Chatham, Rochester, and Gillingham News Saturday, February 27, 1904.
THE CLIFFE EXPLOSIONS INQUESTS AT ROCHESTER & CLIFFE.
The inquest on the young man William Frederick Moon, who died on Tuesday, the 16th at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, Rochester, as the result of bums sustained in the explosion at Messrs Curtis and Harvey’s works, Cliffe on the 4lh instant was held before Mr R. J. M. Steadman, City Coroner, at the Hospital, on Friday afternoon.
Mr W. Oldroyd was chosen foreman of the jury and the case was watched on behalf of the Home Office by Captain Destborough , R. A. H.M. Inspectors of Explosives. Mr J.E. Harston and Mr G.S.Taylor, H.M. Inspectors of Factories.
John Henry Moon of 2 South View, Cliffe, Father of the deceased gave evidence of identification. Deceased was 25 years of age and was living with witness at the time of the accident.
He was in the employ of Messrs Curtis and Harvey Limited at their Explosives Factory, Cliffe at Hoo.
Witness last saw him alive and well on the evening of the 3rd February when he left home at 7.30 for work.
Witness first heard that the deceased had been injured on the following morning at 7.30. He was told that he had been burnt and sent on to the Hospital. Deceased entered the employ of the Company about a fortnight before last Christmas.
George Ellis, living at 5 Providence Cottages, Cliffe, a patrol man at the works deposed, that the deceased started work at about 8.30 on the evening of the 3rd instant with Kenknight, the young man that was killed outright. After the pair of them had been to the mess- room and changed their clothing.
Witness searched them according to rule but found no article upon them not allowed by the regulations. They were both sober and afterwards passed onto the Range where the Huts were situated.
Deceased and Kenknight went to work in Hut No 41- a gun cotton drying room. Thursday February 4th at 12.30 am they returned to the mess-room for food and went back again at one am, witness searching them again before they left.
At a quarter past two o’clock he saw them working in No 4]. They were both bare footed and Kenknight had got a electric lamp in his hand.
They told the witness that they would be finished there in about half-an-hour and then they were going to shift the gun cotton to the new hut No 48- Witness asked Kenknight to take the electric lamp back to the dynamo when they had finished with it. They were obliged to have a lamp inside the house to see by. At three am , witness heard an explosion and saw fire.
The Coroner: Was it a loud explosion ? - Witness: A medium one.
Witness continuing, said he was in the guard-room at the time and on looking out of the door he saw that No 48 Hut was on fire.
Witness went round to the range and found Moon with Gilbert, who had got there first, outside No 41. Moon was sitting on the platform and said “Go and see if you can find my mate”. Moons clothes were burnt all over him and his arms, feet and head were also scorched.
Witness went to see whether he could find Kenknight but the fire was to fierce; they could not get near it. Witness then returned to Gilbert and assisted to get Moon back in the mess-room. Several people including Mr Soddey the Chemist and Dr A. B. Rogers came and deceased was sent off to the Hospital.
The Coroner: Did Moon make any statement to you as to how it occurred? - - No, Sir. Replying further to the Coroner, witness said Kenknight and deceased were the only two men working there that night.
The Coroner; How do you account for there being a explosion in No 48? -
I can’t account for it in any way, unless it was a steam pipe burst. Witness added that later the same morning that all the steam pipes had burst. The walls were all blown down and the roof carried about thirty yards away by the force of the explosion.
Alfred Gilbert, living at Argon Villa, Cliffe, a nitro glycerine worker, employed at the factory, deposed that he first saw deceased at one o-clock on the early morning of the 4,h instant, leaving the mess room.
He next saw him at three o’clock within four or five yards from No 41. He was burnt on his face, feet and hands.
Witness had previously heard a report before he went to deceased; he was in building No 13, separating house about 300 yards away, at the time Moon was running towards witness.
Witness asked him where Kenknight was, and he replied, “ I don’t know. I called out to him as soon as I saw the flames, and just as I was coming out something fell on me. I thought that I shouldn’t get out. 1 had another try and got out and ran. With help the witness got him to the mess-room, where his bums were dressed by Dr Rogers. Witness afterwards brought him to the Hospital arriving there at about 7.30.
