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Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

DISASTER AT BOB'S FERRY
This account was researched and written by Duncan Hamman (bikedunc@aol.com). It has appeared in the Partington & Carrington Transmitter Community Newspaper.

On Tuesday April 14th 1970 Partington and Irlam hit the headlines with a disaster that resulted in the death of five local men.
On that spring day, early morning workers were making their way over Bobs Ferry to start their days work at Cadishead and Irlam. The ferry had been carrying workers over the Manchester Ship Canal for almost a hundred years, on a short trip that took only a few minutes, from Lock Lane, near Our Lady of Lourdes School, to Bobs Lane, Cadishead.  Taking ten passengers at a time it was estimated that the 20-foot open boat carried 35,000 passengers, at ten pence each year.
The Ferryman's day started early at 5.30am, in order to get the early shift workers over the water, and continued until 11.00pm with trips every 15 minutes.

Strange Smell
This particular morning Ferryman Bernard Carroll, aged 27 of Lock Lane, was worried for, during the first couple of crossings, he had noticed an unpleasant and unusual smell.  Several of his passengers had complained of feeling unwell during the short trip, so Bernard decided to suspend the service until he had sought further advice. As he was phoning the police, several passengers, waiting on the jetty, were worried that they would be late for work and decided to row themselves over the canal. On his return Bernard could see the boat in the middle of the canal with the passengers obviously affected by the 4-foot high mist on the water. He jumped into another boat and started to row towards the drifting boat.

Eyewitnesses later told police that when Bernard was about 20 yards from the other boat the canal exploded into a sea of flames and both boats were engulfed in fire, this was followed by a series of explosions which shook houses a quarter of a mile away. About a one mile length of the canal became a river of fire 60 feet high and nearby houses in Lock Lane had to be evacuated. Nothing could be done until the flames had died down, then both boats were brought to the bank.
The Ferryman had died and five people in the other boat were badly burned.

The injured were taken to Hope Hospital and some were later moved to the Burns Unit at Withington Hospital. Some time later it was discovered that three other passengers from the boat were missing, having either jumped or fallen into the canal. The canal was too polluted for police frogmen to be used and too deep to be dragged and it wasn't until two weeks later that the bodies of the three missing passengers were found. The whole of Partington was stunned by the disaster, which had devastated the lives of nine local families.

Investigation
The Northwest Forensic Laboratory tested samples from the water and teams of men patrolled the canal banks in an effort to discover the cause of the fire. The inquest would be delayed until the mystery had been solved. Due to the closure of the ferry service local workers were faced with an eight-mile detour, over the High Level Bridge, to reach Cadishead.

On April 30th one of the injured passengers died in Withington Hospital and a fund was set up to help dependants to which Bucklow Council, the Manchester Ship Canal Company and local people donated a total of 2,300.  Residents were nervous and the Fire Brigade was called out several times when mysterious smells came from the canal.

On May 21st Shell Chemicals announced they had carried out an internal enquiry as a result of which two workers had been suspended from duty.

Inquest
On June 26th the inquest took place at Eccles where coroner, Mr. Leonard Gorodkin, heard the evidence. It was revealed that several hours before the disaster the Dutch-owned vessel 'Tacoma' was being loaded with 1800 tons of petrol at Partington Coaling Basin. It was normal practice to have two men observing the operation as a safety precaution to ensure that petrol did not overflow into the canal. The two men admitted that instead of being on the quayside, they had gone to the canteen and had been there from 2.00am until almost 6.00am drinking coffee and talking. During this period it was estimated that about 14,000 gallons of petrol had flowed into the canal. The Coroner stated: "We will never know just what caused the petrol to ignite and this is a most horrifying story." He continued: "As a result of this inquest I hope people will realise that safety regulations are not just bits of paper." There was a suggestion that the fire started when one of the ferry passengers lit a cigarette, but this was never proved.

A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded on the five who died in the accident, Albert Wimbleton aged 56 of Yew Walk, Brian Hillier aged 18 of Wood Lane, Roy Platt 29 of Daniel Adamson Avenue, Alan Cliff aged 17 of Birch Road and the Ferryman Bernard Carroll aged 27 of Lock Lane, all of Partington. The following were injured: Daniel MacAlister of Wood Lane, George Morrell of Lime Walk, Robert Kilgour of Camomile Walk and Stephen Hunter of Wood Lane.

The ferry re-opened some time after the fire but business declined, as many passengers were afraid of another disaster taking place. Jim and Dorothy Fogarty ran the service, for a time, but passenger numbers continued to fall and eventually the service was closed.

Now the scene of the Partington Disaster is deserted and covered in high weeds.




Written by Duncan Hamman. To send Duncan Hamman a private message, click here.

