Lancaster Storeys: ‘huge cloud of smoke billowed towards us’

An aerial view of White Cross showing the size & position of the chimney.
An aerial view of White Cross showing the size & position of the chimney.
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Another reader also got in touch to share his account of the day the 250 ft chimney fell.

Tony Rigby, of Over Kellet said: “In February 1966 I worked with a small group of ladies in the statistical office at Storeys.

“Among other responsibilities it was our main task to analyse all the returns produced by the people inspecting and cutting into rolls all the many types of the finished materials for sale to the public.

“Our little office occupied the corner of the top warehouse, one of the inspection departments coming under the overall management of Mr John Dart.

“Situated as we were, three floors up, my desk had an unrestricted view of the chimney, soaring 250 feet into the sky and a landmark for miles around.

“It was a free standing structure in an open space between mill buildings and was actually two chimneys in one, there being an inner column inside the one you could see.

“At the foot of the stack was a small shack which served as an office for the adjacent department producing the famous adhesive decorative Contact sheeting.

“A loud rumbling noise caused me to glance out of the window. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Billowing towards us was a huge cloud of black smoke and disappearing into this was the whole chimney falling completely vertically upon itself – a spectacle I shall never forget.

“It took a while for the scene to clear but then what a horrifying sight was revealed. What had been, just moments before, an empty thoroughfare, was now completely blocked with a smoking mountain of rubble – and no chimney. Desperate men were then seen smashing their way into the Contact Department office to rescue the sole occupant, and Leonard Fox then emerged, dust covered and dishevelled, from a very narrow escape from death.

“A JCB digger then appeared from somewhere to attack the pile, but then quickly realised that it was a hopeless task at that early stage – where, for instance, could the rubble have been moved to?

“Other departments suffered damage, with, as we were to learn later, Mary Mounsey in particular being terribly scalded by a ruptured pipe. Our little office had been working quite a lot of overtime, but we felt that we should all go home at the normal time so that our families would know that we were all safe.

“This was long before the days of mobile phones and the firm’s telephone switchboard was jammed with incoming calls from worried relatives, as word of the disaster got around.

“After my tea I returned to the factory and joined a human chain of people on the pile of rubble. We were issued with big leather gauntlets to handle the still hot brickwork, which we passed down from hand to hand under temporary floodlighting. At that stage no bodies had been found.

“I was near the top of the pyramid and turned to hand down to the man below, only to see, to my great surprise, my very good friend Barry Pardoe there next to me. He didn’t work at Storeys but when he had heard of the collapse he came from his home in Quernmore and found me safe and well – we weren’t on the phone at home at that time. Typical of Barry – he now lives in Middleton.

“Tragic though the deaths and injuries were, it has to be admitted, I think, that if the chimney had to come down it could not have fallen in a better way. The fact that it collapsed vertically mostly into the surrounding yard, and didn’t topple over, minimised the casualties. The death and injury toll could have been much, much worse than it sadly was.”