Thomas George Shacklady, residing at Addiscombe Villas, Cliffe , chief chemist at the works said he was present when William Murray the gate keeper read over the printed rules of the factory to deceased when he was engaged. Witness produced a book containing deceased signature to a declaration that he had read the rules and agreed to abide by them.
Knowing the deceased to be a fresh hand on the factory, Witness had asked him from time to time whether he understood the rules. He seemed to be a intelligent sort of man, and replied “Yes”. He appeared also to understand the danger of the works.
Kenknight with whom deceased was working was a lot older hand.
Mr McCleak was the foreman of No 41 and 48 huts which were similar in build and purpose, both being used as drying houses.
Witness had left orders with Mr McCleak on the afternoon of the 3rd instant that No41 was to be loaded, but gave no orders concerning 48. In the ordinary course of events 48 would be unloaded on the following morning or at any such time as the sample was dry.
Kenknight would know that it had to be unloaded as he was in charge of the stoves. Moon would of course do what Kenknight told him to do.
Witness saw the inside of No 48 hut at about four o’clock on the afternoon before the explosion. It then contained 460 lbs of collodian cotton. The quantity allowed to be placed in that house was 2,500 lbs.
Previous to being put there the cotton was brought from the store in a wet state after being put through a sieve, and placed on the trays in the drying house.
The temperature in the drying house was recorded in a book which was kept in the porch of the drying house, so that when the man in charge of the stove went to look at the temperature he booked it down. Unfortunately the book was destroyed in the fire.
There were two thermometers in the room, one of which could be seen from outside through the window.
By Capt, Dosborough ; The orders in the factory were that the stove was to be cooled down to 70 degrees Fah , before it was cleared.
Do you think this was done on the day of the accident or not - Well I should say not from what I could hear.
You don’t think sufficient time had elapsed for the cotton to dry? - Plenty of time had elapsed but not to cool down . Witness explained that the orders were for the trays to be lifted of the racks and not to be pulled.
Do you know if that order has been very strictly obeyed? - Well we always warn them about it
Have you ever seen a man slide a tray out? - Well not with dry cotton; I have seen them sliding a tray with wet collodion or gun cotton on and have warned them not to do do the same with dry cotton.
Have you formed any opinion as to what was taking place at the time of the explosion? - Well I should think that Kenknight was taking the trays from the racks. What are the trays emptied into? - into calico bags suspended between two racks.
The cotton is placed on the shoot and goes down into the bags underneath the shoot that is to prevent as much as much dry cotton as possible from getting onto the floor of the stove so that they would not have to shovel it up and so be liable to cause friction.
They use a small wooden shovel or scoop and in case any goes on the floor it is brushed up and shovelled up with this.
There are no steam pipes in the store are there ? - There are no steam pipes in No 48 at all; the store is heated with hot air . If the patrol saw any steam escaping it would be due to the wall in its fall breaking a steam outside which had nothing to do with 48: Witness added that when the debris was cleared up on the 8th; he found one boot and there were two iron tips off man’s boots found outside the stoves showing that the men had taken off their boots before entering.
The temperature of the cordite stove which was heated from the same heater was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit all day on the 3rd.
Captain Arthur Desborough, H. M. Inspector of explosives made a statement as to the conclusions to which he had come after making a examination of the works. It was perfectly clear he said, that the explosion occurred when the men were removing the trays from the racks.
It would either occur from spontaneous combustion of the collodion cotton through its being insufficiently pure or from friction or percussion.
So far as spontaneous combustion was concerned, he had taken a sample from the same batch and had it examined by their chemical advisor, and he reported that it stood all the tests extremely well; they could therefore knock that out as being the possible cause of the explosion.
