Saturday, 23 May 2020

Accidents at the Stokesley Gas Works, 1846 & 1866

I have found two instances of accidents with the Stokesley Gas Works; one is dramatic and potentially tragic while the other must have caused fury amongst fishermen. 

The first gasometer in Stokesley is said to have been erected near the New Mill of Messrs Mease & Blacket on Levenside (now the premises of Millbry Hill); I think a later gas works was built elsewhere in the town.  Until the 1970s gas was made from coal, so advertisements like this can be found:
Durham Chronicle, 18 September 1863 
TO COAL-OWNERS
THE STOKESLEY GAS COMPANY are desirous of receiving TENDERS for the Supply of good GAS COAL, to be delivered at the STOKESLEY STATION.  Tenders to be sent on or before the 30th day of SEPTEMBER, 1863, to the SECRETARY, at Stokesley.
In September 1846 the Agricultural Show at Stokesley was going well.  It had celebrated its 13th birthday with a "brilliant meeting of its members and friends and by a most excellent exhibition of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry, on Friday, the 11th inst." and beautiful weather promised another successful day:
Yorkshire Gazette, 19 September 1846 
The Cleveland District Agricultural Show 
We understand that the entries for the present show were, on the whole, more numerous than those of the preceding year.  
We believe that the cattle and sheep did not occupy so great a space of ground in the show field, which, as in 1844, was kindly lent for the use of the society, by Col. Hildyard; but in the horses – the beautiful Cleveland bays – so celebrated in our own country and so great favourites with the foreigners who attend our fairs, – there was a manifest improvement, both as regards quality and quantity.  
The same remark applies to the pigs, to the implements, and the poultry.  The latter class combined great beauty and variety, and attracted the especial attention of a large and fashionable assembly of ladies.  We noticed that the show of pigeons was much greater than in former years, and it will be seen that premiums have this year been awarded to the exhibitors of rabbits.  We heard that encouragement to the breeding of rabbits had been objected to by some, principally on the ground that it would lead to trespassing in the turnip and clover fields, and perhaps there may be something in this suggestion; nevertheless we think it may be fairly urged that the interest which will be excited among the rising generation in these exhibitions will sufficiently counterbalance if not outweigh any small inconvenience that may arise in this respect ... 
The day throughout was beautifully fine, and the harvest being all but at an end in this district, the concourse of visitors to the town of Stokesley was immense.  We suppose that at one part of the day there could not be less than from two to three thousand persons in the show field.
"The only drawbacks to the complete success of the meeting" were the unavoidable absence of the year's president Lord Feversham and "the occurrence of an accident, the consequences of which might have been most frightful."

The committee had decided that the dining hall should be lighted with gas – but 
about noon the town was alarmed by two most tremendous reports, resembling those of the discharge of heavy cannon
There had been an explosion at the Stokesley gas works.
It appears that Mr Simpson, the manager, and his son, two persons of the name of Carter, from Sunderland, who had been engaged in fixing the gasometer, which has recently been removed, two labourers named Gray and Caldwell, and some other persons who had been brought to the spot through feelings of curiosity, were mounted upon the top of the gasometer.  The object of those who had business there was either to try the amount of pressure, or to discover if there was any foul air in the tank.  We were told both, but whichever was the object matters not to our purpose, for the result would not have been different.  
In order to ascertain one or both of these facts, a lighted match was applied to a hole in the top of the gasometer, and a jet of light was, of course, immediately produced.  When the necessary observation had been made, one of the men, instead of blowing the flame out, suddenly placed his finger over the hole, and thus forced the flame within the gasometer.  
An instantaneous explosion was the consequence, the gasometer being forced completely out of its place, and the parties being thrown from the top in all directions.  They were all more or less injured, and Caldwell so much so that when we left Stokesley on Saturday, we were told that his recovery was very doubtful.  He was much hurt about the head and back.
I don't know what happened in the end to poor Mr Caldwell, but I haven't found an entry in the deaths registers for anyone of that name in Stokesley for the period from the accident to the end of 1847.

The second incident spared human life but caused enormous damage to fish:
Teesdale Mercury, 23 May 1866 
Wholesale Destruction of Fish 
The river Leven has long been noted as an excellent trout water, but we regret to learn that from Stokesley to where the Leven falls into the Tees, below Yarm, the fish have been totally destroyed.  The water in the gasometer at Stokesley being pumped, the tank having to be emptied, the water through which the gas was purified for years past, about 350 tons, was allowed to flow into the river.  The consequence has been that all the fish are killed from Stokesley to the end of the Leven.  Large quantities of trout and other fish were taken out of the water dead, and dying, on Tuesday last.
This page from the website of the National Gas Museum explains how gas was made from coal in the days before gas from the North Sea, and this one explains how gas was stored in 'gasometers'.

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