THE SHEFFIELD SKATING TRAGEDY - KILLAMARSH
Sunday 28th November 1915
I must admit that before I read the following article I had no idea that such a tragedy had happened in the Sheffield area. With the notable exceptions of the Masborough Boat disaster of 5th July 1841 - The John William, a sea going vessel, sank as it was being launched on the canal at Forge Lane, Masborough with the loss of 50 lives - and the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, I thought that there would be very few accidents on the area's rivers,canals and reservoirs.
However a report in The Scotsman dated Monday 15th November 1915 (see sources) detailed a tragic accident on the Chesterfield - Stockwith, Canal at Churchtown, two days earlier
THE SKATING ACCIDENT NEAR SHEFFIELD
A later message from Sheffield with regard to the skating disaster says:- The disaster occurred on the Chesterfield - Stockwith Canal at Churchtown near Killamarsh. The victims were:-
Fred Northridge (17), pony driver, Killamarsh;
Harry Milner (18), pony driver, Killamarsh:
Annie Sedgewick, (12) , Killamarsh;
Mary Elizabeth Watson, (6) Killamarsh;
Alice Read, pottery hand Chesterfield; and
Mary Ann Ranskill, (18), pottery hand Chesterfield;
The canal which is not now used for traffic had been frozen over for some days, and had been the rendezvous of large numbers of young people. On Saturday, there was an unusually large number of young people on the ice, when suddenly there was an alarming crackling sound. Before anyone had time to realise what was happening, the six victims, who were close together were plunged into the water, which was something like nine feet deep. The alarm was raised, and although gallant attempts ate rescue were made, the unfortunate skaters perished. Dragging operations commenced, and the bodies were recovered within the hour. Miss Read was engaged to be married to Tom Northridge, brother of Fred Northridge, the banns having been read out the second time at Killamarsh the same morning.
Apart from the tragic loss of life, the most striking feature of the report is the weather. I cannot remember the last time there was public skating on Sheffield's ponds, rivers and reservoirs but it appears that the canal had been "frozen over for some days" and that the ice had supported "an unusually large number of young people" before the accident. And this was in the second week of November! For the canal to be frozen to this extent, the weather must have been sub-zero for many days.
I have been fortunate to locate a photograph of the canal as it would have looked like at the time of the accident
In June 2007 I was contacted by someone whose ancestor Fred Northridge was one of the fatalities in the tragedy. Her grandmother had kept local newspaper cuttings of the accident for the rest of her life and when she died, her grand-daughter preserved them. the details are as follows
At the top of the copy of the article is Nov 29th 1915 - this
is handwritten though.
Then you can see at the top of the article EGRAPH, MONDAY, which I can only presume is the Telegraph
Then the article is as follows :
2nd Article - handwritten Nov. 30 1915 - no indication of which paper it is from.
The inquest, which is to be held this afternoon, at the congregational school, Killamarsh, will probably bring forth evidence to throw further light on the tragedy. It is stated that there is a stream running into the canal near the spot where the ice gave way, and, if so, this fact coupled with the weight of a group of persons at one particular place, will explain the cause of the ice giving away. It appears that the victims were sliding on the ice in a sort of procession, Harry Milner, linked arm in arm with Mary Ann Ramskill - one of the Two chesterfield young women to lose their lives - taking the lead. Miss Ramskill was visiting Killamarsh with a friend, Alice Reid-another of the unfortunate victims who was engaged to be married to Tom Northridge came second in the line, and behind them holding a part of their clothing, came Annie Sedgewick and little Mary Watson. The sliders were all laughing and making merry when Harry Milner slipped and fell heavily in a sitting position. The other members of the party tripped over him, and the combined weight of the whole proved more than the ice would bear, and the six persons were precipitated into the water, their screams being described as agonising.
There were a number of children on other parts of the ice,
and they at once got to the bank. Wilfred Sargeson, Miner, Long Lane was one of
the first to attempt rescue work and as he stated yesterday he himself had to be
pulled out of the water in an exhausted condition. Sargeson is still suffering
for the effects of the immersion. "Save me Wilf" cried Harry Milner from the icy
cold water, as Sargeson made every effort to save the victims and it was while
Sargeson was stepping towards the edge of the broken ice that the ice under him
gave way, and he, too, found himself in need of help. There were other men on
the spot by this time - Benjamin Milner (brother of one of the victims), George
Watson (Father of the six year old girl who was drowned), Joe Kelk, two men
named Jones and Watts, and several others. In the absence of ladders or planks
rescue work was practically impossible, for the ice broke away as one approached
the hole through which the victims had fallen. Fortunately, a rope was at last
procured, and with this Sargeson was assisted out. By this time there was no
trace of the other victims.
I am sure that you will agree that these newspaper accounts are far more informative than the one that appeared in The Scotsman.
But the Daily Mirror dated 29th November 1915 gave the tragedy even less coverage than The Scotsman
There was also a photograph in the paper showing a frozen canal over with an arrow pointing to where they had fallen in. It also shows a hat on the ice which belonged to the little girl aged 6 and a couple of caps that belonged to the young men. A tragic photograph if there ever was one.
I am indebted to the person who has supplied me with the above information. Given that they are related to Fred Northridge. any further details relating to those who died that day would be gratefully received.
And in October 2007, I received another mail which that stated that Harry Milner, the 18 year old pony driver who died in the tragedy, was the brother of her grandmother Violet and that the "Jones" mentioned in the first article assisting in the rescue of Wilfred Sargeson, was more likely than not to be her grandfather (and Harry's brother in law) Albert Jones. The mail also indicated that there may be a link to the Vickers Steel family in some way.
If anyone can add to and/or assist me with any further details of the tragedy and its aftermath, please contact me
Built between 1771 and 1777, the Chesterfield Canal ran through the centre of Killamarsh, turning left at Churchtown, then right, before climbing a series of locks and passing through the Norwood tunnel on its way to Kiveton, later joining the River Trent at West Stockwith, north of Gainsborough. The 2,880-yard-long tunnel, which still exists (passing underneath the M1 motorway) but is closed off, was opened in 1775, having taken three years to construct. At the time it was the longest of its kind in the country and was so straight that daylight at one end was visible from the other. Vigorous ‘legging’ was required from the narrowboatmen to convey their craft through the tunnel. This tiring undertaking, which took over an hour, involved two men lying on their side or back on the narrowboat and ‘walking’ along the inner wall of the tunnel. The horses that normally towed the boats were walked over the top of the hill, reconvening with the narrowboat at the other side
The canal was out of use as a commercial waterway at the time of the 1915 accident following the collapse of the tunnel in 1907. Subsequently the canal fell into disrepair and much of its route through Killamarsh was infilled in the 1970s. Some of it was built upon, whilst parts of the old towpath became footpaths that still thread their way amongst the new houses. Parts of the canal still contain water; other parts of it are dry and overgrown. However, there are plans to construct a new waterway on a different route to re-connect Chesterfield to the River Trent.
The photo of Pingle Road is roughly where the skating accident took place (Churchtown, Killamarsh). You can see St Giles church top right. The canal came somewhere between the second and third houses from the left and did a sharp left turn (towards the right of the picture).
The Chesterfield Canal at Killamarsh - April 2012
The Scotsman dated Monday 15th November 1915 - I am rather puzzled that the date the Scotsman gave for the tragedy is at variance with other accounts that gives the date as Sunday 28th November 1915.
Daily Mirror dated 29th November 1915
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