Chapter 1 – Tuxford & sons and the portable steam boilers

During the early 1800s and towards the end of the industrial revolution the introduction of machines for farming such as the threshing and dressing machine led to a reduction in the requirement for farm labourers and as with many other industries, these labourers weren’t happy and gathered in groups to smash up the monstrosities that were taking their right to earn a living. However around about this time there was also an ever-increasing requirement for farm labour overseas in the Americas and other far flung parts of the world. This was the answer and in the same way as they would travel around England for work, labourers left in droves and the problem was solved.

16th & 17th Century threshing18

Steam was the power house of this industrious nation and in February 1804 a Mr Richard Trevithick had even made it run on rails with the first steam train journey. The farming industry also used steam engines for powering various machines but these were large and cumbersome things and when they had to be moved around it was a long and drawn out process so towards the middle of the 19th century the development of a ‘portable’ steam engine seemed like the right thing to do.

Along with the introduction of threshing machines, these events caused much resentment in the major grain-growing areas of Britain, since it deprived many rural labourers of what was often their only source of employment in winter. Their anger found expression in protests and uprisings such as the infamous Swing Riots of the early 1830s, when threshing machines were destroyed and wheat ricks set on fire. 18

Swing rioters18

A patent application on the July of 6th 1830 for a machine or apparatus to cleanse or purify wheat showed that someone was moving in the right direction. The person was one William Wedd Tuxford, a miller and baker by trade who had designed and produced the reeing or corn screening machine that led him into engineering. It’s said that the engineering business started in 1826, but it is most likely to have been somewhat later than that as the patent for the reeing machine clearly shows. From these beginnings, a large business grew based at the Boston and Skirbeck Ironworks alongside Tuxford’s windmill1 (the milling and baking business was continued by the Tuxford’s).

Tuxford’s, with Mount Bridge in the foreground and Skirbeck Church in the distance

A steeple engine of 1850 (like the PSE in question)


One of Tuxford’s traction engines

Tuxford’s exhibiting a portable steam engine at the Royal Agricultural Show at Newcastle in 1864.

Tuxford’s were among the pioneers in the development of agricultural steam engines. Weston Tuxford (W. W.’s son) was probably influential in this. Their first portable engine was made in 1842, and they made a traction engine in 1857, following that with an improved design in 1861. The firm employed about 300 at its height, but faced difficulties as agricultural depression from the 1870s onwards reduced demand from British farmers. When Weston Tuxford, sole surviving partner, died in 1885 the business was closed. Much of the ironworks was taken over by a new firm, Collitt & Co., who seem to have continued making some of the Tuxford products. But that only lasted until 1891. The eight sails from Tuxford’s mill were later taken and put on the mill at Heckington (a village between Boston and Sleaford) where they can still be seen today.1

Heckington mill, where Tuxford’s sails ended up 

Chapter 2 – The portable steam engine (PSE) in question

It is believed that he built his first truly portable steam engine somewhere between 18392 and 18503 dependent on the source literature but somewhere in this 11 years the portable steam engine was born and I would err towards the earlier time-period as he was showing his vertical cylinder models at the Great Exhibition of 1851 very successfully4 after which he improved the engine design by making the cylinders horizontal4.

An advert from 1851 for Tuxford steam engines

A later iteration of this machine, possibly built between 18392 and 18635 and of unknown pedigree or serial number was still in operation on Wigborough farm near Martock run by a Mr George Moody’s in 1875, up to 36 years later. This was a time of great depression within the farming community due to the ‘The Long Depression’, which was a worldwide price and economic recession, beginning in 1873 and running either through the spring of 1879, or 1896, depending on the metrics used. The National Bureau of Economic Research dates the contraction following the panic as lasting from October 1873 to March 18796.  This caused farmers to tighten their belts, which meant using farm machinery longer than usual and cutting maintenance costs.

That’s what they had to do to survive and is probably why this machine was used for 17 years until being sold on to Mr William Sparrow of Martock sometime in 1892, who had been its maintainer, for between £10 & £16. At this point in the story, the machine is between 29 and 53 years old and if I were to make a guess, I would say that it would be somewhere around the 40 year mark as Tuxford moved to the horizontal cylinder design around 18524 although the he was making and showing vertical cylinder engines in 18567 and in 1871 he showed a 10hp twin vertical cylinder portable steeple engine driving a threshing and dressing machine8 so Tuxford wasn’t quite done with vertical cylinders as late as 1871 but the engine in question …“had a vertical cylinder and a “steeple” with a connecting rod returning down to the crank shaft.”5.

