19 January 1901

"A terrible explosion which was heard for miles around occurred at the hat works belonging to Messrs Joseph WILSON and Sons, Wilton Street, Denton at five minutes past eleven on Monday morning."

The works was the largest in the area employing 500 hands. The accident happened in the proofing department where some 20 men and youths were working.

"Without a second's warning, men were hurled into eternity and the whole building blown up and scattered in fragments round about. The Denton Lads football field adjoining was strewn all over with wreckage and a terrible scene of carnage presented itself."

Windows were shattered as far as the Blue Pig and a woman named HIGGINBOTTOM of Marshall-street "was badly cut and was prostrated by the shock." A man walking along Audenshaw-road was lifted off his feet by the blast that was heard as far away as Oldham.

The building where the explosion happened was part of a newly built extension. Firemen arrived and were able to prevent the fire from spreading. Afterwards, they searched the debris and began to uncover the bodies of those killed by the blast, all unrecognisable because of their horrific injuries. Those killed were:

Percy PENNINGTON, (19), of King-street, Audenshaw
Samuel BUNTING, (20), of Lunn-street, Hyde
Joseph DUNKERLEY, (19), of Hyde-road, Denton
James SHEPLEY, (41), of 104 Heaton Street, Denton
Joseph BROOKS, (41), of Cheapside, Hyde
Tom JACKSON, (17), of 17 Queen-street, Hyde
Albert JACKSON, (19), of 38 Kilshaw-lane, Audenshaw
Sidney LEE, (17), of Albion-street, Hyde
Walter BRADBURY, (32), 0f 59 Town-lane, Denton
Samuel SEDDON, (30), 0f 17 Top Row, Godley
William COOPER, (17), of 4 Whitehead's Court, Denton
Harry HIGGINBOTTOM, (34), of Top Row, Godley

Of the above, the first nine were killed outright, while the others died later at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Joseph BROOKS and James SHEPLEY were the only victims who were married. The following were treated at the Infirmary:

Walter WILLIAMSON, (26), of 51 Guywood Lane, Romiley
Thomas LOWE, (19), of Hampson Court, Hyde
Zachariah WILSHAW, (27) of 79 Kynder-street, Denton

The following were treated at Stockport Infirmary:

Joseph LAIDLOW, (30), of 12 Ince-street, Heaton Norris
William STANYER, (32), of 53 Belmont-street, Heaton Norris
David DEAKIN, (26), of Bay-street, Stockport
Samuel HYDE, (23), of 50 Stockport-road, Bredbury
John HAMPSON, (30), of 10 Edwin-street, Stockport

LAIDLOW and STANYER were admitted as inpatients, while the rest were allowed home after treatment.

"The proof-house is the place where the raw and limp felt is transformed by means of a certain process into a stiff material. This preparation contains a large quantity of methylated spirit. After the pieces of felt have been dipped in the liquid, they are placed in a large drying stove in which the temperature is maintained at a high heating point. The evaporating spirit from the felt is caught and condensed so that a considerable portion can be utilised again. It is assumed that it is the spirit in the stove that has been ignited and has exploded."

Robert HUGHES, a collier of 290 Oldham-road, Bardsley, was woken by his child's crying at 3.30 on Sunday morning to find that his wife was not in bed, nor was she in the house. After a frantic search, he found her body floating in the Bardsley branch of the Manchester and Ashton Canal.

At the inquest, he said that she had been in good health, but had been behaving oddly in recent months. She had borrowed money from her sister to pay the rates and was unable to repay the loan. HUGHES said he earned 30 shillings a week of which he gave 25s or 26s to wife for housekeeping. Some weeks it might be less, but the least he had given her was 22s.

He said he had come home from Bardsley Liberal Club on Sunday morning between 12.30 and one o'clock. He was sober and he and his wife had supper together, going to be at about half past one.

The Coroner found that it was a clear case of suicide. However, he seemed more concerned about a licensing issue:

"The Coroner and several of the jurymen expressed their dissatisfaction at the lateness of the hour at which Bardsley Liberal Club closes on Saturday nights and it suggested that the Secretary should be seen regarding the matter."

Arthur BARBER and William WOOD aged 16 and 14 respectively were at Ashton Police Court charged with letting off fireworks on a public highway on New Year's Day. The boys were represented by their fathers, BARBER pleading guilty and WOOD not guilty.

The older boy said they were only little fireworks "or what were known as 'ripraps' (remember them? - Ed). The Chairman said: "It makes it very awkward for people with carriages going about the highway; it might cause a very serious accident."

BARBER senior pointed out that the incident happened on Newmarket-road, a quiet country lane, but the court was unimpressed and fined his son five shillings. The case against WOOD was dismissed.

"According to M. EIFFEL, the cost of lives of any great engineering work can be estimated as accurately as the cost in money. 'It has been found,' he says 'by statistical observation that in engineering enterprises, one man is killed for every 1,000,000 francs spent on the work. If you have to build a bridge at a cost of 100,000,000 francs, you know that you will kill 100 workmen.'

"This statement, while rather an ingenious one, is not borne out by facts. Take the Eiffel Tower, for example. Six and a half millions worth only cost four lives. The Forth Bridge, on the other hand, cost 45,000,000 francs while the lives of 55 men were sacrificed in connection with its construction."

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