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Stuart

William M Hargreaves - 1952 Bridge Collapse Disaster (Bury v Rovers)

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Anyone heard with this chap? He was the only person who died in the infamous and quietly forgotten bridge collapse at an away game.

Anyway, it turns out he was my great-grandad. So I guess I’m reaching out a bit. Chances are there is nobody alive now who knew of him but any information about him would be gratefully received.

http://www.cottontown.org/Culture and Leisure/Sport/Pages/Blackburn-Rovers.aspx

The Forgotten Football Disaster - Bury v Blackburn Rovers 1952

When the subject of football disasters is brought up, many people immediately start talking about Hillsborough, Hysel, Ibrox, maybe even Bradford but there is one disaster which is never mentioned, probably because it didn’t occur at a football ground but the people who were there will never forget it. I am talking about the railway bridge collapse at Bury in January 1952.
 
bridge scene.JPG 
© BwD - terms and conditions
 
It was the 19th January 1952 and thousands of Blackburn Rovers fans had just enjoyed a 2-0 over Bury at Gigg Lane and were due to head back home on the train and were waiting for four special trains to arrive at Knowsley Street station. One train had already filled up and left the station and more than 200 supporters were waiting on a wooden bridge ‘packed like sardines’ for the second train to arrive when they heard a creaking, then a crack. Suddenly the bridge collapsed and the supporters fell 20 feet on to the track along with debris from the fallen bridge. Some people who had escaped the bridge collapse actually fell through the gap left by the bridge as the crush of people was so great. The leading porter, David Foulkes, saw what had happened and immediately sent out an ‘obstruction danger’ signal in all directions. His swift action saved many lives as one train stopped just 200 yards from the injured.
 
Men, women and children were scattered along the track along which a train could pass at any moment. There was no lack of volunteers to go to the assistance of the injured. Some Rovers fans, including a young Jack Walker, scrambled down on to the tracks to help pull the injured people free. Jack recalled the event in an interview in 1992. “I was on the bridge with my brother Fred, but we didn’t go down. We were at the other end. There were thousands of people trying to get on the bridge, then suddenly it started vibrating, rumbling and shaking and then the middle just dropped out. It was frightening. We went down on to the railway line and Fred and me helped get helped get people off the tracks – including the mascot.”
 
mascot.jpg 
© BwD - terms and conditions
 
Other supporters also described their experiences, Mr James Smith, a lathe operator at the R.O.F. talked of ‘a sudden crack and the whole floor went down beneath our feet’, one of the youngest victims, 14 year old Blackburn Grammar schoolboy George Haworth, described how his friends only escaped the crash because he had lost his return ticket home. Jack Squires, aged 23, fell along with his father Raymond and afterwards grinned ruefully after telling reporters how he had only just recovered from hurting his back in a fall through a garage room a few weeks before. Another man, Harry Steele, a shop foreman for Foster, Yates & Thom, was also a witness of the disaster at Bolton in 1946. Mr George Kay from Furness Street remarked laconically ‘The Rovers picked up points at Bury and we dropped on some’.
 
The Fire Brigade arrived just six minutes after the incident and the Police arrived 5 minutes after that. Waiting rooms became casualty clearing stations and 30 ambulances and a number of buses arrived from Bury to act as a makeshift shuttle service conveying the injured to hospital. The last casualty was removed from the scene at 6.15pm. As the victims were brought into the hospital, faces blackened with dust and soot, local clergymen, hearing of the disaster, were there to help comfort the injured and offered cigarettes and tea. Operating theatres worked through the night and some of the injured were sent to the Royal Infirmary and Queen’s Park Hospitals in Blackburn.
 
 wheelchairs.jpg
© BwD - terms and conditions
 
Relatives waited outside Blackburn station on Saturday night and about 9.30pm two Rochdale double-decker buses arrived containing about 30 of the injured. They were transferred to Blackburn Corporation buses, manned by personnel who had finished their normal duties and volunteered to help with the emergency. Some of the others were taken straight home by ambulance. On the Sunday afternoon the Town Clerk, Mr C.S. Robinson, at the request of the Borough Police, authorised the provision of a special bus to convey relatives to Bury Hospital to visit their loved ones. 
 
nurse.jpg 
© BwD - terms and conditions
 
One person, William M Hargreaves, died in the tragedy and 175 people were injured, 56 of which had to be detained in hospital. They were visited by the Mayor Alderman William Hare and the Town Clerk, Mr C. S. Robinson. Officials and players from the Rovers, including Captain Bill Eckersley also visited the injured. Blackburn Rovers also arranged collections to be taken at the following home game against Luton Town in order that the injured might be provided with ‘additional comforts’.
 
