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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Tribute to drowned hop pickers
Hartlake Bridge
The side boards of the wooden Hartlake Bridge had rotted
A memorial service is being held to remember 30 hop pickers who died in an accident 150 years ago.

The farm workers, many of them Gypsies, were killed when their wagon fell off a rotting bridge into the swollen River Medway.

Dozens of relatives of the victims are expected to attend the ceremony at St Mary's Church in Hadlow, Kent, at 1500 BST on Sunday.

Joining them will be members of the Gypsy Council and representatives of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Baptist churches.

As we give thanks for the lives of those who were tragically killed, we can also give thanks that life continues now through these descendants
Reverend Gwen Smith

The Reverend Gwen Smith, vicar at St Mary's Church, said: "Our memories hold our stories and these stories have obviously been important.

"The memorial service will allow these stories to be re-told, but also as we give thanks for the lives of those who were tragically killed, we can also give thanks that life continues now through these descendants."

A candle will be lit at the church for each person who died and hop wreaths will be thrown from Hartlake Bridge - the scene of the accident.

The events of 20 October 1853 became known as the Hartlake disaster after the bridge.

Hartlake Bridge in the present day
The wooden bridge was replaced by a more solid structure

At an inquest held two days later at the Bell Inn in Golden Green, witnesses reported how the screams could be heard as far away as East Peckham.

The victims - who included 16 from one family - came mostly from local Gypsy families, with some from Ireland.

The inquest heard how there had been heavy rain for several days leading up to the accident, causing local flooding.

The Hadlow farmer who had employed the hop pickers provided a wagon to take them back to their quarters to keep them from getting wet.

Child's name unknown

But on the second trip over the bridge the horses shied, sending the wagon's wheels through the rotten boards at the side of the bridge and causing it to overturn, throwing the occupants into the water.

While 11 managed to scramble to safety, at least 30 drowned in the fast-flowing waters - among them a two-year-old child whose first name remains unknown because her parents died with her.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death and the victims were buried in one grave at St Mary's Church, Hadlow, where a memorial stone was erected in December 1853.

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