“In endeavouring to save the life of a fellow creature, he lost his own.”
It was 11.15pm on Monday night and John Charles Jepson was drunk. A witness, Thomas Darnill, saw him staggering up and down the platform at Richmond Station ‘in a most unsteady manner’. When Darnill approached Jepson for a light ‘he appeared to be under the influence of drink’… Another witness, James Everill, said that at 11.25pm, just as the ‘up’ train was pulling into the station John Jepson “reeled and then fell onto the tracks”. Moments later another traveller, James Hewens, jumped after him and tried to pull him off the line. The tragic events of that night, Monday, 23rd September 1878, were later reported in the ‘Richmond and Twickenham Times’…
“Hewens immediately jumped after him but the train went over them. It would have been impossible to pull up the engine, for it was close upon Jepson when he fell. The accident occurred just opposite the refreshment room so that the train still had some distance to go before it stopped.”
Both men, Jepson, aged 20 and Hewens, 34, were taken immediately to Richmond Infirmary where they were examined by the house surgeon Mr. W.A. Ward. Jepson had a compound fracture of the skull and part of his left hand was cut off. He died around noon. Because he was unconscious throughout the entire period it was impossible to tell if he was drunk or not, but Mr Ward reported that Jepson ‘smelt of drink’. James Hewens was much more seriously injured with large wounds on scalp and back and fractures of his pelvis, thighs and his left leg. Mr Ward said that ‘he was perfectly sober’. James Hewens, a gardener from Mortlake, died in the early hours of Tuesday morning, 24th September, just two hours and fifteen minutes after being admitted.
The coroner, Mr Hull, speaking at the inquest at Richmond Infirmary, said…
“All honour was due to the poor man, Hewens, who, in endeavouring to save the life of a fellow creature, lost his own. There appeared to be no blame attached to anyone.”
When told that Hewens left a widow, Mary, the coroner wished that there was some fund out of which something could be given to her. Whether any such fund was forthcoming was not reported. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death” for both Jepson and Hewens.
Little is known of James Hewens apart from he had once been a soldier based at Carisbrook on the Isle of Wight and he may have fought in the Second Opium War in China and seen action in South Africa, India and Ceylon.
Like many heroes he would have passed into history unrecognised were it not for a plaque saluting his courage in Postman’s Park, Little Britain, close to St. Pauls Cathedral. This was once the burial ground for St Botolph’s, Aldersgate but in 1880 it was opened as a public garden. In 1900 Postman’s Park became the home of George Frederic Watt’s ‘Memorial to Self-Sacrifice’, honouring ordinary working men and women who gave their lives to save others. The plaque honouring James Hewens says “On September 24th 1878 – killed by a train at Richmond in the endeavour to save another man”. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the designer of the plaque, G.F. Watts, misspelt his name. Because of this James Hewens will go into history forever as James Hewers. Three years later his widow, Mary, aged 44, was reported living as a servant at the ‘George and Devonshire Arms’ in Chiswick. After that, nothing. Like her brave husband, James, and his rescue bid on Richmond Station, she disappears into eternity.
“The material prosperity of a nation is not an abiding possession. The deeds of its people are.”
George Frederic Watts
Another local resident, Alice Ayres, is also remembered in Postman’s Park. You can read her story on this website at
— from Martyn Day
Credit: This article was written with the kind assistance of Laurence Mann. The photographs of Richmond Station were supplied by Richmond Local Studies