ghost children

The Mystery of the Charfield Railway Children

“It’s like watching a train wreck” is a common expression used to refer to the way people can’t take their eyes off a horrible moment, can’t keep themselves from watching tragedy unfold. The details behind such situations hold a source of morbid fascination for many, despite the nightmares they create for those involved.

The Charfield Railway Disaster was a train crash that occurred on October 13th, 1928, in Charfield, Gloucestershire, in the UK. Three trains were involved in this crash: Two goods carrying trains, one of which was empty at the time, and a third train that was carrying both passengers and mail.

Photo courtesy of Ben Brooksbank via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Ben Brooksbank via Wikimedia Commons

Aboard the passenger train was conductor Henry Adlington, and fireman Frank Want. These men were the main parties investigated as potentially being responsible for the accident.

Just before the accident, Adlington’s train was on its way into the station, and the empty goods train was on its way out. The second goods train had stopped on the tracks, and was in the midst of being shunted onto the siding.

Henry Button, the signalman at the station, had put up the red signal that indicated for the passenger train to come to a halt in order to allow for the station employees to finish shunting the goods train from the tracks. However, due to foggy weather that morning, Adlington and Want misinterpreted the signal, and instead saw it as green. They continued through the tunnel in the station, slammed into the parked goods train, knocking that train off the track, and taking the second, empty goods train, with them as it attempted to pass through the tunnel in the other direction.

Due to the speed and force of the derailment, part of Adlington’s train broke free and was flung completely clear of the tracks, while the other part—including some of the passenger sections—telescoped, and got wedged up against the bridge.

Button was quick to call for help, only seconds after witnessing the crash, but because the crash was so violent even with his quick action, several victims didn’t make it. The victim count is a subject of debate: witness accounts say that 15 were killed and 23 were injured, but the official report states that 16 were killed, and 41 were injured.

Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt via Unsplash

None of these details are terribly significant to the part of the story I wish to focus on today, however. What is important to note, is that due to the damage caused by the train crash and the ensuing fire, the victims that died were so unrecognizable to family members, that they could only be identified by their belongings. This being said, two victims—children—remain, to this day, unidentified.

Despite the fact that nobody ever came forward to claim the children, family members of the other victims had pooled funds and efforts, and erected a mass grave. They agreed to include the unidentified children.

The speculation surrounding these children is where this story veers towards the paranormal. There were many theories drummed up for the children at first, such as the thought that they may not be humans at all, but ventriloquist dummies, or that they were in fact small riding jockeys. Ultimately, though, it was concluded that they were children: likely a boy and a girl.

Despite them never being claimed, however, their graves were visited.

Photo courtesy of Lario Tus via Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of Lario Tus via Shutterstock

Over the years, many reports were made of a woman dressed all in black, arriving at and leaving the grave site of the unknown children. She left them flowers at every visit, and visited fairly regularly. But then, she stopped coming, and no one has reported seeing her in decades. It’s believed that she’s dead now, as witnesses described her as an elderly woman at the time. No one ever knew who she was, though, or why she visited the children. Some speculated that she knew more about the accident than anyone else, and that she knew who the children were, but as no one ever spoke to her, nothing could ever be proven.

To make matters even stranger, there also exist many reports by those passing by the site of the trash, of two ghost children. It’s believed that these are the ghosts of the unidentified children who died in the crash, wandering around, waiting for someone to come back and claim them.

Unfortunately, a lot of things will likely remain forever unsolved about the nearly hundred-year-old accident. The woman in black and the children she visited were never identified, and on a more or less supernatural note, depending on what you choose to believe, no one ever figured out why Adlington and Want swore up and down that they saw a green light through the fog, instead of the red one that was proven to have been there.

Perhaps things are just meant to remain a mystery.


For more detailed information on the actual railway disaster, feel free to check out “Charfield Railway Disaster 1928”.


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Maggie Kendall

Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.

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