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Author Topic: Great Explosion at Woolwich. 24th September 1883  (Read 3672 times)

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Re: Great Explosion at Woolwich. 24th September 1883
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2018, 20:58:51 »
The Woolwich Explosion.

The adjourned inquest on the two men killed by the rocket explosion at Woolwich was resumed on Thursday afternoon. Wm. Hall, the foreman at the arsenal, said he saw both deceased at work on the morning of the accident in No. 16 rocket shed. The process was to dust and clean the rockets, using a feather to clean the vent piece, and then to paint them and pack them away into boxes. Stephenson had been 16 years at this work. There were 587 24-pound rockets in the shed, and 180 9-pound rockets, all filled with composite. Of these, 353 were in cases. Nothing short of a spark of a fire could, in his opinion, ignite the rockets. - John Bishop, overlooker, said he was in the rocket-stores shortly after 10, and saw the two deceased steadily at work. At Stephenson's request he promised to send Mr Hall to inspect the finished rockets. He had just left the building when a rocket flew out across the canal. George Buchanan, who was in the next shed, said the first flash came from the north end where Carlich was at work. - Colonel Barlow and Sir F. Abel were called, but could not account for the accident. - The jury then consulted, and returned a verdict of "Accidental Death" coupled with a commendation of the police officials of the Royal Arsenal.
     From the South Wales Daily News, Friday, September 28.1883.

Death from a Scratch.

Mr. John Kettle Paine, draper, of High-street, Woolwich, whose shop was partly wrecked by a rocket at the explosion last week, has just died under very sad circumstances. He was on the premises when the rocket fell, and sat in the counting-house through which it passed only a few minutes before it arrived, but did not appear to be in the least degree affected by the accident. A day or two afterwards he observed a slight scratch upon the thumb of his right hand, but thought it scarcely worth notice. The hand, however, began to swell, the inflammation extended up the arm and spread over the chest and shoulders, and after enduring great agony Mr. Paine died on Tuesday Morning. He was a little over 50 years of age, and held several honorary public offices in the locality.
     From the Western Mail, Friday, October 5, 1883.



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Re: Great Explosion at Woolwich. 24th September 1883
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2018, 22:03:55 »
Marvellous Escapes.

Many marvellous escapes are reported. One of the first rockets hurled from the burning building sped about 1,500 yards in an easterly direction, and narrowly escaping the roof of a group of cottages known as Orchard-row, dashed with great violence against the Plumstead Board School. The missile, a formidable 24-pounder, forced its way through the strong brick wall which surrounds the building into a class-room, where about 60 girls were receiving a lesson. It ploughed up the substantial wood block flooring to a distance of eight or ten feet from the wall, overturning a bench where a child was seated, and finally buried itself in the ground. Fortunately the little girl sustained no injury beyond a severe shaking, and though her terror-stricken fellow-scholars were for a few moments almost wild with fright, thanks to the presence of mind of the teachers, the evil results of a panic were averted, and the children dispersed quietly to their homes. The schoolmaster (Mr Murphy) points out that had the rocket struck the class-room a couple of feet higher, and instead of penetrating the wall, entered at the window, the young women who was in charge of the class must have lost her life, as she was directly in the track which the missile would have taken.

The first explosion at the arsenal does not seem to have caused much alarm in the neighbourhood of Plumstead, as the residents are accustomed to the sound of firing, but when the huge volume of white smoke was seen to obscure the atmosphere in the direction of the rocket factory, and a lurid light gradually overspread the arsenal, it became known that something worse than the discharge of a piece of ordnance had taken place, and when the unrehearsed pyrotechnic display commenced, and the huge rockets were hurled in eccentric curves in all directions, the popular curiosity gave way to unfeigned terror. No part of the district surrounding the arsenal was free from the fiery visitation.

In Ritter-street, on Woolwich Common, a distance of more than a mile from the conflagration, a rocket was hurled against a private house, occupied by Mr Garth, and penetrating a 12-inch wall at the back of the building, entered the kitchen and was buried beneath the flooring. On its passage the rocket smashed off the legs of a table near the window, overturning a washing tub, before which a moment before Mrs Garth had been standing, and driving the broken table leg with such force to the other side of the room as to inflict a slight injury to a neighbour who was there sitting.

