A Fatal Accident in Lewes Road, Brighton.

Picture of a London Trotters cart
Evacuees arriving at Brighton in late 1939
General view of Moulsecoomb
The Highway, Moulsecoomb
© Hassocks5849 Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday morning, 17th September 1939, a horse and trolley were being driven in Lewes Road, Brighton. The Second World War had begun a couple of weeks earlier. Lewes Road was quite busy at this time with traffic and people making their way to church.

As the horse and trolley was being driven northwards by a man at a normal speed, all of a sudden the horse seemed to have been startled by a dog that was barking loudly. The horse bolted, dragging the trolley behind him and ran across to the opposite side of the road, towards oncoming traffic. The horse reared up onto the front part of the car.

A trolley was a goods vehicle with a platform body with four small wheels of equal size mounted underneath it, the front two on a turntable undercarriage. They were normally drawn by a single pony or horse but a large trolley would have a pair.

It was primarily an urban vehicle so that, on the paved roads, the small wheels were not a handicap. In any case, the axles would normally be sprung. It was typically used by market fruiterers and greengrocers but commonly also by coal merchants. 

Many ended up with rag and bone merchants who were likely to add side and tail boards to keep their purchases aboard. 

From Wikipedia

Frederick Squibb

The motor car was driven by Frederick Squibb who lived in South-East London. Apart from Mr. Squibb there were two young passengers. These were his two young children, namely, Stanley who was aged 13 years old and his younger sister called Jean who was just 7 years old.

One of the shafts of the trolley pieced through the car and then pieced the boy in the head. Both children were taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, suffering with shock. Stanley was detained with severe head injuries. Jean was treated with cuts to her face. Sadly, Stanley died of his injuries at 7pm that same day.

The Inquest.

On Wednesday 20th September 1939, the full story of this terrible tragedy was told at Brighton Coroner’s Court. Mr, Squibb, the father, was represented by Mr. G. Greenwood. The deceased boy, Stanley Frederick Squibb aged 12 years, an evacuee with his sister Jean from Nunhead, London South East, had been billeted in Southwick.

The father, Frederick Squibb of Nunhead said that on Sunday 17th September he drove from his home in Nunhead to Southwick to visit his two children. He was taking them to visit their mother in Eastbourne.

 When they were driving near Moulescombe he saw a horse and trolley approaching him, out of control.

‘The horse reared up on its hind legs several times and appeared to be coming across the road towards me, head-on and appeared to be out of control. As soon as I saw the horse rear up then there was only one thing I could do. I waited just a split second to let somebody go past and then mounted the gravel path by the side of the road. It was then that the horse and trolley collided with the side of my car and my two children were thrown out.’


Mr. William George Field of Phoenix Way, Southwick was in the car with Mr. Squibb. He said ‘I remember first seeing the horse when it was 40 or maybe 50 yards away and it was rearing up in the roadway. It was pulling a hawkers two-wheeled trolley. I remember Mr. Squibb saying, ‘oh dear, we are for it, and then swerved to mount the kerb. Mr. Squibb did the best thing he could. The boy and his sister were thrown out, but his own daughter, who was also in the car, was not hurt. There were no traffic near the horse and he did not know what had frightened the horse.’

Mrs. Cynthia Vera Bunch of Meefort Road, Thornton Heath and who was staying in Moulescoombe said that she saw the horse jumping and rearing about and the man on the trolley was thrown off.

Mr. Fred Hale of Moulescombe Way, the owner of the horse, said that as he drove the horse and trolley accompanied by his 13-year-old son, a white dog ran into the roadway and barked at the horse’s feet. The horse reared up and plunged forward. The near-side reign was broken and the horse got out of control and bolted. It took a course towards the offside of the road where there were a line of cars going northwards. ‘I could do nothing to stop the animal and it collided with the offside rear of the last car in the line.’ Mr. Hale went on by saying, ’I purchased the horse, a 5-year-old on the 15th September in Rottingdean.’ He said that he drove the horse and trolley for the first time on the day before the accident. The horse appeared to be quiet and quite docile and had never tended to bolt. He continued that he did not know who owned the dog and did not see it after it had frightened the horse which caused the accident. The reign broke when he was trying to pull the horse away from the line of cars. He was told at Rottingdean when he bought the horse at a hunting stable that it was quiet to ride or drive, no problem at all. He had ridden it home from Rottingdean. Then, replying to Mr. Greenwood, who was representing Mr. Squibb, Hale said that he and his son sat on the trolley until it overturned.

The Coroner asked, ’How long have you had anything to do with horses?’ Mr Hale replied,’ Ever since I left school which was about 32 years ago now. I was a ‘rough rider in the Artillery.’

Police Constable Higham said the offside and back of the car’s body were torn away and the horse was severely cut.

Dr. Duncan Macpherson, the house surgeon at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, said that the boy died on Sunday evening and his death was due to laceration of the brain following a compound fracture of the skull.

The Coroner recorded a verdict of ‘Accidental Death.’

David Rowland


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