As close an example (1851) as can be found for the Tuxford model at West Farm

At some point between the purchase of the boiler and the loan out to Mr Wills, Mr Sparrow carried out a successful test of the engine operating at 120 lbs. (assumed pounds per square inch or psi), considered it to be safe for operations between 40 and 50 lbs. The only reference to the engine being used by Mr Sparrow is between May & June 1894 and on no other occasion. On the one occasion, it was in operation at the Sparrow works, Mr Sparrow found that an attendant had screwed down the lever of the safety valve beyond the pressure he felt was safe (it could and had been done) and so he set it back to 42 lbs. therefor it must be assumed that the engine did have a pressure gauge for setting it at such an accurate setting unless, of course this is an untruth. The engine was then worked for 3 weeks and then allowed to stay in a field adjoining until December of 1894 when Mr George Wills of Key farm, Yeovil borrowed it10.  This engine could have been left idle and in all weathers and possibly unprotected for periods of up to 6 months at a time if not more and was still being operated at or beyond the constraints and safety limitations laid down when it was first manufactured.

A steam pile driver from 1855 also very close in design to the PSE 

Chapter 3 – The weather and other conditions

According to the Meteorological Office supplement weekly weather report for February 1895, issued from 63 Victoria Street, London; “The early part of the month was intensely cold, with frequent snow showers in Northern and Eastern parts of the country” and temperatures were in some cases …”37oF (or 3oC) on our extreme South West coasts”. Wikipedia has an article on the winter of 1894/95 and states that ” …it was severe for the British Isles with a Central England Temperature of 1.27 °C or 34.3 °F”.12 

In March 1949, the Western Gazette received a letter to the Editor, which can be found at Annex A. Within the narrative a Mr George Adams, of Whitehouse, Hardway, Bruton is described as recounting the story of his Grandfather walking from Rimpton to the scene of the incident when there was ‘deep snow’ and along with an account from the Sherborne Volunteer Fire Brigade that when they got to the scene they had to cut a hole in the ‘ice’, which was ‘4” thick’ to draw water and how there was plenty of water in the “pond”. Indeed, in the picture below, you can clearly see snow on the hay rick in the top left hand corner and everyone is dressed for the inclement weather.

Top left corner of a picture of the aftermath

At the enquiry10 the opinion of the Court was that the crown of the fire box had become distorted through the boiler having been short of water at some time prior to the explosion, thus weakening it. I will look at the enquiry in a letter chapter but considering that the weather was bitterly cold, the pond was frozen and it was the end of the day could the water feed to the boiler also have frozen or had it just run dry? The effects the weather had on the operation of the engine and indeed the farm workers and Mr Hann isn’t mentioned but I think it contributed to the disaster. They’d been threshing all day and who knows how many days before. They must have been cold, tired and were clearly hungry as they had sat around the boiler for heat while they ate. How was Mr Hann monitoring the engine without a pressure gauge? Was he keeping an eye on the water levels as we know there was a water gauge fitted? Had the relief mechanism been wound down past 42 lbs. and then further isolated with a drag shoe on this old engine?

Weather during February 1895

Chapter 4 – West farm, Yeovilton, Somerset

The farm house itself is a Grade II listed building (English Heritage Building ID: 262797)21 having been granted this status on the 19th Apr 1961 and sits within Yeovilton, a small Somerset village by the River Yeo (old River Ivel) at OS Grid Ref ST5466123057. It was mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1086 as Geveltone of Sumersette and worth £10.5 under Lord Ralph Bloiet and William of Eu, the Tenant in chief. It shows cobs, cattle, pigs, sheep within the village, which would point to that the fact that there was a farm there but it doesn’t mention one, only 2 mills.14 That’s not to say that there wasn’t a farm, it’s just not mentioned as one. Currently a private residence with a value of around £450:00013 and no longer a farm, the land that once formed a great deal of the farm has now been taken over by the Royal Navy airfield RNAS Yeovilton / HMS Heron. In 1895, the farm was in the hands of Mr Edmund or Edward Earnest Haines assisted by his brother Mr Thomas (Annex’s A & B) (or Messrs E & E Haimes17) on land owned by the Wingfield-Digby family. Mr Joseph Hann had been employed as the steam engine driver by the Haines family for some time and was a trusted employee.

Yeovilton in the Doomsday book of 1086

Map of Yeovilton from 183815

Map of Yeovilton from 188515

The perimeter track currently runs around the village16

Cereals were cut by horse drawn binders, which cut the corn and tied it into bundles called sheaves. These sheaves were gathered in and transported to the Rick (a stack of dry farm produce such as hay held above the ground on mushroom shaped staddle or steddle stones to prevent vermin damage) yard at the farm, a small paddock surrounded by a stock proof barrier or wall. Built in to ricks at harvest time, they were thatched over and left until the winter for thrashing.

Thrashing was an activity, like most others on farms before WW2, which required lots of manual labour. You needed a couple of men to feed the thrasher (feeders were normally direct employees of the driver / operator as it was a specialised task), several to pitch the sheaves to the feeder, someone to change and tie the bags of grain and clear them from the machine and others to deal with the chaff and straw spilling from the thrashing machine, reforming it in to sacks for bedding whilst the driver (Mr Hann) would tend the engine be in overall charge of the operation of the thrashing machine.

