A tragic air accident and a haunting story… Blackpool has a long aviation history. Sir Hiram Maxim whose invention the machine gun changed the world created the ride which is still in use at Blackpool Pleasure Beach and conducted the first heavier than air flight. He was a visitor to the early airshows at Squires Gate. In 1935 there were two airports the one at Squires Gate and one at Stanley Park. On Saturday 7 September 1935 visitors looked up to see five aircraft. This was at a time when a single aircraft was an unusual sight. Four of the aircraft were flown by Alan Cobham’s Air Circus. The fifth aircraft was a small Avro Bi-Plane flown by Captain Robert William Patrick Stewart who had been in the Canadian Air Force. On board the Avro were Lilian Barnes, 33, and her sister Doris, 30. The Avro was above the centre of Blackpool when it flew upward towards the Westland.. The propellor of the Westland cut the Avro in two. Shocked visitors saw the body of Lilian somersaulting from the aircraft. She struck a tree in Leopold Grove and fell to the ground missing a nine year old girl. She landed with such force that her shoes were torn off. The tail of the Avro landed in Cedar Square. The rest of the Avro caught the roof of 3 Swainson Street and crashed into the street where it caught fire. Just before the crash Doris was thrown from the aircraft and lay in Swainson Street. Firemen pulled the pilot from the aircraft which was burning. The aircraft exploded. Incredibly a witness said that the pilot was still alive. He was very badly injured and died almost immediately. There were no survivors from the Avro. The pilot of the Westland made a skilful landing without injury. Lilian and Doris were two of three sisters. They were: “small and plump and pretty with fair hair and bright eyes.” They were in the dancing troupe of the Amateur Operatic Society. Lilian was housekeeper and looked after her blind mother. Doris and her other sister worked at a hairdressers. The sisters lived at Gloucester Avenue. All the sisters were keen on flying and had flown many times. The inquest recorded a verdict of “Death by Misadventure.” Reading an account of the inquest it is not clear whether Captain Stewart was part of the Flying Circus or whether he had joined it independently out of a sense of adventure. He misread a signal by one of the other pilots who waved to him to indicate that he should fly lower. Captain Stewart waved back seconds before the impact. Possibly the inquest attempted to spare the feelings of the bereaved relatives. The coroner praised Captain Stewart for avoiding the Bus Station and crashing into a quiet area. Lilian and her sister Doris were buried at Marton Burial Ground. There were 6000 mourners. Many waited for hours and sat on gravestones eating packed lunches. During the service and aircraft dipped its wings in tribute and a Police Officer warned the crowd that a pick pocket was at work. Amongst the crowd hawkers were selling postcards of the accident. I have been told that many years after the accident a handbag was found on the roof of a house near Swainson Street. From 1993 to 2005 there was a gay pub called the Flying Handbag near Swainson Street. It has since been demolished and a new gay pub called the Flying Handbag was built in Queen Street. I was told that the Flying Handbag was called after the handbag found on the roof. Is this true? I leave it to you. Swainson Street is no more. The site is occupied by the new Sainsburys. Close by is New Lark Hill Street named after Lark Hill Street the site of another fatal aircrash during the Second World War.
I walked around the area. These are some pictures.
Pub of the Year is the Ramsden. The Ramsden was a meeting place for Blackpool’s Rammy Boys a football gang. The Yorkshire Bank is included because some day I hope to do a walk around Blackpool’s most distressing buildings. The fish stall on Abingdon Street Market is above an intact Victorian Prison Cell. The occupants would not have been very far from people buried in St John’s Churchyard. Many remains were not removed when the road was widened and an archaeological survey found that many had false teeth. One young lady was buried in an unusual fish-shaped coffin and poignantly the remains of a floral tribute were found in the coffin. The building being demolished is the Hippodrome which became the ABC where the Beatles performed twice and the song “Yesterday” was first televised. I was intrigued by short ladder,
The tree is in Leopold Grove. I do not know if is the tree that Lilian struck. The EWS sign is a reminder of the war. The rest is just stuff and I have no idea what the girls in green and the chef are doing outside the Washington.
I assume that Leopold Grove was called after King Leopold of Belgium a mass-murderer.