Firework Factory Disaster

Fire at Skegness
Two Persons Injured
On Tuesday last [in 1891], a fire occurred in a large wooded shed at the back of Mr A W Rowley’s residence on the Wainfleet Road, and which resulted in a somewhat serious injury to Mr Rowley and his assistant, a young man named Gilliatt. As is well-known Mr Rowley is a manufacturer of fireworks, and this building was used for purposes in connection therewith, and on Tuesday he and his assistant were engaged in preparing some rockets etc for the purpose of a display of fireworks in the Cricket Ground in the evening for the entertainment of the Wesleyan Sunday School children who were having their annual treat. There was no power in the building.
Mr Rowley and his assistant were engaged in making rockets when the fire took place about half-past ten in the morning. The powder was safely secured in the magazine, a brick building, about one hundred yards distant. The origin of the fire is with difficulty accounted for, and can only be explained as follows:
Some glue was being melted on a small stove in the building for using about the fireworks and in the shed was a bottle of methylated spirits. I is supposed that one of the two upset this bottle, and that its contents became ignited by some means by the fire in the stove. The bottle exploded, it is supposed, and saturated them with the spirits it contained. They were therefore severely burned, as may be imagined, but both fortunately quickly escaped from the building, the door of which was open. But even after they got outside their condition was a most critical one, until assistance arrived, for their clothes, saturated with the spirits, were burning on them. They endeavoured to beat out the fire from the clothes from each other, and when assistance arrived their burning clothes were cut and torn off as quickly as possible. This, however, was not accomplished until they had both been badly burnt.
Mr Rowley was severely burnt about the hands, arms and the top of his nose, and a portion of his face. His moustache ans whiskers greatly protected his face which would otherwise have suffered much more severely.
The poor lad Gilliatt was the one who suffered mostly. His arms, hands, neck, ears, the whole of his face, and his legs were severely burnt. It appears that he escaped by creeping out of the building, and that he was in the more dangerous part when the fire occurred. They were both removed to the house and Dr Bernard sent for with all possible speed, and he was quickly in attendance on the sufferers, but Mr Rowley, though in intense pain, would have Mr Bernard’s attention first directed to Gilliatt. In addition to the injuries received by the fire, Mr Rowley had a severe shock to the nervous system. It was at one time very doubtful whether the lad Gilliatt would not succumb to his injuries, but at the time of writing they are both progressing as favourably as can be expected.
We should also state that Mr Rowley has a cut on his hand and Gilliatt on one of his legs, and these cannot be accounted for except by the glass of the bottle when it exploded.
Though Mr Rowley and the lad Gilliatt have been badly burnt, yet it they had delayed their escape about another minute, or possibly less, they must to all appearances have been burnt to death. The building being of dry wood, and its contents of inflammable material, the fire spread with amazing rapidity. The whole of the interior of the building was almost instantly in flames, and there could not have been any escape, nor assistance rendered to them had they been inside.
Immediately after the outbreak of the fire the fire-bell was rung and the fire brigade and engine soon on the spot, together with a large number of willing helpers. A supply of water was found in an adjacent dyke, and the engine played well on the fire for some time, but all efforts to save any portion of the building were unavailing.
Within a few feet from the fire was another wooden shed in which, we understand, was a quantity of furniture. The efforts of the firemen were soon directed to this building, and they succeeded in preventing the fire spreading to it.
We are unable to ascertain the actual amount of damage done, but is is probably two or three hundreds of pounds. The loss, we are glad to say, is covered by insurance.
At the time of going to press, we learn that both Mr Rowley and Gilliatt are progressing as favourably as can be expected.


The following week, the Skegness Herald reported the death of William Gilliatt, aged 20, and the inquest held on his body. Dr Bernard, under oath, stated that Gilliatt’s death was not, however, due to the injuries sustained in the fire, but due to a severe attack of influenza!

Gilliatt’s death was reported to have been ‘a great shock to Mr Rowley, but it seems there was an even greater shock awaiting him a few weeks later!… read on…

Illegal Manufacture of Fireworks in Skegness Court Case


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