Explosion at Balme & Pritchard Limited [1879]

At 9:30 am on 9th October 1879, a boiler exploded at the West Croft Works of Balme & Pritchard.

6 people –

- were killed and others –

- were injured.

The boiler – one of 4 similar boilers – was thrown 34 yards by the explosion.

The bodies of the dead were recovered several hours later.

2 horses were scalded and had to be put down.

The firm's boilers were insured by the Manchester Insurance and Steam Boiler Insurance Company, and had been examined a week earlier.

The yp.li [Friday 10th October 1879] reported

Dreadful Boiler Explosion in Halifax
Six Persons Killed Three Injured

Yesterday a boiler on the premises of Messrs Balme & Pritchard, finishers, West Croft Works, Lister Lane, Halifax, exploded. Messrs Balme & Pritchard have occupied the premises for over 20 years. At the north edge of the boundary were four horizontal boilers over which were the counting houses and offices. Between six and seven in the morning David Pickles the fireman, commenced to get up steam on three of the four boilers. By about nine o'clock, the machinery was set running and the day's work was begun by about 60 hands, of whom about twenty were boys and two girls. Half an hour later, a deep thud followed by a rumbling as if of thunder was heard, and, before any of the operatives could leave, one of the boilers, having burst, leaped from its position at one end to the other end of the shed, a distance of 34 yards, carrying all before it and completely wrecking the shed and offices. It then pierced the southern boundary wall dividing the mill from Bedford Terrace – two rows of tenanted cottages – shattering the gable end of one house where it lay, one half in the cellar and the other half in the finishing shed. The front portion of the boiler had been wrenched out and hurled 30 yards in the opposite direction knocking down a wall surrounding Mr Balme's flower garden. It struck the front of Mr Balme's residence and embedded itself in the garden. William Thomas, a stuff presser, who was standing some twenty or thirty yards from the boilers shouted to the men and boys

That's a boiler

and the men rushed outside out of harm's way.

People were concerned about the fate of Mr Pritchard one of the partners who had been standing near the boiler in conversation with Alfred Thornton, a foreman, who was also missing.

The body of David Pickles, the fireman, was quickly found.

Frederick Simms, a teamer, was walking across the yard with a horse about 10 yards from the boiler and he was killed instantly along with the horse. A human foot was found, the stocking of which proved to be that of Alfred Thornton and three hours later the rest of his body was recovered.

Amongst the fragments of machinery was found Thomas Whitehead who had been blown from a ladder where he had been whitewashing, he was dying. He was extricated with difficulty, and, wincing cried

Oh, mind my arm and do look sharp and lift the weight off my leg

He died in the infirmary.

Christopher Willocks, a coachman, to Messrs Balme & Pritchard, was found in the harness room but although he was injured by the debris he suffered worst from the steam. He died later in the infirmary.

George Hanson, a miller, was scalded and taken to the infirmary.

Joseph Nicholson, a finisher, was assisting Thomas Whitehead to whitewash, and Thomas Sunderland, a grey room man, were both scalded.

The body of Mr Pritchard was found partially dismembered.

When the boiler struck Mrs Littlewood's house, part of the room in which she was standing was carried away but she made it to the doorway and was rescued. Two private carriages were rendered worthless.

Amongst the medical men attending were Dr Hodgson Wright, Mr McWilliams, Dr Smith and Mr Ainley.

The boiler which burst is about 30 feet long and 7 feet wide in diameter and was manufactured by Messrs Savage & Norton of Waterside, Halifax.

List of Those Killed.

  • John Pritchard (age 58) resident at Savile Park Road. Married with seven children;

  • David Pickles fireman (age about 42 years), of Norwood Green, Lightcliffe, Halifax. Married to Elizabeth with one child. Buried at Coley

  • Frederick Simms teamer (age about 22 years). Lives with widowed mother at Grant Street, Commercial Road, Halifax. Buried at Christ Church, Pellon [14th October 1879]. Over 100 drivers from Halifax, Leeds and Bradford lined the approach to the grave. His mother was Ann

  • Thomas Whitehead finisher (age 48) of Leafland Street,Gibbet Lane, Halifax. Married with six or seven children (one named Charles). Buried at Christ Church, Pellon [14/10/1879]

  • Christopher Willocks coachman (age about 56 years) lived at Clarence Square. Married, no children. Married Emma Haigh in 1859

  • Alfred Thornton foreman, age 40 to 50 years of Abbots Terrace, Hopwood lane, Halifax. Married, several children (one named Hezekiah

List of Injured


© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:13 / 15th May 2021 / 9607

Page Ref: MMB2030

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