Built in 1829, the Yarmouth Suspension Bridge spanned the River Bure at Great Yarmouth in the county of Norfolk, England, until its tragic collapse a little more than 16 years later. On the second day of May 1845, Nelson the Clown, performing in Great Yarmouth with Cooke’s Royal Circus, was to pass under the bridge in a bathtub pulled by 4 real geese as he piloted his outlandish craft up the river.
A great crowd gathered on the riverbanks in anticipation of this strange sight. At least 300 gathered on the bridge before it collapsed, sending many into the water below, and claiming the lives of almost 80 people. Among this number, there were 59 children, young friends, and siblings on an amusing outing that turned disastrous due to a fault in the bridge.
Locals jumped to their aid, rescuing as many victims as possible from the seven-foot-deep water. Local businesses aided with blankets, and warm water was provided by a local brewery to fill hot baths for the survivors. This unbelievably obscure circus stunt by a famed clown and musician was overshadowed by the largest recorded loss of life in Great Yarmouth.
A memorial to the events of May 2, 1845 stands on the banks of the river close to where the tragic collapse occurred. Installed in 2013 following a local campaign, the large stone book depicts the disaster through three images, a young family, the collapse, and Nelson with his four geese, as well as listing the names and ages of the victims.