I AM grateful to Tim Edmonds for the following article. Tim is a former resident of High Wycombe, an honorary member of the Marlow & District Railway Society, and researches railway history.

In St Lawrence’s churchyard on the hilltop at West Wycombe is a gravestone commemorating Edward Algernon Stone, born February 16 1906, who was “accidentally killed December 5 1929 in the performance of his duties as a postman at Bradenham Railway Crossing”. His mother, Elizabeth, had died two years before and Edward was buried in the same plot – he was the youngest of six children. The fatal accident took place on a public foot crossing and led to attempts to divert the public path to prevent a recurrence. However, this did not happen for over 70 years.

Edward Stone was a postman on the West Wycombe-Bradenham round, which included making deliveries to various outlying farms and hamlets. It was very stormy at 7:30am on Thursday December 5 1929 when he left his home in West Wycombe to cycle to Bradenham. At 8:45am he set off on foot from the village Post Office to deliver post to Noble’s Farm, which meant crossing the A4010 near the Red Lion and taking a path over the railway crossing. The railway had originally been opened in 1862 as a single-track line from Wycombe to Princes Risborough and Thame. It was rebuilt 40 years later as a double-track main line and became part of the new Great Western & Great Central Joint Railway in 1906. This meant more, and faster, trains on the line.

At about 9:00am Edward delivered letters to Herbert Kingham at Noble’s Farm and then set off back to the main road to continue his round. Meanwhile the 8:57am GWR local train to Aylesbury had left High Wycombe. It was a motor train, also known as an auto train. The locomotive was pushing two coaches, with the Herbert Buckingham of Aylesbury driving from a special compartment at the front. With him was James Reed, a permanent way inspector from Princes Risborough. The fireman, on the locomotive at the back, was Harry Carter of Aylesbury.

The train left West Wycombe station at 9:05am in heavy rain and a gale force wind and climbed towards its next stop at Saunderton. As it approached Bradenham Crossing at about 40mph both Buckingham and Reed saw Edward Stone come up to the lineside from the left and the driver immediately sounded the warning gong on the coach and braked. However, the postman continued to cross the line and was struck by the train, dying instantly. Buckingham brought the train to a stop and then reversed to the crossing. The body was moved to the side of the railway tracks and Carter walked to the Red Lion to summon help. PC Adams of West Wycombe arrived to take charge and Dr Love of Princes Risborough confirmed death by fractured skull. Meanwhile the unfortunate driver and fireman then had to take their train on to Aylesbury.

The next day The Bucks Free Press reported that the postman failed to see the train because of the extreme weather and that the Coroner for South Bucks, Mr A E Charsley, had arranged the inquest for the afternoon of Saturday 7th December at the Red Lion. The following week the BFP reported on the proceedings, which were before a jury of seven local men. Others present included representatives from the railway, Post Office, trade unions and the Police.

The jury considered the weather, the duties and health of the deceased, the actions of the railwaymen and the safety of the level crossing. James Reed pointed out that there had not been an accident at the crossing before and that there was good visibility in both directions, which was confirmed by PC Adams. However, Farmer Kingham, a regular user of the crossing, described it as “a very dangerous place and I am always glad when I have passed over it, especially at night time”. It emerged that Edward Stone was wearing his cycling cape over his overcoat and that this had obscured his view as he crossed the railway, but it was not clear if he had put it over his head to shield himself from the storm or if it had simply been blown up by the wind. The weather was the critical aspect and the jury concluded that the death was accidental and that no blame was attached to anyone.

While the jury were absent considering their verdict, it emerged that close to the site of the accident there was a safe alternative way of crossing the line. This was a low underbridge just to the south of the level crossing, which gave access to fields west of the railway. The matter was raised by Vice-Admiral Mortimer L’Estrange Silver, a retired naval officer living at The White House, Bradenham, who said that the path under the bridge was private, but that the owner “would raise no objection” to people using it. Mr A Standing, representing the railway, asked Silver for an undertaking that if the railway crossing were closed, the public could use the underbridge instead. Silver could not give this assurance. It appeared that the owner would allow public use of the bridge as an alternative but wanted the official public path to remain over the level crossing. In 1930 the railway authorised an application for the diversion of the public footpath through the bridge, but the owner’s wishes prevailed – the diversion did not happen.

So who was the owner? The land either side of the railway formed part of the Bradenham Estate, owned from 1902 until his death in 1915 by John Hicks Graves, whose wife Henrietta was daughter of Sir Robert Tempest Tempest, 3rd Baronet Ricketts. On John’s death the Bradenham Estate went to Beatrice Graves, his only surviving sibling, who was unmarried and lived in Hereford. His wife Henrietta, already a very wealthy woman in her own right, inherited his personal effects and continued to live at the Manor House.

Beatrice made a will in June 1929 which records that she would have left the Bradenham Estate to Henrietta, her sister-in-law, but that she had already passed her interest over to her. So, at the time of the accident, it was Henrietta who owned the path under the railway bridge and who would not countenance change. The family’s influence in Bradenham was completed by Vice-Admiral Silver, who was cousin to John and Beatrice and, as a Justice of the Peace, would have had to approve any change to public rights of way.

Despite the fatality in 1929, public use of Bradenham Crossing continued until 2003 when it was closed and the footpath diverted. This was part of the programme of line upgrades made as Chiltern Railways reintroduced main line services to Birmingham. Several other foot-crossings were closed as part of these improvements, usually involving diversions or footbridges, but at Bradenham there was a ready-made alternative in the underbridge, which at last became a public right-of way. Fortunately the delay of over seventy years was not marred by another serious accident.