Bodies On Trains

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neilmc

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In a local discussion group, someone reminisced of their grandmother dying in Tebay and her body being put on the train to Shap in order for the funeral and burial to take place (this was in 1947). This sounds extraordinary but I suppose in those days the railways were designated a common carrier and had to take all sorts. How did this work out - did they have to be in a casket already? Was the charge by weight or could they be carried as a person on a ticket as though they were still alive? Did the dead person have to go in a guards' van, covered wagon or what?

I recall a few years ago someone tried to take a body on an EasyJet flight from Manchester to Poland and tried to pass the corpse off as just being a bit under the weather and needing helping, because a living person could be carried much cheaper than cargo! Did this ever happen on trains?
 
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Gloster

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A few vague recollections of what I have read; none of this is guaranteed to reflect practices throughout the country or even to be completely correct. I think that the body had to be in a coffin, probably of an approved type, and there was a standard charge per coffin, although I don’t know whether this was a fixed fee or related to mileage. Arrangements had to be made in advance: you couldn’t just turn up with a coffin and try to put it on the next train. They would normally have gone in the guards van and had to be accompanied: it may be that the accompanier had to remain in the van. Loading and unloading was the responsibility of the relative or undertaker.

I am sure I have read of people trying to get bodies on trains as normal passengers, although probably not for many years. People will try anything to save a few bob and are stupid enough to think that they will get away with it.

I think that the last coffin to be carried was that of former NUR General Secretary Jimmy Knapp, who died in 2001. This was many years after regular carriage of coffins had ceased.
 

Andy R. A.

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Seem to remember that as late as the 1970s coffins were still being conveyed, but only by prior arrangement. If I remember correctly the arrangements were usually wired out via the Railway Teleprinter network under the old Telegraphic Code 'Vanco' (Van Corpse).
 

Ashley Hill

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I remember a receiving a memo in Red Star in the late 80s saying funeral traffic had deseased. Clearly some high-ups coffin humour!
 

Dr Hoo

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Standard item 'back in the day'.

GWR Timetable 1902

"Corpses" section: Adult, without hearse (i.e. just coffin) 1 shilling (5p) per mile, minimum 10 shillings. Child's corpse (under 12 years) half price.
 

Merle Haggard

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Seem to remember that as late as the 1970s coffins were still being conveyed, but only by prior arrangement. If I remember correctly the arrangements were usually wired out via the Railway Teleprinter network under the old Telegraphic Code 'Vanco' (Van Corpse).

When a funeral cortege was to be conveyed, the telegraphic code (preceding details of the train service) was FUNCO ;)
 

Taunton

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Hamilton Ellis wrote, as an aside in his description of the last days of the Lynton & Barnstaple line, 1935, that when he travelled down from Paddington to Taunton there was a coffin in a van and an accompanying funeral party - who also loaded up substantial picnic hampers for the trip. On arrival at Taunton it was apparent from the jolly demeanour that these latter had been enjoyed by all.
 

SteveM70

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Hamilton Ellis wrote, as an aside in his description of the last days of the Lynton & Barnstaple line, 1935, that when he travelled down from Paddington to Taunton there was a coffin in a van and an accompanying funeral party - who also loaded up substantial picnic hampers for the trip. On arrival at Taunton it was apparent from the jolly demeanour that these latter had been enjoyed by all.

Possibly not quite all :lol:
 
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Jimmy Knapp (NUR / RMT Gen Sec) was conveyed on his last journey to his funeral in Scotland, courtesy Virgin Trains in 2001.
 

EbbwJunction1

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There was, of course, the London Necropolis Railway from Waterloo to Brookwood Cemetery.
 

PeterC

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Maybe straying slightly from the topic in the strictest sense but the Arnold Bennett short story "In a New Bottle" comes to mind.
 

Ianigsy

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Standard item 'back in the day'.

GWR Timetable 1902

"Corpses" section: Adult, without hearse (i.e. just coffin) 1 shilling (5p) per mile, minimum 10 shillings. Child's corpse (under 12 years) half price.
Not much demand for returns, one imagines.....

The climax of Thomas Hardy's 1873 novel 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' has the heroine's first love unwittingly returning to their native village on the same train as her coffin. Many of the pre-Grouping companies seem to have had a corpse van and they do crop up as offbeat modelling projects. The main demand was presumably taking the great and the good from London to be buried on their country estates.
 

