St Ann’s Road Tragedy
15 September 1909
A shocking event, awful in the consequences, occurred in St Ann’s Road Rotherham on Wednesday afternoon. Five children crushed against a wall by a runaway motor lorry. Two were killed almost right out and two died in the Rotherham Hospital late in the afternoon of Thursday.
In every case the victim was the child of working people and all had little brothers and sisters so that pain and sorrow was felt in many hearts. The singular suddenness of the event, the comparatively large death toll and the tender ages of the victims are circumstances that combined to make a deep and lasting impression on the public mind and arouse a feeling of widespread sympathy in the borough and district.
The statement of Mr Fuller Ward, the driver and owner of the vehicle, given shortly after the occurrence was as follows:
“At 4 pm, I was driving a heavy motor car ET 5, my own property propelled by steam. I had a load of bricks about four tons, which together with the engine and trailer made a total weight of 8 tons 17 cwt. I had brought the bricks from the Midland Iron Company’s Works, Masbrough and was going to Middle Lane.
On reaching the top of St Ann’s Road the engine jumped out of gear and commenced to run back down the hill. My assistant, William Hunt who was riding, at once jumped off and commenced to throw bricks under the wheels. The engine gained speed possibly about 20 to 25 miles an hour. There were two brakes, a foot and a hand brake. I applied the foot brake but could not reach the hand brake which was on the other side and worked by my assistant. They would have been powerless in a case like that.
On reaching St Leonard’s Road I made an attempt to turn the engine but owing to the great speed at which I was travelling I was unable to make the turn and ran into the wall of St Stephen’s Church. I jumped off the engine and saw that several children were in between the engine and the wall. I then got on the engine put in the gear and move forward a yard or two”.
A graphic account of the incident was given by Mr Isaac Hanby, a retired monumental mason and gentleman extremely well known in Rotherham:
“About four o’clock in the afternoon I was on my way from my home to the town centre, when I met my friend Mr Walter Bell, with whom I stood talking for about twenty minutes. It was during our conversation that the motor haulage wagon passed us going in the direction of Doncaster Road. After it had gone about a hundred yards it suddenly stopped. It started again and got as far as the bottom of Nelson Street, when it again stopped.
I observed the driver making a further attempt to proceed but instead of going forward the machine commenced to come back, to which strange fact I drew Mr Bell’s attention. It then seemed to be backing into the footpath near the bottom of Nelson Street on the Nelson street side of the roadway. However, it turned sharply and commenced to run down St Ann’s Road in a serpentine fashion.
It gathered speed on its way and as it neared the school. The driver stuck to his engine although he had apparently lost all control of the steering gear. I saw the children on the footpath where they seemed fairly safe for the engine then appeared to be keeping to the road from which a number of other children were hurriedly got away by Mr Bell.
The little children on the footpath seemed to be vastly amused at the unusual sight of a runaway engine, when to the consternation of everybody; the engine took to the footpath and crashed into the group of children and the stone wall behind them. The driver descended and appeared to be too astounded to realise what had really happened.
A gentleman whom I do not know by name came up and told the driver to ‘get back on the engine and shift her’ as there were some children behind her. This he did and removed the wagon away from the wall to reveal one of the most awful sights it has ever been my lot to witness.
It was like a slaughter house. Help was soon forthcoming and the workmen engaged in the erection of the steeple at the Eastwood Church were quickly rendering all the help they could. The five victims were soon in the arms of five men and hurried to the hospital”.
The Mayor’s Fund
“We are desired by his Worship the Mayor Cllr Mullins to announce that he has decided to open a fund with a view of defraying the expenses which are naturally falling upon parents of the unfortunate children who have been killed and also for the boy who is at the present time in the Rotherham Hospital as well as for the erection of a small monument in the Rotherham Cemetery.
His Worship will be glad if the public will kindly respond to his appear and all subscriptions will be forwarded to the Town Hall. The Mayor has opened the subscription list with a donation of £2 2s 0d.”
The Funeral Arrangements
The children will all be buried in one grave at the Rotherham Moorgate Cemetery.
The parents and friends will meet at the cemetery on Sunday afternoon at half past three o’ clock. Mr T W Outram of Tusmore Street has charge of all the arrangements. The teachers in the various departments of the St Ann’s School will attend.
Subscriptions have been made by the teachers and children at the school for wreaths and whatever is left over will be handed over to a public fund.