Living memorial to victims of bridge disaster 170 years on

The unveiling of the 1845 Suspension Bridge Disaster monument next to the River Bure in Great Yarmou

The unveiling of the 1845 Suspension Bridge Disaster monument next to the River Bure in Great Yarmouth.Julie Staff and Valerie Howkins.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

Children in Victorian dress will create a poignant living memorial to those that perished in Great Yarmouth's suspension bridge disaster.

(1of1) Copy pic for Mercury - Copy pic of the Suspension Bridge disaster in Gt. Yarmouth.

(1of1) Copy pic for Mercury - Copy pic of the Suspension Bridge disaster in Gt. Yarmouth. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press Archant

The powerful tribute will mark 170 years since nearly 80 people lost their lives after a crowd of excited children crammed onto the perilous structure to see a clown bob along the River Bure, pulled by geese.

Organiser Julie Staff said that having a throng of people dressed in the clothes of the time would help to convey the scale of the disaster, bringing to life the numbers involved and the age of the victims who were mostly aged between five and 13.

Jostling to see the advertising stunt the bridge gave way and 79 people lost their lives, nearly 60 of them young children.

The tragedy however went scandalously unremembered in the town despite being the largest recorded loss of life in a single tragedy, casting a shadow over its character.

The 57-year-old grandmother believes she has gone a long way to right that wrong – unveiling a memorial to the victims two years ago.

Now preparations are gathering pace for a fitting anniversary which will mingle joy and sadness, as it did on that fateful day.

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Rather than being morbid she hoped there would be a festival atmosphere mixed with reflection.

She is planning a Victorian day with stalls, music and crafts at the memorial starting with a parade to the Market Place where people will pause in memory of those that died.

In the evening candle bags decorated by youngsters at St Nicholas Priory Junior School, with each one bearing a victim's name, will be lit and line the river bank.

Flower petals will then be scattered into the river accompanied by a violinist.

Mrs Staff said that what shocked her most when she first heard about the story was the lack of respect.

With most of the children coming from poor families it was up to their relatives to scoop up their lifeless bodies and take them home.

Few could afford a proper burial and in the end the bridge owners paid for many of the victims to be buried in two mass graves of 30.

'I never really knew about what happened properly and my husband who has lived here all his life never knew a thing. When I looked into the story it was the lack of respect that struck me,' she said.

'They were buried in mass graves and their families told they were being punished because people could not read or write. When I unveiled the memorial I felt it was all put right. It is nice to involve the school, they will remember and carry it on.'

'It would be nice to have a bit of fun just as it was on that day,' Mrs Staff added. 'But I do want to make it as Victorian as possible and a happy occasion, not morbid. The visual side will make it more powerful and I hope people will join in on the day.

'I am trying to include as many people as possible and I hope it is going to be a nice day.'

Stalls are £8 with proceeds donated to the Salvation Army's food bank.

Anyone wishing to take part or help with Victorian clothing, raffle prizes is asked to contact Mrs Staff on 01493 243501 or 07768 661282.

The event on May 2 will kick off at 1pm with the parade.

Will you be taking part in the event? Contact liz.coates@archant.co.uk

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