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100 years ago: Tragic death of Eccles boy, 16, in routine Manchester Ship Canal journey

In April 1916 the Manchester Ship Canal was a very busy passenger route and workers were ferried daily across the canal from Eccles to Trafford Park.

This practice – while it might seem an archaic way to travel, continued well into the early 1990s – before the construction of Centenary Bridge the only route across the canal for Eccles workers would be Trafford Road bridge or Barton swing bridge, some 1.2 miles away as the crow flies.

But tragedy was to strike on the morning of Sunday 10 April 1916.

16-year-old Frank Sheridan, who lived in Thomas Street, Eccles, was using the ferry from Irwell Bank to take his sister’s dinner to her workplace in Trafford Park: Nickels and Nagel Starch Works.

The firm became Brown and Polson’s, and in 2002 re-opened as Cargill’s industrial glucose manufacturing plant.

Its buildings and towers are highly visible across the Ship Canal from Eccles and with 300 employees it is one of the largest companies of its kind still operating in the region.

British Oil and Cake Mills - Trafford Park - BritainFromAbove.co.uk

British Oil and Cake Mills – Trafford Park – BritainFromAbove.co.uk

An inquest held at the Grapes Hotel, Peel Green, presided over by the Manchester District Coroner, Mr G.S. Leresche heard the sad story of how Frank met his end in the filthy water of the canal.

George Brown, who was a chargehand at the Starch Works, also navigated the boat across the canal for company employees.

Mode Wheel Locks, Salford - BritainFromAbove.co.uk

Mode Wheel Locks, Salford – BritainFromAbove.co.uk

This skiff boat could hold 20 people at a time and Brown had been ferrying workers back and forth for two years without mishap.

As Brown got into the front of the boat and prepared to row across the canal, young Frank walked towards the stern and standing up he tried to push the boat away from a barge moored on the side of the canal.

A sudden gust of wind sent the boat down the canal, causing Frank to lose his balance and toppling him overboard.

Brown heard a splash but couldn’t see Frank and it was assumed his body was trapped underneath the boat.

He called for assistance from a passing barge but his search would be in vain.

The Pacific Explorer - Manchester Ship Canal - BritainFromAbove.co.uk

The Pacific Explorer – Manchester Ship Canal – BritainFromAbove.co.uk

It was only some two hours later, with the aid of grappling irons they pulled Frank’s lifeless body from the canal.

The works manager, Mr Alfred Beaver, who resided at Eccles Old Road in Salford, attempted to resucitate young Frank, sadly to no avail.

PC Woodworth also gave evidence to the coroners court in which he said that he examined the body and found no bruises to the head or body to indicate foul play.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death for poor Frank Sheridan, while the Coroner extended his sympathy to his widowed mother and sister on their sad loss.

Main image: M.S.C Panther © Manchester ship Canal Co, Ltd

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.