The large dark green field in the picture above could be this paddock area within which the explosion happened but the area is much changed from its 1895 setting and so pinpointing the exact spot may prove extremely difficult. The picture below is believed to be in the area to the right of the light brown ‘L’ shaped building but better pictures and promised press clipping have yet to surface. A later chapter will cover the search for the actual incident area, hopefully with artefacts found during a potential metal survey.

The picture with a small portion of building on the left 

Chapter 5 – The deadly explosion and a horrific discovery

Needing to thrash some oats Mr Haine of West Farm, Yeovilton had contacted his usual choice of steam engine owner, Mr Joseph Hann of Somerton. Joseph brought his machinery to the farm and went to work but soon there were problems with a boiler leak and the loss of water critical for cooling so work had to cease. With his own engine now out of commission and being repaired Mr Hann tracked down a replacement from Sparrows of Martock but this engine, which normally drove the machines at the Sparrow Martock works was currently on loan and at work on Key farm, Yeovil. “Not to worry” said Hann, “I’ll go over there and see if it’s finished with”. So, a deal was struck and the steam engine delivered to Yeovilton for work to commence. The engine, a Tuxford & son’s portable steam engine (date of manufacture unknown) was positioned to power the thrashing machine working all day and every day from the 12th February and prior to this whatever it had been doing on Key Farm, Yeovil.

On Saturday, the 16th February 1895 we know that it was a bitterly cold day and one would assume that it was still light it being around 4 O’clock, was much like any other day apart from the work being a little behind due to Hann’s engine issues. A lunch break was called (it would be assumed by Hann or Haines) and the thrashing teams work brought to a stop (cannot be sure it this was for the day or just for a food break) and several of the men, including Mr Osmond and Mr Stent went home, leaving just the rest behind. The workmen found somewhere sheltered to eat their bread & cheese and quaff their cider with some understandingly choosing to sit around the steam engine to gain comfort from the heat of the boiler. Those that chose warmth were Mr Hann (45) the driver, Mr Harry Hughes on of his feeders and five of Mr Haines’s farm labourers, Mr Charles Perry (35), Charles’s son William Perry (20?), Mr Tom Gawler (?), Mr Samuel William Gillard (24) and Mr W Baker Holland (?).

The engine did have a steam stop valve, a glass water gauge, two test cocks, a whistle cock and a brass plug but it had no pressure gauge and in fact had a wooden plug stuffed in to the hole. It was old, suffering from internal corrosion and had been working on and off for many years with an intermittent servicing and repair schedule common at the time. A retrospective view would tell you that something had to give but Mr Hann, as the operator was oblivious to all this and could only go on the word of Mr Sparrow when he had said that the boiler was good for 42 lbs. and had been tested to 120 lbs. It appears that when working worn out old engines like this the practice was to work the boiler towards its limit to get the required steam pressure and thus HP out of it. It looks like this practice included adjusting or screwing down the pressure relief valve and then securing it with something heavy (like a drag brace) to get the most out of the boiler. If it was Mr Hann who had made the decision to take this dangerous step he was doing it with the misunderstanding that the boiler could take it, it couldn’t.

A horizontal cylinder portable steam engine powered threshing team at work in the late 1800s

The engine stood in line with the threshing machine as per the above picture, which is why the threshing machine was “…was broken on one side by the engine being blown against it…” and the chimney was found on the other side of the rick. This gives you some idea as to how far the 3-tonne machine travelled after being thrown skyward, it’s trajectory a possible indication of where the boiler casing split.

Harry Hughes had finished his grub so Hann sent him to oil the thrasher, which put him on the far side of the machine and at the same moment there was a ‘Wooshing’ noise. The remaining farm hands and Hann were all sat down around the engine when the boiler exploded with what is described as “…very violent character…”10 and with such a report that it could be heard as far away as Ilchester, 2.7 Km away. When Hughes looked back towards the engine all he saw was smoke, fire and the front wheels of the engine. There was there was no sign of his boss nor was he aware of the others as he himself was “Running around in the smoke and fire”. Baker Holland, who had been working for Mr Haine for a few days to help with the task, said “I heard a report and thought I had been shot in the arm but when I looked down at my arm I found no shot holes”.  He then ran back to where the engine had been to find the lad Perry (William) lying almost lifeless but when rolled over and although he did not move there was still a spark of life in him. By now others had started to help and move the injured away from the fire, which was now burning fiercely in the yard. Where the engine had stood before there now stood a small crater and the engine weighing 4 tons* had lifted feet in to the air and come to rest 26 yards away.

