Memories of the day out in the Dales that ended in tragedy relived as memorial unveiled

THEY were called Auntie Dorrie’s Mystery Trips after the former Mayoress who organised them.

A pleasant jaunt in the scenic Dales, it was the kind of coach trip the pensioners from Thornaby-on-Tees loved - but it was to end in a tragedy that claimed 33 lives.

The disaster on Dibbles Bridge is still Britain’s worst road disaster, although largely forgotten outside the town, a close-knit community where nearly everyone knew someone who had been affected.

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It is only now 47 years on, after a campaign by Thornaby Town Council, that a memorial with the 33 names of the victims has gone up outside the Town Hall.

Coun Ian Dalgarno, The Mayor of Thornaby-on-Tees unveils the Dibbles Bridge Memorial outside Thornaby Town Hall Picture: Tony Johnson

Former Yorkshire Post reporter Brian Dooks, who was at the scene on May 27 1975, was at the unveiling.

He said: “My lasting memory is the absolute horror of it.

“The coach hit the bridge, overturned and fell on its roof. The devastation was just unbelievable.

“One side was completely flattened, and on the other the emergency services had to crawl in on their hands and knees.”

It remains Britain's worst road disaster Picture: Tony Johnson

The pensioners had been picked up by driver Roger Marriott and had been to Ripon and then to Knaresborough, and were heading back to Grassington for afternoon tea.

“We got to the top of the hill and I looked and thought what a beautiful view,” recalled Doreen Parkinson in a film made by Derek Smith, a filmmaker, originally from Thornaby, who was commissioned by the town council.

“As I looked over I saw all this black smoke coming up outside of the bus and then the next thing I knew I heard the awful sound of rushing wind - it was terrible - and then I heard the sound of breaking glass and I knew no more.”

Mr Marriott told a passenger in a car that had followed the coach and who tried to make him comfortable before the emergency services arrived: “I had a bit of trouble with the gears and the brakes failed.”

He died before rescuers were able to cut him free. Coroner James Turnbull, who recorded a verdict of accidental death at an inquest two months later, said: “It has been described as Britain’s worst motoring disaster. If it is true let us all hope that it always retains that title.”

Two of the people who were interviewed by Mr Smith, originally from Thornaby, for his film have died since he started making it.

Mr Smith, who remembered the atmosphere in the town afterwards being akin to a pit village where there had been a mining disaster, said he felt lucky to have captured the interviews.

He said: “Quite often things go beyond living memory, and when that happens you have lost the event because there is no one surviving who remembers.

“It’s like a curtain coming down.”

Coun Steve Walmsley, who led the campaign, said memories of the disaster were still deeply etched in the minds of people in Thornaby and the Dibbles Bridge area.

He said: “Everybody on the council is Thornaby born and bred and it has always been a burning issue to bring something of some significance to mark the enormity (of what happened).

“Dorothy White, an ex-mayoress (who died in the crash) organised these trips for the elderly on a pretty regular basis.

“They just loved the Dales, Yorkshire, and any time they went on a planned jaunt, it was to to some some part of the Dales.”

The town council was unable to erect the brass plaque on the bridge - some 50 miles from Thornaby - due to objections from the local landowner, who feared it would become a shrine.

The locals know the crossing as “Devil’s Bridge” and it has had a long history of accidents. Large red warning signs went up this year but people say it is still an accident waiting to happen.

In the 1920s seven council workers in a charanbanc were killed there on a day trip from York.

Two years ago American engineer Craig Barnhart died when the brakes on his electric bike failed as he cycled with his wife.

Cyclists George Ballard and James Nelson also died at the location in recent years.