As regards friction or possible percussion he was afraid they had not let this stove cool down and as experiments had proved from time to time, the hotter the collodion or gun cotton was the more susceptible it was to friction or percussion . In this particular case the clearance between and supports was only about a quarter of an inch ; and in removing the trays at night, although there was a electric light outside showing through a glass window and another light it was quite possible that Kenknight got hold of the tray and gave it a bit of a twist ,with the result that the gun cotton fluff caught on the wooden surface and exploded. They could fire gun cotton off by rubbing it with a wooden stick on the floor.
As far as he could find out, the rules in this case seemed to have been observed. Both of the mens shoes were found outside, and both seem to have understood
the rules of the factory, and the character they bore was very good ; They were both careful men except for the fact of their not having allowed the stove to be cooled down , but that was not proved. He did not think that any blame could be attached to either the men or the firm. He had made a communication to the firm, with suggestions as to improvements in the inside of the stove and the methods they should adopt in working it. These suggestions they had promised to adopt.
In reply to the Coroner, Captain Desborough said his conclusions were briefly these: - From the evidence given he was of the opinion that the explosion was due to percussion when removing the trays from the rack, and probably that the temperature of the stoves had not been allowed to cool down.
Dr H. H. Cotman, house surgeon at the Hospital, deposed that deceased was admitted to the Hospital on the 4lh inst, suffering from bums of the face, both hands, and both feet
In each case the bum was very superficial except on the left hand, but the area involved was considerable. He was very collapsed and continued seriously ill until the 14th instant when he developed symptoms of tetanus and died at 2 p.m. on the 16th, the cause of death tetanus set up by the bums.
In reply to the Foreman, Captain Desborough said the deceased had not been questioned with regard to the accident: The doctor had advised that it was much wiser he should not be, as there was at the time a chance of his recovery. The jury returned a a verdict of Accidental Death.
Mr Soddy, the chemist, and Mr McCIeak , the foreman were to have given evidence, but were unable to be present owing to injuries sustained by them in the second explosion on Thursday last.
Chatham. Rochester, and Gillingham News Saturday. February 27, 1904.
THE CLIFFE EXPLOSIONS
INQUESTS AT ROCHESTER & CLIFFE.
LAST WEEKS DISASTER - “FUMING THE PROBABLE CAUSE”.
INQUEST AT THE FACTORY.
Mr C. B. Harris. Deputy Coroner for the county, opened an inquest at the works on Saturday, on the remains of Daniel O’Donnall, William Henry Know and John Murray, three of the four men killed in the explosion on Thursday last.
The body of Elijah Talbot the fourth victim was lying in St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Rochester, awaiting a inquest before the City Coroner on Monday.
The jury was the same as that summoned to inquire into the death of the young man Kenknight, one of the victims of the explosion a fortnight previously, Mr J. Robertson being again chosen foreman.
The Coroner remarked in opening, that he very much regretted that the juiy should have to be called upon again so soon to inquire into the cause of another accident there, more serious than the last one.
He announced that he proposed that day to evidence of identification and then adjourn until the 10th March, the same day to which the last inquest was adjourned, and dispose of the two together.
VIEWING THE REMAINS OF THE ROUND HOUSE.
The jury then proceeded to view the scene of the disaster, and it was only on arrival at the spot that the awful effects of the explosion could be fully realised. The havoc wrought was simply appalling The “Round House” in which building the nitrating house was included, was blown to atoms and only huge timbers which were snapped like sticks and the mound which had surrounded the house , remained, the debris being strewn all over the factory.
With regard to the numerous other buildings on the works, which cover an area of several acres, all were more or less damaged, but those on the north side , towards which the wind was blowing at the time, suffered most, some of them being completely wrecked.
The shattered remains of the three of unfortunate men who were at work inside the building at the time were found among the debris on the site.
Talbot, who died while being conveyed to hospital, was caught beneath the tower of the round house, a huge timber construction, which toppled over and was literally smashed.
The manager who accompanied the Coroner and jury, explained that at the time of the explosion, there were 2,000. lbs of nitro-glycerine in the house - 1,000. Ibs refined and 1000.lbs in a raw state - this being the maximum quantity allowed. The explosion it was stated, was supposed to be due to the “fuming” of the dangerous compound which was likely to occur at any moment, “fuming” being set up by decomposition or the presence of some foreign matter, such even as a mans cap falling into a tank containing the mixture.
