Abbeystead victims remembered

Villagers in St Michael’s will mark the 30th anniversary of the Abbeystead disaster this Sunday with a special Act of Remembrance.

Thursday, 22nd May 2014, 11:21 am

At 9.15am on Sunday morning they will gather in their parish church to recall the 16 victims of the tragedy.

Candles will be lit by the Abbeystead memorial – a simple brass plaque engraved with the names of those who died at or following the explosion at the Abbeystead water pumping station on May 23, 1984.

Rev Andrew Wilkinson will lead the service and Associate Priest the Rev Constance Whalley is to preach. Rev Wilkinson said: “This year we will be lighting a candle for every one of the victims who died during or an a consequence of injuires sustained during the incident itself.”

The 9.15 am service also falls on Rogation Sunday, a time when blessings are asked for crops and the church says it will mark the special day in the church calendar “by asking God’s blessing on our village life”.

But though the nature of the service will be reflective and prayerful, there is still anger about the tragedy.

There is also a keen awareness that after Abbeystead safety and design procedures were overhauled to the benefit of future generations. Tunnel design, safety legislation and protocol for the siting of valve houses all changed.

Wyre MP Ben Wallace told the Courier: “The victims of the Abbeystead disaster will never be forgotten. This accident need never have happened ....This tragedy and others like it have been the driving force to improve safety standards in the UK. We should not forget that it is because of events that happened at Abbeysteaad 30 years ago we have such strict rules.”

Eight people died instantly and eight at a later date, but no-one in the party escaped without injury from the disaster. It was never discovered what exactly ignited the methane causing the explosion.

Canon Ron Greenall, now author of the Courier’s Reverent Reflections page and former Rural Dean, had 
just taken over as vicar at St Thomas’s, Garstang, when the explosion, which blew the roof off the pumping station, occurred.

Within days of his arrival one of this first tasks was to conduct the televised funeral of water authority official Geof Seed, husband of Garstang’s renowned cancer campaigner Pat Seed. Pat herself died just weeks later. Geoff was helping to lead the party of 44, comprising St Michaels’ residents and water authority staff.

The aim was to show how the valve house was helping to transfer water from the River Lune to the River Wyre and allay residents’ fears about flooding in St Michaels.

Canon Greenalsaid: “The whole of engineering teaching had to change as result of the Abeystead explosion. It was rewritten as result of danger of methane in fresh water.”

For geologist Dr Nick Riley, who grew up exploring the Bowland fells and Lancashire countryside, the diaster called on his technical expertise.

He was, at the time, a member of the British Geological Survey, investigating the cause of the blast and the underlying geology of the area to discover where the methane gas had come from.

He said it was clearly an avoidable accident: “There was a personal association with it as I came from that region. It was an awful, terrible accident. I knew one of the ambulance people, they had never seen anything like it.”

Those who died were: James Rowland Birtwistle, Frank Coupe, Mark Edmund Eckersley, Pauline Elizabeth Eckersley, Herbert Charles Gardner, George Alan Lacey, William Mason, William James McGarry, John William Myerscough, Ralph Trevor Rawlings, Geoffrey Seed, Geoffrey Standing, Albert Tomlinson, Edna Tomlinson, Edith Freer Tyson and Penelope Ann Weild.