In Thomas-street, Woolwich, and in High-street the shops of Mr J. Drake, fruiterer, and Mr Paine, clothier, respectively, were similarly visited, but in neither case was serious damage done to the property or injury to person, though in the latter case a clerk, seated in the counting-house, narrowly escaped with his life.
One rocket struck the boundary wall of the artillery barracks in Artillery-place, and, rebounding into the road, caused an extensive breakage of glass in the adjoining shops. A similar effect was produced in Plumstesd-road by a rocket striking the boundary wall of the arsenal, and ricochetting upon the neighbouring houses. On the north the rockets seem to have fallen quite as thickly as on the north-south and east. The mariners on two barges, moored near the Woolwich Gardens, were startled at an early stage of the fire by a tremendous splash, caused by the fall of a 24-pounder into the water near them. One rocket fell in the North Woolwich Gardens, another in Albert-road, damaging the roof of a dwelling-house; another near the Caledonian Inn, and others at various intervals within a radius of 2,000 yards of the scene of the disaster. Everywhere, however, the missiles spent themselves without injury to life or limb, and the alarm caused amongst the residents by the first shower of fiery messengers soon gave way to congratulations at the unhoped-for immunity from accident.

The excitement caused by the rocket explosion at Woolwich has now subsided, and, with the exception of the destroyed buildings and debris in the immediate vicinity, nothing remains to mark the scene of the catastrophe. Most of the rockets which fell in the town and neighbourhood have been returned to the authorities, and it has been ascertained that some of them travelled a distance of one mile.

Mr Carttar, coroner for West Kent, opened the inquest at Woolwich on Tuesday afternoon into the circumstances attending the deaths of Richard Stevenson and Daniel Carlick, who were killed by the explosion at the rocket store of the Royal Arsenal on Monday. In addressing the jury, the Coroner said he would not anticipate the nature of the evidence at present available, but in any case he would merely take evidence as to identity and then adjourn the inquiry for a day or two. The jury having inspected the remains, returned into court, and after evidence of identity had been given, the inquest was formally adjourned.

The "Press Association" Woolwich correspondent says it has now been defnitely ascertained that the number of war rockets which were in the rocket factory on Monday was 770, and as only about 200 were found to have burst inside the building, upwards of 500 of the dangerous projectiles must have been scattered over the surrounding district. This fact increases the astonishment which was created by the comparatively slight consequences which have resulted. The most alarming occurrence was the burrowing of a 24-pound rocket under the floor of Plumstead Board School. (......) The most serious case of damage was at Mr Prince's draper's shop, High-street, where, after passing through three walls and into the midst of the crowded shop, the rocket buried itself into a pile of flannel. The injury caused here amounted to £150. Many persons intend sending in claims for compensation, but on previous occasions the Government have repudiated liability in such cases, and it is improbable they will entertain the present demands.

Colonel Ford, inspector of explosives, visited the ruins of the cartridge factories, and inspected other magazines in the locality. Professor Abel, War Department chemist; Colonel Crezier, inspector of works; and Mr Carttar, the coroner, were also on the scene making investigations. A brief inquiry into the origin of the accident has been held by the superintendent of the Royal Laboratory, but the nature of the evidence cannot yet be made public, and it is doubtful whether the cause of the first explosion will ever be disclosed. Both the deceased persons were seen by the assistant foreman in the rocket store just before the explosion, and were then steadily engaged on their work. The centre of the place was kept quite clear, and there is said to have been not an atom of loose powder or explosive composition in the building, The hot corner which was occupied by a crowd of helpers behind the armoury while the rockets were crashing through the brickwork, was visited on Tuesday by an officer who was present at Plevna during the Russo-Turkish war, and he declared that he never witnessed so terrible a situation.

The "Press Association" Woolwich correspondent says that on Wednesday the police at the Royal Arsenal received information of more stray rockets found in places still remote from the scene of Monday's explosion than any previously discovered. One was dug out of two feet of earth in a garden on Plumstead Common, into which it was seen to pitch after passing over St. Margaret's Church. Another travelled even further, crossing Plumstead Common, and entering the slope of Shooters Hill, and descending at Wickham-lane. A third was found on the Government ground in rear of the Royal Military Academy. It must have passed directly over the academy buildings, and was quite two and a half miles from the rocket factories. Another was dug out of a cutting on the North Kent Railway, and two others dropped in or near the barracks at Woolwich. Numbers of rockets which have not yet been recovered are known to have descended on the practice grounds and marsh lands as far down as Abbey Wood and Belvidere, and the flight of another has been traced for a distance of three miles. Many narrow escapes are reported, but the police have received no information of any further casualties.



