Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Murder by Poison on the Canterbury to Whitstable Railway

Historic Railway Station, Copyright Janet Cameron

The Canterbury to Whitstable Railway first opened in 1834, allowing Canterbury people to enjoy a cheap day out with the family at the seaside. Whitstable, a quaint fishing village on the Kent coast, was, and still is, famous for its variety of sea-fish and shellfish, and so the railway line became known as The Crab and Winkle line. Originally, goods were transported along the River Stour to Pegwell Bay, near Ramsgate, involving a seventy-mile meandering journey. The delightful coastal town of Whitstable was a mere seven miles north of Canterbury.
The building of the railway line was immensely popular with the hard-working people of Canterbury.
Workmen on the Line are Poisoned
The tragedy occurred in 1909 at Tyler Hill when a group of men working on the Whitstable Railway Line were poisoned. The men were waiting for the key at the level crossing, but one man, Setterfield, discovered a beer bottle. All the men drank some of the beer from the bottle, but all remarked it tasted rather bitter.
When they returned to work, a man called Jordan complained that he was feeling ill. The other workmen were alarmed when Jordan suddenly collapsed, and then, in about twenty minutes, he was dead. Jordan left a widow, Beatrice, and four children. The other men felt ill but eventually, they recovered.
Death by Strychnine
It was presumed that the bottle had been deliberately left close to the level crossing, with the intention of poisoning the gateman, Noble. By the date of the resumption of the inquest, Monday 12 June, no further progress had been made in identifying the murderer, in spite of checks on chemists supplying strychnine. This deadly poison was often mixed with beer to fool animals that were to be poisoned and so it was easily available.
The identity of the culprit was never discovered, and an open verdict on this terrible act was recorded.
The World's First Locomotive Passenger Railway
Today, the Canterbury to Whitstable Railway has disappeared, having been closed down after the Second World War. The footpath that replaces it still shows traces of the past. You can take this path for an easy walk through the idyllic countryside surrounding the city of Canterbury. It's just a few miles to the equally idyllic seaside resort of Whitstable and a delightful fish and chip dinner. An ideal opportunity to enjoy a healthy day out at the seaside, just as Canterbury people have always done.
Canterbury Library Local Studies Collection, Canterbury.
Canterbury Streets, Janet Cameron, Tempus Publishing, 2004.

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