A steam engine drag shoe / brace in operation

The drag shoe, a 14-lb. cast iron affair, hanging from a chain and normally put under the wheel when travelling downhill to stop the wheel turning (believed to have been hung on the blow off valve) was found 150 yards away (and possibly in an Elm tree??). The front wheels of the engine were still in position but the rest of the engine was smashed to pieces. Someone sent a messenger to Ilchester for Dr Watts and Northover (also in Ilchester) for Dr Ross but both were out on call. Mrs Watts however did attend with bandages and splints and helped where she could. By this time most of the casualties had been accounted for, Charles Perry was killed most certainly instantaneously, his son William was dreadfully injured with a broken arm and serious skull fractures and badly scalded and was expected to die soon after. William Gillard had broken legs and Gawler had less serious injuries. The two Doctors arrived and did what they could, sending William Perry and Gawler to Yeovil Hospital. Sadly, nothing could be done for Mr Hann the engine driver as he “…was blown with great force in to a nearby hay rick (along with debris from the fire box of the engine), which immediately caught fire and the poor fellow, if he was not already dead, was literally charred to death…”5. It is mentioned that it was “…impossible to rescue him, the heat being so intense…”5 and “…it was only the skeleton of the man that was ultimately got out of the fire5…” Other accounts tell of “…It was some time before his (Mr Hann) whereabouts was discovered by the other farm men who hearing a noise in the rick eventually raked out a mass of flesh and his skeleton…”17. The second account is quite disturbing but it isn’t known or described as to exactly what the noise they heard was and one can only speculate. Indeed, his remains were not recovered until the Sherborne and slater Martock fire brigades had dealt with the fires, by then all that was left was a skeleton.

Labourers loading up a hay rick

Mr Charles Perry, a labourer employed on the farm “…met a frightful but almost instantaneous death…”5. The distance he was thrown and the way he was “…mutilated so terribly and beyond all recognition as to be scarcely recognisable…5” and “…The body was terribly charred and almost unrecognisable…”5 would place him very close to both the rent in the boiler at the time of the explosion, his hat was found some 100 yards from the centre of the blast. Of the other three men involved all were reported to be badly burned around the head and body and quickly conveyed to Yeovil hospital for treatment. Samuel William Gillard had also been thrown some distance, suffered a broken leg (in two places) and been badly burned but although conveyed to Yeovil hospital he sadly died as a result of his injuries some 16 months later (June 17th 1896). William Perry, son of Charles Perry was again thrown some distance, rendered unconscious and suffered a broken arm and burns while Tom Gawler, also thrown clear of the engine, suffered only minor non-life threatening injuries. Both men did survive the explosion.

The aftermath of the explosion

As can be seen in the picture above and as per a previous statement, the two front wheels of the carriage on which the engine was fixed did not shift. One of the rear wheels, along with the axle box of the other wheel was carried with the engine, the spokes and framework being left behind. As has been mentioned, the engine struck and broke on one side the threshing machine it had been powering prior to coming to rest on its side with the only wheel being carried away being under it and smashed to pieces. The fly-wheel was also smashed, the only remaining parts being small pieces of spokes. A heavy drag shoe was found some 150 yards (450 feet 138 metres) from the epicentre and is reported to have been found hanging on an elm tree branch (where it remained for some years). The fact that this drag shoe had been thrown isn’t a definite indication but does suggest that it had been used as has been described previously as an addition to the pressure relief valve inhibitor to increase the engines performance. If the drag shoe had been employed correctly it wouldn’t have been thrown as such unless of course it had been secured to a part of the engine, in which case proof of its use or misuse are inconclusive.

Chapter 6 – The aftermath and other engines

When the explosion occurred, the fire in the form of live coals etc. from the engine was thrown “…hither and tither…”5 and as the engine had been surrounded by several freshly stacked ricks, fires were inevitable. Fire brigades of the time were mostly bands of volunteers, which it has been said, were funded by insurance companies keen not to have to pay out. On the day of the explosion the Yeovil fire brigade’s engine was out of action for repairs so the Sherborne Volunteer Fire Brigade and Martock Fire Service were called out and attended the scene from the buildings in the pictures below. Sadly, the Sherbourne station has now been demolished and a house built in its place. It is not clear if either had a manual or steam powered pumping unit but they did manage to draw water after cutting through 4 inches of ice in the pond so they could then extinguish the fires.

The old fire station in Sherborne prior to demolition

The old fire station below the market house in Martock

A letter sent to the Western Gazette from Mr H T Farthing who would have been 30 years old at the time, which can be found at Annex A states that “…the Martock Brigade was also called out but when they went to connect the suction it was solid with ice so they were out of action and so they helped us (Sherborne VFB) through the night. This shows how long the fire crews from Sherborne and Martock were in attendance and how big the problem was as any hot areas would have had to be found and extinguished.”

Stem powered pump in operation in London in the 1800s

A manual water pump from the 1800s

There is no doubt that without these brave men in attendance the ricks and possibly even large parts of the farm could well have been destroyed. As it was a great deal of damage was done but sadly nothing could be done for the victims of the day. There is very little in the way of records for either the Sherborne Volunteer Fire Brigade or the Martock Fire Service form the 1800s and so we must assume a great deal. 

