Swinton Chemical Works Explosion

Former Croda, Kilnhurst

Former Croda Site




Early on Saturday morning the unusual sound of the fire bell was heard at Mexbro’. It transpired that an explosion had occurred at the chemical works at Swinton, and that a great destruction of property had been the result. This was the third disaster at the works within a comparatively brief period. About a year ago a workman lost his life by the poisonous fumes emanating from one of the large vats in which he was working, and a mate was only “brought round” with great difficulty. Prior to this a quantity of the inflammable liquid became ignited, and considerable loss was sustained by the owners, Messrs. Ellison and Mitchell, who also carry on similar works at Cleckheaton. It appears that about ten minutes to eight on Saturday morning an employee named James Lawrence, of Doncaster, was on duty at the works. He had been firing up a still which was preparing about 3000 gallons of benzoline. One of the proprietors would have been engaged near the same spot in all probability had he not met with a slight accident to one of his feet the previous day. He had interrogated Lawrence just before the accident as to whether all was right, and received a reply in the affirmative. Suddenly, however, there was a terrific report with a simultaneous flash of fire, which appeared to envelope the whole premises. Before it was known what had happened, residents at Swinton and Kilnhurst had feared an explosion had occurred at the Thrybergh Hall Colliery, and the wildest rumours were afloat. The workman, Lawrence, considers himself fortunate that he was not killed on the spot. When the explosion occurred he was far from the still, and the concussion “carried” him several yards away. The flames caught him, and the partial disfigurement of his face is proof of the great danger he was in. It is remarkable that he was not more seriously injured. He was promptly removed to the hospital at Mexbro’, after previous treatment by Dr. M’Call, of Kilnhurst, and it is hoped he may soon recover the burns appearing to be only facial and superficial. He has sustained no internal injury, beyond the shock to the nervous system. Another workman named Joseph Lee was on the ground, but he escaped unscathed. As an illustration of the force of the explosion, the top of the still, constructed of half-inch boiler plates and said to weight seven or eight tons, was carried through the air some 50 or 60 yards, finally alighting in a large tank of water. In its flight it just missed a tall chimney, which thus escaped demolition. The masonry of the benzoline shed – containing ten large boilers, capable of containing 3000 of liquid each – collapsed with a great crash, while the flames were darting heavenwards. The mechanism which ensured the security of the boilers also gave way, and the flames then devoured the benzoline inside. The boilers were fortunately by no means full, but there was ample liquid to cause a startling conflagration, which lasted a long time, until the benzoline had all been devoured. There was no wind at the time, otherwise the consequences would have been much more disastrous. The width of the building was about 11 yards, and the length about 40 yards. When the members of the fire brigade arrived from Mexbro’, their endeavour was to save that portion of the works which had thus far escaped. Between 30 and 40 benzoline barrels were on the ground, and these were removed to a safe distance from the fire. Water was poured upon the contiguous property in as large volumes as possible, though at the first the jet appeared much inadequate for the purpose. The labours of the brigade were not only arduous, but dangerous, while they stood in the vicinity of the blazing building, which every now and again gave ominous cracks, as though the whole would collapse. But no one was hurt. Captain Humphries (who is surveyor to the Mexbro’ Local Board) had charge of the brigade. Amongst others who zealously assisted were Mr. H. A. Fenner, the company’s analyst, Mr. W. H. Mitchell, and Mr. J. C. Haller, surveyor to the Swinton Local Board. Large crowds assembled from Mexbro’, Swinton and Kilnhurst, having been attracted by the fire bell and the flames. The extent of the damage is at present a matter of speculation, though it is calculated to amount to £2000 or £3000. The loss will be only very partially met by insurance. The cause of the explosion is not definitely known, but it is surmised that the “worm” at the top of the still had become clogged, thus preventing the escape of steam from the benzoline, under which was the furnace.

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