Collisions at Top Cross
Accidents are morbid happenings not often discussed in motor journals, and less-often photographed. I suppose the Police and the Insurance companies may take pictures of road accidents if a fatality has occurred or a big claim is pending. I recall that the Triplex Glass people used to run a series of advertisements round crashes in which vehicle occupants had escaped injury because Triplex Safety Glass was fitted. But on the whole, you might think, pictures of road accidents are to be deplored.
I was of this opinion until the other day, when someone gave me some snapshots of accidents which had happened in earlier times at the blind cross-roads in Ledbury, that charming Herefordshire country-town which abounds in old black-and-white timbered buildings. These snapshots had an unusual story behind them. A lady who ran a tea-shop a few doors down from the cross-roads, on the road to Ross-on-Wye, had made a habit of going out whenever she heard an accident at what is known locally as Top Cross and taking snapshots of what had happened. A slightly sordid matter, you might say, like picking at a scab — but to old-car enthusiasts, unquestionably fascinating.
Indeed, I have to confess that when I was a boy I used to go on otherwise dull afternoons in the school holidays to a somewhat similar blind cross-roads at Clapham Park in South London, with a friend (the younger son of J. B. (Jack) Hobbs, the great Test Cricket Captain) hoping to witness a motor accident. Only once, if memory serves, were we rewarded, after much anticipatory excitement — when an ABC two-seater hit a four-wheel-braked Morris-Oxford tourer, with no personal and not much mechanical damage, but some enthralling blowing of bulb-horns, squealing of brakes, bursting Siren, and subsequent profanity… It must have been something of this sort which enticed the tea-shop lady — a Mrs. Bruton — to rush from her shop, camera in hand, when she heard similar sounds in Ledbury. It could have become an obsession; did she, I find myself wondering, forgo holidays from fear of missing one more good prang?
That was the rather amusing story which I heard after examining the snaps I had been lent. These Ledbury cross-roads still call for caution, although these days guarded by “Stop” signs. They comprise the meeting of the roads from Ross-on-Wye to Great Malvern and Worcester, the A449) in one direction and that from Hereford to Gloucester (the A438/A417) in the other. The first of these roads narrows at the crossing and is hampered by fine old overhanging buildings. It is somewhat hazardous to large vehicles even today— I am told that some of these bump the overhang of a hairdresser’s, with the ladies therein remaining imperturbable under the driers! — and what it was like when there were no warnings and brakes were weaker can be imagined.
Becoming perhaps indecently intrigued, I learned that the photographs are on view in the little museum in Ledbury which you approach up the cobbled Church Lane (formerly Butcher’s Row), itself a two-storey building dating back to the 16th-century. Mrs. Merry, who looks after it, very kindly opened up the building, which is shut in the winter, and let we look at all the Ledbury Cross accident-pictures they possess. The oldest set of snaps shows an accident that involved a Bristol single-decker ‘bus (Reg. No. MT 4387) operating on the No. 53 route, Ledbury-Gloucester, and a one-tonner Model-T Ford (Reg. No. OB 3167) piled high with chattels. It looks as if the near-side of the ‘bus hit the off-side of the Ford and that not much damage was done, although the Ford’s radiator is awry, it appears to have lost a headlamp, and its chassis may have been twisted.
What is rather interesting, is that this Model-T had a non-standard cast radiator, with ribs along the top, and is quite an early model, with electric headlamps but oil side-lamps. It may have come from Birmingham. The Bristol ‘bus seems to have been an import from Middlesex, no doubt bought second-hand by a local ‘bus-operator. One wonders whether it had just brought a load of passengers home, or whether its “fares” were delayed on their journey to Gloucester and villages en route I would think the accident happened in the mid-1930s, although a horse-and-cart can be seen in the middle of the road in one snap and there is a wicker basket on the front of the bicycle of a spectating errand-boy.
Another accident which happened one early morning in June 1933 involved one of those rare Rover Meteor Speed-Model sports-saloons, which caught an early-type Chevrolet truck that emerged at right angles to it, a blow at the rear, causing the car to end up on the pavement against a lamp-post and the Chevrolet to fall over onto its off-side, the driver presumably emerging through the open near-side door. The Rover was the type with knock-off hub caps and the Chevrolet (Reg. No. OG 6405) belonged to S. Bates, Joiners, as its smart lettering on the front of the cab proclaimed. Its windscreen is intact (Triplex?) but the Royce is seen to have a broken rear n/s window — I wouldn’t think anyone was hurt. The Chevvy truck, like the Ford, may have come from Birmingham…
The other pictures tell less explicit tales. One shows what is, I think, an Austin Devon saloon with very slight frontal damage, another what looks like a late-type Hillman Minx saloon that had had an altercation with an Austin Ruby, while another very smart Austin Ruby is waiting to pass. There is a Ford 100E Anglia that had run into a shop-front after another incident. An earlier Ford Eight seems to have been attacked by a Commer(?) truck and a platform lorry carrying oil drums and with the large letters “AM” on its radiator, which suggests a war-time Air Ministry vehicle, had likewise run onto the pavement, a steam-wagon waiting patiently to get by, with two policemen in attendance. The only crash apparently requiring an ambulance seems to be one involving a very long articulated platform lorry that had completely blocked the crossing, possibly after trying to avoid a pedal-cyclist. Such pictures now have a distinctly “period” fascination and it would be amusing to know whether anyone else kept a similar recited of unfortunate happenings at their own pet hazard spot? — W.B.