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Author Topic: Gunpowder Explosion at Belvedere Kent. October 1864  (Read 1875 times)

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Offline HERB COLLECTOR

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Re: Gunpowder Explosion at Belvedere Kent. October 1864
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2018, 22:50:49 »
Some more details of the crowds who visited the scene of the explosion.
    Extracts from the Times.

 Yesterday thousands upon thousands of people visited the scene of the catastrophe, travelling mostly by the North Kent Railway: and it required the aid of a strong body of police at the Erith and Belvedere Stations to maintain order, and prevent accident. From an early hour in the morning until dark long trains came In from the London-bridge Station crammed, while the frequent trains from Maidstone, Stood, Chatham, Rochester, Gravesend, Dartford, and other places on the North Kent line deposited their thousands at the Erith Station. Long after dark the platform and grounds of the Belvedere and Erith Stations were crowded with thousands of people waiting to be conveyed homewards. At eleven o'clock the trains were coming In rapidly to London-bridge, the passengers by which reported that a large number of persons were still waiting down the line.

Another death, indirectly attributable to the catastrophe, occurred on Sunday night at the Erith station of the North Kent Railway. A young Italian, named Luigl Lorandi, or Morandi, in attempting to enter a carriage in a general rush which was made for places on the arrival of an up-traln, was dragged among the wheels, and sustained mortal Injuries. He had received a compound fracture of the right thigh, just above the knee joint, and the whole of the leg below was much lacerated and contused. He died three-quarters of an hour after his admission to the hospital. His own account was that he was pushed under a carriage while the train was starting, and that the wheels went over his leg. He was a young man of gentlemanly appearance.

For hours on Sunday night fearful scene of tumult and violence occurred at the Erith and Belvedere Stations on the North Kent Railway. Throughout the whole day thousands of people went by the line from London and the Intermediate stations to the scene of the catastrophe, and a great number of them lingered there until dark. The result was, that until far towards midnight they congregated in dense masses on the station platforms at Erith and Belvedere, and besieged every train that stopped to take up passengers on the up journey. The railway authorities at the London-bridge Station despatched extra trains one after another as fast as they could do so with safety, to bring up the people, but in spite of that there was great delay, and the last up-train did not leave the Belvedere Station until three o'clock yesterday morning. At intervals during the whole evening, whenever a train stopped, either there or at Erith, a frightful rush was made at it, and the people crowded the carriages almost to suffocation, in spite of the efforts of the police and the railway company's servants to restrain them. Many clambered upon the tops of the carriages, others took possession of the engine tender, and some even bestrode the buffers until they were pulled off by main force by the police. At Woolwich Arsenal Station several of the trains were stopped, and people who were suffering from the overcrowding taken out of them.
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Gunpowder Explosion at Belvedere Kent. October 1864
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2018, 18:24:43 »
Newspaper report on the explosion at Belvedere/Erith at 6.40AM on the 1st October 1864.
The complex consisted of magazines used to store gunpowder. Gunpowder was not manufactured on site.

AWFUL CATASTROPHE AT ERITH AND BELVEDERE.

Early on Saturday morning, October the 11th, (sic) two gunpowder magazines, situated on the Southern bank of the Thames between Woolwich and Erith, exploded with terrific violence, killing eight or nine persons, if not more, wounding others, and causing consternation and alarm among the inhabitants of the whole neighborhood for miles round. Although the scene of the catastrophe is distant about 15 miles from Charing-cross, the explosion was heard and felt more or less throughout the whole metropolis, and even at places 40 or 50 miles from the spot. There is nothing in modern times to compare with the calamity in the feeling of widespread terror which it produced, or the intense interest which it has since excited, unless it was the memorable explosion at Gateshead up In-Tyne, some eight or ten years ago. At first the prevailing idea was that the inhabitants of the metropolis and its suburbs had experienced the shook of an earth-quake, but that notion was speedily dispelled,and by noon the exact nature of the catastrophe and its locality were pretty generally known throughout London.