A large tank filled with water was provided at the top of the building with the idea of flooding the tanks in case of “fuming”. The water had, however, to be turned on instantly otherwise a explosion was bound to follow.
Persons at a distance saw that the acids were “fuming” on Thursday morning, some seconds before the explosion occurred , but whether the water was turned on in accordance with instructions given to the men employed in the house can never be known, as all those in a position to know lost their lives Having finished their examination of the site the jury viewed the remains which had been placed in coffins under the direction of Dr A. B. Rogers.
On the return of the jury to the mess-room where the enquiry was held the following evidence was taken; - Joseph McCleak, foreman [who himself had a narrow escape], gave evidence as to the identification of deceased .
Daniel O Donnell. He was employed as a “hillman”, this being a technical term for a man engaged in the manufacture of nitro-glycerine.
He saw deceased a few minutes before nine o-clock a.m. on Thursday, at the preliminary washing tank in the nitrating or A house. A few minutes later a explosion occurred there. Witness had seen the remains viewed by the jury, and was satisfied, from a tattoo mark on the arm and the colour of the hair on the head, which was very close and curly, that some of the remains were those of deceased. O Donnell , was 36 years of age and resided at Reed Street, Cliffe.
George Turner, a paste mixer, employed at the works and living at 1, South - View , Cliffe, said he had lived at the same house as the deceased Know. He identified by the hair part of the remains which had been recovered as those of the deceased, who was aged 19 and employed as a bogie runner, employed at the works.
William Murray, caretaker at the works, father of John Murray said the deceased lived with him at the gate-house on the factory and was employed as “hillman”. He was at work in the building at the time of the explosion, on Thursday morning. His son had fair hair and was 37 years of age.
Dr Arthur Bowles Rogers, in practice at Cliffe, deposed that he had seen the remains presumed to be those of Murray. There was a certain amount of fair hair on parts of a human scalp. There was about half the body left but it was very shattered. Witness had known Murray for three years and there was every reason to suppose that these were his remains.
The Coroner here observed that they could not take the matter further that day. Major Cooper-Key; H. M. Inspector of explosives was looking into the matter on behalf of the Home Office, and he would attend the adjourned inquest.
SYMPATHY WITH THE RELATIVES.
The Foreman said he should like to express, on behalf of the jury, their deep sympathy with the relatives of the deceased and was sure that everyone felt very much for them.
The inquest was then adjourned till March 10th.
INQUEST AT ROCHESTER.
On Monday afternoon, the inquest on the body of the deceased Elijah Talbot was opened at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Rochester, before, Mr R . J. M. Steadman, City Coroner.
The deceased was crushed beneath the falling timbers of the tower of the Round House, and could not be extricated until the wood had been sawn through. He was in the act of assisting to hoist a bag of soda by means of a winch and pulley arrangement at the time the explosion occurred. His mate Charles Brown, who was working at the other end of the winch, escaped, although rather seriously hurt. Talbot was placed in a ambulance promptly lent by Mr J. C. Huntley, manager of the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers works, Cliffe, but died some time before the Hospital was reached.
Mr. R. Lane junior was chosen foreman of the jury.
The Coroner informed the jury that he had hoped at one time to have been able to finish the inquiry at one sitting, but he had received a letter from Major Cooper-Key H.M. Inspector of Explosives, informing him that he would be unable to be present that day. Major Cooper-Key had he believed inquiries to pursue in respect of the three other men killed in the explosion. He proposed, therefore to take formal evidence of identification that day and then adjourn until some day after the 10th March next, when the Inspector told him he would be at liberty to attend.
Neither Mr Soddy, the chemist, nor injured man Brown, were able to be present on this occasion.
Evidence of identification was given by William Elijah Talbot, an insurance agent living at 4. Amy- terrace, Cliffe at Hoo, and a son of deceased, who said his father was 55 years of age and was living immediately previous to his removal to Hospital at - Providence-cottages, Cliffe. He was in the employ of Messrs Curtis and Harvey Ltd.