A memory of Irlam in Lancashire shared on Saturday, 24th October 2009.

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Comments

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

It was my dad's usual routine to travel that day. We lived in Partington Lock Lane. I was 6 months old. Fortunately my dad managed to fix his car that day and went to work...

Comment from Tracy Flynn on Sunday, 9th May 2010.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

My grandfather was on the ferry that morning although he had been off work sick, he decided to go back a day early unfortunately. I was 9 years old at the time and remember my nanna going to see him for the first time in hospital after the accident and being totally devastated. Although she was in perfect health prior to this, she died suddenly a few days later and the doctors thought it was the shock. My granddad held on for another few days, but unfortunately his injuries were too great and he died peacefully in hospital at the beginning of May 1970. It meant that my mum had lost both her parents within a week of each other. I have wonderful memories of my grandparents and think of them often. x

Comment from Lisa Duncan on Sunday, 5th January 2014.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Plans are well in hand to mark the 44th anniversary of the disaster on April 14th 2014. This will be attended by the daughter and widow of the ferryman, Mr Bernard Carroll, and one of the survivors. Families, friends and others are welcome to attend. Prior to this, memorial signs will be erected in Cadishead and Partington, and more permanent memorials are proposed for the future. Please let me know if you would like to be kept up-to-date.

Comment from Ted Walker on Tuesday, 2nd July 2013.

RE: Bob's Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Their story lives on.... Local Historians Seek Bob's Ferry Survivors Local historians are keen to trace survivors and relatives of the victims of the Bob's Ferry Disaster of April 1970. On that day Partington and Cadishead hit the headlines with a disaster that resulted in the death of five local men when the Manchester Ship Canal exploded into flame, engulfing the local ferry. Local Hero - The Ferryman, Mr Bernard Carroll, had closed the ferry after passengers complained of a strange smell and of feeling unwell. However several workmen, afraid of being late, set out in a spare boat on their own. Bernard noticed that they were in difficulty and went to assist them. Eyewitnesses later told police that when Bernard was about 20 yards from the other boat the canal exploded into a sea of flames and both boats were engulfed in fire. This was followed by a series of explosions which shook houses a quarter of a mile away. About a one mile length of the canal became a river of fire 60 feet high and nearby houses in Lock Lane, Partington had to be evacuated. Nothing could be done until the flames had died down, then both boats were brought to the bank. Bernard had died and five people in the other boat were badly burned. The injured were taken to Hope Hospital and some were later moved to the Burns Unit at Withington Hospital. Some time later it was discovered that three other passengers from the boat were missing, having either jumped or fallen into the canal. The canal was too polluted for police frogmen to be used and too deep to be dragged and it wasn't until two weeks later that the bodies of the three missing passengers were found. The whole of the district was stunned by the disaster, which had devastated the lives of nine local families. The ferry re-opened some time after the fire but business declined, as many passengers were afraid of another disaster taking place and eventually the service was closed. No Memorial Astonishingly, no company or individual was fined, although two workers at Shell Chemicals were found to have broken Health and Safety rules. It was a sign of the times, when the injury or death of working men was taken as an almost routine hazard. No memorial was placed at the site. Their story lives on... Now local historians would like to commemorate this event, forty years on. Working in partnership with Salford Council, Mersey Ferries and the Hamilton Davies Trust plans are being developed to provide a fitting memorial on the Cadishead side of the ferry. We hope to persuade Trafford council to join our plans. If you were involved in the disaster, or affected in any way, we would like to hear from you and share our plans.We can be contacted via the Hamilton Davies Trust Catherine Kaye Head of Communication Tel: 0161 222 4003 Mob: 07867 467056 email: catherine@hamiltondavies.org.uk Ted Walker Veronia Prowting Joan Hill Andrew Meadows Salford Council Neighbourhood Officer This article is based on an account researched and written by Duncan Hamman (bikedunc@aol.com). It has appeared in the Partington & Carrington Transmitter Community Newspaper

Comment from Ted Walker on Thursday, 21st February 2013.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Hi, My father Roy Platt was killed in that disaster, as a seven year old child I can only remember my uncle Gordon knocking loudly on our door screaming there had been an accident.(he watched it from shore as he had arrived late himself). I always thought that it was freaky that we lived in Daniel Adamsom Ave named after the engineer who designed the canal and had the surname Platt when the contract for the canal was signed at a meeting in Platt Hall/House!! As kids, we still used the crossing to go to Irlam baths on a Sunday.

Comment from John Platt on Friday, 5th October 2012.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

RE: proposed memorial. I lived in Hollins Green at the time of the disaster, taking GCE's aged 16. I have often thought that the site of the disaster ought to be marked on both sides of the canal with a fitting memorial. Of course that would require a "mover and shaker" on both sides of the water. I currently live in Culcheth, so cannot effectively lobby either council. If any local person is interested, I suggest that they contact the Hamilton Davies Trust in Cadishead, who support a lot of local worthy causes.

