Rutland railway tragedy centenary marked by special memorial service: Network Rail, Portsmouth University, and family members at Manton Junction. Network Rail

Friday 24 May 2024

Rutland railway tragedy centenary marked by special memorial service

Region & Route:
| Eastern: East Midlands

The centenary of the Manton railway tragedy has been marked with a special event on Thursday 23 May held by Network Rail and the University of Portsmouth.

On 24 May 1924, a railway worker Richard Shillaker was filling lamps with oil near the Manton tunnel southern entrance, in Rutland, when there was an explosion. The alarm was raised, and four track workers went to help.

Colleagues working nearby rushed to help, but as they did so a second, bigger, explosion followed, killing John Cockerill and William Hibbert, and injuring the other three men, George Buckby, Richard Shillaker and Thomas Shillcock.

Descendants of the men involved in the accident have attended a special commemorative event, which took place near the site of the accident.

Dr Mike Esbester, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Portsmouth, has been investigating the tragic accident as part of the 'Railway Work, Life & Death' project; a collaboration between the University of Portsmouth, the National Railway Museum and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. The project researches accidents involving British and Irish railway staff that occurred before 1939.

Dr Esbester has accounts of the accident from the press at the time, including this from the Daily Mail which explains: “A barrel was hurled from the hut, and from it issued a long and vivid flame, which shot over the men and set their clothes on fire'; 'Hibbert dashed from the building enveloped in flames, and Mr Slater, the stationmaster, pluckily ran to his aid and threw his mackintosh around him. Mr Slater himself narrowly escaped being burnt to death.'”

Dr Esbester said: “Remembering is important and helps us to understand the human impacts events like these have on ordinary people’s lives. It enables us to see these people not as a statistic but as individuals. Uncovering the untold stories of these everyday workers helps us relate to our ancestors.

“Today, working on the railways is much safer but there continues to be accidents and improvements are always looked for. Accidents are not something that’s gone away, despite the progress made by the industry over the last 100 years.”

Joe Rowberry, head of safety, health and environment for Network Rail’s East Midlands route, said: “This was a tragic example of the dangers of the railway in 1920s England and the risks that were a part of everyday life for the people working on it.

“Nowadays, the safety of colleagues and passengers is Network Rail’s top priority and the railway is a much safer place than in the past. Marking this centenary is an opportunity to remember the incidents of the past while continuing to strive for further safety improvements in the future.”

Dr Esbester added: “A highlight of the research was meeting Dorothy Buckby, the daughter of George Buckby. Just four at the time of the accident, she remembers seeing her father come home and his subsequent medical care from the local doctor. For me, it’s great that we are able to tell her father’s story and remember him and the other men thanks to the project’s research.

“It’s been brilliant working with Network Rail, they have been great and made all of this possible.”

Notes to Editors

Images show:

Network Rail, University of Portsmouth, and family members joined together at Manton Junction yesterday.

Dorothy between her parents, Alice & George, taken in the later 1930s. Credit 'Courtesy Dorothy Buckby, via Railway Work, Life & Death project'.

A photograph of the tunnel taken at a similar time to the incident. Credit: National Railway Museum / Science Museum Group

About the University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth is a progressive and dynamic university with an outstanding reputation for innovative teaching, outstanding learning outcomes and globally significant research and innovation.

Our 28,000-student population includes over 5,000 international and EU students from more than 150 countries. Our city centre campus is at the heart of a lively city by the sea, on England’s south coast.

We were awarded the highest overall rating of Gold in the most recent Teaching Excellence Framework, one of only 27 Gold rated universities in England and one of five Gold rated universities in the South East. We’re proud to be one of the UK’s top 50 universities (with a 5-star rating) in the QS World University Rankings and one of the top 10 Young Universities in the UK based on Times Higher Education Young University rankings.

Our research and innovation impacts lives today and in the future. Researchers work closely with business, industry and the public sector to solve local, national and global challenges across science, technology, humanities, business and creative industries.

Our world-class research is validated by our impressive Research Excellence Framework (REF) outcomes where Portsmouth was ranked third of all modern UK universities for research power in the Times Higher Education REF rankings.

Contact information

Passengers / community members
Network Rail national helpline
03457 11 41 41

Latest travel advice
Please visit National Rail Enquiries

Joshua Chapman
Media Relations Manager
Network Rail

About Network Rail

We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

Usually, there are almost five million journeys made in the UK and over 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain's railway for their daily commute, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safe every day. Our role is to deliver a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the nation's railway network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand the railway has experienced - a doubling of passenger journeys over the past 20 years.

Follow us on Twitter: @networkrail
Visit our online newsroom: