A RAIL disaster that claimed the lives of 33 people near Abergele will be commemorated will a special church service.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Abergele rail disaster, Abergele Town Council has organised a service and an exhibition at St Michael’s Church, on Peel Street.

The accident, which happened in 1868 near Llandullas, when a runaway goods train collided with The Irish Mail - which was being pulled by the Prince of Wales locomotive - was the worst rail disaster in British history at the time.

Rev Kate Johnson, pastor of St Michael’s said: “Many modern people don’t know about the tragedy, but it was huge for such a small community at the time - and still is to this day.

“The loss of life was hugely significant, so it’s only right and proper we commemorate it.”

As the Irish Mail approached Rhyl, the other locomotive in Llanddulas accidentally moved down hill towards the main line and the two brakemen, Richard Williams and Robert Jones, failed to put the brakes on each carriage, leading to a head on collision.

Victims were engulfed in a ball of flame, caused by exploding paraffin barrels, and all but three of the victims were so badly burned they couldn’t be identified.

An inquest at the time heard how farm labourers and quarry workers formed a bucket chain to fetch water from the sea 200 yards away to put out the fire.

In addition to the service, Ms Johnson will remember the victims in a blessing at the memorial stone of the disaster in the churchyard, followed by a screening of a 43 minute documentary made by Prestatyn rail enthusiast and historian Tony Griffiths in 2014.

Mr Griffiths, a retired primary school teacher aged 66, said: “While the tragedy is well documented, I don’t think many people are aware of what happened in 1868, or indeed what happened 20 years earlier off the coast of Abergele with the Ocean Monarch."

The Ocean Monarch was a ship carrying passengers emigrating to US from Liverpool, which on Thursday, August 24 1848 caught fire at sea and sank with the loss of 178 lives and is also memorialised at St Michael’s.

“A lot of the passengers were well to do, travelling to their estates in Ireland including some lords and ladies, but the upper class were buried together with people from the area all the same in a mass grave at St Michael’s.

“One young man William Henry Owen who was 23 was on his way to his first post as an organist in Dublin. His father was a very well known Welsh composer and an Eisteddfod Bard, who popularised Glan Rhondda after he awarded first prize to the song at the National Eisteddfod in 1858. That song went on to become Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the welsh national anthem."

During his research for the documentary Mr Griffiths found a painting depicting the scene by Edwin Frederick Holt in the National Rail Museum in York, a replica of which will be on display at the service along with a slate plaque from the scene of the accident in the Abergele town hall.

The commemorative service takes place at St Michael’s Church at 6pm on Monday, August 20. Attendees are encouraged to wear Victorian dress.