Treasure of the week no. 22. A terrible calamity in 1882

A Terrible Calamity in Bradford: being the entire story from beginning to end, of the Fall of Ripley’s Mill Chimney on Thursday, Dec. 28th, 1882, along with All the Particulars, List of Killed, Accounts of Startling and Extraordinary Escapes, etc. Published by Willie Reynolds.

JND 187/11 (Please quote this number when requesting this item.)


1882 was, the author claims, a disastrous and eventful year:

From its very commencement it was a year ever to be remembered by poor and rich alike, if such events as the useless Egyptian war, outrageous practices and barbarous murders in Ireland, destructive fires in all parts of England, colliery accidents, and calamities of all kinds by land and sea could make it so.

In Bradford the year ended in the collapse of the chimney at Ripley’s Mill in Spring Street off the Manchester Road, at a few minutes past eight on Thursday morning, killing 53 people and seriously injuring 50. The mill was used for spinning and top making and was occupied by several companies. The chimney was said to weigh over 4,000 tons and was 255 feet high. It had been built over twenty years earlier but was never regarded as being quite safe. A week before its fall, pieces of lime and stone had fallen from it. After slight repairs, the architect passed it as being safe. But high winds, incessant rain, frost and heavy falls of snow followed. The gigantic stack collapsed at a point a few feet above the ground.

This modest leaflet of sixteen pages gives an account of the collapse, details of prior warnings and graphic eye witness reports. A list of those killed is given with their ages and we note that many children were killed. The youngest were 8-year-old Susan Woodhead, 9-year-old Emma Pearson, and Edgar North, Arthur Smith and Lydia Lightowler, all 12.

The pamphlet is of interest, not just for the details of the tragedy, but for how it was published. No author is given but we assume it was the publisher. It was priced at One Penny and “The proceeds from the sale of this work is intended for the ‘relief’ fund for the sufferers by the accident.” It was to be “had by all News Agents and News Lads”. One imagines that Willie Reynolds took it upon himself to interview participants, research background, write up the story – and well-written it is – print (probably out of his own pocket), then do the rounds of local newsagents, recruit an army of news lads, then collect and distribute the income, all within a short space of time. That was no mean achievement. No Facebook, Twitter or Internet in 1882!


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