mr hargreaves.jpg 
© BwD - terms and conditions 
 
William M Hargreaves, a widower and a retired weaver, aged 66, died in the tragedy and 175 people were injured. William was with three other friends at the time, he received injuries to his chest and back. He was described as a keen Rovers supporter, a season-ticket holder and always travelled to away matches. He lived with his son-in-law and his wife in Havelock Street. His wife passed away four years previously when he was living in Princess Street. Witnesses reported seeing Mr Hargreaves lying under another injured man with a heavy wooden beam pinning them both to the rails. He was rushed to hospital and he described the accident as “a nasty mess” but could not give a full account of what happened to him. He passed away at Bury General Hospital on the Monday night. Mr Hargreaves officially died from lobar pneumonia following chronic bronchitis and shock after rib fractures.Among the floral tributes was a wreath from the Directors, Officials and Players of Blackburn Rovers, in the blue and white colours of the team he supported with such enthusiasm for many years. Other wreaths were from the Green Park Veteran Bowler’s Association of which Mr Hargreaves was a member. Only members of the family attended the funeral service and the internment was at Pleasington Cemetery.
 
There was an immediate outcry for an investigation into the tragedy and Bury Town Council held a special meeting on the Monday to discuss the matter and formulated a request to the Ministry of Transport for a public inquiry. On the Tuesday senior officials from British Railways conducted an on-the-spot inquiry and it was announced that Brigadier C. A Langley would conduct the public inquiry which took place on the Tuesday 30th January at the Divisional Offices of the Midland Region of British Railways at Hunt’s Bank in Manchester.
 
 
 inquiry.JPG
© BwD - terms and conditions
 
At the inquiry, it was discovered that the bridge on which the tragedy occurred was about 70 years old with a span of 60 feet 9 inches long, 7 feet 4 inches wide and although it was described as ‘an unusual construction’ it had passed inspections in 1944, 1946 & 1948. The Brigadier congratulated all concerned who helped with the injured on site and the Bury Hospital staff on the way they dealt with the emergency. A consultant engineer, Mr Arthur Cresswell, blamed the collapse on the lack of proper maintenance saying that “I would be surprised if the bottom boom of the bridge has been inspected in the last 25 years. Mr A Tims, a Blackburn contract engineer, said that the bridge was inspected in 1944 by a joiner, a man who had since died but from his report there was no immediate indication that the bridge was in a dangerous condition. He had taken the boards of the inside of the bridge but not off the outside. He did not take off the outside boarding because it was wartime and there were staff difficulties. The inspection in 1946 was carried out by a Mr Halewood during a time when the bridge was being repaired. It was having a new roof put on to the bridge, and the outside and inside boards were taken up, along with the floorboards. Mr Halewood looked at the straps at the bottom of the bridge by climbing up a ladder with a hammer and said that they were all right. It was also inspected in 1948 by another man, also since deceased, and his report requested that the outside boarding be replaced as well as outside down spouts and facing boards. None of these recommendations were believed to have been carried out. It was revealed that the man who carried out the inspection in 1948 was in fact a bricklayer, but it was agreed that he should have noticed any corrosion on the bridge.
 
bridge1.JPG 
 
© BwD - terms and conditions 
 
Mr F Turton, bridge and steel work engineering assistant, said he had examined the bridge work since the accident and had made calculations as to its strength. It would have capable of holding a full load if it had been in good condition. He reckoned that the corrosion of the straps had taken approximately 10-15 years to develop. It was believed that the straps would have been covered with soot and unless they were thoroughly cleaned it may have been difficult to see just how corroded they were. Brigadier Langley told Mr Turton that he wanted further tests on the straps to ascertain their condition. 
 
After the 9 hour hearing, the inquest jury reached their verdict of ‘misadventure’ and in their opinion there had been no adequate inspection of the bridge for a number of years. It was found that the failure of the wrought iron straps at the bottom of the bridge had caused the collapse. All similar bridges were inspected and eventually replaced. It was a tragedy that most people outside Bury & Blackburn have never heard of, and even in those towns it is spoke of very little when people recall football tragedies, but any loss of life should not be forgotten, whether they support Liverpool, Juventus, Bradford or Blackburn Rovers, especially when all that person was doing was following his favourite football team.
 
by Roger Booth

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Thanks for this Stuart.

My Grandad and Great Grandad were literally yards away when it collapsed. It’s a tale I’ve heard many times, but certainly lost in the annals of time for most.

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Are either of them still with us Matty? Would they have known him at all? (Massive long shot!)

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I was 14 years old and had gone by train from Rishton with a group of pals. We were in a queue, well before the bridge, when we heard the bridge collapse. It was pandemonium and we were eventually brought back by road which I seem to recall was a Ribble bus.

About 30 years later I was talking to an elderly gentleman who was actually on the bridge when it collapsed. He told me that B. R. had invited all the victims down to Blackburn station and gave them £5 each, whilst asking them to sign a receipt. He alleged that the “receipt” signed away all rights to any further action. That seems almost unbelievable in the compensation culture in this day and age.

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Incredible @renrag. Do you know if much was publicised about William Hargreaves?

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2 minutes ago, Stuart said:

Incredible @renrag. Do you know if much was publicised about William Hargreaves?

