Sunday 28th November 1915

I must admit that before I read the following article I had no idea that such a tragedy had happened in the Sheffield area. With the notable exceptions of the Masborough Boat disaster of 5th July 1841 - The John William, a sea going vessel, sank as it was being launched on the canal at Forge Lane, Masborough with the loss of 50 lives - and the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, I thought that there would be very few accidents on the area's rivers,canals and reservoirs.

However a report in The Scotsman dated Monday 15th November 1915 (see sources) detailed a tragic accident on the Chesterfield - Stockwith, Canal at Churchtown, two days earlier


A later message from Sheffield with regard to the skating disaster says:- The disaster occurred on the Chesterfield - Stockwith Canal at Churchtown near Killamarsh. The victims were:-

Fred Northridge (17), pony driver, Killamarsh;

Harry Milner (18), pony driver, Killamarsh:

Annie Sedgewick, (12) , Killamarsh;

Mary Elizabeth Watson, (6) Killamarsh;

Alice Read, pottery hand Chesterfield; and

Mary Ann Ranskill, (18),  pottery hand Chesterfield;

The canal which is not now used for traffic had been frozen over for some days, and had been the rendezvous of large numbers of young people. On Saturday, there was an unusually large number of young people on the ice, when suddenly there was an alarming crackling sound. Before anyone had time to realise what was happening, the six victims, who were close together were plunged into the water, which was something like nine feet deep. The alarm was raised, and although gallant attempts ate rescue were made, the unfortunate skaters perished. Dragging operations commenced, and the bodies were recovered within the hour. Miss Read was engaged to be married to Tom Northridge, brother of Fred Northridge, the banns having been read out the second time at Killamarsh the same morning.

Apart from the tragic loss of life, the most striking feature of the report is the weather. I cannot remember the last time there was public skating on Sheffield's ponds, rivers and reservoirs but it appears that the canal had been "frozen over for some days" and that the ice had supported "an unusually large number of young people" before the accident. And this was in the second week of November! For the canal to be frozen to this extent,  the weather must have been sub-zero for many days.

I have been fortunate to locate a photograph of the canal as it would have looked like at the time of the accident

In June 2007 I was contacted by someone whose ancestor Fred Northridge was one of the fatalities in the tragedy. Her grandmother had kept local newspaper cuttings of the accident for the rest of her life and when she died, her grand-daughter preserved them. the details are as follows

At the top of the copy of the article is Nov 29th 1915 - this is handwritten though.

Then you can see at the top of the article EGRAPH, MONDAY, which I can only presume is the Telegraph

Then the article is as follows :


A terrible ice fatality involving the deaths of six young persons occurred on the Chesterfield and Stockwith Canal at Churchtown, Killamarsh, near
Chesterfield, yesterday afternoon. The names and addresses of the victims are:-

Fred Northridge (17), pony driver, son of Fred Northridge, miner, Kirkcroft Square, Killamarsh.

Harry Milner (18), pony driver, son of Elizabeth Milner, widow, Kirkcroft Square.

Annie Sedgewick (12), daughter of Sarah Sedgewick, Kirkcroft Square.

Mary Elizabeth Watson (6), Daughter of Geo. Watson, miner, Kirkcroft Square.

Alice Read (21), pottery hand, of No.1 Dock Wall, Boythorpe, Chesterfield.

Mary Ann Ramskill (18), pottery hand of No.6 Spa Lane, Chesterfield

The canal, which is not now in use for traffic, has been frozen over for some days, and in certain parts large numbers of children have indulged in
sliding and skating. Yesterday there was a larger number than usual on the ice, and the numbers apparently proved more than the ice could bear, for suddenly the six young people mentioned disappeared below the surface, the depth of water at this place being stated to be about nine feet.
Miss Nellie Foster, Churchtown, Killamarsh, stated that she was in a field by the side of the canal near Church Lane at 2.45 yesterday afternoon and
noticed two young women and two young men arm in arm walking or sliding on the ice. Suddenly there was an ominous cracking, followed by screams and the four young people were struggling in the water.
Miss Foster screamed for help, and a young man, Wilfred Sargeson, Miner, long lane, Killamarsh, who was a short distance away ran to the canal bank at the point where the accident had taken place. He promptly got on the ice to render assistance, and succeeded in grasping one of the young men, but the ice gave way and he dropped into the water. Two other men, named Watts and Jones, were by this time on the scene, and they were able to rescue Sargeson. In an exhausted condition Sargeson was taken home, and it was found necessary to call in Dr. Saunders, of Wales. Meanwhile none of the persons in the water was visible, but Police-constable Tinder was summoned and at once commenced dragging operations. Other persons also searched the canal with drags and within an hour six bodies were recovered. Dr Adams of Killamarsh, was present during
the operations, but could only pronounce life extinct as the bodies were brought to the bank. The fatalities all took place at one part of the canal
within a radius of three or four yards. The bodies were removed to the houses of relatives or friends to await the inquest. The Two young women from Chesterfield were on a visit to friends at Killamarsh, Miss Reid, was engaged to be married to Tom Northridge, brother of one the victims, and the banns were read out for the second time at Killamarsh church yesterday.

2nd Article - handwritten Nov. 30 1915 - no indication of which paper it is from.


Further Details Of Sad Ice Accident.

