Stories from the Agricultural Shows
The Bath and West of England Show celebrated its centenary in 1877 and thousands of people visited it in Bath each day, many coming by train from the south west. There was at the time a toll-bridge for pedestrians over the River Avon just behind the Great Western Railway station. It was said to be the nearest way to the showground and a notice to this effect was painted in large red and blue letters on a very large piece of canvas attached to a wooden frame.
On the morning of June 6th a GWR excursion train carrying about 900 passengers from Weymouth, Salisbury and other stations in that direction arrived in Bath. Hundreds of passengers disembarked and made for the Widcombe Bridge. The tollhouse was at the far end and the lone collector, Henry Tanner, struggled to collect a halfpenny from everyone. This caused a huge crowd of hundreds of people to be crushed on the wooden bridge, which collapsed, throwing everyone several feet down into the river.
Although rescue operations began immediately twelve people were killed and about 50 injured, some fatally. The disaster was widely reported, even in the New York Times.
The second - and happier - story happened a few years later in 1892 when farmer Josiah Jackson (1851-1904) of Durslade Farm near Bruton was hosting the annual East Somerset Show at Hyde, part of his farm. The star attraction was Blondin, the famous tight-rope walker and showman, who by this time was nearly seventy. He had twice crossed the Niagara Falls in 1859 and 60 and performed in the United States and all over Europe, coming out of retirement in the 1880s to continue entertaining.
For appearing at the East Somerset Blondin was paid the impressive sum of £100, with £50 expenses. His last performance was in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Crystal Palace in 1893 and he died in London in 1904.
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