Illegal Manufacture of Fireworks

Mr. A. W. Rowley, manufacturer of fireworks at Skegness, was charged at the Spilsby Petty Sessions on Monday last, at the instance of the police, with unlawfully manufacturing certain explosives in a certain building not being a part of a factory duly licensed for that purpose under the Explosives’ Act, 1875. The magistrates present were the Revs. R. W. Cracroft (chairman), C. T. Swan, and G. H. Hales, and Capt. Swan.
Supt. Sowden conducted the case for the prosecution, and Mr. George Walker appeared for Mr. Rowley.
It will be remembered that on the morning of the 2nd of June last a fire occurred on the premises of Mr. A. W. Rowley, Wainfleet Road, and that Mr. Rowley and a young man named William Gilliatt, who had been many years in his employ, were severely burnt; and that the latter died on the 15th of June. On the 16th an inquest was held on the body, and the evidence then adduced by Dr. Bernard, who had attended the injured persons, showed that the immediate cause of the death of Gilliatt was influenza, but that the burns might have accelerated his death. The jury returned a verdict accordingly.
The evidence adduced at the inquest was repeated, and which has already appeared in the Herald together with the statement made by Mr. Rowley and read at the coroner’s enquiry. The witnesses called on the part of the prosecution were Dr. Bernard, Inspector Marshall, George Holmes, George Howard, Tyndall Jackson, and James Lloyd, the statements of some of whom went to show that there was an explosion, and that a corrugated sheet of iron was blown from the roof.

Mr. Walker submitted, on behalf of the defendant, that he had no case to answer. He did not think the bench would find on their notes one single jot of evidence that connected Mr. Rowley with this affair or with the explosion except what had been stated by him through his own medical man. He would also submit to the bench that they must take, if they took the medical man’s testimony – a most unusual and most extraordinary proceedure, not that he blamed the medical man for one moment, but he did blame the superintendent of police for breaking confidence between a medical man and his patient, as it was manifestly unfair to so mislead his client’s confidential doctor as to try to get out of him how this affair occurred, though he did not mind at all about it, although he had got it and got it improperly—the statement of the doctor when he told them distinctly that he did not think Mr. Rowley was capable of understanding what he was saying or doing the first time he told his doctor about it. But Mr Rowley did make another statement which showed that no offence had been committed, and which statement was believed by the coroner and twelve Englishmen who brought in a verdict with regard to the poor lad, Gilliatt.

They showed that the death of Gilliatt caused not by the burns but by influenza, and the doctor told the jury at the inquest that the burns might have acccelerated his death. The jury accepted this statement, and that being so what had he (Mr. Walker) got to answer? His client was charged with manufacturing explosives in an unregistered building, but what evidence had been adduced to show that a single thing was being manufactured there? He maintained that the first statement made by his client was not made when he was sane enough to understand what he was saying or doing. There was not a single atom of evidence to prove that there was any unlawful manufacture of explosives going on there on this particular day. He must confess he had been rather disappointed at their worships not stopping the case before now and saying that there was nothing for him to answer. After referring to section 65 of the Explosives Act Mr. Walker asked if it had been proved that his client had done anything to bring him in liable under that Act. Where was there one tittle of evidence that Mr. Rowley andwere manufacturing explosives, and he denied that they were doing so. It was for the prosecution to prove their case, and the only evidence against Mr. Rowley was in the statement he made when he was incapable ofa proper account of what actually took place, and he should certainly raise the question of privilege as to whether that statement ought to have gone one yard out of that chamber where his client was lying at the time. Dr. Bernard had told them that his client was not at the time capable of understanding what he was saying. After quoting from Mr. Rowley’s second statement of the affair and which has already appeared in the Herald, Mr. Walker said it was hard to have to say anything of those who had gone, but unfortunately disobedience to orders was the sole cause of the explosion.

Mr. Rowley told the young man Gilliatt not to leave some rockets which had come back from Hunstanton in a certain place, and told him to take them to the proper store. He then left to go to his shop in Lumley Road for a receipt for making stars but the thought struck him as to whether Gillian would obey his orders at once, consequently came back again. Finding his orders had not been obeyed he said, ” Come, let us have these things out at once,” and in his haste to remove them he upset a bottle of which spirits which ran to the stove, caught fire and probably caused the explosion. This was his client’s version of the affair, and if Mr. Rowley was to be believed in one thing he must be believed in all. They most either believe the whole of Mr. Rowley’s statement, or no portion of it, and if his version was correct he was not responsible in law, because he would show most distinctly that it was contrary to his orders that the rockets were taken into that building. The building was not much larger than the table before him, and it was monstrous to suppose that an explosion that would blow off the corrugated iron from the roof would not have blown the two men that were in the building to pieces. Not even a pane of glass in the window was broken by the vibration. He maintained that this case had been immensely exaggerated. He would put Mr. Rowley in the witness box, as he was not afraid of being able to clear himself, but it was most distressing to have to put a man in the witness box to speak of one who had lost his life, but happily not from this disaster, which would not have occurred had Gillian removed the things as he had been instructed to do. He feltthoroughly satisfied that neither in point of law or in a point of fact there was no case that he ought really to be called upon to answer.

