Another tragedy on Blue Bank


Bus crash.
This photo is of the original Blue Bank bus crash and was taken by Pickering photographer Sydney Smith. It was sent to me by Gordon Clitheroe and is from the Beck Isle Museum collection.
The view to Whitby from the summit of Blue Bank, Sleights, which was the scene of another horrific accident which led to the death of  25-year-old  Leonard Headlam. The Headlam family were prominent in Whitby society

You might recall me talking a few weeks ago about the bus crash at Blue Bank, Sleights, and as a result I was contacted by reader Chris Hogg who wrote: ‘Around the same time there was another fatal motor accident on the bank which was probably more shocking to the local population. Leonard, the son of local shipping magnate William Headlam of Raithwaite Hall, was killed driving his Alfa Romeo on his way to take part in a race at Brooklands…I have no other details of the accident only what my late mother told me.’

My research led me down several routes where I discovered more about this incident and the prominent family involved. Snow covered the roads on 18th March 1930 when Leonard, aged 25, set out in his Alfa Romeo racing car towards Brooklands motor circuit in Surrey with his mechanic, Robert Wheatley. Although he was going no more than 40 miles an hour, just after the top of Blue Bank, he oversteered while adjusting his coat, clipped a pile of rocks, and the car flipped over. Mr Wheatley crawled free, but sadly, Mr Headlam died at the scene.

It was a second tragedy for the family as Leonard’s oldest brother, John, had been killed in 1918 during Word War I, aged just 19. Their father, William Aaron Headlam, owned a successful shipping company and he and his wife Agnes were distinguished Whitby figures. William is said to have never recovered from the loss of his sons and died, aged 60, just a few months after Leonard.

The youngest son, also called William but known as Billy, took over his father’s shipping business and ran it successfully for many years and it was he, rather than his father, who bought Raithwaite Hall in 1939. He died, aged 81, in 1990, leaving most of his £7m fortune to his live-in nurse.

The story of the Headlams reminds me that there are those among us who are still facing everyday struggles on top of the extra sickness, stress and anxiety inflicted by the dreaded Covid-19 virus. We mustn’t forget or neglect those people.

Like many other industries, newspapers have been hit very hard and editors are trying their best to get them out to you, despite revenues falling dramatically through loss of advertising, and newsrooms being reduced to skeleton operations. Many journalists have been furloughed to cut costs in an attempt to keep these vital sources of local information going.

I was notified last week that this paper would, during the crisis, no longer be able to pay me for my modest contribution. It was an extremely sad but understandable situation, and we were faced with the prospect that after almost 100 years of life, the Countryman’s Diary / Countryman’s Daughter column could potentially vanish.

But, of course, I wasn’t about to let that happen, and as long as people want to read it, and as long as there is a paper to put it in, I will continue to write it. It is my very, very small contribution towards the battle the editor is fighting to keep the paper going through this crisis.

If you enjoyed my dad’s columns, and now my own, can I ask you to do two things? Firstly, keep buying this paper every week, and if you can’t get out, ask your local newsagent to deliver it to you or subscribe online. Believe me, your £1.25 a week DOES make a difference.

Secondly, do get in touch with me either via this paper (email or send a letter to the Editor, Darlington and Stockton Times, Priestgate, Darlington DL1 1NF) or through my contact page at and tell me what you think of the column, what you like, what you dislike, what you’d like me to talk about, what you’d like me to stop talking about – anything! Because if you don’t tell me what you think, I have no idea if you’d like me to stay. And in times like these, it would be so lovely to know you are there (plus you might have the glory of your name appearing in a future column!).

You may have noticed that I haven’t referred to my dad’s 1980 column this week. That’s because the D&S Times was not printed between 19th April and 17th May 1980. Anyone know why?

Sending love, thanks and best wishes to you all.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 24th and the Gazette & Herald on 22nd April 2020

2 thoughts on “Another tragedy on Blue Bank”

  1. Love reading your columns in the Gazette & Herald which I buy every week. Please keep them coming 😊


    1. Why thank you Sandra! 🙏🏻❤️ Unfortunately I’ve already submitted my column for 15th May where I thank all those who got in touch, but rest assured I very much appreciate you reading the columns and taking the time to contact me. I hope you are managing to stay healthy and well during this crisis. All the best, Sarah.


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