Offline conan

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Re: Great Explosion at Woolwich. 24th September 1883
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2018, 19:53:17 »
Mentioned in the report is  the Hales rocket

A short history here

And a bit of you tube footage here

To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child......Cicero


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Great Explosion at Woolwich. 24th September 1883
« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2018, 22:47:23 »
Great Explosion at Woolwich.
A Rocket Factory Blown Up.
Two Men Killed.
Marvellous Escapes.

Woolwich, Monday. - The special representative of the "Press Association," telegraphing this evening, says : -An explosion of a most appalling description occurred this morning at ten o'clock in the rocket repository of the Woolwich Arsenal, which, although happily unattended with a serious loss of life, was one which caused considerable consternation in the immediate vicinity, not only amongst the thousands of employes, but amongst the inhabitants in the township of Woolwich and Plumstead.

The first intimation of anything serious happening was at about 10 o'clock in the morning, when several rockets exploded, followed by a fusillade of others. The employes rushed in terror from their various departments irrespective of discipline, not being able at first to ascertain in the general confusion what was happening. It was, however, soon apparent where the mischief was taking place, and many were the willing volunteers ready to rush forward to assist in the rescue of those known to have been engaged in the packing and storing of the deadly missiles. The fire-brigade in connection with the Government works was immediately on the spot, prepared at once to get their manual into play, but no sooner did they get into the required position to do so than they were compelled to retire, as the fire, which had by this time obtained complete mastery of the place, liberated countless rockets, which had been carefully encased and sorted in boxes, ready for any contingency whatsoever. When, however, it was deemed safe, the engines were put into play, and the fire soon subdued, but not before the whole of the glass and the doors had been blown away, and the corrugated roof lifted, leaving the walls upstanding with a surrounding of charred debris, consisting of discharged and unexploded rockets, pieces of timber, and the strong wooden boxes into which the 24lb rockets were packed for storage after careful scrutiny. 

The building in which the catastrophe occured is one amongst a number of isolated structures in the rocket factories, which are cut off from the arsenal by a broad canal, and which are arranged in pairs, separated from each other by a sufficient space, to prevent as far as possible the spreading of any disaster occurring in one building to another, and to thus secure its comparative isolation. The foresight which suggested such an arrangement, has, perhaps, saved this country from one of the most harrowing and heartrending catastrophes which has ever occurred in the annals of the world. The building nearest to that destroyed which suffered the severest damage was stocked with the materials of a non-explosive nature, being rifles and small arms. These, however, were displaced and thrown about in all directions by the fierce showers of rockets, which entered with such force as to break many of the stocks off the rifles, and to afterwards embed themselves in the masonry beyond. In this department there were four persons, who had a most narrow escape, owing to the presence of mind of Mr Buchanan.
This gentleman, who was in charge, was engaged upon his duties near a window, when a rocket suddenly shot through it, and covered him with a shower of glass. He saw at once a flame in the opposite structure, and throwing himself flat upon the floor, called upon the other three to do likewise. This they at once did, and thus, amidst a perfect trail of rockets, receded from their perilous position, and sought refuge behind the masonry in the rear. Mr Buchanan, notwithstanding this, determined to make an effort to save a number of official records which had been fired, rushed into the building again, and by means of the buckets of water to hand succeeded in saving them from destruction. A number of buildings connected with the Government works were struck by the rockets, many of which embedded themselves about 15 inches in the masonary and brickwork at distances ranging from 300 yards to over half a mile, many falling into houses outside the works.

As soon as it was deemed safe a search was made for the remains of those who were known to have unhappily been in the building at the time of the outbreak of the fire, the cause of which has as yet been unascertained, and will doubtless form the subject of a most careful and searching enquiry, inasmuch as the most strict instructions have been issued to the officials in charge to see that nothing is removed. After a little while two bodies were discovered - those of Richard Stevenson, of Plumstead, who leaves a wife and family, and Daniel Carlech, aged 18, also of Plumstead.
In both cases death must have been instantaneous, the former having been struck in the region of the heart, leaving a large open cavity, whilst the reminds of the youth were so calcined as to be absolutely beyond recognition. It is stated that Stevenson has been upwards of 30 years on the works, and that his wife will be entitled to compensation. In the case of the youth, it seemed that he only resumed work this morning after six weeks' sick leave, and had consequently only been on duty but a short time when he unfortunately lost his life. The remains lie in the arsenal mortuary awaiting an inquest.

Story of an Eye-witness.