Witness accompanied deceased to the hospital; his father gave no indication of life after he left the works.
Joseph McKleak, foreman of the nitro- glycerine department at the works, living at Thomy-cottage, Cliffe, said he had known deceased as John Talbot.
He had been in the employ of the Company as “hillman” or nitro-glycerine worker.
The inquiry was then adjourned till Monday March 14th at twelve o’clock noon, at the Guildhall.
MEMORIAL SERVICE AT CLIFFE CHURCH.
A large congregation responded to the rector’s [Rev. H. B. Boyd’s] invitation to join in a united memorial service at Cliffe Church on Sunday evening. The service opened with hymn 449 “When our heads are bowed with woe” and the prayers were intoned by the Curate the Rev. L. Walters.
Very impressively rendered were the special Psalms XXIIII & XC, and the lesson chosen for the occasion, Ecclesiastes XL,9 and XII. and 1. Corinthians XV., 35 to end were read by Mr F Rogers. Hymn 401 “Now the labourer’s task is o’er”. Was followed by special prayers for the injured and bereaved and then followed Hymn 289, “Days and moments quickly flying”. The Rector chose for his text Psalm IXXIII 15-16- “ Then thought I to understand this; but it was to hard for me until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I the end of these men”.
The rev gentleman after, a discourse on the words of the unknown writer, dwelt upon their application to this parish. All had passed through a sad and painful time; many a anxious heart was bewildered. The sound of the explosion filled them with terror. Until the sad news reached them they were filled with foreboding. Was one of their loved ones gone? Life though sudden to them, was not sudden to God , with whom a thousand years were as of yesterday, they must look to him for comfort, for consolation . If God our father was in heaven, all’s well in the earth. The voice of God was speaking to us. Was it a word of warning. ‘'Prepare to meet thy God”. If so they must repent truly of their sins and look to him with the eye of faith, enter his sanctuary and pour out their hearts’ sorrow to Him, who has said “I will not leave thee nor forsake thee” .
The service concluded with Hymn 499 “on the resurrection morning”, and the Dead March in “Saul”, most impressively played on the organ by Mr.L.Search, It was a most affecting service and many were moved to tears.
THE FUNERALS. THE VILLAGE IN MOURNING.
The funeral of the young man Moon, one of the victims of the explosion on February 4th took place on Monday.
He had been a member of the Cline [D] Company of the 4th V.B., the Queens Own [Royal West Kent] Regiment, since its formation and was a corporal, and the remains were laid to rest in the parish churchyard with full military honours. Six of his comrades bore the corpse to the grave, and at the close of the impressive service a salute was fired and the “Last Post” sounded by the bugles.
Capt. C. H. Scriven commanding the Company, and Lieut. H. F. Cobb, were among the mourners , while several of the workmen from the factory, including some of the heads of departments - Mr Shacklady, the chief chemist; Mr Bryan, engineer, and Mr Woodall, superintendent of the nitric acid departments - also followed . The service was conducted by the Rector [the Rev. H. B. Boyd] in the presence of a large assembly of sympathetic friends. Among the wreaths received were artificial tributes, under glass shades, “from his chums” from his comrades , and “from the Cheddite department.”
The other unfortunate men were buried on Wednesday, and the gloom which during the week had been hanging over the village became intensified. The whole district was in mourning. The whole of the shops closed by arrangement early in the day, and business was entirely suspended; the public houses closed their doors while the funeral was in progress. There was scarcely a house to be seen that had not its blinds closely drawn, and people came from near and far to witness the sad ceremony.
The remains of O'Donnell who was a Catholic, were interred in the morning , the priest being the Rev. Father Regan, of Gravesend. The chief mourners included the grief stricken widow, her two eldest children, and some lady friends.
The Rector also kindly accompanied the widow to the grave side, where the former workmates of the deceased were assembled. In this case also artificial wreaths under shades were contributed by “from sympathetic friends” and “friends of Cliffe Creek”.
The funeral of the other three men followed in the afternoon, and was of a most impressive character.
