Before the Storm: June 1914

Newspaper Weekly Evening Sentinel
Date Saturday June 6th 1914
Article heading  

Biddulph Cyclists sudden death

Mr Hugh W. Adams (coroner), held an inquest at the Town Hall, Tunstall, on Wednesday concerning the death of Charles Copeland, aged 21, a colliery roadman of (25?) Congleton Road, Biddulph, who dropped dead off his bicycle in Tunstall on Whit Monday.

Mary Anne Lowe, of South View, Biddulph, sister of the deceased, gave evidence of identification. She saw her brother at 2pm on Monday when he said he was going to a cricket match at Porthill. He then cycled away. He had always been healthy and was a total abstainer.

Thomas Jones, milk seller of Chatterley, said he was going in the direction of Pittshill along Victoria Road, Tunstall, at 6.45pm on Monday, when he saw the deceased in front, riding a bicycle. He was not travelling very fast and witness was surprised to see him fall off. He was not thrown off and the road was good. Along with other people, witness ran to the young man’s assistance, and found him unconscious.

Newspaper Weekly Evening Sentinel
Date Saturday June 13th 1914
Article heading Lightning & Robert Heathcote

An interview with Mr. Walter Smith as reported in the Biddulph Chronicle

‘Mr. Walter Smith recalled the event of June 1914 as told to him on many occasions by his father, Albert, who had witnessed the event:
The victim of the flash, Robert Heathcote, was a friend of his, and both carted sand from Mr. Donald Casstles’s sand quarry in Halls Road to the railway station not far away. Mr. Smith was already at the sand quarry and had taken refuge from the freak storm in the cabin, when young Heathcote pulled in behind Mr. Smith’s cart. The driver would stand up in the type of cart Bob was driving, to control the horses as he returned empty for another load. The cabin had a stable-type door, and the top half of it was open, so Mr. Smith leaned through it and shouted to his pal: ‘Nay, Bob – whatever at doin’ turnin’ ’ite in this weather?’

“The next moment, there was a great flash, and Bob dropped into his cart, followed a split second later by the two horses dropping dead in their shafts.

Dr. Craig was sent for, and according to Mr. Smith, was more interested in his welfare than that of his dead friend – not surprisingly, perhaps, because there was obviously nothing the good doctor could do for the latter. One thing Mr. Smith particularly remembers his father telling him was that his pal Bob was wearing a gold watch and chain at the time of the tragedy, and after the flash, it had all been welded together by the intense heat of the lightning strike.”

The original report in the Chronicle stated that few could recall a thunderstorm of “such raging violence and intensity”. As it “traversed the Biddulph Valley.... the deafening peals of thunder, blinding flashes of lightening, and torrential downpour of hailstones and rain, were such as to liken the hitherto peaceful valley into a hideous version of Dante’s Inferno”.

Robert Heathcote was only 16 and the third son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Heathcote, of The Hollies Farm, Wharf Road. Three clergymen officiated at his funeral at Biddulph Church. “It was attended by a large number of members of the Wesleyan Sunday School Class and Biddulph Agricultural Society, and many blinds were lowered as the funeral procession passed through the town – a sad little chapter in Biddulph’s history.

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