Comment from Ted Walker on Tuesday, 6th March 2012.

RE: Bob's Ferry Disaster at Irlam

If anyone wishes to arrange a memorial or plaque at the scene of the disaster you could perhaps apply to the Leader of Partington Parish Council on telephone 0161 912 5407 or email to partingtonparishcouncil@trafford.gov.uk for information on how to do this.

Comment from Duncan Hamman on Monday, 19th December 2011.

RE: Bob's Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Hi, we used to live at 231 Lock Lane from 1963 to 1968. I have distant memories of the ferry crossing, my mum used to take me shopping and we had to cross the canel to get to the shops. I can remember a railway and a steam train when we got to the other side. In 1968 my sister was born at the house on Lock Lane and soon after we moved to Reading. Later on I can rember Mum telling me that the ferry man had been killed in an accident but I never got told how. I now live in Stockport and sometimes have a drive out to Lock Lane to try and remember where the ferry started but there's no sign of it. Sorry for the people that lost their lives that day. Richard Amos.

Comment from Richard Amos on Tuesday, 13th December 2011.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Hi,

I am the daughter of Bernard Carroll, the ferryman who lost his life in the disaster. Last April, on the 40th anniversary of the disaster, I contemplated visiting the site to lay flowers. However, as the day grew closer, (in fact, the day before my visit), I started to feel a bit nervous about the whole thing. I started to question the reason for my visit. I had no memory of my past life there - it was suggested that because I was there with my mother Rita when it happened, my memory was wiped away - so was I there on some kind of mission to gain a scrap of precious memory? In the end, I didn't go. I intend to go and visit the site where my father's ashes were scattered (I found out that Bernard wasn't buried, so there was no grave to visit with my two sons), but have yet to pluck up the courage! What a wuss I am!

I would like to arrange a plaque on the site of the disaster at some point, but don't have the foggiest on how to start the process. Partington Council? Does anyone have any suggestions on how to go about it?

I would be grateful for any help.

Carrie Zeiler
nee Carrita Carroll
Shropshire

Comment from Carrie Zeiler on Wednesday, 29th June 2011.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

I understand there has been a suggestion to set up a memorial at the scene of the accident. Has anyone any more information about this?

Comment from Duncan Hamman on Sunday, 19th June 2011.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Reference the Partington Ferry Disaster.

At the inquest It was suggested that a passenger threw a cigarette into the water and caused the explosion. A witness at the inquest told the court that he was watching the ferry boat from the Irlam side just before the explosion. He stated that one of the passengers threw something into the water and this could have been a cigarette. I suppose we will never know.

Duncan Hamman (bikedunct@btinternet.com)

Comment from Duncan Hamman on Saturday, 26th February 2011.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

My husband & I lived on Wood Lane with our children at that time. My husband used the ferry to get to work every day. On that particular morning, he went to work as usual but was rostered off soon after he got there. He crossed the canal via the railway bridge, (£10 fine if caught) because of the bad smell and just had time to make us a drink when he saw a cloud of black smoke above the canal. As we watched, a line of flames swept along the water. We could not believe what we were seeing, we were used to watching the ship's funnels passing looking as if they were sailing through the fields, but this was the stuff of horror films. The sense of shock in the village had to be seen, no-one smiled or laughed for days after and when the bodies came up, it was even worse. I hope never to see anything like that again.

Comment from Barbara Vaughan on Saturday, 12th February 2011.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Reference the report on the Partington Ferry Disaster. I have changed my email address since writing this report. If anyone would like to contact me on this matter I can be contacted on my new email address bikedunc@btinternet.com

Thanks.

Comment from Duncan Hamman on Friday, 24th December 2010.

RE: Bob's Ferry Disaster at Irlam

Does anyone know Stephen Hunter, one of the survivors of the accident? I knew him 15 years ago but we have lost touch. I would love to catch up with him. He's still in the Irlam area.

Comment from Sandy Geraghty on Monday, 9th August 2010.

RE: Bob''s Ferry Disaster at Irlam

At the time of this sad event I was only 23 months old so have no direct memory but I have known about this disaster from quite a young age. I too, have a link to the disaster through my father; he is now 86 and lives in Irlam. He isn't related to any of the victims of that day but I feel he should be known for his part in those sad events. He was the officer in charge of the first fire appliances to get to the incident and set together the plan to get the survivers back to the canal bank and so on to hospital. So I ask that the bravery of those who came to save lives is remembered too. Thank you .

Comment from David Hartley on Tuesday, 11th February 2014.

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