Tom ‘Dummy’ Phillips and the Station Bar
Tom Phillips, born around the middle of the 19th century and believed to be in his late fifties on his death, was unfortunately profoundly deaf from birth. For this reason, and because he could not enunciate intelligible speech, he was referred to by all who knew him as ‘Dummy’ Philips. He had no known relatives and lived alone in a small cottage near where the railway crosses the lands of the present Donneybrewer Lodge at Eglinton. He was popular among those with whom he worked on the farm at Donneybrewer, communicating very adequately by means of a crude but effective sign language.
For as long as the local population could remember Tom Phillips had been a regular Friday and Saturday evening visitor to the Station Bar just beside what was then the busy railway halt for the village of Eglinton. Tom would walk the one and one half miles from his home to the station using the railway line as a convenient footpath. He would arrive almost precisely at seven o’clock, take his pint of bitter from the bar, and seat himself in his regular position to the right of the fireplace. No one else dared sit there until Phillips had left. Although normally quite amiable he could become very irritable if crossed. He would finish his pint, rarely no more than thirty minutes later, and walk back along the railway to home.
At twenty minutes to seven on Friday of late May 1897 the landlord, while preparing for the evening trade, noticed ‘Dummy’ Phillips sitting in his usual seat. He had his pint mug in his hand and the landlord, although registering the fact that he was unusually early, assumed that the potman had served him, and thought no more of it. At ten minutes past seven the door of the door of the Station Bar flew open to admit John Cowan, a local man who also lived and worked on the Donneybrewer Farm. Catching his breath he burst out, “Have you heard about Dummy Phillips, He’s been hit by the train!” All eyes turned towards the fireplace where Tom Phillips had been sitting a moment before. Dummy Phillips was gone! There was no one there!
John Cowan, after a stiff drink and some prompting from his friends, finally managed to tell his story. He himself had walked along the railway on his way to the pub as he regularly did, often falling in with Tom Phillips on the way. This evening he was a little early but as he was about to leave the railway line to join the footpath to the bar he became aware of a train approaching from the west – from the direction of Londonderry. This was unusual. The last train of the evening would normally have passed before 6.20pm so he assumed it must be a special. However a series of whistle blasts caused him to pause and look back. To his horror he saw Tom Phillips walking on the line with his back to the fast approaching engine. He shouted and waved frantically, but to no avail. Phillips’ response was to hold one hand to his mouth in a drinking motion and point with the other in the direction of the Public House, apparently suggesting they meet there. Suddenly Phillips became aware that something was wrong. Possibly he felt the vibration from the rails through his feet. At the moment of impact he spun round to face the train with one hand to his mouth and the other still raised in a pointing motion. He was killed instantly.
At the subsequent inquiry it was learned that the train from Londonderry had been delayed by technical problems just outside the Waterside station and in an attempt to catch his connection at Coleraine the driver had been making maximum speed. He was still twenty minutes late as he approached Eglinton Station. No blame was put on the driver however. The verdict was ‘death by accident’. The time of the incident was recorded as 6.40pm, the time the landlord of the Station Bar saw ‘Dummy’ Phillips in his usual place by the fireside.
Needless to say the poor man’s unfortunate death was the topic of conversation in the public house next day. On the Saturday evening about 7 o’clock one local, commenting that ‘Dummy won’t need this anymore’ took the seat by the fireside. Minutes later he came back to the bar looking shaken, and ordered a double whisky. When asked was he ill his response was, ‘Dummy’s still here!’ The Station Bar is now much changed following alterations. However to this day anyone sitting in the spot where ‘Dummy’s’ seat would have been, between seven and seven-thirty, is likely to experience a feeling of discomfort.
And over the years new drivers on this stretch of the railway have regularly reported seeing a ‘pointing man’, who vanishes when they sound the whistle.
‘Dummy’ Phillips had found another way to communicate.
By James Henderson