Poor Talbot was conveyed from his residence in Reed -Street, on the shoulders of six of the committee of the local Co-operative Society, of which he was president, and was followed by a long procession of relatives including his family, and many representatives of the Co-operative Societies from all over the county. Among the latter were Messrs. W. J. Penny, president of the Sheemess Economical Society; C. E. Streetfield, president of Green-street Co-operative Society; J. Woodhams, director of the Sheemess Co-operative; Mark H. Clear, secretary of the Southern Section [Sheemess District] Co-operative Union; E.
T. Butterworth and A. Cunningham of the Co-operative Wholesale Society . R. Powell, president, and G. E. Turner, a member of the Committee of the Rochester and District Co-operative Society; W. T. Barnett secretary of the New Brompton Co-operative Society; C. Cooper, auditor and A. L. Chesterton, manager to the Cliffe- at- Hoo Co-operative Society; W. May of the Gravesend Co-operative Society; W. Williamson of the Folkestone Society; R. Temouth , of the Chatham Society; J. Barden, president of the Rainham Society; and N. Andrews, president of the Sittingboume Society.
The remains of Murray and Know were brought from the works, where they had remained from the time of the explosion, in glass cars, the coffin containing those of Murray, who was also a Volunteer, being covered with the Union Jack.
Semi military honours were accorded the latter. Captain C. H. Scriven, Sergt, Instructor Byrne and a number of non-commissioned officers and men of D. Company meeting the car containing the coffin on the road, and forming an escort to the burial ground.
Many of the workmen from the factory which was closed from mid-day also joined the procession at the same point, while others met it at the entrance to the churchyard.
Among the employees from the works present were Mr. Shacklady, chief chemist, Mr Soddy, chemist: Mr Woodall, Superintendent, nitric acid department; Mr Drake, chief clerk; and Mr Bryan, engineer. The manager Mr Seip, was unavoidably absent, he having been called away on urgent business. The three processions arrived simultaneously at the church yard at three o’clock , the hour appointed for the funeral to take place, and were preceded into the church by the clergy - the Rector [the Rev. H. B. BoydJ the Curate [the Rev L.
J. Walters], and the Rev. Gustavius Jones, Rector of Southfleet - reciting the opening sentences of the solemn service for the burial of the dead.
The body of Murray was conveyed in by six of his comrades of D Company, while that of Know was borne on the shoulders of six of his young workmates.
The bells which had previously been chiming the funeral hymn, “Days and moments quickly flying”, and in this way had rung out a solemn warning to the crowd assembled , were now slowly tolling.
Men removed hats and all were hushed as the bodies passed through into the sacred edifice. Here they were placed side by side on trestles in the central aisle, the church being crowded with a large reverent and sympathetic congregation, at the close of the first portion of the service, the coffins were taken again into the churchyard and deposited by the graves prepared to receive them .
The mourners and the people quietly assembled round the respective graves, and the three clergymen taking their stand in each case at the head, pronounced the closing sentences as the remains were lowered to their last earthly resting place.
Not a sound was heard, save from the voice of the Priest and the occasional sobs of the sorrowing friends, and of women in the crowd. The scene was indescribably sad and impressive, and many a cheek was moistened by the tear which refused to be restrained.
The service over, the friends took one last long look into the grave which contained that which they held so dear, and then left to return to their respective residences. The crowd soon after quietly dispersed, and thus ended a scene which will live long in the memories of the villagers.
Many beautiful wreaths were placed on the coffins, Those sent to the Talbot family included beside several from relatives, one under a glass shade from the Co-operative Unions ; the National Deposit,Friendly Society: the members of the Cliffe-at-Hoo Co-operative Society : Committee and employees of the same Society ; the London branch of the Co-operative Wholesale Society ; and various friends.
On the coffin of Murray was a beautiful floral tribute, inscribed “a mark of respect and deepest sympathy from his comrades of the D Company, 4th V.B., R. W. K . R., Cliffe”; and another from friends of Cliffe Creek.
An artificial wreath “from his friends” was also placed upon the grave of “Willie” Know.