THE TRAIN OF DEATH
We reclaim Chapel Field
"Defrocked, I never even thought of that as a possibility," thought the Rev. Peter Shaw as his train arrived at Piccadilly Station in Manchester.
It had been a long and arduous weekend, being summoned to the Archbishop of Canterbury to explain the loss of the church silver.
"If they paid me a decent stipend I would not have had to sell it to take my wife on holiday. They will find out eventually."
It was 11.30pm and he needed to return to his vicarage in Bury. Should he get the tram from Piccadilly or catch it from Victoria station. He decided on the latter as the walk would do him good, although by the time he had reached High Street he had been stopped twice by vagrants begging for money.
"If only they knew," he thought to himself, "before long I might be sleeping in shop doorways with them."
"I haven't eaten since breakfast," he thought as the odours wafted towards him from a greasy café, and before long he was tucking into bacon, two fried eggs, a sausage, black pudding, beans and toast washed down with a large mug of tea.
He became aware of being woken up by a sharp jab in his side.
"Oye! You can't sleep here all night, we've got 'omes to go to, just like you."
"Sorry," Peter replied. "What time is it?"
"Two o'clock, now be on your way."
"I didn't think I'd been asleep for that long," he said to himself as he stumbled down Balloon Street and into a deserted Victoria Station.
"No point in coming here yet," said the station master from behind him. "Next train ain't until six thirty.
The Reverend Peter Shaw sat down on a bench, contemplating on what to do. "There are no buses to Bury at this time and I cannot afford a taxi. I'll just have to sit here in the freezing cold until the first train arrives.
Whilst reading the time-worn posters that adorned the massive theatre of Victoria Station, he became aware of a mist blowing under the cast-iron pillars and glass roof of the station. It wasn't much at first but minute by minute it seemed to be getting denser & denser until it became so thick that he could barely see his hand at the end of his outstretched arm.
"Haven't seen a pea-souper like this since the 50's. What's that noise? Sounds like a steam train building up pressure. Strange, I didn't know they ran steam trains anymore. I wonder where it is going to?"
Slowly, step by step he made his way towards the sound, his hands outstretched to feel his way around, his eyes downward to ensure he did not fall onto a line. Eventually he arrived at platform one.
"I'm sure this is where the sound is coming from. No sign of where it is going to, I'll ask the driver."
As he made his way along the platform he came to the first carriage.
"Gosh! I've not seen a corridor carriage for years. This one certainly looks old - and gloomy with no lights on."
He walked on. Another corridor carriage, then another and another. He must have passed about thirty before he reached the engine. Still no indication of where it was going and there was no sign of a driver. The train was so long that he had to jump off the end of the platform to look at the front of the train. Hanging from a large rivet was a board on which was written in a scrawled hand 'BURY.'
"Well I don't know what time it will be departing but I might a well get on it, it will be comfier, and possibly warmer, than a bench. He walked back a couple of carriages. He didn't know why, perhaps he thought it was safer in an accident than being at the front. He caught hold of a door handle, stood on the step ready to board when he was met by the most disgusting, mind-blowing, retching stench that he had ever encountered. Vomit came into his mouth as he clasped his hands around his nose. He jumped back onto the platform, slamming the door shut at the same time.
"My God! What on Earth was that?"
He made his way to another carriage, and again he opened a door. Still tasting the obnoxious odour he was now standing in the corridor before the stench hit him again.
"Must get off," he thought as he grabbed the door handle, but it was locked. Ran to the next door but that was locked, as was the third. Suddenly there was a lurch as the train began to move.
"Strange! I didn't notice the driver go past."
He turned the handle on one of the many compartments alongside the corridor. The fog was still heavy and it took him a few seconds before his eyes could focus on the ghastly sight in front of him. Corpses in different stages of decay, some sitting upright on the seats, some lying in the luggage racks, some on the floor in their coffins, Some were skeletons, some had bits of skin and flesh hanging from their bones, and some had eyes that burnt into Peter's own.
He ran to another compartment, then another but the sight was the same. The whole of the train was packed with decaying corpses.
