A HUNDRED years ago today, on November 13, 1920, a party of young men, including four ex-soldiers, were on their way from Skipton to a Burnley football match when disaster struck.

The charabanc they were travelling in left the road at Blacko, near Barrowford, and crashed into an old Toll Bar House on the Gisburn Road.

Two died instantly when they were thrown out of the vehicle into the toll house, while three others died soon afterwards from their injuries.

Four, all in their 20s, had been part of an organised trip of three charabancs to set off from Grassington to see Burnley play Newcastle United. The fifth, just 16-years-old, had been on his way to Waterfoot to spend the weekend with his aunt.

It had been very much a day out; the motor buses had set off from Grassington before lunchtime, there had been stops at hotels along the way and the route to the Burnley ground had taken in picturesque Bowland.

It was about 2pm when the charabanc, which had been attempting a sharp bend, left the road and hit the toll bar house. The men, who died at the scene, including one who lost his fight for life as he was being put onto a stretcher, were transported to the Cross Keys Inn in Blacko, while the injured were taken to Reedyford Hospital in Nelson.

News of the accident caused a “sensation” in Skipton, reported the Craven Herald at the time. One man from the town who actually survived the accident was originally wrongly reported dead and the following day many motored to the scene to take a look at the mangled vehicle.

Thomas Wooff, the Skipton man who survived, described how everyone on the bus had been singing and laughing and were unaware of any danger until they felt the impact. He had been unhurt, apart from a few bruises, but described how all on the back seat had been thrown out.

“It produced in Skipton and the district a sense of tragedy which few local happenings in the past have diffused so widely or impressed so deeply,” reported the Herald, It was just a few short years since the end of the First World War and days after the second anniversary of the signing of the Armistice.

The driver, Frank Bailey, from Burnsall, was arrested and charged with being drunk in charge of a vehicle and with manslaughter. He first appeared at Colne Magistrates’ Court, when on his second appearance, before a packed courtroom, more than 40 letters were presented in defence of his good character.

He sent to Manchester Assizes for trial and in February, the following year, he was acquitted after a doctor who examined him at the time at Barrowford Police Station declared him not drunk at all, but perfectly sober and that his demeanour immediately following the accident had been of shock and not of drunkenness.

An inquest had earlier concluded that the deaths had been accidental. Taking place less than two weeks after the accident, the inquest, held before a jury at Nelson Town Hall, heard how the charabanc, with 15 passengers on board, had set off from Grassington to Skipton where it had picked up seven more match goers.

Mr Bailey told the inquest that when the charabanc had arrived in Skipton, he had drunk a small whisky at the King’s Arms. He stopped again in Gisburn, where he had drunk another small whisky, and had then driven on to Barrowford, where at lunchtime he had drunk a third small whisky and bought a packet of cigarettes and a cigar.

He described how after leaving the Moorcock Inn and descending a hill towards the toll house, he had applied both the handbrake and the foot brakes, but that the vehicle had gone out of control.

Of the men who died, the four from Skipton were buried at Waltonwrays Cemetery, following a service at the Parish Church. The fifth, and youngest, Stanley Turner, was buried in his home town of Earby.

Archie Lee, 22, had served with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and had been discharged from the army in 1918 after being severely injured.

Harry Jones, 21, had served with the Royal Engineers, had survived a gas attack while in France and had eventually been invalided out of the Army with trench fever.

Fred Phillip, 22, had served with the Nothumberland Fusiliers and had been demobilised following the signing of the Armistice.

John Stephenson, 22, had served in the Royal Air Force and had returned home just a year before his death in the accident.

The funeral corteges of the men brought Skipton to a standstill as they passed through the town centre and up the High Street.

Businesses were closed, blinds were drawn and flags were flown at half mast. Workers were given leave to attend the service and sympathisers from Skipton, Cross Hills, Cononley and Steeton, lined the streets. Police were in attendance to keep the access clear to the church and at the conclusion of the service, a procession was formed including a detachment of ex servicemen and Skipton Brass Band.

Three of the men were buried side by side in the cemetery, while the fourth, Harry Jones was interred in a family grave at the rear of the church.

Sixteen-year-old Stanley was taken to Earby where he was buried in the cemetery following a service at the Baptist Church.

In a letter to the Herald, Blacko Parish Council clerk Thomas Trafford expressed the sympathies of the council to the relatives and friends of the victims of the “appalling disaster” that had occurred in their township.

The Herald concluded: “It is difficult to convey in words the feelings of condolence and regret which such an accident bring uppermost in one’s mind, and after all, it rests largely within the powers of inherent fortitude to enable those most nearly affected to mitigate in some measure the grief it has occasioned.”