Later in the day the evening papers appeared, containing accounts of the matter, and were sold in incredible numbers; but thousands of people, impatient to know the real truth, rushed down to the scene itself by railway in the afternoon, to learn it tor themselves on the spot. By the evening, therefore, it was the theme of every tongue, and probably for years past no intelligence of any domestic event has occasioned a more startling sensation.

The explosion occurred in a gunpowder depot belonging to Messrs. John Hall and Sons and almost simultaneously in a magazine of smaller size used by Messrs. Daye and Barker, both of them located in the Plumstead marshes on the margin of the Thames, two miles west of Erith, and about an equal distance from the village of Belvedere, on the North Kent Railway. Here, on about 20 acres of ground, separated for obvious reasons from the rest of the neighboring inhabitants, but in the immediate vicinity of the scene of their daily labor, lived a few working men with their families in three cottages engaged in a perilous calling. One was George Rayner, who acted as storekeeper in the depot of Messrs. Hall, and who was a married man with a family, and another Walter Silver, also married, acted in a similar capacity under Messrs. Daye and Barker. Each of these had a cottage to himself about 100 or 200 yards from the magazines, and the rest, who were men employed in the larger depot, occupied a cottage in common. The Messrs. Hall have been engaged in the business of fabricating gunpowder for more than 50 years, and have executed large contracts from time to time, both for our own and many foreign Governments. They have a large factory in the neighborhood of Faversham, in Kent, occupying about 200 acres of ground, part of the works at which were erected in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. There the work of manufacturing and packing gunpowder is conducted by a body of trained artisans, with all the safeguards and precautions suggested by experience, and within the last few years the proprietors have purchased a large tract of adjacent land in order the more completely to seclude their operations from the habitations of men. Their magazine at Belvedeie was a substantial building, about 50 feet square, and consisting of two floors. It was erected five or six years ago, at a cost of about 3,000, and around it were 18 acres of land, with the view to isolate the building. For miles at that part of the river there is on embankment, which protects the low lying marshes from inundation. Both their depot and that of Messrs. Daye and Barker stood close behind the embankment, and each had a wooden jetty projecting into the river, to facilitate the loading and unloading of gunpowder. The quantity of gunpowder stored in Messrs. Hall's magazine at the time of the explosion and in two of their barges which lay off the jetty is variously estimated at between less than 2,000 and 1,000 barrels, each containing 100lb, They themselves state that there were about 750 barrels in the depot and perhaps 200 more in the barges. The quantity in the magazine of Messrs. Daye and Barker has not been ascertained. It should be understood that these were places used entirely for storage of gunpowder and in no sense for its manufacture, and that none but experienced men were employed at them.

Rayner had been the storekeeper there of Messrs. Hall for 12 years, and accustomed to the manipulation of powder from his boyhood. He was an intelligent and most efficient man, and they had complete confidence in him. Between the mills at Faversham and the magazines at Belvedere, a distance of about 30 miles, the gunpowder is conveyed in sailing barges, each of them navigated usually by a couple of men, and two of these, as has been stated, were moored alongside the jetty on Saturday morning discharging cargo. The gunpowder, carefully packed in barrels, is borne on trucks with copper wheels along wooden rails, in order to preclude the possibility of a spark from friction, and the operation is conducted with other precautions, such as the wearing of list slippers by the men engaged in it. By common consent, the explosion occurred at between 18 and 20 minutes before 7 o'clock in the morning, and it is presumed that Messrs. Hall's men were then unloading one of the barges. A clock in the house of Mr. Henry Hall, at South Darenth, about three miles from Dartford and seven from the powder magazines, was stopped by tho explosion itself at precisely l8 minutes to 7. There were there distinct explosions immediately following each other, and the belief of persons conversant with the trade is that the first took place on board one of the barges; that the terrific concussion produced by it tore asunder the larger magazine,and some of the burning fragments alighting in it caused an explosion infinitely more appalling, and which was instantaneously followed by the explosion of the smaller depot.

