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John Clarke

Historian of Brookwood Cemetery

The Mysterious Death of John Macpherson

On the night of Saturday 9 September 1922 a mutilated body was discovered on the railway line near Brookwood. It was later identified as that of 41 year old John Alexander Macpherson, from Bankfoot in Perthshire. He was a recently appointed Director of Messrs P. & W. Anderson Ltd, Public Works Contractors of Glasgow and London.

John Macpherson had spent that Saturday with his colleague William Kemp, a fellow Director and Chief Engineer of the company in Torrington, Devon. Messrs P. & W. Anderson Ltd was engaged in the construction of the new 20 mile North Devon & Cornwall Junction Light Railway. This line, running from Torrington in the north to Halwill Junction in the south, was originally planned in 1914 but was delayed by the First World War. The new contract for the construction of the line was dated 25 May 1922, at a value of £197,000.

Having completed their business in the Torrington area, John Macpherson and William Kemp left for London together by the 3.10pm train. On arrival at Exeter Queen Street at 5.41pm, they changed trains for the Waterloo express which left at 6.30pm. They travelled in a first class non-corridor carriage and ordered dinner baskets. These were collected following their arrival at Templecombe, at about 7.55pm.

William Kemp recalled that they had spent a tiring day together in the Torrington area. He could remember the train stopping at Salisbury, but then dozed off in the compartment. He next remembered waking up and found the right-hand carriage door open and his colleague gone. He noticed that John Macpherson’s overcoat and hat had gone, but his attaché case was still in the compartment. William Kemp assumed his colleague had left the compartment at the previous station and had missed the train.

On arrival at Waterloo at 10.50pm, William Kemp took John Macpherson’s case with him. On the Sunday morning he called to see his colleague to return the case and was told that although expected home the previous night, he had not arrived.

The inquest was held in Brookwood Cemetery on Tuesday 12 September. Mr Kemp explained they had travelled down to Devon on the previous Friday night by a corridor train. He suggested that if in the train on Saturday night John Macpherson had awoken somewhat dazed owing to tiredness he might have imagined he was opening the door into the corridor, except their return journey was made in a non-corridor carriage.

Sir John Anderson, Chairman of P. & W. Anderson stated he had known Mr Macpherson for twenty years and as far as he knew he had no worry.

The jury returned a verdict of “death by misadventure”. Although the inquest was unable to determine why John Macpherson decided to leave the safety of his compartment, or the precise details of how John Macpherson met his death, it was supposed that he stepped out of his compartment on the train and was killed by the down mail train.

John Macpherson’s body was subsequently buried in plot 107 on Chapel Hill. His funeral account was sent to the Piccadilly offices of P. & W. Anderson, and a handsome rusticated granite memorial was erected over his grave. The inscription records that the monument was placed “by his colleagues and friends as a token of their affection and esteem”.

[From The Brookwood Express, May 2011]

Copyright © 2011 by John M. Clarke All Rights Reserved