I remember it was front page news in the Sunday papers the morning after, but there were no fatalities at that point. When your Great Grandad died a few days later, it was obviously reported in the Telegraph and Blackburn Times but apart from that I don’t recall much publicity although, at that age, I rarely read beyond the back page.

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Thanks. I found the LT one but not the Bury Times link.

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Just now, Stuart said:

Thanks. I found the LT one but not the Bury Times link.

Pleasure. There was definitely a thread somewhere on it but I can't find it.

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"The Talbot Archieve" may be a source of photographs, information and contact about the disaster. They have an excellent Facebook page.

Facebook has a few other Blackburn in the past sites where I have seen people successfully seek information on long gone relatives.

"Blackburn Now and Then" and "Blackburn and District in the past" come to mind.

Edited by AllRoverAsia

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12 hours ago, Stuart said:

 

Sad but interesting read that mate. I will be seeing my mum on Sunday as I am over for Wigan and will show her this. She was born in 1941 and started going on Ewood  with my Grandad when she was a small girl around 5 or 6 so will remember this. You should try and find his grave. Thanks for sharing.

Edited by CP Company Lad

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3 hours ago, AllRoverAsia said:

"The Talbot Archieve" may be a source of photographs, information and contact about the disaster. They have an excellent Facebook page.

Facebook has a few other Blackburn in the past sites where I have seen people successfully seek information on long gone relatives.

"Blackburn Now and Then" and "Blackburn and District in the past" come to mind.

 

26 minutes ago, CP Company Lad said:

Sad but interesting read that mate. I will be seeing my mum on Sunday as I am over for Wigan and will show her this. She was born in 1941 and started going on Ewood  with my Grandad when she was a small girl around 5 or 6 so will remember this. You should try and find his grave. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks a lot gents.

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A very interesting thread, Stuart. My Dad was a keen supporter then but didn’t go to that particular game.

However he often referred to it especially when we were crossing the bridge at Preston station! I’m sure that’s why I’m always uneasy crossing such bridges.

I was interested to read that a collection was organised for the next home game for the injured. I would hope your grandmother would have benefited from this collection also. According to Jackman there were 25,000 on against Luton so one would have thought s reasonable sum would have been raised.

 

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On 01/11/2018 at 19:36, blueboy3333 said:

I'm sure I read someone on here (maybe  @meadows ) had a relative who was there when the bridge collapsed.

Yes my dad was among those who fell thru the bridge. He was quoted in the Monday evening’s Bury times following the game: “14-year-Old Blackburn fan Jim Wilkinson said blah blah blah ” although he had no idea that he had been until I unearthed the report about 3 years ago. 

It was 8 years to the day before I was born  

The civil report of the bridge collapse is online. 

Dad received an amount of compensation from the railway company within weeks to compensate him for (minor) injuries and damaged clothes after a couple of men cane round to see him within a few days and remembers buying a bike with it!

I’m not 100 per cent sure and it’s posdibly apocryphal but have seen it mentioned that Jack Walker was on the bridge when it collapsed. 

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On ‎01‎/‎11‎/‎2018 at 18:50, Stuart said:
Some Rovers fans, including a young Jack Walker, scrambled down on to the tracks to help pull the injured people free. Jack recalled the event in an interview in 1992. “I was on the bridge with my brother Fred, but we didn’t go down. We were at the other end. There were thousands of people trying to get on the bridge, then suddenly it started vibrating, rumbling and shaking and then the middle just dropped out. It was frightening. We went down on to the railway line and Fred and me helped get helped get people off the tracks – including the mascot.”
 

From the OP @meadows

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Wow yes. 

No mobiles of course then, no local radio and very, very few folk would have a phone. Not sure if dad was taken home by ambulance or got a later train but I’m sure he’s talked about mums & dads waiting on the Boulevard for their loved ones to get back while all manner of rumours swept round. These days my old college coursemate and friend Emma Murphy would be there within minutes!!

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Hi I think , no sorry I know that we are related, my grandad was William m Hargreaves , I was born in 1954 so I never knew him and only found out how he died at my mothers funeral 

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18 hours ago, June said:

Hi I think , no sorry I know that we are related, my grandad was William m Hargreaves , I was born in 1954 so I never knew him and only found out how he died at my mothers funeral 

Hi June. I’m fascinated by it. It isn’t something anyone really talks about. Do you know where he is buried?

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When you think about how LFC treat the 96 we should do more to remember this fella. He went to a Rovers game and never came home😢

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I assume pleasington cemetery, who was your grand parents ,  one of them would be my cousin 

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Hi Stuart, I’m into family history so thought I’d have a quick look on a website I’m subscribed to.

I’ve found a burial record for a William Hargreaves aged 66 in 1952.

It is for Pleasington Priory, St Mary and St John the Baptist, grave F.A12 and has Roman Catholic as this gentleman’s denomination.

I’m not local so don’t know if this is the right place, but I thought I’d share it in case

Hope this helps

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