Girl killed in Preston after lorry engine exploded on Christmas Eve in yesteryear

Church Steet was a busy shopping area in the 1920sChurch Steet was a busy shopping area in the 1920s
Church Steet was a busy shopping area in the 1920s
Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the tragic death of a young shopper who was in the wrong place at the wrong time...

On Christmas Eve in 1926 the shoppers were still thronging the pavements on Church Street at four o’clock in the afternoon when tragedy struck. A petrol motor lorry, owned by the Dallas Motor Services of Leyland, and driven by Albert Dallas was just opposite the Parish Church when its flywheel burst.

The fragments of the wheel were flung amongst the crowd of shoppers and Alice Brown, aged 14, was struck on the head with a flying piece of metal and killed instantly. Her companion Lily Whiteside, aged 15, was also hit by debris and knocked to the ground.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Two brothers, Arthur and Stephen Wilson, who were travelling in the cab of the lorry also received lacerations from fragments of the wheel, whilst the driver escaped unhurt although his hat was knocked off by flying metal. A splinter smashed a plate glass window in the fashionable Goobys store and parts of the wheel were flung into Tithebarn Street as the panic stricken shoppers looked on.

The ambulance service had to make their way through the crowd and the injured were taken to the Preston Royal Infirmary where they recovered in a couple of days. The body of Alice Brown was taken to the mortuary at the Lancaster Road police station.

The inquest was opened on Boxing Day with Walter Brown, window cleaner, of Fletcher Road having identified his daughter Alice. He told the hearing that his daughter had gone shopping in town with her friend Lily Whiteside, and he did not see her alive again. The deputy coroner Colonel Parker expressed his sympathy to the father and then adjourned the inquest until the following week.

The funeral took place a couple of days later with the funeral cortege proceeding from Fletcher Road halting at St. Joseph’s church where members of the Sunday School joined the procession en route to Preston Cemetery where Father Fleming conducted the service. All along the route the pavements were lined by mournful spectators who shared the grief of the Brown family.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When the Inquest resumed Albert Dallas stated that he was passing the Parish Church very slowly in the congested traffic when the explosion occurred with pieces of metal flying through the floorboards as the steering wheel was blown out of his hands.

Detective Constable Newton said that after the incident he found two pieces of the flywheel in Tithebarn Street, one of them weighing almost 20 lbs. He believed that the larger piece was the one that struck the unfortunate girl.

George Birkett Williamson, a chief engineer in the cotton trade, stated that at the request of the police he had examined parts of the flywheel and believed that originally it was of good quality. However, he had found a fracture which bore traces of oil and road litter and which appeared to be the primary cause of the weakness.

The coroner described it as a most tragic and frightening experience for everybody in the vicinity of the incident. The coroner’s jury after a short deliberation brought in a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ and then Mr. Buxton representing the Dallas Motor Services expressed the deepest sympathy with the parents of Alice Brown. To this day local folk who have heard of the tragic end of young Alice still place flowers upon her grave in Preston Cemetery.

Related topics: