Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Severn railway bridge disaster victims remembered
by Bob Naylor
This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the River Severn shipping disaster that cost the lives of five of eight crewmen, the loss of two ships and the partial destruction of the Severn and Wye Railway Bridge which spanned the river upstream from Sharpness.

The tankers, Arkendale and Wastedale still in the River Severn near Purton 50 years after the tragedy           Picture by Bob Naylor

On the evening, of October 25th 1960, two tankers, Arkendale with 300 tons of oil and Wastedale with 350 tons of petroleum, set sail from Avonmouth in good visibility bound for Sharpness to join the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. 

When they reached Berkley Power Station at 10 pm a heavy fog descended and in the fog they missed the navigation lights for Sharpness and they continued upstream.  
     They both collided with the Severn and Wye Railway Bridge and one of the upright columns collapsed. Two spans of the bridge then fell onto the boats and 650 tons of petrol and oil were set on fire. A gas main on the bridge was severed and the river was ablaze for about two miles around the accident — it wasn't until the fog cleared the next morning that the full horror of the disaster could be seen. 

Monuments made from stone salvaged from the original bridge are to be erected on both sides of the river at Purton and Lydney — overlooking the wrecks of the tankers.

Paul Barnett, Chairman of the Friends of Purton said, "The installation of these memorials on either side of the river is most fitting, as they once again reconnect these maritime communities."
     Paul would like to hear from family members of the crew, particularly George Thompson, Alex Bullock and Robert Nibblett, and he would especially like to talk to anyone who has knowledge of Charles Freeland, originally from Essex, who joined a successful rescue mission to pull a survivor from the water that night.

Friends of Purton are mounting an exhibition about the tragedy from 16th October at Dean Heritage Centre, Soudley, Gloucestershire, GL14 2UB.
Anyone with any information should contact Paul Barnett on 07833 143231.

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