If there’s one enormous difference between newspaper reporting in the 1800s and newspaper reporting today, it’s the lavish attention to detail of the past compared with the present. To the point that you begin to wonder how people stayed awake whilst reading it – though I am very grateful as a local historian.
Here we have an account of a gas explosion in 1898 on what is now known as Welford Road, but I have seen described in old documents as Wigston Road and Bosworth Road. Two sisters had recently moved into a brand new house (which sadly I have not been able to identify), and their landlord popped over to tap a barrel of beer for them. The pantry was too dark for him to see, so he called for a light. One of the sisters brought him a candle, but there was a gas leak and the pantry exploded, sending the landlord and his tenant flying into the kitchen. The landlord escaped to raise the alarm, but poor Sarah Hall was unconscious and badly burned. Meanwhile her sister Annie was in bed upstairs, and the staircase was so badly damaged that it wasn’t safe for anyone to rescue her. Luckily a man was driving a ladder past the house – this being a busy road – and he carried the woman out.
The doctor was called and he summoned the horse-drawn ambulance (imagine being bumped about in that all the way to the infirmary). I can find no record of Sarah dying, so I assume she survived. As to the house – well, not surprisingly Annie and Sarah moved before the 1901 census. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to stay either. Now both of the ladies must have been invalids (Annie was already bed bound at the time of the accident). The landlord, John Hurren, must have been pretty devastated too – not only did he receive head injuries and the loss of his tenants, but his brand new house was badly knocked about and must have needed expensive repair works.
For those interested to read (nearly) the whole report, here it is. Regards, Elizabeth.
Leicester Chronicle Saturday 19th November 1898, p.3
Serious Gas Explosion at Clarendon Park: Lady Badly Injured
About ten o’clock on Friday morning, a serious explosion of gas, resulting in severe injuries to one person, and lesser injuries to another, occurred at a house in the Wigston-road, Clarendon Park, the residence of two maiden ladies of middle age, named Miss Sarah Hall and Miss Annie Hall. At the request of Miss Sarah Hall, the landlord, Mr. John Hurren, Euston Villa, Clarendon Park Road, called at the house for the purpose of tapping a barrel of beer. He went into the pantry, which is just under the staircase, but finding it in darkness, called to Miss Hall for a light. She at once lit a candle, and came to the pantry door, but th moment she reached the threshold a terrific explosion occurred, and she was thrown violently backwards into the kitchen, while Mr. Hurren was also knocked down and badly injured about the face and head. He managed, however, to struggle through the thick smoke and dust caused by falling ceiling and mortar into the back garden. He had not gone many yards when he met Mr. Wilson, who lives next door, and who, having heard the explosion, was hurrying to see what was the matter. Mr. Hurren, who was dazed and bewildered by what had occurred, called out “There’s another inside.” Mr. Hurren immediately made his way into the house, and discovered Miss Sarah Hall lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. Lifting her up, he managed to carry her outside, and then with assistance, conveyed her to a neighbour’s house. Dr. Hunter, who lives in Clarendon Park, was immediately sent for, and in the meantime some members of the St. John Ambulance Association at the Wheatsheaf Works, having heard the explosion, and rendered all the aid they possibly could to the injured lady and Mr. Hurren.
On his arrival, Dr. Hunter, having ascertained the grave nature of Miss Hall’s injuries, ordered her immediate removal to the Infirmary. The fire brigade horse ambulance was summoned by telephone from the Wheatsheaf Works, and the unfortunate lady was removed to the Infirmary in a still unconscious state. She had sustained very severe injuries to the face, neck and chest, and was suffering from violent shock. After the injuries of Mr. Hurren had been dressed he was able to return home. Miss Annie Hall is an invalid, and was in bed in the front room upstairs when the explosion occurred, and was naturally very much alarmed and upset. So great was the force of the explosion that the staircase was twisted round and jammed into the wall in such a manner as to render access to the upstairs rooms by that means too dangerous to be attempted. Attracted by the noise of the explosion, a little crowd of people quickly gathered in front of the house and fortunately one of their number, a man named William Chalk of 6, Burns-street, happened to be wheeling a ladder on a truck. The ladder was placed against the house, and Chalk himself climbed into the bedroom, and bore the imprisoned lady through the window in safety to the ground, conveying her afterwards to a neighbour’s house.
Superintendant Howe, in charge of the district, was communicated with, and arriving on the scene with all possible despatch, did everything in his power for the injured people. There can be little doubt that the explosion was caused by an accumulation of gas within the pantry, but whether the leakage arose from defective fittings or from a burner being left on cannot be definitely stated. That the accumulation, however, was considerable, was shown by the force of the explosion, and the consequent damage to the interior of the house…..every panel of the door leading to the kitchen was blown out, and the top panel in the front room window smashed….the walls on either side of the pantry were bulged out. The interior of both kitchens was a scene of desolation. Everything was smothered by the fallen debris, and the furniture twisted and broken. The damage was not extensive in the front room, but the cornice was all knocked down, and the furniture displaced. The house has been built quite recently, and the Misses Hall were the first tenants.