West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

Stories from the past – Tragedy at West Bay

Published by Editor on

West Bay holds many memories of family holidays and days out but unfortunately, not all of them end happily. It is not only Broadchurch (based and filmed in West Bay) where tragedies occur.

Anna recently contacted us to see if we knew any details of her grandfather, Edward Benbow Price from Bath who died in 1920. This wonderful image that she has shared with us shows her grandfather and a large group of family and friends camping in West Bay. They would pitch a marquee in a farmer’s field and live there for a couple of weeks or so.  Their annual holiday involved travelling down to West Bay from Bath by horse and cart.

Stormy seas

One day, despite a choppy sea and a North West wind, Mr Price persuaded Mr Jack Northover to take him out on a fishing trip, Anna’s Dad, then aged 12 accompanied them.

Mr and Mrs Price and Anna’s Dad holding the yacht

While they were out the weather deteriorated further; the wind and waves becoming higher and higher, and huge breakers hit the beach and pier. The boat got into difficulties trying to re-enter the harbour and capsized. Northover jumped clear into the raging sea, and Mr Price and his son were thrown out.

Postcard from early 1900’s

The Rescue

Many people had been watching from the shore, Captain J. Roper, of West Bay took off his coat, waistcoat, and shoes, and jumped into the water. He touched the bottom, there being about 7 feet of water. He made for the sub-merged boat and got hold the boy. Alfred Gale threw him a line, which they got hold of, and were hauled on the pier, thus rescuing the boy. Mr Price was clinging to the wreckage, which made swimming exceedingly difficult. He saw Mr Price go blue in the face and then float face downward on the water.  When he was brought ashore there was a bad blow to his face, but it is probable that he died from shock.

Awards for Bravery

A Joseph Isaacs, chief officer of the Coastguards, stationed at West Bay saw Northover in the water and threw him a belt, but he did not get hold of it and floated out to sea. The incident was noteworthy for the fearless courage displayed by four men. Captain John Roper, Mr Charles Fearns, Mr Alfred Gale, and Mr Frank Trevett were awarded the Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal for their bravery.

Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal

“There is but a plank between a sailor and eternity.”
― Thomas Gibbons


Anna Bailey · June 14, 2020 at 12:20 am

Thank you!

David Chesterman · August 17, 2020 at 1:20 pm

Alfred Gale was my maternal grandfather. As far as I am aware he was harbour foreman at Westbay. I know he was a good swimmer and my mother told me that he rescued a number of people from the harbour. I came upon this site just trying to find out any details.

    Editor · August 17, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    Hi David, Thank you for leaving a comment, I’m glad you found us and you have been able to learn more about the bravery of your grandfather.

    Anna Bailey · September 7, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    How wonderful to hear from someone else associated with this accident. Without your grandfather I would not exist, David! I’m planning to be in West Bay to mark the centenary on the 16th, and will be remembering all those involved. I was so pleased that their bravery was recognised by the RHS.

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