1883; Weymouth and the Great Western railway. A signal-mans tale.

The railway finally rolled into the seaside resort of Weymouth in the year 1857.


Anyone who’s travelled the Weymouth line knows of the long Bincombe cutting and tunnel that burrows under the Bincombe chalk downs.

As a child it was always with a sense of excitement that we would approach this tunnel…as the line began to dip down into the deep cutting, so you knew you were nearer to the moment when daylight would be suddenly snuffed out, ears popped, nothing but blackness and the reflections in the windows of your fellow travellers, you would watch with baited breath for the light to start to creep back when you were coming near the end. (We had very simple pleasures in those days !)

For one young man in the Victorian period the Bincombe tunnel had another sinister meaning altogether.

Sidney Watts was a 24-year old man who’d been born in Frome, Somerset. At a fairly young age he saw an exciting future in working for the developing railways and began working for the Great Western Company.

At first he moved to Yeovil where he worked the station there as a porter.

train 2

Sidney soon earned promotion within the company. From the start of May 1883 he was now in the responsible job as a signal box man, in charge of the tall, bulky levers that would operate the signals and lines that ran in and out of Weymouth.

On Wednesday the 8th August, Sidney walked from his home in the village of Upwey to work. He was due to start a 12 hour overnight shift in the box. All was quiet that night, and at 7 o’clock the following morning his fellow workmate, Francis Chalker climbed up into the box and greeted Sidney. The men exchanged a few pleasantries, then leaving Francis in charge, Sidney climbed wearily down the wooden steps and started to make his way along the trackside towards the tunnel, he was looking forwards to getting home, having something to eat…and bed!

As he was nearing the tunnel the 7.20 train from Weymouth passed the tired man as he trudged his way home.

That was the last Francis ever saw of Sidney!

The next morning, James Guppy was on his way to work as a packers man on the Weymouth line. As was his usual routine he made his way through the Bincombe tunnel to join his gang of workmen. Part the way through the darkness, just as the pitch black was receding near the end, he came across some items laying on the trackways. As he neared them he realised that it was  basket, a little further on lay an overcoat, then a pair of slippers. Fearing the worst, James looked up, and in the distance, towards the light, he could make out the shape of a body lying besides the track.

Running back towards the signal box, he told Francis of the gruesome remains he’d discovered in the tunnel, a telegraph was sent at once to the station master in Upwey, and the police were called for.

When they finally retrieved the mutilated body, it was discovered to be that of the young signal box man, Sidney Watts.

As he had been making his way home through the tunnel early that morning, the 7.37 Great Western goods train had also been passing through, and for whatever reason, Sidney had not been paying attention as closely as he should to his safety while besides the line. The train hit him hard, and as the reporter stated his body was ‘terribly mangled.’

The following week an inquest was held at the Royal Standard Inn on the Dorchester to Weymouth road, where coroner, Mr G Symonds, after hearing from the witnesses  declared that it was a clear case of ‘accidental death.’

Sidney’s remains were buried in Upwey churchyard on the 11th August 1883.

Upwey church old print

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