A RAILWAY TRAGEDY

GB
1904
5mins
Dir: Unknown
Starring: Actors unknown

A woman is attacked on a train journey

The most noticeable thing about this short silent crime is the way that it resourcefully builds up the suspense and the anticipation of danger in the earlier sequences. The technical side in itself is pretty straightforward, but the scenario is well-conceived, and for the most part the performers carry it off pretty well. The basic story, with a woman in danger from a strange man on a train, is quite similar to the stories in many other features in the first decade of the 20th century, when travelling by train alone really could be dangerous. This silent is better than most though, due in part to the way that the movie patiently sets things up in a way that creates suspense, rather than jumping right into tumultuous action. The early scenes show the woman going about her own affairs, unaware that the man is watching her all the while. The camera shots are composed carefully enough so that you can pick up what is happening if you watch closely, and it allows the audience to sense the danger before the character does, a technique that is now thoroughly familiar in crime and horror movies, but it shows some resourcefulness for a film-maker to have done this deliberately and carefully in 1904. Most of the rest is straightforward, a couple of times there is a slight shifting of the camera to take in more of the action, but otherwise there are few surprises in the events or in the technique. The story of A Railway Tragedy runs thus; A woman arriving at a train station is unaware that a nearby stranger is closely eyeing her and her purse as she leaves her horse-drawn carriage. This was filmed at North Dulwich, the nearest station to the Gaumont Company. As she waits for her train, the same stranger lurks nearby on the platform so that he can make sure to sit in the same compartment with her. The train arrives behind unidentified tank loco No.558 (possibly an 0-4-2T?) with a ‘CATFORD’ destination board on its bunker, but in this instance it is unlikely to be North Dulwich. When the train gets underway the stranger reveals his ill intentions. The carriage in which the attack takes place is a mock up, actually filmed at the little Gaumont open-air stage at the Fellows Cricket Ground in Dulwich. He robs her and throws her body out of the door, giving a glimpse of the trees and grass outside! Although these early films were rudimentary, they give some rare and genuine shots of the railway scene at the start of the 20th century and this film is no exception. In the very dramatic scene where the woman’s body is removed from the tracks, LB&SCR D1 Class 0-4-2T No.291 Deepdene speeds past with a rake of four-wheelers and in the final scene, the villain’s arrest is at North Dulwich and a train arrives behind an LBSCR ‘E-series’ 0-6-2T. All this footage appears on Video 125’s Trains from the Arc’ DVD.

Much of this short drama is now of poor quality but the locomotive bringing in the train is relatively clear. It is a tank loco of some description (possibly an 0-4-2 tank) and it appears to be numbered 558. It is working a service to CATFORD which suggests that this may not be North Dulwich, where the later scenes were filmed. This is because, according to my understanding of railway maps, North Dulwich (LBSCR) and Catford (LCDR) were on different lines and could not be accessed from one another.
Here is a better glimpse of the loco, which I believe to be London, Chatham and Dover Railway in origin. It is definitely a tank engine but if anyone can positively identify the loco it would be a start at narrowing down the route. Did the ‘white diamond’ also act as a route designation / headcode indication?
Passengers board the rather primitive 3rd Class rolling stock. The platform here looks to be made of wooden planking and there may be elements of an overall glass roof, or strengthening girders at least, details that could lead to a possible identity.
The badly injured woman is rescued from the tracks just before a train passes
The identity here is clear enough even if the train is largely a blur. The name on the tank side reads Deepdene telling us that this is LB&SCR D1 Class 0-4-2T No.291.
Passengers wait for a train at what is definitely North Dulwich
And it arrives behind an LBSCR ‘E-series’ 0-6-2T