November 10, 1916

The deaths of 91 people in a shipping disaster in a stormy Irish Channel were the main news item featured in the pages of the Ashbourne Telegraph this week in 1916.

The mail ship Connemara was at the entrance to Carlingford Lough when it was hit by The Retriever, a collier, whose cargo was said to have shifted in heavy seas, leaving it ‘unmanageable’.

“Attempts were made to beach both vessels, but they were so badly damaged, that within a very few minutes, variously estimated at two to seven, the Connemara turned over, and within a quarter of an hour The Retreiver had sunk, the boilers of both vessels having meanwhile burst.”

The paper reported that 90 people perished in the disaster – the only survivor being James Boyle, a member of the crew aboard The Retriever, who clung to a boat and was washed ashore ‘greatly exhausted’.

Boyle’s story was told in his own words:

“We had had a terrible journey ever since leaving Garston early on Thursday morning. As we were nearing our port I went below to make up the fire in the Captain’s cabin. I was returning to deck when we collided. I scrambled up and could see the ship we had struck. We were sinking and I was pitched into the water. I struck against a small boat and although it turned over twice I clung to it and was washed to the coast.”

The Connemara had 31 crew and 51 passengers aboard, said to be mainly migrants heading to Holyhead en route for America. “There were a few soldiers, also, returning from sick leave.”

A local farmer reported told a harrowing tale of several people from the two vessels who seemed to be swimming to shore and lost their lives by being dashed about mercilessly against the rocks.

“In such a sea it was impossible to put out a boat or go to their assistance. Some of them were time after time flung on to the rocks, snatched back by the sea and then flung onto the rocks again. It was only an extra big wave which carried them onto the beach. We dragged one man out just alive, but he died in our arms.”

The shipping tragedy was the most dramatic storyof the week, but closer to home, the village of Kniveton was mourning the loss of two young soldiers, Private Matthew William Baker and Private John Milton Clowes. Private Baker, just 20 years old had been drafted to France on August 30th, having married just before he left. He was involved with the Sherwood Foresters in “two of the severe engagements on the Somme” and died from his wounds on October 27.

Private Clowes was the grandson of Mrs Roome of Kniveton, who had only received news of his death a few days before the paper was published. Clowes had emigrated with his parents to Australia three years previously and had been serving with the Australian Regiment when he died, aged 23, on July 19.

The cinema was a staple for entertainment in wartime Ashbourne and the town boasted the Empire (the most up-to-date fire-proof electric theatre in Great Britain).

The cinema, which stood next to the Station Hotel was this week promoting an upcoming screen of Battle of The Somme, the documentary-style propaganda movie filmed in June and July of 1916.

But until then audiences could enjoy Wildflower, starring Margurite Clark, episode 18 of Greed, Flying from Justice, and the Exploits of Elaine. Tickets, now subject to War Tax, started at 1/2d.

The vacancies column listed numerous jobs, including a couple for ‘general servants’, others for ‘strong youths’ or men who were ineligible for military service, and one for a man to operate a lathe at Barnsdall’s in Dig Street working on ‘important munitions’.

Among its usual series of announcements of agricultural sales and fatstock shows, WS Bagshaw and Sons, auctioneers, had an important event: the liquidation sale of Ashbourne Hall Hotel. All lots were to be sold without reserve and included: “The whole of the valuable furnishing contents of the above First Class Hotel including the contents of Entrance Hall, Several Sitting Rooms, Dining and drawing rooms, two Pianofortes, Pianola, full-sized Billiards Table, costly Turkey, Indian, Brussels, Axminster and other Carpets.”

Also going under the hammer were the contents of the 20 bedrooms and the fittings from the Bar and Smoke-room together with a large stock of wines and cigars. Even the crockery and cutlery, conservatory plants and palms, lawnmowers and garden rollers were up for grabs.

A paragraph on page five announced that the hotel itself was to be bought by the Ashbourne Joint Hospital Board, together with four acres of land, to be converted into an isolation hospital.

Popularised in recent years the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ slogan was adapted by Bagnall’s Cash Traders to promote their grocery items.

‘Keep calm and buy your immediate requirements only’ read the advertisement which included pure lard at 11d/lb and good figs at 6d/lb.

  • My fellow researcher and De Montfort University colleague John Dilley is conducting a similar real-time project with the Market Harborough Advertiser. Check out his Newspapers and the Great War blog
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