Shant regard for safety

BrownhillsBob has posted some images of bridges in the Brownhills area. I recognise some, of course, but one that always seems to be missing (and this is no criticism of an exemplary blog) is the Shant Bridge, which carried Watling Street (A5) over the old London Midland and Railway (Norton Branch) at Brownhills West. The bridge remains, as does the track bed, which can be walked or cycled along.

In my childhood there was a dreadful crash, but first something less serious.

From Lichfield Mercury 15 Feb 1934 (p19 col1)

Several Lorries Collide in Fog. — Several lorries were involved in a collision on the Shant Bridge, Watling Street, in the thick fog early on Tuesday morning, but fortunately no one was seriously injured. This piece of road seems particularly treacherous on frosty mornings, as nearly every time the road is slippery some accident is recorded, the drivers appearing helpless to keep their lorries under proper control. Traffic was disorganised for some time owing to one of the lorries completely blocking the roadway; the police arrived, however, and succeeded in putting matters in order.

shant bridge os 1938 1946
Shant Bridge (ringed). Ordnance Survey: surveyed 1938, published 1936. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Fatal head-on collision

The Shant Bridge was notorious for collisions. It appears from news reports that its reputation was well-derserved, but one particular incident remains in my memory, and, though I only heard about it from parents and others, I recall the shocked reaction as people spoke about it. The collision occurred on 12 April 1965, when I was just five years old. We had no TV at the time, so I didn’t see whatever details (probably nothing very gruesome) were given by the local news programme, Midlands Today.

From Coventry Evening Telegraph, Friday 4 June 1985 (p61 col4, extracts)

Tyres were worn on car in which Rugby wife was killed

  A CHESHIRE man killed with a Rugby woman passenger in a head-on collision with a lorry in Staffordshire had travelled about 170 miles, possibly without a rest, an inquest jury heard at Brownhills yesterday.
  The dead couple were Mr. Robin Davies (20), of Thornley Road, Lymm, Cheshire, and Mrs. Clair Isobel Gibbs (27) of 177, Norman Road, Rugby.
  Verdicts of “Accidental death” were returned … .

  The father of the dead man, Mr George Davies, of Thornley Road, Lymm, said that his son had been driving the car for about 15 months — ever since his mother had won a soup firm’s competition for which the prize was two mini-cars. … 

  Referring to the state of the [rear] tyres after the accident the South Staffordshire Coroner, Mr. D. F. Cave, said: “Would you say they were completely bald?”
  “No, not completely bald. There was still some tread left,” replied Mr. Davies. …

  [Mr Cave] contended that his son had covered “excessive mileage” with the car — just over 20,000 miles in just over 12 months. … 

  The twin brother of the dead man, Mr. Nigel Davies of Warren Avenue, Knutsford, said after driving to Altrincham for two pints of beer and a meal, his brother had taken him back to Knutsford and began his journey south at about 11.45 p.m.
  He intended to take Mrs. Gibbs to Rugby on his way down [to Bristol, where he worked during the week]. … 

  The driver of the lorry, Mr. Joseph Peter McKeown of Reed Road, Hayton, Lancs., said as he got over the Shant Bridge, near Norton Canes, he saw two headlights coming at him on the wrong side of the road. He immdeiately braked, but the car was almost upon him and there was a violent crash and the car was embedded in the front of his vehicle.
  Dr. Hewspear, a pathologist, said that death would have been instantaneous for both Mrs. Gibbs and Mr. Davies.
  The Coroner said that the evidence was sparse owing to the lack of an independent witness but he was satisfied from the evidence of the police that the car was on its wrong side.
  “The mini-driver had done many miles that day in a small car and it would have been a trifle tiring to drive such a distance in a small car,” he added.


The report does not give a time for the collision, but, if Mr Davies had started from Knutsford, Cheshire, just before midnight, it would have been in the small hours. Mr Davies was in the habit of travelling home from Bristol for weekends, so was used to travelling long distances, for the time, though the Watling Street may have been unfamiliar. It should be borne in mind that there were no motorways, so the journey as far as Shant Bridge would have been along single carriageway roads, most likely A50, A34 and A5, most of which was unlit. Headlights were by no means as bright as they are today. In those days 170 miles in a mini, mostly at night, would have been tiring.

When I was a child, we would go on family holidays to Cornwall, where my uncle lived. We would set off at 4:00 a.m. Saturday morning, with the object of reaching the new M5 at West Bromwich and passing Bristol before the traffic started to build up. After that it was mainly single carriageway roads as we crossed the middle of Devon (to avoid the notorious jams on the A38 (Exeter bypass) and other bottlenecks on the main roads through the west country. Route selection was much more of an art back then!

I wonder if part of the public reaction was some piety about young Mr Davies carrying on with a married woman. Although it was supposedly the “permissive society” it would have been considered morally unacceptable by most folks.

If you have any recollections of the Shant Bridge, please get in touch.

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