The magistrates then retired to consider the point raised, and after about ten minutes’ absence returned into court, when the Chairman said the bench had decided to hear the evidence of Mr. Rowley.

Mr. Rowley was then called and appeared in the witness box with his two hands bandaged, and consequently it was with difficulty that he could hold the book to be sworn. He said he had two brick buildings which were properly licensed, and in these he manufactured fireworks. On the morning of the 2nd of June last he told the young man Gilliatt that he wanted a few rockets, a wheel, and a few shells. He unlocked the door of the building in which the accident occurred. He had not been in it for sometime before, and up to March last it was empty. They then placed in it all the firework fittings, framework, thousands of empty cases and rocket sticks, and eight or nine plates which were placed on the shelf over the bench. When manufacturing they used these plates in the other building for mixing composition. On the 18th December last he gave an exhibition fireworks at the Rev. Mr. Morgan’s school at Hunstanton, when there was a failure in some of the rockets. These and the remains of some of the others, he brough home, and the railway man left them outside the building, with a pile of empty cases.

On the morning of he fire he asked Gilliatt to take these rockets out of the boxes which were in the yard on the grass. He and Gilliatt opened the boxes together and took the rockets out and left them on the grass. Gilliatt knew where they had to be  put and he told him to put them in the proper building. He also told Gilliatt to get some glue and methylated spirits from Lumley Road, and he afterwards saw that instead of taking the rockets to the manufacturing house he had put them on the bench in the wooden building. He at once told him to remove them to the proper building, and he (defendant) left to go to the Lumley Road. After he had been gone a short time, however, it struck him that he had better go back and see if Gilliatt had taken those rockets away, as he should be liable if he did not remove them as they were on unlicensed premises. The building where the accident happened was about five feet by six feet. When he returned he found that the rockets bad not been removed as ordered. Consequently he showed a bit of temper. He (Gilliatt) was there heating some glue, and in rushing hastily into the shed he fancied he accidentally knocked over the methylated spirit bottle. In a moment the place was on fire, and his eyes closed almost directly.

Mr. Walker: Was there the slightest manipulation in any form of any fireworks in that building ?—Defendant: No, certainly not. I should have stopped it if I had seen any, but there was nothing of the sort going on there.

Are you quite sure that you distinctly ordered the unfortunate young man Gilliatt not to place these things in that building at all ? I distinctly ordered him to move them to the other building and the accident was caused by my knocking over the methylated spirits. The glue was going to be used about an empty shell.

When you got outside the building could you see around ?—Yes, I opened my eyes just inside, the building.

I think you have stated that if you had a bucket of water you could extinguish the fire? Yes. After Gilliatt got out I went back and looked into the building and saw some wheels or something under the bench that were alight, and a bucket of water would have put out the fire if I could have used my hands.

Was the roof blown off ?—I saw the sheets were shifted on the top. The sheets were fastened when they were put up, but a storm during last winter removed them and they had not since been fastened down. I did not feel any pain until after I got to bed.

You are distinctly sure on two points—that you ordered Gilliatt to move those things to another place, and, secondly, that there was no tampering or dealing with those things while they, were there?—Yes, I am. There was nothing done in the shape of altering or manipulating rockets whatever.

Cross-examined by Mr. Sowden : Will you tell the bench what you were doing with the saucer or plate on the stove?—Mr. Rowley : I had no saucer or plate except what were on the shelves.

On the morning of the inquest the doctor came to you with Inspector Marshall and you made a statement?—Yes.

And you knew what that statement was wanted for?—I knew it was to be given before the coroner. In answer to further questions Mr. Rowley said he did not use this shed for mixing stars.

By the Bench : When I left to go to Lumley Road Gilliatt was about ten yards in front of the building, and the rockets lay there near him on the grass. If he had carried out my instructions the rockets would not have been taken into the building in question.

Mr. J. Crawshaw was next called, but before he was sworn the Chairman said the Bench thought there was no manufacturing of fireworks going on on this occasion, and therefore they dismissed the case.

Source: Skegness Herald 29th July 1891


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