William Aldcroft was the driver of a horse-drawn tramcar which ran out of control down Liverpool Road, Manchester and crashed into a brick wall on Water Street. He died of his injuries seven hours later.
The accident occurred at 5 pm on Thursday 7th November 1889. The Weaste-bound tram, belonging to the Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company, had turned right from Deansgate into Liverpool Road. As it was descending the incline, William applied the brakes, there was a snap and the tram gathered speed along Liverpool Road. The Guard, William Graham, observing the speed of the tram and noticing Aldcroft furiously tapping on the glass that separates the driver from the passengers, made a dart for the rear platform and attempted to apply the rear, emergency brake. Nothing happened and the tramcar overmastered the two horses, left the rails where it turned into Water Street and crashed into the brick ramparts of the Liverpool and Manchester railway bridge. Glass flew in all directions and some of the passengers were badly shaken.
The horse-drawing pole had snapped in two, the horse on the off side was killed on the spot and the nearside horse was badly injured. Then it was noticed that the driver, 25-year-old William Aldcroft, of Leopold Street, Weaste, was trapped between the dead horse and the front of the tram car. On being extricated, Aldcroft complained of a severe back pain. He was immediately placed in a handsome cab and taken to Manchester Royal Infirmary, where a surgical operation was performed. However, at 10 minutes past midnight William died.
An Inquest was held on Monday 11th November conducted by the Deputy Coroner for Manchester, Mr Smelt. He held up the tram's brake chain and declared that it was plain to see why the brakes failed to work. A link in the chain, where it connected to a shackle, was "entirely worn away to a thin shred. A Mechanic has neglected his duty, as it should have easily been seen".
The first witness was Charlotte Burrough of 1, Leopold Street, Weaste. She said that the deceased had lived with her as an adopted son for nearly nine years. He died just after midnight on Friday 8th November at MRI.
The second witness was the Guard, Mr. William Graham of 12, Cemetery Road, Weaste. He said that the tramcar had 17 passengers inside and 3 or 4 up on top. As the car descended Liverpool Road, he heard a rat-tat on the driver's cab window and knew something was wrong. He went to the rear platform to put on the back brake, but it had no effect. He saw the evidence of the broken chain and said that it was the duty of a Mechanic named Howard to check the chains. He had since found out that the back brake should have been attached to chains, but he'd never had instruction how to do this.
John Dunnicliffe of 6, Taylor Street Weaste was the company Foreman and said that it was William Howard's duty to carry out inspections. He also said that all Guards had been shown how to connect rear brakes.
William Howard of 49 Peel Street, Pendleton, said that he was a wheelwright by trade. He said that he worked at the main depot, but went to the Weaste depot twice per week and was supposed to keep the tram cars in perfect working order. He looked after 60 cars per week including the 26 at Weaste. Since 23 Weaste cars had to be out before 8.30 am it was an impossible task. It was all he could do just to oil them. He admitted that he hadn't seen the badly worn brake on the car in question. With regard to the training of Guards to use the emergency brakes, Howard said that when the new brakes were fitted 9 or 10 years ago, all Guards were told how to connect the brakes. The order to connect the brakes was ignored by the Guards, although there were no printed instructions ever issued.
Mr John Eades of 285, Broad Street, Pendleton, said that he was Manager of the works at Pendleton and patentee of this particular pattern of tram car. He said that after the accident, the rear break was tested and was in perfect working order. He suggested in the confusion, the Guard had put the chain on the wrong side of the pulley. He also added that the Guards had been cautioned many times.
Mr Milner, House Surgeon at Manchester Royal Infirmary said that the deceased was admitted on the evening of 7th November suffering injury to his back and there were symptoms of kidney damage. He died from shock shortly after midnight. A post mortem examination revealed haemorrhage due to a ruptured kidney.
The Deputy Coroner summed up and asked the jury whether there was any criminal neglect by Howard, Graham or both. After consideration the jury Foreman stated that Mr Howard and Mr Graham were "not guilty". The Deputy Coroner said that it was not what was asked of them as Mr Howard and Mr Graham were not on trial. After further consideration the Foreman said that the cause of death of William Aldcroft was Accidental. He added that Mr Howard, the Depot Mechanic and Mr Graham, the Guard, should be censured, but not sent for trial. The Deputy Coroner called both William Howard and Charles Graham and informed them that both of them were open for blame for the accident. He also told the company's Solicitor that the company should ensure better control over its servants and strictly enforce rules in future.
The funeral of William Aldcroft was held on Tuesday 12th November at Weaste Cemetery. The procession from his home, No.1, Leopold Street, Derby Road, was headed by Bridgewater House Brass Band playing the "Dead March in Saul" followed by a large body of Drivers, Guards and staff of the company. The coffin came next on the shoulders of comrades, and relatives and personal friends brought up the rear. One thousand of the general public accompanied the mournful cortege and gathered around the grave. The service in the Anglican chapel and at the grave side in A11 plot was conducted by Rev William Sykes of St Clement's Church, Lower Broughton. The grave was purchased by the recently formed Drivers and Guards Association and the tramway company paid for the whole funeral.
Post Script. The Salford Reporter of 3 May 1890 records, " The Aldcroft Memorial. The handsome obelisk monument in memory of William Aldcroft, the Weaste tramcar driver who was killed whilst in the execution of his duty in Water Street, Manchester, has now been placed in position over his grave in the Salford Borough Cemetery, by Mr A Allott, monumental mason, Cemetery Road. It occupies a commanding position near to the Church of England chapel and is quite a prominent object in the cemetery. Already it has been viewed and greatly admired by a large number of visitors."