21 passengers hurt in Preston after speeding buses crashed in case from yesteryear

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a shocking road traffic accident from 1939.

Thursday, 31st December 2020, 3:45 pm
A Preston Corporation bus was involved in the collision
A Preston Corporation bus was involved in the collision

Early on Maundy Thursday morning in early April 1939 the 6.15am Preston Corporation double decker bus from Ashton headed along Fylde Road back to Preston filled with workers, many of them office cleaners.

Leaving Preston at the same time was an empty single decker Ribble Motors bus due to go into service at Lane Ends. The Ribble bus travelling along Fylde Street had to turn right at the junction with Corporation Street and at the same time the Corporation bus was approaching the junction intending to go straight ahead.

Unfortunately, disaster struck as the Corporation bus reached the junction the Ribble bus was in the centre of the road, and in an attempt to avoid a collision the driver Thomas Mason swerved the vehicle violently on to the pavement, becoming wedged between the Star Cinema wall and a lamp standard.

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The cab of the double decker was telescoped and onlookers were astonished when they saw the driver climb out of the wreckage with just minor cuts to his head and hands. The Ribble bus, driven by a shaken William Fairclough, came to a halt just yards further on with a dented wing and a broken headlamp.

Passengers, cut and bleeding, had to scramble out of the double decker bus over broken seats and glass from the shattered windows. Amongst the first at the scene was Councillor Frank Jamieson, chairman of the Preston Transport Committee, who heard the crash from his newsagent’s shop on Fylde Road. He was soon on hand and helped passengers to safety including Emma Shuttleworth, of Ashton, who had been knocked unconscious and had to be lifted out of the bus through a window.

Two ambulances from Preston Royal Infirmary answered the call, ferrying the injured to hospital. Altogether 21 passengers needed treatment for their injuries that included cuts, bruises, abrasions and a couple of broken limbs. All being patched up and departing the hospital before the day was out.

The lamp standard outside the Star Cinema had prevented the bus from toppling over and causing more mayhem. It took almost five hours to extract the double decker bus from its precarious position, the top deck being dismantled before it could be towed away. Fortunately, the Star Cinema building whilst suffering damage to the front brick work and entrance steps survived and the Easter screenings went ahead with ‘One Night Of Love’ starring Grace Moore drawing the crowds.

In May 1939 both Mason and Fairclough were in the dock at the Preston Borough Court accused of speeding, driving with out due care and attention and driving without consideration for other road users, both pleading not guilty.

Preston lawyer Henry Fazackerley led the prosecution and he stated - “This accident was no act of God – you have a road over 40ft wide, with no other traffic about, and yet they collide in the middle of the road.”

Amongst the witnesses were a couple of Preston Corporation bus drivers, who were being taken into town for their early shifts, and they both testified that in their opinion the double decker was travelling at over 25mph, a speed too fast for that stretch of road. Two passengers, Mary Taylor and Isabelle Gould, who were injured both stated that the single decker bus was also going too fast and was in the centre of the road.

Fairclough denied speeding, claiming that the double decker bus appeared to pull to the left and then swerve outwards to the centre of the highway. Whilst Mason claimed that he was not travelling at an excess speed and that he had been forced to swerve to avoid a collision. After careful consideration the magistrates announced that both men would be convicted on the speeding charge only. They were each fined £10 and their driving licences endorsed.

The Star Cinema opened in 1921 and was a popular venue. It was closed in 1959 and along with the row of properties that adjoined it on Corporation Street it was demolished as the Harris College (now UCLAN) expanded on the site.