The Cramlington Train Wreckers

Tensions during the 1926 General Strike led miners to take drastic action- with almost devastating consequences

Patrick Hollis
3 min readMay 23, 2024
A train derailed by a group that came to be known as the Cramlington Train Wreckers (Photo: Northern Echo)

May 1926 was a tumultuous month for the UK. A General Strike saw thousands of workers out on picket lines in protest over the working conditions of Britain’s coal mines and the tensions boiled over into industrial action.

The strike may have only lasted eight days but, despite this, the UK was brought to a standstill. In total, over 1.7 million workers walked out of work in support of 1.2 million miners who had been locked out of work. Transport stopped, and workers from steel works, printers, the railways, iron works, and others joined the cause.

Volunteers were drafted in to keep public transport moving, the likes of Oxford University graduates and retired soldiers were just some of the demographic who came forward. During the chaos of it all, England and Australia continued with their Test match- imagery like this has led to the General Strike being described as ‘A very British strike’.

The strike was born out of the First World War. during the conflict, there was high demand for coal, and the UK’s rich seams were heavily mined. After the conflict, Britain imported more coal than it did before the war and the miners of nations across the world were benefiting where UK miners were not. Coal output had declined since 1914 but this trend continued through the 1920s.

Efforts to support the strike included attempts to stop the transport of coal around the country. On one such occasion, miners in the North East town of Cramlington set out to derail trains carrying coal supplies. There was one occasion where doing this almost ended in disaster, with one of the world’s most famous train services derailed in Northumberland.

On May 11, eight miners derailed passenger carriages unbeknownst to them- part of the Flying Scotsman. Carriages were uncoupled on the understanding they were carrying coal down south, but this proved different.

Men on strike in the 1926 General Strike (Photo: Workers’ Liberty)

The train and several carriages were derailed with over 280 passengers on board. No one was seriously injured, with only some minor issues including one man with a foot injury.

Although no one was seriously injured, it set a certain precedence within the strike effort and the UK. The aftermath saw eight miners get arrested for their involvement in the incident, but they were later released after pressure from the trade unions and politicians- even the judiciary believed the sentence was too harsh.

On the same day, The British Worker, alarmed at the fears of the General Council of the TUC that there was to be a mass drift back to work, wrote: “The number of strikers has not diminished; it is increasing. There are more workers out today than there have been at any moment since the strike began”.

The derailing of the Flying Scotsman was an unintended chapter of the biggest national strike the UK has ever seen. However, unlike many other trade disputes, the Cramlington Train Wreckers at least got some justice and sympathy from the public.

The General Strike was, in comparison to some other trade union disputes, short. Over eight days, the Miners’ Federation took on Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government. With the support of strike sympathisers, the miners fought hard for months after the strike ended, but were eventually forced back to work due to financial hardship. The number of working miners dropped by a third on the pre-strike number, and further tough times were around the corner with the depression in the 1930s.

The strike was one of many over the next sixty years that would see miners take on the government. On some occasions, they would be victorious, and on others, they would be defeated. Yet whatever the outcome, the fight of the working miners is something that people from all backgrounds could and should take inspiration from.



Patrick Hollis

I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. I’m a published author and journalist with several years experience in the industry