescue operation. For some the trauma continues and sleep remains difficult. For others 12th December may end on 20th January in Winchester Cathedral. The Emanuel Choristers are rehearsing the 23rd Psalm for the memorial service. The Headmaster is answering the last of 196 letters from passengers, relatives and friends who suddenly became part of the School. "It is a relief to receive such physical and emotional support. Sharing with others who have had similar experiences feels good. Remember that the pain of the wound leads to healing. You may even come out wiser and stronger."

Such notes from the hospital make sense but so too must the trivial round, the common task: mock A-levels, GCSE projects, Guys and Dolls, Head of the River, the business of school and the discipline of Lent. These must become part of the healing process: LABORARE EST ORARE.

Mr Jones (Senior Librarian)