Plea for memorial to 80 deaths in Yarmouth bridge disaster

A BUSTLING crowd of 300 delighted children packed onto a suspension bridge to catch a glimpse of a clown being pulled along the River Bure by four geese.

But their perfect day out turned into a scene from hell when the bridge's metal chains snapped, screaming youngsters were plunged into the river currents and heavy beams from the bridge collapsed and crushed them to death in a watery grave.

Nearly 80 people lost their lives in the Great Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster on May 2, 1845.

But local campaigners say the tragedy has been swept under the carpet, and the town needs a monument to remember.

The former bridge stood near to the White Swan pub, in North Quay, and Yarmouth grandmother Julie Staff is founding a charity to raise funds for a statue beside the river.

'It's like the disaster has been swept under the carpet,' said Mrs Staff, 54. 'We owe it to the memory of those who died to build a monument in that area. It's part of Yarmouth's history and something should be there.'

The demolition of the jetty inspired her to do something to remember Yarmouth's history.

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She said there was a gravestone to remember one of the dead in St Nicholas Church, but it is a private grave and was never intended as a monument to all those who lost their lives that day.

And she says the blue plaque on the White Swan pub cannot convey the full scale of the disaster.

'Heaven turned to hell that day,' she said. 'Most of the victims were children and it's awful. I'm so fired up with this.'

Mrs Staff, who lives in Euston Court, is hoping to raise funds for a statue of children, which would have the names of everyone who died engraved below it, along with details of the disaster.

She has been in discussion with the council and local historians, is setting up a suspension bridge disaster memorial charity, and hopes as many people as possible will donate �1 to it.

And she also hopes the names of all who donate to the statue can be written down and buried in a box beneath the monument.

The suspension bridge disaster unfolded after a clown called Nelson arranged a promotional stunt as an advert for a circus.

Thousands lined the river bank to see the clown sit in a barrel and be pulled down-river by four geese.

Hundreds clambered on to the suspension bridge to get a better view as he passed underneath.

But the bridge collapsed under the weight of the crowd, plunging them into the water.

According to records, the youngest child who died - Charles Dye - was just two years old, and the majority of the 79 dead were aged between five and 13.

Campaigners say the disaster - which is the largest recorded loss of life in one incident in the town's history - should not be forgotten.

Mrs Staff hopes to have her charity up and running within a fortnight, and details of it will be printed in the Great Yarmouth Mercury in due course.

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