At Erith and Belvedere, where the shock was most felt, the feeling produced by it is described as awful beyond description. At Woolwich, about four miles off, the first impression was that the powder works in the Arsenal had exploded, and the wives and families of the artisans at work there rushed to the spot in a state of consternation. They were not allowed to enter the place, and they stood terror-stricken in the square in front. Shortly after the explosion showers of letters, invoices, and other papers, which had been borne on the wind a distance of four miles, fell within the precincts of the Arsenal, and clearly indicated the scene of the catastrophe, but it was long before the people outside could be persuaded that their relatives were safe. Immediately after the calamity an immense pillar of smoke rose from the spot high into the air, thick black, and palpable with a huge spreading top, and about a quarter of an hour elapsed before it died away. So soon as It was supposed to be safe to do so people from Erith and Belvedere proceeded to the spot and  ventured to explore the ruins in search of anyone that might be living. Of the magazines themselves not a single stone remained upon another, the very foundations being tom up, and the site of that of Messrs. Hall was marked by huge fissures and chasms in the earth, immense lumps of which had been scooped out and hurled about the adjacent fields. The barges, with the jetty, had been split into fragments and blown into the air, and an enormous rent had been made in the embankment itself, exposing miles of country to the peril of inundation. Of the cottage of the foreman Rayner nothing was left standing but a bit of brickwall and a doorway. The lifeless bodies of the unfortunate man himself and of his son, a boy, were found close by, and his wife and a child were dug out of the ruins alive, but hurt in various ways. A child, niece of Silver, the foreman at the depot, was killed, while he himself escaped with some slight injuries. His wife, fortunately, had gone on a visit to some friends at Maidstone a few days ago, and had not returned. The cottage in which they lived is simply a ruin, and the whole immediate neighborhood is covered with the debris of the fallen buildings. Those of the sufferers, nine in number, who were still living, were conveyed with as much care and speed as possible to Guy's Hospital. One of them died shortly after admission, the lives of two others were despaired of, and it is apprehended that the men in charge of the barges have perished, for they were missing up to yesterday.

The yawning gap in the embankment, about 100 yards in width, next demanded attention and most fortunately Mr. Lewis G. Moore, an engineer connected with the Thames Embankment, and who resides at Erith, at once perceived and appreciated the emergency. Luckily it was dead low water at the time of the explosion, but still only about four hours were available for the rough repair of the damage against the approaching tide. A message was sent by Mr. Moore to Mr. Houghton, one of the contractors under the Metropolitan Board of Works, at Crossness Point, about a couple of miles off, and within 20 minutes afterwards he had arrived upon the scene with 400 navies, with all their tools and barrows. A communication was also forwarded to the garrison at Woolwich, and by half past 9 o'clock detachments of sappers and miners and Artillery, to the number of about 1,500, under the command of General Warde and Colonel Hawkins, reached the spot with all the necessary implements, and set about the repair with great good will, and after the true method of military engineering. They were followed speedily by the 5th Fusileers, who kept the ground from intrusion, and later in the day by the Marines, both from the garrison at Woolwich. Before the troops  arrived, the navies, acting under Mr. Houghton and Mr. Moore, wheeled large masses of clay in front of the breach, while others puddled it into a solid bottom, by which means the subsequent military operations were greatly facilitated. On their arrival the Sappers and Miners made horizontal arches at the back of the breach with bags filled with clay one upon another, and with layars of earth intervening, these arches presenting a formidable front to the advancing tide, while the rest of the gap was being filled up and puddled by the navies. Time was precious and there was a scarcity of barrows; but the troops, adapting themselves to the emergency, formed themselves into lines from places where clay was available, and passed it along in lumps, from hand to hand, to the point of operations with great ease and rapidity. About halfpast 1 o'clock, when near high-water, the work became extremely exciting. The whole force contended with the advancing tide inch by inch, knowing that, if it once made a breach, the repair of the mischief would be vastly more difficult than the work in which they were then engaged. By three o'clock the embankment was restored in this rough and ready, but most efficient, manner, and the crisis had passed. It withstood the succeeding tide, and was exposed to a severer trial in that of yesterday, which, with a stiff north-easterly breeze beat heavily against it for about a couple of hours. At one time apprehensions as to its safety existed, and a party of Sappers and Miners, who had been telegraphed for, arrived from Woolwich to assist in the emergency. In case of failure, Mr. Moore had taken the precaution to send for about a dozen barges, with a view to have them loaded with clay and then scuttled in front of the breach as a kind of breakwater; but fortunately occasion did not arise for the expedient being carried into effect. He speaks in enthusiastic terms of the hearty co-operation of General Warde and Colonel Hawkins on the occasion, and of the practical energy shown by the troops. In the course of the afternoon of Saturday Captain Harris, Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, went down to the spot with a detachment of the A Division of police, and yesterday again a still stronger force were on duty there aiding the local constabulary.

