Home » Business & Industrial » ​​In 1845, the Yarmouth Suspension Bridge Collapse After a Large Crowd Gathered to Watch a Clown in a Bathtub Being Pulled Up the River by Four Geese. Seventy-Nine People Died

​​In 1845, the Yarmouth Suspension Bridge Collapse After a Large Crowd Gathered to Watch a Clown in a Bathtub Being Pulled Up the River by Four Geese. Seventy-Nine People Died

Bridges are among the most remarkable engineering feats in history, and in rare cases, they have unexpectedly and catastrophically failed due to structural deficiencies, weather conditions, or too much weight. Buy did you know what happened on the Yarmouth Bridge in 1845?

In 1845, 79 people were killed when a bridge collapsed as a large crowd gathered to watch a clown in a bathtub being pulled up a river by four geese.

The Yarmouth Suspension Bridge

In 1827, an act of parliament was passed to build a bridge over the River Bure in Great Yarmouth. The Cory family paid for the bridge, which was supposed to replace a ferry and provide easier access from town to marshland, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and the family’s bowling green. The investment would be repaid through a toll on those who cross. Joseph John Scoles of London designed the bridge.

He created a suspension bridge with two towers and a 63-foot clear span. The span was later increased on-site to 86 fee, and the suspension chains were lengthened accordingly, but Scoles was not consulted on this matter. It would be usual to increase the height of the towers to match the lengthened chains.

A suspension chain supported the bridge at both deck edges, each chain from two sets of eyebars forged by a local blacksmith. The slightly arched 14-foot-9-inch expansive deck housed a central single carriageway 6 feet 9 inches wide and two footways each 4 feet wide. 

Vertical iron rods connected the deck to the suspension chains. The towers were 92 feet apart, measured from center to center, and were built on piled foundations on either bank. Gidney Goddard built the bridge, which Mr. Green, a local surveyor, oversaw.
On April 23, 1829, the bridge was opened to the public. Scoles attended the opening, which was his first visit to the site. The road from Yarmouth to Acle was built over the bridge in 1832. This was not intended, and the bridge was widened by hanging the footways from the sides of the deck to provide enough width for two carriages to pass each other. (Source: Kiddle)

The Collapse of the Suspension Bridge

Cooke’s Circus was in Great Yarmouth, and as part of a promotion, a clown named Arthur Nelson was scheduled to sail up the River Bure in a washtub pulled by four geese on May 2, 1845. The trick, invented by Dicky Usher in 1809, was accomplished by attaching the tub to a rowboat via an underwater line. A large crowd gathered around 5 p.m. to witness the feat, which began with the flood tide. Several thousand people watched the clown from the riverbanks, with at least 300 in a crowd 4-5 deep on the bridge’s southern footway.

At this point, one of the eyebars in the southern suspension chain failed; members of the crowd witnessed this, but no action appears to have been taken to evacuate the bridge as a result. The second eyebar in that section of the chain carried the total load for about five minutes before failing as well. 

The south side of the deck collapsed into the river, but the surviving chain held up the north end, and most of the crowd was thrown into the water. Children, who made up a large portion of the front row, were crushed against the parapet railing by those behind them. One child was saved from drowning by her mother, who held her with her teeth.

Boats were quickly dispatched to the scene to rescue the victims. The injured and deceased were transported to nearby homes and pubs (including the Norwich Arms, Admiral Collingwood, and the Swan). The Union House hotel provided blankets for the injured, and Lacons Brewery made hot baths available to revive the survivors.

On the day of the accident, 75 bodies were recovered, though some remained trapped in the bridge wreckage – one man was rescued alive sometime later after being freed with a crowbar. The disaster claimed the lives of 79 people. (Source: Kiddle

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