Memory Lane: Disaster strikes – but where?

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A RECENT Memory Lane article, mentioning the former Vickers factory at Squires Gate has prompted aviation historian Peter Moran to stress just how much wartime censorship affected the way Fylde coast readers received their news – including through The Gazette.

The buildings incorporated significant design features, namely that the steel roof trusses were of the longest single span in use in Europe at the time.

Peter says: “It seems probable that this design was a little over ambitious, as, during the construction process one of the buildings collapsed, resulting in a headline in The Gazette of August 9,1940 Seven Killed in North West Disaster.

“Given that the country was at war at the time and the press subjected to censorship, it was deemed necessary that any report of this kind was not specific as to location.”

The Gazette submitted a report on the accident to the censor who ordered that the addresses and occupations of the men who died – it was later established that it was six, not seven – and the 13 injured should not be revealed, along with certain identifying features such as the fact that the survivors were taken to Blackpool’s Victoria Hospital.

Peter, who lives in Carleton, says: “The names of the dead were, however, published widely and, if any interested party had perused subsequent editions of The Gazette, they would have found death notices for each of the victims linking them with Blackpool.”

Seventy one years ago this week, on September 9, 1940, the inquest into deaths of the six victims of the Squires Gate factory collapse was concluded and reported in The Gazette.

Peter says: “There was an application that the proceedings should be held in camera, but this was dismissed.”

Sir Owen Williams, a prominent architect and engineer of the time, gave evidence and attached no blame to the steelwork or concrete contractors.

The accident was due to something outside their everyday experience. Even so, he stated that, in his view, there was ‘some miscalculation – a natural omission having regard to the unusual features of the building’.

One survivor told the inquest that he had been working on a scaffold about 15ft high when it vibrated and the steel trusses appeared to sag in the middle. The scaffolding on which he was standing collapsed, and two planks came together and caught him by the ankle.

He was suspended head down 12ft from the ground until released.

Another worker said he did not know whether the crack he heard was of concrete or of steel, but that it was immediately followed by a roar.

The coroner then returned verdicts of misadventure on the six victims, although nowhere in the report was there any hint of the location of the North West factory’s whereabouts.