It was 99 years ago this summer that a tragedy occurred off the Fylde coast which remains a mystery to this day.
Cleveleys boatman John Croft had bought a new craft, called Agnes, at Fleetwood the year before and in 1914 began taking paying passengers out on trips from Cleveleys beach.
The vessel was dependent on her sail and had no engine, but skipper Croft was an experienced sailor.
In September that year, when England had been at war for almost four weeks, John, then 69, took out a party of seven – a cotton mill overlooker from Oldham, his three children, a 19-year-old girl and a young man from Congleton. The overlooker’s wife didn’t like sailing and remained on shore.
Altogether there were five adults and two children aboard the boat which set sail when the sea was, according to reports, as calm as the proverbial mill pond.
They were never seen again.
Afterward it was revealed that about 2pm on that glorious, cloudless afternoon, a Fleetwood prawner had passed Agnes and she had her sail set for a return to Cleveleys.Anxiety mounted as people on the beach waited for the boat to return.
The following day it transpired that the captain of a pleasure steamer, Robina, which sailed between Blackpool and Morecambe, had the previous evening picked up a boat floating bottom upwards, with her sail set, about three miles off Cleveleys. There was no trace of survivors.
Later bodies were washed up at various points along the Fylde coast and John Croft’s grave is to be seen in Thornton Parish Church graveyard.
Postcards showing John Croft and his craft Agnes were sold to help a fund set up to raise money for the Oldham woman who had lost her entire family.
It was never discovered how the tragedy happened. The most widely held theory is that Agnes, if not overloaded, was fulled loaded and tipped when a passenger stood up and tried to change places.
But the mystery is still
unsolved almost 100 years on from what remains Cleveleys’ worst sea tragedy.