 The damage done at Erith in particular in the way of broken glass and the injury property in other respects is lamentably great, and a public meeting of the inhabitants had been convened tor this afternoon to decide upon some course of action in the emergency. There is scarcely a house in the place the windows of which have not been shattered less or more, and the inhabitants are experiencing much inconvenience. The windows of the old parish church have been blown in among the rest, as have also those in particular of a whole row of houses, 20 or 30 in number, situated on the brow of the hill leading to Bexley, and belonging to Mr. Everett. The explosion was heard and felt at Uxbridge, about 30 miles off, and at Windsor, Teddington, and many other distant places. Mr. William Hall, the principal partner of the firm whose property has been destroyed, felt the concussion at the residence of Sir Norton Knatchbull, at which he was staying, in the neighborhood of Ashford, and about 50 miles distant from the spot. For some minutes after the explosion the earth heaved and trembled with the effects of it in and about Erith and Belvedere, and the people were appalled and terror-stricken.

 At Woolwich the usual drills and barrack duties were on Saturday dispensed with as far as practicable, for the purpose of rendering all possible aid to the sufferers from the explosion.
The effects in the garrison and town were very destructive. The windows in the official departments, at private residences, and shops were shattered; frames and sashes were dashed in and several persons were severely injured. In many houses ceilings and portions of the walls were shaken down, and people rushed from their houses in dismay. The whole of the medical staff of the garrison and town hastened to the scene to render their assistance. Dr. Domville, of the flagship Fisgard, who was the first to reach the place, was pulled down the river to the immediate locality in the ship's cutter. In the shook many persons were thrown violently from their beds to the floor and their beds shook like ships at sea. In the Arsenal and dockyard serious fears were entertained that the large workshops would fall in, so great and violent was the concussion felt by the two shocks immediately following each other. In connexion with the showers of paper a remarkable circumstance occurred. A lad named Eaves was standing near the Royal gun factories, in which he is employed and picked up one of the torn pieces of paper which fell around him. He found it to be part of the page of a ledger, in which his uncle, a foreman in the employment of Mr. Hall, had that morning entered a memorandum. He had attached his signature at the foot, together with the date of the entry-namely, October 1,1864. The shock of the explosion was distinctly felt in every part of Chatham and Rochester, which are distant about 25 miles from the scene of the disaster. In Chatham dockyard the windows of nearly every part of the building were shaken and doors forced open. The cloud of smoke which followed the explosion was distinctly visible from Fort Pitt and the Chatham Lines, and until the telegrams conveying intelligence of the occurrence arrived a general opinion was entertained that the government powder magazines at Purfleet had exploded. The shock of the explosions was felt most severely in the more elevated portions of the neighborhood.

