Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Norfolk Arms Disaster 1st April 1829

This photo has a bit of the Norfolk Arms Pub on it to the far top right.

The pub has such historical importance to the town that I can't believe that we haven't come across a photo of the pub in its entirety yet.
The Hyde Cafe is also shown in the photo

The Blue Plaque located on the former site of The Norfolk Arms, Hyde was unveiled in March 2001 in memory of those who died in "May's Downfall".


From Tameside website

Throughout the reign of George IV, the depression in the cotton trade continued and produced the circumstances which led to one of the most appalling disasters of our industrial history - the event known as "May's Downfall".

In the summer of 1828, the cotton trade was in such a bad state that the masters announced a reduction of wages. The reduction was firmly opposed by the operatives and a great strike commenced which rapidly spread throughout the district. At Stockport the struggle was extremely bitter, neither side showing any desire to give way. In Hyde a better spirit prevailed and soon the mills in Hyde were all working full-time. However, the harmony did not continue. The operatives of Hyde were contributing each week from their wages towards the support of the people who were out on strike in Stockport, as a result of which their employers issued a notice on 24th March 1829 that the manufacturers, whose mills were working, intended to reduced their wages by 10 per cent every 14 days until the Stockport hands returned to work.

The Fateful Day

To discuss the threat, a meeting of operatives was held in The Norfolk Arms on 1st April 1829. In its day The Norfolk Arms was the principal hotel in the area and said to be the oldest commercial hotel. The room in which the meeting took place was fifteen yards long and seven yards wide. It was only expected to hold approximately 300 people, but there were nearer 700 present when the accident occurred.
Map of The Norfolk Arms 

John Dawson, one of Hyde's principal operative orators, was the chairman and was seated in a large chair belonging to a lodge of Oddfellows, placed near the middle of one of the side walls of the room. A man named Tobias Wood then began to speak, insisting on the working classes having a fair remuneration for their work. He had just cried out "It is bread we want and bread we must have," when an awkward crush took place, caused by new arrivals trying to crowd into the room. The chairman was appealing for order when part of the floor gave way and numbers of the audience fell into the gaping gulf which appeared. The weight of the people who fell with the floor broke through the floor of the rooms beneath and the unfortunate victims crashed into the cellar, amongst beer barrels and stillages, heaped one upon another in a distorted state. The portion of the floor which collapsed was only six yards square and the fact that over 200 persons were precipitated down the hole is evidence of the extreme closeness with which the occupants of the room were packed. Many who were standing upon the unbroken part of the floor were actually propelled into the gulf by the thrust of the living mass around them. The chairman narrowly escaped; barely more than a foot of sound flooring separated his chair from the edge of the hole. Seven young women were seated on a bench fastened to the wall and when the floor gave way they found their feet and legs suspended over the gulf, but they managed to hold on to the seat until they were rescued.
The scene in the cellar was dreadful - 29 persons were killed and many injured. When the cellar was searched, after all the bodies had been extricated, over 120 hats and 50 bonnets, shawls and cloaks were found.

The Verdict

The verdict at the inquest was "Accidental Death", but the belief for many years, persistently held by a large number of operatives, was that the disaster was the result of foul play. There is, however, no doubt that the jury's conclusions were correct.

The Casualties

The names and ages of those killed were:
  • Anne Adams (13)
  • William Bartley (22)
  • Richard Boam (27)
  • Robert Broadbent (21)
  • Betty Bromiley (21)
  • Alice Brown (19)
  • Joseph Cartledge (23)
  • Daniel Clough (17)
  • William Crooks (21)
  • Maria Heys (23)
  • John Hill (19)
  • Joseph Higham (19)
  • Thomas Howarth (21)
  • Eliza Howarth (22)
  • John Hunt (26)
  • Edward Morton (20)
  • George Newson (21)
  • Mary North (21)
  • Anne Penny (16)
  • Levi Rowbotham (60)
  • Ellen Shelmerdine (25)
  • Sarah Slater (11)
  • Anne Stead (23)
  • Deborah Swindells (19)
  • Thomas Swindells (22)
  • Heny Stafford (24)
  • Levi Thomas (24)
  • Joseph Ward (23)
  • James Williamson (25)
(There are minor discrepancies with regards to several of the dead according to different sources)

The Aftermath

On Sunday 12th April 1829, the Reverend James Brooks, minister of Hyde Chapel, preached a funeral sermon to a crowd of over 6,000 people in a field off Kingston Brow. Following the disaster, a relief fund was started for the benefit of the sufferers. The amount raised was£703 16s. 10d.
The disaster was known as "May's Downfall" because a Mr. John May was the landlord of The Norfolk Arms at the time.

The Norfolk Arms closed in 1960 for the redevelopment of the market centre and the licence was transferred to a new public house on Knott Lane called the Apethorn.

Thanks to Paul H for the photograph and Tameside for the history behind it. 
Very much appreciated.

Another tantalising view of of The Norfolk Arms


Picture supplied by Fred Booth 


Werneth Low said...

There's a decent view of the Norfolk Arms on Rutherford's painting, A Northern Saturday.

Hydonian said...

I think that's the only view we have of it, Werneth Low. We dont have (yet) any photographic evidence of the full building from the front.

Werneth Low said...

You will have when I've got a minute to scan and send you a couple of my postcards on which it appears! It's also partly on the postcard wgich you have on your homepage.

Dave Williams said...

The story on the Tameside website is word for word as told in The History of Hyde, although Thomas Middleton's book gives a little more information about the casualties (ages, occupations, and where they lived - ie Hyde, Newton etc).

Werneth Low said...

I think the photo of the ox roasting in celebration of the Hyde Jubilee in 1931 is worthy of a post in itself. It was commemorative of a great occasion in the town's history and there are still many of the souvenir plates around, having been handed down through generations of Hyde families.