Chapter 7 – The enquiry, the investigation and the verdict

The Board of Trade held an investigation in to the fatal incident, which was conducted by Mr Howard Smith – barrister at Law, Mr J H Hallet – Consulting Engineer, Mr K E K Gouch – solicitor and Mr E Q Louch – Coroner, returning a verdict of “Accidental death”19 on the 28th February.

The inquest, including a jury, convened between the 20th and 28th of February 1895 to enquire in to the circumstances surrounding the two deaths. After identification was given by the son-in-law of Hann and the brother-in-law of Perry, Farmer Haine was next to give evidence. He reported that he had remarked that the engine looked a bit odd and did not recall seeing any pressure gauge on the engine just a few tubes which he knew nothing about. At this point in the inquest, a juror arrived late and was fined one pound by the Coroner. Next up was the employee of Hann who’d had a very lucky escape, Mr Hughes. He told the enquiry that he had seen the engine in question at work on Key Farm and it looked OK to him despite the missing gauge and the whistle emitting just a squeak and that he had in fact been its driver two years ago. He went on to say that there were no weights on the safety valve and they had relied on the screw, which was hard down. Of the pressure gauge deficiency, he stated that a couple of days previous the little wooden plug stuffed in the hole had blown out and Hann had driven it back in and reinforced it with string. This tells me that Hann was doing the best he could with what he had to get the work done and keep his job as there would have been many others as qualified as him vying for the same work at a time when money was tight and farm work fast diminishing but it doesn’t explain why he didn’t use the pressure gauge from the other engine even though it was ‘Frosted’. In an article in The Engineer called ‘The Yeovilton boiler explosion’10 the enquiry seems to have been summarised thus: “…Mr Howard Smith, Barrister at law and J H Hallett, consulting engineer, at the Town hall, Yeovil, held an investigation ordered by the board of trade under the boiler explosions act 1882, in to the circumstances attending the boiler explosion at the Manor farm, Yeovilton on February 16th, whereby two men were killed and two men very seriously injured…” however accounts also state that the enquiry was conducted within the dairy house on the farm.

The events leading up to the explosion were explained as I have documented and then it moves on to the inspection of the engine itself. The first of the technical witnesses, the mechanical engineer Mr William Sibley of Parret works said he had seen the remains of the engine and recognised it as one he had inspected three years before and at the time opined that it was “not worth overhauling”. Mr Issac Hawkins, an engineer of Somerton, acting on behalf of the Coroner gave a report of his examination of the remains of the engine, which was damning. “…On the 20th February 1895, the engine was examined by Mr Butterworth (unknown) and Mr Issac Hawkins (Somerton), Engineers, and upon the scientific evidence there appeared to be some doubt as to whether the primary rent occurred in the bottom of the uptake chamber, which had been reduced in thickness particularly in that part immediately below the uptake or whether it occurred in the fire box crown plate, which showed unmistakable signs if having been recently overheating. The safety valve was screwed down so tight there was no possibility of steam escaping through it and the fact that no steam could pass through it meant that there was no visual warning of too much pressure.  The examination also revealed that some of the boiler plates were badly corroded with some having lost up to ¾ of their thickness to rust and that it was positively dangerous to use the machine. At the prompting of Mr Sparrow, the owner of the machine, he suggested that there should be some scheme of certifying boilers overseen by the Board of Trade.  After the explosion, the spindle of the safety valve was found so bent as to impress on the engineers the fact that the nut had been screwed down by Hann (assumption) before the explosion, to render the valve entirely inoperative…”

The safety valve showing signs of being wound down

When giving his verdict, the Coroner acknowledged the vast difference in opinion between the expert Hawkins and the owner Sparrow but as previously stated Mr Louch added that the responsibility for the accident lay with the Driver, Mr Hann. During his very lengthy judgement, Mr Smith found that (in the opinion of the court) the fire box crown plate failure was to blame as it had become so wasted by corrosion and so distorted due to water shortage some time before the explosion rendering it incapable of containing the pressure to which it was subjected to at the time. The bottom of the combustion chamber was found to be very thin and in some areas, only 1/32” thick. The safety valve had been found to be screwed down rendering it almost if not completely inoperative and the spindle of the spring balance had been found bent but by whom it could not be determined by the court. The boiler had been found in a condition, which indicated it was not properly maintained or repaired by Mr Sparrow, it was not fit for 42 lbs. and that the patches and rivets on the firebox should have had him on his guard. No justifiable reason could be had from Mr Sparrow as to why a pressure gauge wasn’t fitted to the engine and Mr Hann was deemed a competent person to operate the machine who had relied on the fact that it was fit for work as Mr Sparrow had supplied it.

