On Thursday 18th August 1898 preparations for the fireworks were well underway. But, as a Birmingham firm were getting the display ready – and explosion ripped through one of the buildings scattering the workers and sending one flying.
Here’s the full account as recording in Wellington Journal on Saturday 20 August 1898.
AN ALARMING OCCURRENCE.
About 9-30 on Thursday morning the officials who happened to be on the ground were startled by a loud report and an outburst of smoke and flame. It was soon discovered that an explosion had taken place in the wooden and canvas building set apart for the preparation of the succeeding evening’s firework display, and there appeared to every premonition of great disaster. The fire brigades were hastily summoned, and the Alliance men were soon on the spot, pumping water from the Severn on the burning structure. It was situated nearly at the bottom of the walk, opposite the Frankwell Ferry, and as plenty of water could easily be procured the fire was speedily under control, and kept well within the immediate spot of the outbreak. Luckily the wind was blowing towards the Kingsland side, for had it been in the direction of the town long line of refreshment tents would doubtless have been involved, and the loss to visitors would have been lamentable Indeed.
As it was, beyond the utter annihilation of the structure, the burning of some the workmen’s clothes and equipment, and the scorching of two of the limes, no other injury was done. Although it was stated that the explosion occurred in the filling of a bomb, none of the workmen were hurt. With great presence of mind they cut the fuses of the bombs already prepared, and thus prevented a miniature bombardment. From what had transpired it appears that the men who were working in the tent were named John Caldwell, I. Mottram, W. W. S. Wilder (son the contractor), Groves. T. Cope, W. Davies, T. Evans, and F. Overton. They were chiefly in the lower portion of the tent. At one end, the man T. Evans (who belongs to Shrewsbury), proceeded to ram one of the cannons. For this purpose he placed the explosive on the ground, and using a long gun-metal pin with about the diameter of an average boiler rivet, gave a blow with mallet.
Immediately the cannon exploded, and Evans was knocked over, but fortunately for him the direction of the discharge was not in a line with himself, and the explosive did him no further injury than singed arm. Several of the frames were ignited by the flash.
Happily, all the men the vicinity were able to get away, though in their unavoidable haste, they had to leave everything behind, including clothes, handbags, tools, &c.
The report attracted the notice of the officials and others who happened to be on the ground, and the serious character of the affair admitted of illusions.
The canvas of the tent itself was ablaze, and from the burning framework rockets of every hue and every other kind of pyrotechnic preparation shot forth. Each succession of discharges was accompanied by loud and rattling reports. Everybody on the Quarry ran down, but to approach the burning tent was not only useless, but dangerous.
The Alliance fire engine, which happened to be on the ground, immediately turned its hoses upon the structure, and the Royal Brigade was sent for. The men who had been working in the tent informed the officials of the presence of certain bombs, which could be seen, and which, they said, should they be ignited, would probably fly in the direction the line of refreshment tents, which were situated on the same side of the ground, and close to the burning tent. This additional catastrophe was avoided, and gradually the discharges ceased, and the men were able approach end remove bombs, the operation was watched the other spectators, with no little concern. In the course of the trouble, three trees caught fire, and one of them was severely burnt to a height about 25ft. In fact, the tree will probably have felled consequence of its unfortunate experience.
Had the accident occurred at later stage of the day, when the horse-leaping was in progress, there can scarcely be a doubt that the consequences would have most serious. The place round the tent then would have been packed with people, and a dreadful panic would undoubtedly have ensued. The workman Evans was completely dazed for time, but was not seriously hurt.
A curious incident connection with the occurrence. In the pocket of the belonging the workman Caldwell, which was hanging up in the tent, was a gold watch and silver chain attached. When the fire was subdued the watch and chain were found among the debris. The case of the watch was scorched, and the chain was black. The watch was still merrily ticking when picked up, having withstood the heat and concussions for quite half an hour. This is said the first occurrence of the kind which Messrs. Wilder have experienced.
Telegrams were at once despatched for more material, and, thanks to the business-like readiness of Messrs, Wilder, the display in the evening, though lacking in the intended design, was as brilliant anyone could wish to behold.