Drowning tragedy in Morecambe Bay recalled 150 years later

The treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay
The treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay

A tragedy took place 150 years ago at Morecambe when four men from Yorkshire drowned in the Bay.

In the Zion Churchyard, at Attercliffe, there is a memorial to two of the men, Frank Giles and his brother- in-law William Coldwell who both drowned on August 17, 1868 at Morecambe.

John Giles, the head of the Giles family, worked as a foreman at the nearby Sheffield Smelting Works. Also employed there were his son Frank, aged 17 and his son-in-law William Coldwell.

Frank had a brother, Henry, and on Saturday, August 15, 1868 the three, including William Coldwell, set off from Attercliffe to travel to Morecambe, arriving in the evening.

Here they met up with 40-year-old Richard Wilkinson, a dyer’s labourer from Tumbling Hill Street, Bradford, who was there with his brother-in-law Isaac Ackroyd, a blacksmith, and Wilkinson’s two nephews, John William White and John Henry Ackroyd.

According to what Isaac Ackroyd told Lawrence Holden Esq., the coroner, on the Monday evening, they had left their lodgings at around half past five, and made their way to a sandbank known locally as Skeer Bank or Old Scar Bank where they undressed and began to bathe.

Their dangerous situation was spotted by a shooting party who fired their guns in an attempt to warn the bathers but to no avail.

Around seven o’clock they noticed the tide was rushing in and surrounding them with water.

They returned to the bank and began to dress. They tried to reach the shore but the combination of the fast incoming tide and the channel they attempted to cross proved too much.

Richard Wilkinson, John White, William Coldwell and Francis Giles, all drowned in the Bay.

Of the seven, it was only Isaac Ackroyd who had been able to swim.

They were not the only deaths on the sands of Morecambe Bay that year, A matter of a few weeks later saw two more deaths and in the years since then, more have died. Today the RNLI has a hovercraft to save lives here. This September, the Zion Churchyard is one of the locations for the popular Heritage Open Day scheme.

By Andrew Calow