An older version safety valve shown intact                How a typical weighted safety valve works

The court was not disposed to apportion any blame to a Mr Herbert H Sparrow (possible the senior Sparrow).  However, because William Sparrow had let the engine leave his premises in the knowledge that it might be operated by inexperienced persons without first ascertaining a safe working pressure beyond all doubt, he had tested an old boiler to 120 lbs. pressure, the court doubted that there was ever a steam pressure gauge fitted, the balance hadn’t been adjusted as suggested by Sparrow and he had allowed it to be worked in a condition, which was the cause of the explosion. For these reasons his conduct had amounted to carelessness and they were therefore constrained to find him to blame for the explosion. He was ordered to pay £10 (£920:00 today) to meet the exigencies of the case, a low fee with the loss of his engine taken in to consideration. On hearing this Sparrow asked “How am I going to get paid for my engine?” to which Mr Smith replied “Mr Haine might also ask who was going to pay for his haystacks destroyed” then the enquiry was terminated. It might be added that at no time did anyone mention to Mr Sparrow that Mr Hann, Mr Perry and Mr Gillard would not be able to do anything at all and that some form of recompense should be offered to their families as these poor fellows were not at fault but nothing can be done. I don’t think that it is in any way a coincidence that in the same year a bill was introduced and cited for all purposes as the ‘Engines and boilers act 1895’ set to come in to force in January 1896 named the ‘The steam engines (persons in charge) bill. As a pleasant addition to this chapter, I did find that on the following Sunday at evensong, the Reverend John B Hyson who had laid Charles Perry to rest on the Tuesday “…made an appeal on behalf of the families of those killed and injured and a Distress fund was started which met with generous response in the parish and many subscriptions came from other neighbouring parishes…”17

The three men who lost their lives during this accident were not all buried together. Charles and Samuel appear have been Yeovilton men and were buried in St Bartholomew church, Yeovilton (now the Fleet Air Arm Memorial church) but the search for their graves has so far turned up nothing. Joseph Hann was from Somerton and so was buried in the cemetery there at plot H81.

The Rector did start a fund immediately after the accident to provide some relief for the families of the men killed but this doesn’t seem to have been enough for some if not all. Sadly, as it was with most work back then your accommodation would be ‘Tied’ to your job so if you couldn’t work you lost your home. This was the case for Mrs Perry and her seven sons (it does appear William survived) who were homeless after the accident and the loss of the main breadwinner and so moved to Wales in the hope that the older boys could get work down the mines. The Accident had been covered quite widely in the press and came to the attention of Earl Temple, William Stephen [Gore-Langton later Temple-Gore-Langton], 4th Earl Temple of Stowe, of Newton Park (an 18th-century grade I listed country house in the parish of Newton St Loe), near Bath. He was so moved by the family’s plight that he sent a member of his staff to bring them back to his estate, where he gave them a cottage to live in and jobs to the eldest boys but that’s not all. Earl Temple is said to have been an acquaintance of David Lloyd George (British Liberal PM 1916 – 1922 and President of the Board of Trade 1905) and influenced him to introduce the first widow’s pension a few years later. In 1915 Mrs Perry received a letter from King George V praising her for her loyalty and patriotism for having six sons serving in the war, five of them at the front line.

King George V

David Lloyd George – PM 1916 – 1922

Earl Temple of Stowe Coat of arms20 

Chapter 8 – The internment of the departed

 During my research, the plan was to find the graves of the three men who lost their lives in the incident to allow their descendants a place to pay their respects. I knew that the nearest church was St Bartholomew’s, only a stone’s throw away from West Farm but I had no idea as to where the men were from, which would help to identify the cemetery they were interred.

Through speaking to Trevor Hann and searching the parish archives with the help of Somerset records office, Tina Cullen, the Verger of St Bart’s and Julie Halford, the Church custodian I located the burial records for both Charles Perry and Samuel William Gillard. This indicated they had been laid to rest in the grounds of St Bartholomew’s and it also confirmed that Samuel did indeed succumb to his injuries in the parish of Yeovilton some 16 months later the 17th June 1896. Unfortunately, the state of the head stones within the church grounds dating back to the late 1800s had, over the years, become very poor but by following the dates of the stones that could be read I narrowed it down to the area out front and to the left of two prominent head stones pictured below.

St Bartholomew’s, Yeovilton

The story of Joseph Hann’s interment was a little more complicated, as I soon found out. Speaking to his surviving relative, Trevor Hann I found that the family were originally from Somerton but did move around with Josephs work. I then had to speak to the Somerset records office to find the right Church and having narrowed it down to the church of St Michaels & All Angels I needed to ask someone if I could have a look at their parish records again.

I managed to speak to a very nice man in the Somerton town council who kindly tracked down the final resting place of Joseph Hann and saved me an awful lot of time. He told me that Joseph had been laid to rest, not in the church yard but in Somerton’s cemetery. I was so happy that I would be able to let Trevor Hann, the great, great, grandson of Joseph where his great, great, grandfather’s final resting place was so he and his family could pay their respects.