The train moved slowly on, like a funeral march. There was no steam whistle, just the occasional sound of steam emitting from between the rumbling wheels. The train had not gone far when it came to a grinding halt. Peter looked out of the window. The train had stopped at 'Angel Meadows.'
Though still dark, the mist was lighter now and he could see the patch of soil known as the Flags. As he watched, the ground began to rise slightly and shake, rather like the top of a blancmange. As the ground rose higher and moved more suddenly a corpse appeared from the ground and moved slowly towards the train. This was followed by another. At first there were only a few, but before long there were hundreds, then thousands. A whole army of corpses were approaching the train, some dragging their coffins with them, some being carried by others, Angel Meadows was alive with the dead.
They were packing the corridors tightly, coming closer and closer to Peter who, in a panic was futilely trying to break the glass of a window to escape.
Then the train began to move again, slowly, rumbling uphill, slowly rumbling downhill, on and on it went at less than walking speed. A train laden with the bodies of people long since dead. Through Woodlands Road, Crumpsall, Bowker Valley it rumbled, and on and on through Heaton Park, Prestwich, Besses o' the Barn, and Whitefield, the train dragged its ghastly cargo, until, before reaching Radcliffe it came to an end by Stand Golf Course.
In the dark gloom they alighted from the train, one by one, over and over again until the last corpse had dragged its coffin off the train and onto the course, now covered with the remains of human bodies. Peter gazed at the awful vision before him, contemplating as to whether this was God's way of punishing him for his deeds or was it an act of the devil.
Slowly, as he scanned the site, he became aware that all the corpses were looking at him, some waving a bony finger beckoning him to come closer. He wanted to scream and run away but he couldn't. He stood transfixed then moved forward. A skeleton pointed to some writing written in the wet sand of a dune.
He struggled to understand what the message meant. Chapel Field? Chapel Field? Of course, part of the golf course had been built on Chapel Field which was consecrated land belonging to Stand Church. They want me to re-consecrate this land again so that they can be buried there.
Slowly he walked around the perimeter of the golf course, choking on the stench of thousands of rotting bodies and stopping occasionally to say a prayer to bless the land. He continued to do this until he had returned from where he started. He sat on a wall. A deathly moan came from the crowds of corpses as if they were saying "thank you."
Then they began to dig. Digging with their bony fingers or stones. Digging, digging, the earth was alive with moving soil. When they had dug down so far they clambered in and pulled the soil over them until the last one was interred. Peter looked at the scene with a sense of both horror and sadness. Who were these people who wanted to be buried elsewhere? He took the first step home with a heavy heart, turned back again to gaze at the scene again and, in a whisper said "Goodbye."
An hour later he arrived home where his wife was waiting in the garden for him.
"You are late Peter, where have you been? I've been worrying about you."
"Something very strange happened to me. Sit down and I'll tell you about it."
"Something very strange also happened to me too," said his wife. "Let me tell you mine first."
Peter was in too much of a shock and too tired to argue, and nodded.
"Well remember the church silver that went missing recently?"
"That I sold to pay for our holidays," Peter thought to himself.
"Well about an hour ago I was standing in the garden awaiting your return when I thought that I saw a patch of soil move. I looked again and it was moving - quite rapidly. I kept on looking at it waiting for a mole to appear. But what eventually came out of the ground was -guess what?
"I've no idea," said Peter wearily, thinking he'd had enough surprises for one day.
"It was the missing silver. It just popped out of the ground in front of me. Who or what do you think was pushing it up?"
"I have no idea," smiled Peter. Now that the silver has been returned to the church they can't claim that I sold it and defrock me."
"Now tell me what happened to you," said his wife.
"Oh! It was nothing really. I wonder who returned the silver?
Victoria Station was originally opened as Hunt's Bank Station in 1844. It was built over the burial ground of what is now Manchester Cathedral. Only the gravestones were removed, and over one hundred thousand bodies still lie under this station.
Angus Reach wrote in the morning chronicle (1849)
"The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called Angel Meadows."
Another report dated 1893 describes it as:
"The dreary wastes of Angel Meadow …. When night falls I had rather enter an enemy's camp during the time of war than venture near such dens of infamy and wretchedness. But the poor live here and die here."