An eye-witness of the occurrence gives the following account of the explosion : - At ten o'clock, or within three minutes after the hour, as I passed within a stones throw of the principal cartridge factory on the outskirts of the Royal Arsenal, I was startled by a hissing sound, which could only have arisen from the flight of a large rocket, and looking up I saw the missile whirling on high, leaving its path below marked by a coil of smoke. Instinctively the eyes of all beholders were turned towards the rocket factories, and from one of these, the most distant, a cloud was seen to rise, while at the same moment a dull report, as of a slight explosion, half smothered, reached the ear. Universal excitement instantly prevailed, for everybody who knew the arsenal knew also that an explosion never takes place in any of these dangerous works without consequences still more threatening. Policemen ran to their telegraph stations and sounded the alarm in all directions, and the workmen, throwing down their tools, hurried to the spot to render what aid was in their power. Running down the canal bank, past a number of the cartridge and rocket factories with the men and boys at the doors dazed and frightened and undecided what to do, we saw the flames burst through the roof of factory No 16. A fire engine was being brought up along the raised wooden platform which runs from shed all through the workshops. It was at once seen that the building on fire was the one used for painting, stencilling, and packing the rockets, in which building two or three men were employed. Lying broadside to it was another similar factory, used chiefly as an armoury and workshop by the men employed on the rifle range.
Several of the rockets had gone off point-blank, and as two men, known to have been employed in the painting process, were missing, it was at once concluded that they were past hope, and those persons in the adjacent armoury, barely 40 yards distant, had a narrow escape, for some of the rockets struck the building, and almost the first one came through a window at which the foreman (Mr Buchanan), was standing at his desk, passed within a few inches of his head, and flew out straight through the opposite window. The inmates of this armoury, at the risk of their lives, took with out with them all the explosive material there deposited, two boys, named Hoskins and Bowden, removed some bags of cartridges, while a man called Maltby carried out 50lbs of loose powder and threw it into a ditch, where it was out of harms way. As many of the live rockets afterwards entered this place, its destruction and the further spread of the mischief were doubtless arrested by these precautions.

At first the extinction of the fire was the only apparent concern, and the engine was brought close to the burning pile, into the doors and windows of which the workmen and boys were throwing pails of water, but as the fire spread new explosions occurred, and rockets began to fly through the roof and walls on every side, and the men were ordered to remove the engine behind the solid brickwork of the armoury and wait till they could hope to do some good without the certain peril of there lives.

The people on the banks of the canal also took warning and sought cover where they could. Every two or three seconds an explosion was heard, followed perhaps by a flight of more signal rockets, of which there was no fear, but quite as frequently by the whistling overhead of a great iron Hale's rocket, sometimes at a great height, sometimes low down and close to terrified spectators. There seemed to be hundreds of them flying at all points of the compass, but chiefly, it seemed, into the town of Plumstead. Many flew across the marshes, some into the river. They fell like hail upon the stores and windows of the Royal Arsenal, to the extreme danger of its thousands of artizans, and many more reached distant parts of Woolwich. This information was gleaned from breathless arrivals, who were eager to learn the extent of the calamity. A sergeant of artillery was quite coolly endeavouring to convince his hearers that there was perfect security in walking about, provided you watched and dodged the incoming rockets, but although he did so himself he made no converts. The proximity of the gasworks, which were several times struck, was the cause of some anxiety, and the various magazines in the marshfields, including the common cartridge factory, only half a mile away, were sources of considerable anxiety to the officials of the laboratory department, but it was afterwards learnt that to these scarcely any damage was done. Superintendent Hindes and Inspector Keevil arrived very early with a large body of police, and they went forward with extreme caution. On all sides was to be seen the spectacle of men throwing themselves on their faces to escape from threatening peril, and the policemen creeping along under the shadow of the platform towards the point of danger proved themselves really brave men, carrying their lives in their hands.

Several times the adjacent building was on fire, and as often extinguished, and more than one man had his face and whiskers burnt by the fiery rockets. The armoury in this building became a simple wreck, rifles being rent in twain and the contents of the place heaped in terrible confusion. The lad Carleck was discovered inside the building, the man Stevenson being found midway between the two buildings, whither he had been thrown by the force of the explosion. The most remarkable feature in connection with the affair is the wonderful small loss of life. Although rockets by the hundreds were flying about indiscriminately for nearly an hour, some alighting in the crowded streets of a busy town, not a single casualty beyond the two primary deaths are as yet recorded. Some of the inhabitants are exhibiting in their windows the spent missiles as trophies, and the prevalent feeling in the district is one of deep thankfulness for so miraculous a escape.



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