St Michael & All Angels, Somerton

The Somerton cemetery

 However, the story didn’t end there. I had been given the Somerton cemetery plot number H81, which I then passed on to Trevor so he could pay a visit. On his arrival at the Somerton cemetery he found that this number was in fact only a reference number for the page of the parish journal the person I spoke to had opened and not in fact a grave plot number. Trevor had to pay a visit the Somerton council offices, located in Edgar Hall and after more searching by a very helpful lady the actual plot number was located and Trevor managed to visit the final resting place of a relative he had never known. Trevor took a picture for me and annotated it with the actual area and plot number. 

The grave of Joseph Hann 

Chapter 9 – A survey of the area

 The final task of this research piece for me is to locate the actual area this terrible accident happened. I’ve looked at old maps of the area, spoke to some locals and walked the land but as this happened over 120 years ago it’s faded from living memory and there are no maps that show what I’m looking for. This leads me to the next phase of research, to search with something other than the naked eye, a metal detector.

 

Yeovilton and surrounding area 1885 (could be after 1897) 

Yeovilton and surrounding area in 1901

The axe head shaped field as it is now with the L shaped barn

 

Plan view showing the field to the West of the farm house 

Looking at the pictures and having been told that the thrashing would have taken part in an area fenced off from cattle etc. I had it in my mind that I should start my search to the East and North of the L shaped barn. The fields shape has changed since the airfield was built with half the area to the North of the L barn has been turned in to a storage yard and the North fence line adjusted due to the Airfield perimeter. Imagining that the field is an odd shaped T, I started off at the bottom of the letter, worked my way along its left flank and then methodically swept the whole field.

I then moved around to the next field of interest situated to the West of the farm house. On this field, I used the union flag type search pattern. This gives better coverage of the area and helps to identify areas quicker than a normal grid sweep.

 Chapter 10 – Where? 

Initially the area the tragedy occurred within seemed to be obvious and so it seemed only a matter of time I would stumble upon it during my search of the fields around West Farm however this is currently not the case. I have walked and surveyed with a metal detector, the fields around the farm to no avail. The items I have found in this area are inconclusive and having recently found that there was no West Farm until 1897 as Manor farm was split in two to create West Farm and Manor Farm as separate entities the plot thickens. Was this because of the tragedy? It’s why there is so much confusion as to exactly on which farm the incident took place from so many witnesses and relatives of these witnesses.

During the late 1800s it was common practice for tied workers to move from farm to farm, there was no proper control and documentation of local services such as the fire service and the land has changed so much after two World Wars, an Airfield popping up, the loss of local knowledge and many other changes within the region. These and many other factors could mean that I may never find the actual spot seen in the photos, where tragically three people lost their lives and many other lives were affected forever.

I haven’t stopped looking and intend to keep searching until I can categorically state that ‘This is the spot’ and can install a memorial to Joseph, Charles and Samuel or at least lay a wreath in their memory, which is the least I can do. Until then I will carry on searching the area and canvassing the local populace for any stories or tales that may have been passed down through the years. Who knows, maybe this publication will stir up old memories and someone might get in touch with that snippet I need to pin down just where the tragedy took place.

So, if you’re reading this and have any information on this sad event, please get in touch with the Ilchester Museum and maybe, just maybe I can complete this search and remember the three gentlemen properly.

 

The aftermath of the Yeovilton boiler explosion

 References 

    1. www.bostonpast.blogspot.co.uk.

     

    1. www.mns.ac.uk (National Museum of Scotland).

     

    1. www.gracesguide.co.uk.

     

    1. The Practical Mechanics Journal – Dated March 1862

     

    1. The Engineer – Dated March 1st 1895, Page 180, Para 1.

     

    1. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/long depression.

     

    1. Farmers Magazine – Dated 1856.

     

    1. Farmers Magazine – Dated 1871.

     

    1. www.steamscenes.org.uk

     

    1. The Engineer – Dated March 29th 1895.

     

    1. www.metoffice.gov.uk/binaries/content/assets/mohippo/pdf/s/c/feb1895.pdf (Met office weekly weather report supplement for Feb 1895)

     

    1. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_1894%E2%80%9395_in_the_United_Kingdom

     

    1. www.zoopla.co.uk/property/west-farm/yeovilton/yeovil/ba22-8ex/1263306

     

    1. www.opendomesday.org/place/ST5423/yeovilton/

     

    1. www.oldmapsonline.org/

     

    1. www.google.co.uk/maps

     

    1. Some account of the Parish of Yeovilton in Somerset by the Rev A.H Bell and the Rev Corrin Bell, MA. 1949.

     

    1. www.ploughed-earth2plate.blogspot.co.uk/

     

    1. The Bristol Mercury – Friday March 1st 1895

     

    1. www.wikivisually.com/wiki/

     

    1. www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-262797-west-farm-house-yeovilton-somerset#.WLQPIIQgU-U

Annexes

A. Letter to the editor dated 19th March 1949.

B. Account compiled by Mr Gerry Master of Ilchester.

c. Earl William Stephen Temple – Gore – Langton

Annex A

 The Threshing Accident (Copy from Western Gazette Yeovil – Approx. March 1949)

Sir,

The enclosed account of the Yeovil threshing accident, which was mentioned in your last issue and which I have copied from a volume of the Strand magazines in my possession may be of some interest to you. There is also an illustration of the scene of the accident by J Chaffin (J Chaffin & Sons, Yeovil, Somerset – 1874 to 1895)

 

  1. H. Christopher,

Holywell,

Evershot,

Dorset.

