Of all the items of clothing that humanity has invented for itself, perhaps none are as important as the humble hat. Some of film’s greatest scenes involve hats, whether they underline the murderous intentions of their wearer, or just demonstrate the fact they’ll risk life and limb to keep a hold of one. In 1897 on Christmas Eve one man demonstrated a similar fatalistic desire to retain his hat.
He was a young man, some 25 years of age, who boarded a third class carriage of the 8.50pm District train from St James’ Park to Mansion House. He was, noted the accounts, ‘respectably dressed’, which, to Victorian eyes, made any kind of foolhardy escapade highly unlikely. However, as the train had started moving and entered the tunnel the man decided to lean out of the window of the carriage. To his horror, his hat fell off and onto the railway line. Before any of his fellow passengers could stop him, and to their astonishment, the man adopted a rather unexpected course of action.
He jumped out of the train.
Arriving at Victoria a few minutes later the other passengers immediately raised the alarm. Railway officials and police signalled all other trains on the line to be brought to a halt. A search party was hastily organised and sent into the tunnel to find the man, or rather, the mangled remains of him. Having swept the tunnel from Victoria to St James’ Park and back again the officials were rather bewildered to find no trace of this erstwhile passenger. They did, however, retrieve one item from the tunnel.
With the tunnel reported clear, trains were restarted. However, officials decided it best to search the trains for their missing man. On the next train from St James’ Park the staff were bemused to find, quietly sat in the corner of a third class compartment and bare-headed, the man who had jumped into the tunnel. He was immediately secured and his story extracted. He calmly told the Station Master that he had indeed jumped from the train to retrieve his hat. Luckily the train was travelling at low speed, around 5mph, and, despite there only being a yards gap between train and tunnel wall, he had landed uninjured by the side of the railway. He had then made an attempt to recover his hat, but unable to do so, had instead groped his way back to St James’ Park in the darkness, got onto the platform unnoticed, and waited for the next train.
Having listened to his story, the officials took his name and address, and then, to the man’s utmost surprise, gave him back his hat. He was then allowed to go on his way, none the worse for his adventure. Hats off to the chap.