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50 years ago: Hero boys rescue eight-year-old from drowning at Irwell Wharf, Eccles

For some children the combination of hot summers and open water seems to be an attraction and sadly, on occasion, a tragic one, happily though this story from August 1966 has a brighter ending.

The Eccles and Patricroft Journal reported how eight-year-old Ian Michael Shaw got into difficulty after he and his brother George, 11, decided that it would be a good idea to leave their home on Monton Road in Eccles to play on the railway lines which ran alongside the Manchester Ship Canal at Irwell Wharf in Eccles.

At this time the wharf was in full flow and was a main discharging point for cargo like sulphur and metal ores, where they’d be loaded onto goods wagons for delivery via the railway network.

Irwell Park Wharf railway sidings - SLHL

Kitson & Co 0-6-0 Sidetank pulling open top wagons behind it at Irwell Park Wharf railway sidings © Salford Local History Library

50 years ago: Dockers flee for their lives in 3,000-tonne sulphur explosion at Irwell Park Wharf

All the commotion started when Ian left the railway lines to run along the wharf, not noticing that the edge was unfenced.

In a sickening moment he slipped and dropped some 20ft into the canal, narrowly missing a floating wooden pontoon.

Irwell Park Wharf railway sidings - SLHL

Irwell Park Wharf railway sidings © Salford Local History Library

His brother George shouted for help, and luckily enough, his cries were heard by five other boys playing in a nearby tree (a much safer option).

The boys were Brian James, 13; Eric Smith, 14; William Collier, 14; Keith Collier, 10; and Graham Tough.

They told George to go and ring for the police whilst they raced to the canalside in an effort to save Ian’s life.

They saw him struggling in the water – fortunately at this time there were a number of emergency lifebelts in place on the wharfside.

They threw one to Ian but if fell out of reach, the second one they threw in dropped close to him and he managed to cling onto it.

His young rescuers then hauled him 20ft to safety onto dry land, saving his life.

Manchester Ship Canal railway sidings - Irwell Park Wharf - SLHL

Manchester Ship Canal railway sidings at Irwell Park Wharf © Salford Local History Library

As he was being pulled to the water’s edge, Mrs Rose Dickenson, who lived on nearby Boardman Street had heard the commotion and arrived on scene, applying artificial respiration to Ian.

When the police arrived the eight-year-old was conscious but exhausted and had cuts on his head and knees.

He was taken to to Hope Hospital (Salford Royal) where he was kept in for observation because of the amount of contaminated water that he had swallowed.

So, what has become of young Ian and his brother George?

Not to mention his plucky rescuers?

Were you one of the boys mentioned in this article? If so we would love to hear from you.

Please contact tonyflynn@salfordonline.com or find us on Facebook.

Main image: Sidings at Irwell Wharf, Eccles, 1965 © Salford Local History Library

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