The ice disaster which claimed six victims at Killamarsh on Sunday has cast a gloom over the village, and yesterday the war had to take second place as a general topic of conversation. It appears that for some time after the occurrence there was a wide spread fear that the tragedy was even more serious than six fold. When the dragging operation had resulted in the recovery of the sixth body, it was freely rumoured among the hundreds of people who thronged the canal banks that a seventh person was missing. The police and civilians who formed the search party accordingly continued to drag the canal for sometime, but as the afternoon advanced without anyone else being reported missing, the search was discontinued shortly before 5pm.

The inquest, which is to be held this afternoon, at the congregational school, Killamarsh, will probably bring forth evidence to throw further light on the tragedy. It is stated that there is a stream running into the canal near the spot where the ice gave way, and, if so, this fact coupled with the weight of a group of persons at one particular place, will explain the cause of the ice giving away. It appears that the victims were sliding on the ice in a sort of procession, Harry Milner, linked arm in arm with Mary Ann Ramskill - one of the Two chesterfield young women to lose their lives - taking the lead. Miss Ramskill was visiting Killamarsh with a friend, Alice Reid-another of the unfortunate victims who was engaged to be married to Tom Northridge came second in the line, and behind them holding a part of their clothing, came Annie Sedgewick and little Mary Watson. The sliders were all laughing and making merry when Harry Milner slipped and fell heavily in a sitting position. The other members of the party tripped over him, and the combined weight of the whole proved more than the ice would bear, and the six persons were precipitated into the water, their screams being described as agonising.

There were a number of children on other parts of the ice, and they at once got to the bank. Wilfred Sargeson, Miner, Long Lane was one of the first to attempt rescue work and as he stated yesterday he himself had to be pulled out of the water in an exhausted condition. Sargeson is still suffering for the effects of the immersion. "Save me Wilf" cried Harry Milner from the icy cold water, as Sargeson made every effort to save the victims and it was while Sargeson was stepping towards the edge of the broken ice that the ice under him gave way, and he, too, found himself in need of help. There were other men on the spot by this time - Benjamin Milner (brother of one of the victims), George Watson (Father of the six year old girl who was drowned), Joe Kelk, two men named Jones and Watts, and several others. In the absence of ladders or planks rescue work was practically impossible, for the ice broke away as one approached the hole through which the victims had fallen. Fortunately, a rope was at last procured, and with this Sargeson was assisted out. By this time there was no trace of the other victims.


I am sure that you will agree that these newspaper accounts are far more informative than the one that appeared in The Scotsman.

But the Daily Mirror dated 29th November 1915 gave the tragedy even less coverage than The Scotsman

There was also a photograph in the paper showing a frozen canal over with an arrow pointing to where they had fallen  in. It also shows a hat on the ice which belonged to the little girl aged 6 and  a couple of caps that belonged to the young men. A tragic photograph if there ever was one.

I am indebted to the person who has supplied me with the above information. Given that they are related to Fred Northridge. any further details relating to those who died that day would be gratefully received.

And in October 2007, I received another mail which that stated that Harry Milner, the 18 year old pony driver who died in the tragedy, was the brother of her grandmother Violet and  that the "Jones" mentioned in the first article assisting in the rescue of Wilfred Sargeson, was more likely than not to be her grandfather (and Harry's brother in law) Albert Jones. The mail also indicated that there may be a link to the Vickers Steel family in some way.  

If anyone can add to and/or assist me with any further details of the tragedy and its aftermath, please contact me


Built between 1771 and 1777, the Chesterfield Canal ran through the centre of Killamarsh, turning left at Churchtown, then right, before climbing a series of locks and passing through the Norwood tunnel on its way to Kiveton, later joining the River Trent at West Stockwith, north of Gainsborough. The 2,880-yard-long tunnel, which still exists (passing underneath the M1 motorway) but is closed off, was opened in 1775, having taken three years to construct. At the time it was the longest of its kind in the country and was so straight that daylight at one end was visible from the other. Vigorous ‘legging’ was required from the narrowboatmen to convey their craft through the tunnel. This tiring undertaking, which took over an hour, involved two men lying on their side or back on the narrowboat and ‘walking’ along the inner wall of the tunnel. The horses that normally towed the boats were walked over the top of the hill, reconvening with the narrowboat at the other side

The canal was out of use as a commercial waterway at the time of the 1915 accident following the collapse of the tunnel in 1907. Subsequently the canal fell into disrepair and much of its route through Killamarsh was infilled in the 1970s. Some of it was built upon, whilst parts of the old towpath became footpaths that still thread their way amongst the new houses. Parts of the canal still contain water; other parts of it are dry and overgrown. However, there are plans to construct a new waterway on a different route to re-connect Chesterfield to the River Trent.



The photo of Pingle Road is roughly where the skating accident took place (Churchtown, Killamarsh). You can see St Giles church top right. The canal came somewhere between the second and third houses from the left and did a sharp left turn (towards the right of the picture).

The Chesterfield Canal at Killamarsh - April 2012


The Scotsman dated Monday 15th November 1915 - I am rather puzzled that the date the Scotsman gave for the tragedy is at variance with other accounts that gives the date as Sunday 28th November 1915.

Daily Mirror dated 29th November 1915

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This page was last updated on 04/04/14 13:41