As the light of day slowly began to fade away, the darkness that quickly descended brought with it a freezing chill that had already frozen a large area of deep water which had been left dormant at the foot of a quarry named the Tim Bobbin delph.
Inside nearby houses, families where in full enjoyment of Christmas cheer, singing and dancing with some preparing themselves for their evening meals. And at number 2 Park Lane, just on the outskirts of Burnley, this is exactly what was happening within the home owned by Thomas Tattersall.
But all the happiness and joyful scenes would soon come to a terrifying end as, just before 4.30pm on the 26th December 1887, the lives of one family would be forever changed in the most tragic of ways.
The Tim Bobbin delph was a large disused quarry that was situated only yards away from the Tim Bobbin public house, which itself was located alongside Padiham Road. Triangular in shape, it contained water that was reportedly 150ft long and up to 90ft deep but in the days leading up to Boxing Day, a severe frost had covered the water with a thin layer of ice.
And for two young boys, this was too tempting an opportunity to miss!
Just after four o’ clock in the afternoon, Frank Hartley and his friend, Thomas Hewitson – both twelve years old, had ventured into the quarry, and, with boys being boys, both were eager to slide onto the ice.
Hewitson would be the first to take the lead, stepping out onto the ice closest to the water’s edge. Anxiously he slowly made his way further along, and happy it would be able to take his weight, his over-confidence would quickly evaporate as he began to jump to test the strength of the ice.
Without any warning, the ice suddenly gave way, plunging Hewitson into the freezing cold water.
Hartley, after seeing his friend disappear below the surface of the ice quickly went to his rescue. Unfortunately, this would also prove to be a mistake as he himself would end up in the water.
Stood on the water’s edge was another boy by the name of Michael Davenport, 14 years of age who lived nearby at Greenhalgh-street. And after witnessing the horrifying scenes occurring in front of him, he rushed to the house of Thomas Tattersall at number 2, Park Lane.
Inside where Ezra Tattersall, 19 years of age and the son of Thomas. His brother, Joseph Tattersall, 17; Arthur Barritt, 19 and cousin of the Tattersalls; Joseph Barritt, 44 and father of Arthur; and finally, John Barritt, 43.
Upon opening the door to Michael and after seeing him in such a state of panic and upon hearing the news of Hewitson and Hartley struggling in the water; Ezra, Joseph, Arthur, John and Joseph Barritt all fled from the house and quickly made their way along the now frozen and lumpy ground towards the steep sides leading down into the quarry – which was less than a minute away from their house.
Upon arriving at the scene, both Frank and Thomas had managed to keep themselves afloat by holding onto the edge the ice, but it was quickly evident that they could not hold on for much longer.
Joseph Barritt was the first to go out onto the ice, but his nephew, Ezra Tattersall, urged him to get off the now brittle ice.
“Uncle, come off ; the ice will bear me better than you!” shouted Ezra.
It was too late.
The ice gave way under Joseph’s feet, sending him plummeting into the water. Not giving any thought to his own safety, Ezra immediately fled towards where his uncle had disappeared, only to fall into the water himself.
Panicking, Arthur Barritt ran towards the opposite side of the delph in the hope of reaching out to both his father, Joseph and his cousin, Ezra, only to share the same fate.
John Barritt and Joseph Tattersall, seeing the horror unfolding in front of them, would also attempt to reach out and grab the hands of those now suffering in the ice cold water, but it was all to no avail, and just as had happened to Joseph Barritt, Ezra and Arthur, both John and Joseph would also find themselves at the mercy of the delph.
Other people had by now arrived at the delph, with some more than willing to put their own lives in danger.
One of them was Mr. Morani Proctor, a retired school-master who lived in nearby Park Lane. On hearing of the news in the delph, he took hold of a rope and made his way to the scene.
Upon his arrival, he saw John Barritt who had managed to keep himself afloat, and without a seconds thought, Proctor threw the rope towards him. However, John, who was suffering from the effects of the cold water, shouted; “I’m done for. I cannot get hold of it!”
Frantically splashing in the water, John would quickly use the remaining energy he had; trying desperately to grab hold of the rope before succumbing to the cold.
Mr. Alfred Lonsdale, who had been alerted to the incident within the delph, had made his way down, carrying with him a rope and a clothes-prop. But as he made his way tentatively across the ice, just as it had done with the five brave men before him, it gave way, sending him crashing into the water.
However, and luckily for him, the water wasn’t as deep, with his feet quickly finding the bottom. And whilst the waterline was up to his neck, he managed to throw the rope towards Frank and Thomas.
Alfred slowly pulled Frank along the ice and towards safety. Using the clothes-prop, he then proceeded to bring Thomas safely over the ice. Both boys by now were suffering from the effects of the water; numb with not only the cold, but numb from the fear and the chaos they had just witnessed.
