A BLACKBERRYING trip by two young girls in the grounds of Stafford Castle turned into a tragedy when the brother of one of the youngsters was trapped beneath tons of masonry and timbers.
Police and fire rescue teams raced to the scene of the tragedy which involved two young men and, despite the danger of more masonry falling, they were joined by many volunteers using their bare hands to pull away large boulders.
Alas, their efforts were too late to save the life of Stafford miner, 19-year-old Sidney Pickering, who was brought out by firemen – his dead body found in the rubble.
Rescue efforts were hampered by vehicles unable to get nearer than 400 yards from the castle ruins.
His companion, John Arthur Davies, 18, had managed to move clear of the falling masonry and raised the alarm by walking into Stafford Police Station, even though he sustained minor cuts, abrasions and shock. He was allowed to return to the scene of the tragedy which had claimed the life of his chum.
Among those to visit the scene was the mayor of Stafford Councillor J E Roberts and more than 50 helpers led by Chief Inspector Frederick Housiaux.
John Davies, of Young Avenue, Stafford, later told reporters: “We were just walking round the castle and then we went inside. We were just talking and joking. I jumped down from one spot and all of a sudden the whole place began to rumble.” Both he and Sidney John Pickering, of Tennyson Road, Highfields, were trespassing in the castle’s grounds which were owned by Lord Stafford who, expressing deep sorrow about the incident, said he had offered the building to both the National Trust and the Historical Monuments but neither would take it.
Ten years earlier, he said, it had been offered to the Stafford Borough Council without success.
An inquest into the death of Sidney Pickering returned a verdict of accidental death with a suggestion that Lord Stafford make sure that perimeter fencing at the castle was adequate at all times.
Consultant pathologist Dr Frank Pick said death was due to traumatic asphyxia and internal haemorrhages and assured the dead man’s relatives he would have lost consciousness very quickly.
The coroner, Mr K T Braine-Hartnell described the castle as ‘a fake’ and asked whether it ought to be bulldozed – even though it was regarded by some people as a monument or landmark.
The tragedy, which happened on Thursday, August 18, 1960, sparked many theories as to its cause with some believing that work on the nearby motorway which had begun days earlier had cause vibrations.
The Stafford rural district engineer Mr A H Jarvis discounted the idea. Meanwhile, Alderman D H T Smith, of the county planning committee, said no-one wanted to take responsibility for the castle.
In the aftermath, local historian Sydney Horne confirmed that the castle was rebuilt by the William Jerningham and his son George but work ceased in 1815. Mr Horne concluded that the mound on which the castle stood was unable to stand the weight of the two Gothic-style towers.
The Newsletter, in a hard-hitting editorial, described the castle as ’Jerningham’s Folly’ and reminded readers that for five years it had been warning of the dangers caused by vandalism and the elements.
“It is certain that something has got to be done about the matter... now.”
The same Newsletter edition included thank you notices from the dead boy’s mother and his sister, Mrs Johnson, of Turney Grove, both commending the brave efforts of volunteers at the tragic scene.
In 1961, the castle was gifted to Stafford Borough Council by Lord Stafford and refurbished into a leisure area and officially opened by Lord Stafford and Morag, Lady Stafford on July 19, 1988.