The Daybrook Explosion

By the mid-1800s, the agricultural community of Arnold was slowly taking on the new technologies of the industrial revolution. This new machinery however, brought with it new dangers. On Friday 25th August, 1858, a steam engine which was the property of Mr Staton was being used to drive a threshing machine in the stack yard of the farm of Mr Hollins of Daybrook.  The thirteen workers employed in the operation began work at 8.30am and for thirty minutes all went well but due to the  barley being damp it did not thresh well. George Gelstrap called the engineman, Henry Sully’s attention to the situation. Sully replied, ‘I’ll try and alter it’ and stopped the engine so that adjustments could be carried out. He altered the settings taking about ten minutes to carry out the alterations however, he neglected to put down the damper or ease the safety valve on the steam engine.  This resulted in a huge build-up of steam and the engine exploding.

The ground shook and the explosion was heard in excess of a mile away. The flywheel from the engine was thrown over a hundred yards into the air and eventually fell into a turnip field some sixty yards distant. The travelling wheels were scattered in all directions. The engine was blown onto its side with the whole structure moved two or three yards and all the boiler plates torn off. One section of some 1-2 hundredweight was thrown two-hundred yards and narrowly missed the farmhouse. Two men were on the machine at the time, Sydney Baggaley and Joseph Stephenson, feeding the machine.  Thomas Watts and John Palling were also nearby standing on the stack. When the explosion occurred, Baggaley was crouched down and escaped injury but Stevenson was hit by flying metal and killed instantly. Watts was blown into the straw and Palling jumped off the stack, both escaping injury. Of the other workers, seven were more or less severely injured. Sully and Johnson were taken to the General Hospital in Nottingham. Those who survived the explosion now faced a new danger as the stacks had been ignited. Fortunately, plenty of water was at hand and the fire was extinguished. Local doctors More and Allen were soon on the scene and the body of Stephenson was taken to the Black Swan public house, off Mansfield Road, to await the coroner.

The other injuries sustained by the men consisted of Johnson being scalded, Henry Sully had both ankles dislocated and scalded, Gelstrap, scalded and legs crushed, Dickenson, scalded legs, Robert Sully legs, scalded, Robert Twells, injured face and leg and Thomas Shepherd, scalded arms.

An inquest was immediately called at 5pm in the Black Swan and after viewing the destruction at the Hollins farm, interviews with the survivors and expert witnesses were called. The verdict was that the explosion occurred due to the safety valve being screwed down too tight and as this was the sole responsibility of Henry Sully as a result he was charged with manslaughter. Considering the destruction and size of the explosion it is remarkable that only one of the men was killed. All the other men recovered.

All articles © Bob Massey