As for the five family members who had desperately tried in vain to help the two young boys; Ezra and Joseph Tattersall, Arthur, Joseph and John Barritt – they would all sadly drown that evening.
Their bodies would be pulled from the water at various times throughout the night, with Arthur Barritt being the first at around six o’clock.
John Barritt would be next to be removed at around seven o’clock, followed by Ezra Tattersall at eight o’clock, Joseph Tattersall at nine o’clock and Joseph Barritt sometime around 10:30pm.
Ezra’s body was discovered with a rope tied around his waist whilst his brother, Joseph was found with a rope around his right hand.
At the inquest within the Tim Bobbin public house, that would take place on Wednesday, 28th December, Sergeant Cant would tell the jury that he was present when all the bodies were pulled out from the delph.
After giving details as to the time when each body was removed, he then described the depth of the water as being between 10 and 12 feet deep. He would also tell the jury that the watches on the deceased had all stopped at 4.35pm.
Thomas Tattersall, father of Ezra and Joseph, was visibly distraught throughout the proceedings and had to be supported, and yet he still managed to find the courage to describe in detail the events leading up to the deaths of his two sons, telling the jury that he had seen them run from the house at around 4.30pm and never saw either of them alive again.
After hearing all of the evidence, the coroner, Mr. H. J. Robinson said that the only verdict they, the jury, could return was that of accidently drowning and that the deceased men “seemed to have lost their heads in the face of danger.”
Mr. T. G. Sandy, foreman of the jury, asked for a private consultation with the jury, and upon their return they returned a verdict of death by drowning on all victims. He would also add that in their opinion, the pit in which the drownings took place should be filled at once up to the level of the water.
Mr. Ford, acting on behalf of Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth, owner of the quarry, agreed, saying Mr. Shuttleworth would be glad to carry out any recommendations of the jury.
On conclusion of the inquest into the deaths of the five men, a committee was appointed with a view to arranging an appeal to help the families of those whose had sadly perished.
Thomas Sandy, foreman of the Jury read out a statement which read; “By the accident, Mr. and Mrs. Tattersall are derived of the two bread-winners of the family, their two sons, Ezra and Joseph, having lost their lives in the heroic attempt to save the lives of others. Mr. and Mrs. Tattersall are now without any means of subsistence, and have a family of ten children dependending upon them. Mrs. Barrett, the widow of Joseph Barrett, who lost his life on the same occasion, and her child, also in need of assistance. A committee has been formed, consisting of Alderman Nowell, Councillors Yates and Williams, Messrs. A. Cheshire, T. Holden and T. G. Sandy, to distribute any subscriptions the public may favour them with. “
The funeral of the five brave men who perished whilst trying to save the two boys took place on Thursday, 29th December at Burnley Cemetary.
It’s obvious to say that deep sympathy in the town and the district was very much in attendance, and as the funeral procession made its way towards the cemetary, blinds were drawn along Padiham, Burnley Barracks and all along Accrington Road, with hundreds of mourners filling the streets. Men lifted their hats and bowed their heads as the cortege past by them.
Inside the cemetary, over 3,000 more people had already arrived to pay their final respects and at 3.40pm, the cortege finally arrived.
Reverand W. Reilly gave a brief but powerful speech, which included him saying that these five men where not men who had poisoned the moral atmosphere and it was always a perplexing thought that it should come to pass that the good, pure, and promising should be cut down, whilst the unworthy were still kept living.
A white flower was placed upon the lid of each coffin; a tribute to the nobility of their lives.
The solemn service was concluded by people singing “Give me the wings of faith to rise,” and a prayer by the Reverand W. Briscombe.
The coffins were then removed from the chapel and carried by associates of each of the men to their final resting places. The two Tattersall’s were lowered into one grave, with John Barrett and his son, into another. Joseph Barrett was lowered into a third grave. with all three coffins finally being laid to rest side-by-side.
At the graveside, a painful scene was caused when the sister of Ezra and Joseph fainted, showing all the signs of intense grief.
The committee that had been set up to help raise funds to help the familes of the deceased would soon begin to receive funds from many people within the neighbouring towns. Many events were set up to also help raise much needed funds, with one being a football match between that involved Burnley and Accrington Football Club. It was unanimously agreed that the match should take place at Turf Moor, home of Burnley Football Club.
Along with this and many other events taking place, by the end of February 1888 and just seven weeks after the dreadful events that had taken place at the Tim Bobbin quarry, over £460 had been raised – roughly £70,611 in todays value.
Sources used in this story;
Burnley Express – Saturday 31st December 1887
Preston Herald – Saturday 31st December 1887
Lancashire Evening Post – Thursday 29th December 1887
Lancashire Evening Post – Wednesday 28th December 1887
Burnley Express – Wednesday 28th December 1887
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