At Deptford, in the workshops of Mr. Stone, a large navy contractor, which are under the arches of the railway there, the gaslights, to the number of about 150, were blown out simultaneously by the explosion.

Sergeant Cox, of tho police division stationed at Erith, gives the following narrative of the circumstances: -He was getting up when he heard the explosion. He ran out and found all the back windows were broken, the sashes as well as the glasses. He looked in the direction whence the sound proceeded, and imagining from the smoke that one of the magazines had exploded.he went back. and, having quieted the fears of his wife, proceeded to tho scene of the disaster, procuring assistance by the way. Mr. Churton and Mr. Tipple, two medical gentlemen of the vicinity, were on the spot almost as soon as the police, and, with Mr. Matthewson and other surgeons, did all that was possible for the sufferers. On arriving at tho spot, having literally picked his way through the heaps of rubbish and masses of stones and brick that had been strewn about by the explosion, Sergeant Cox found the body of Mr. George Rayner in his own garden, He was much cut about the face, as if by splinters, and the back part of the head over the left ear was cut open, the brain protruding. He was quite dead. Sergeant Cox next saw Rebecca Wright, who was removed as soon as possible, under the care of the medical men. A son of Rayner, named Oliver, was next discovered. His head was smashed in a fearful manner, and death must have been quite instantaneous. Elizabeth Wright, aged 13, a daughter of the poor woman previously mentioned, was next found, and she was carefully removed to Guy's Hospital, but died a few minutes after her admission. She had sustained a compound fracture of the skull, a fracture of the left thigh, and was severely burnt on the chest and upper extremity of the body. The bodies of Rayner and his son were removed to the Belvedere Hotel, and placed in a shed to await the coroner's inquest, and shortly after the body of a man, apparently about 60 years of age, was found in the mud of the river, and conveyed to the same place. Among the others found, those whose names are appended were conveyed to Guy's Hospital; Mary Yorke, 38, fracture of thigh; Lennie Yorke, 7, contused arm and leg, with burns; Harriot Rayner, 40, wound on shoulder and face; Dinah Yorke, 6, wounds on face, back, and legs j Elizabeth Usborne, 7, wounds on face and hands; Edward Singleton, 24, fracture of arm and burns; Jane Eaves, 38, fracture of skull, very dangerous; George Smith, William Mildred, William Edwards, William Johnson, and George Hubbard were also more or less hurt. Two children, named Alfred Rayner, aged 12, and William Yorke, aged 11, were taken charge of by Captain M'Kiilop who resides at Belvedere. The first-named was found on the floor of the cottage, part of which yet remains standing. The poor little fellow was covered with plaster and dust from the ceiling, but was not injured. Two younger children belonging to Mrs. Wright are in the care of Mrs. Price, of Lessness-heath. The bodies of two of the men, named Yorke and Wright, who worked with Rayner, have not yet been recovered. James Eaves died yesterday afternoon at 3 o'clock. A third sufferer, named Eliza Osborne, aged eight years, presents a pitiable spectacle, her face, head, and hand being frightfully lacerated. She is not expected to survive the night. The other six are going on favorably, and no fatal result is apprehended in their cases.

Yesterday thousands upon thousands of people visited the scene of the catastrophe, travelling mostly by the North Kent Railway, and it required the aid of a strong body of police at the Erith and Belvedere Stations to maintain order and prevent accident. From an early hour in the morning until dark long trains came in from the London-bridge station crammed, while the frequent trains from Maidstone, Strood, Chatham, Rochester, Gravesend, Dartford, and other places on the North Kent line deposited their thousands at the Erith station. Long after dark, the platform and grounds were crowded with thousands of people waiting to be conveyed homewards. At 11 o'clock the trains were coming in rapidly to London-bridge, the passengers by which reported that a large number of persons were still waiting down the line.


The Mercury (Aus) Wed 14 Dec 1864.

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