6Gman

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Another late example would be David Lindesay-Bethune in 1989 (Crewe to Scotland in a BG). He was Chairman of the SVR and the first owner (in preservation) of The Great Marquess. He was also Hon Colonel of The Fife & Forfar Yeomanry (as in the Deltic). By that date it was a very, very special arrangement.
 

172007

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I know of a fatality where the body was conveyed by the train that struck the person to the nearest station as it was safer and easier to do it that way.
 

essexjohn

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The British Transport Commission's film "Terminus" (1961) shows a coffin unloaded from a passenger train at Waterloo. See here (Waterloo proper, not Necropolis)
 

D1537

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I once slept next to a coffin in the brake section of a BSK on a packed Euston-Stranraer sleeper, from Carlisle to Stranraer. The guard assured me that it was empty and merely being delivered to Ayr from a specialist coffin maker but it made quite a few people walking through the brake do a double-take, especially when I and the friend I was with got bored and started asking them to "shush - show some respect please" ...
 

Bungle158

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The Mumbai suburban system trains carry a stretcher for use when a person is struck by, or falls out of a train. Corpse is covered with a sheet, stretcher placed on floor in First transported to the next station with easy road access, where an ambulance takes over. Almost daily occurrence.
 

SargeNpton

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I once slept next to a coffin in the brake section of a BSK on a packed Euston-Stranraer sleeper, from Carlisle to Stranraer. The guard assured me that it was empty and merely being delivered to Ayr from a specialist coffin maker but it made quite a few people walking through the brake do a double-take, especially when I and the friend I was with got bored and started asking them to "shush - show some respect please" ...
In a similar vein, I was working a Saturday morning shift in Northampton parcels office in the late 70s. Checked in the Red Stars that had arrived overnight, which included an empty coffin wrapped in sacking. The undertakers turned up mid-morning to collect it in a hearse and in full mourning gear.

I opened the door to the car park to let them out and several people in the adjacent taxi queue bowed their heads.
 

Pinza-C55

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I was working as a guard at Kings Cross in 1986 and I remember hearing that a coffin had been sent to Huntingdon but nobody turned up to collect it. At this distance in time I don't remember whether it was occupied.
 

65477

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Although the body was alive in this case. On some BR standard compartment stock a compartment facing the corridor external door had a window where the large lower half was hinged. I was told this was for stretched cases. Was this correct and if so was it ever used for that purpose?
 

Clarence Yard

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this picture (not mine) came up on Flickr a while ago, consensus was it was intended for moving a coffin from road vehicle to train (or vice versa) at Paddington

That’s correct - we had one at KX, a little smaller than that one. It used to be kept on Platform 1, discreetly hidden near the stairs half way down, around the side of the boiler house, towards the old “cab road”.

At KX you couldn’t take a road vehicle onto the platforms so you either had to put a coffin on an open ended barrow or use the coffin wagon. I was told that it was also previously used to take an ambulance stretcher (on which people who had died on trains were put), to avoid onlookers as they were being taken away.

By the time I started at the Cross (mid to late 1970’s), the ambulance crews used to just stretcher them off the platforms directly to a waiting ambulance, either waiting at the bottom end of the cab road by platform 1 or by the gap between the Travel Centre and West Side Offices off platform 8.

Unfortunately, I have been involved (as a C&W task) in getting people out of toilets who had died whilst being in there. At one time, the SAGA trains got a bit of a reputation for needing that kind of attention on arrival at KX. Sometimes we knew in advance, sometimes we didn’t.
 

MotCO

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If I recall correctly, Winston Churchill's coffin was transported by rail from Waterloo to the nearest point to Bladon, Oxford, his final resting place. He had travelled from St Pauls to Waterloo by river.
 

EbbwJunction1

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Yes, that's right; hauled by 34051 Winston Churchill. The loco and the van that held the coffin are now in Locomotion at Shildon.
 

Gloster

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Although the body was alive in this case. On some BR standard compartment stock a compartment facing the corridor external door had a window where the large lower half was hinged. I was told this was for stretched cases. Was this correct and if so was it ever used for that purpose?
There are a few mentions of ‘Invalid’ windows in Keith Parkin’s HMRS history of Mark 1 coaches.They were apparently fitted to the centre windows of CKs and were used, although not very often as problems with corrosion around the frame soon appeared and an instruction came out that they were to be opened once a month. You could recognise the ‘Invalid’ compartments as, because of the second frame fitted for the top-hinged opening window, the frame was thicker and the glass area smaller.
 
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