Copy

Sir,

 On the afternoon of Saturday February 16th 1895 a terrible explosion of the boiler of an agricultural engine occurred at Manor Farm (now known to be West farm) Yeovilton in Somersetshire. The engine had been working – doing threshing all day. About four in the afternoon some of the farm hands having gone home, others were sitting around the engine to eat, the weather being cold when the boiler exploded. The driver Hann was blown in to a rick close by, which immediately caught fire and the man charred to death, his skeleton only recovered afterwards. Another man Perry was mutilated so terribly as to be scarcely recognisable. The other men suffered scalds and broken limbs. The force of the explosion was such that the engine, which weighed about three tons, was lifted in to the air and carried to twenty-six yards. Perry’s hat was picked up a hundred yards away, fragments of the engine were thrown about, the fire was scattered setting fire to ricks in the vicinity and the local fire brigade only extinguished after much damage had been done. In this case the engine was about 30 years old, it had no gauge to register the pressure, the firebox was badly corroded and it appeared the safety valve had been screwed down to increase pressure.

 Mr Wyatt

Mrs Monks of Rimpton writes confirming Mr Wyatt’s memory and adds that an uncle of hers died in Yeovil hospital as a result of his injuries.

Mr Chas W Wheeler of Ar*on Bancombe Road, Somerton also writes that he remembers well Mr Hann the engine driver who threshed for his father in those days and confirms Mr Wyatt’s account of the incident.

March 18th 1949 – copy of Western Gazette – Letters to the Editor

Threshing accident memory

 Sir

 I can assure your readers that Mr Wyatt’s description of a threshing accident at |Yeovilton in 1895 is true. Two sons of Mr Thomas Haine, the farmer there at the time, married two of my sisters from Western farm, East Chinnock. I saw the wreckage and the drag shoe hung in a tree several years afterwards.

 H S Vaux,

Elm tree,

126 Woking Rd,

Guildford

 Among the many letters received on the subject, Professor John Read of St Andrews University confirms Mr Wyatt’s memory, but under the impression that the accident was somewhat later than 1895. Mr H J Hurley of 1 Eastville, Yeovil who visited the scene has still a piece of brass handle he picked up at the time. Mr J Vincent of 12 Cranhill Road, Street in Somerset vouches for the accuracy of Mr Wyatt’s story as his father-in-law was the man Hann who was killed. Mr George Adams of Whitehouse Farm, Hardway in Bruton adds that his grandfather walked from Rimpton to the scene of the accident when there was deep snow. He and his friends also walked over part of the Yeo River, which was frozen over hard enough to bear their weight.

Yeovilton threshing accident – Copy

Sir,

 At the time of the threshing accident at Mr Haines farm at Yeovilton I was there as a member of the “Sherborne Voluntary Fire Brigade” and I remember quite well it was on a Saturday afternoon early in February. I know it was a very hard frost. We were called as the Yeovil Fire Brigade was under repair. When we got to the scene we had to cut a hole in the ice of a pond, the ice was four-inch-thick and we soon got the fire under control as there was plenty of water in the pond. The accident happened when the workmen stopped for a snack about four in the afternoon. There were two killed, the driver of the engine and one of the men from Mr Haines. It was a very sad accident and the reason for the explosion was the driving shoe was hitched on to the lever of the safety valve and was flung sky high. The chain caught in the limb of an Elm tree several yards to the right, the shoe dangling in the air. Martock Brigade was also called, and when they arrived and went to connect the suction it was solid with ice so they were out of action and they helped us throughout the night.

 H T Farthing,

Hill view,

Totnel leigh,

Nr Sherborne.

Post script to story by Joyce Alice Hann – Great Granddaughter of Joseph Hann the engine driver who was killed.

March 1949

 My Father (Frederick John Hann – Jack to his family) who following his grandfather’s footsteps, learned to drive a steam roller from the age of 20 years old in 1913 and remained so all his working life. My father retired at the age of 63around 1957. At the time this story was printed, was working for Eddisons of Dorchester and in the County of Dorset. He kept these newspaper cuttings with him for years, and on his retirement, when sorting out his belongings to return to his home permanently with his family in Sherborne, Dorset we were able to read all about this terrible tragedy that happened. Of course all of his family knew of the accident that happened all those years ago. I have been shown recently a photo of this tragedy in the possession of a grandson, the date was in the year 1893 not as the story said 1895and the watch he was wearing said 12:35 pm dinner time. Also my great grandfather left a young family for his wife to bring up, and in those days life was very tough for them. My great grandmother did a wonderful job, all the family married, and some had their own families and I am happy to say that grand great grandchildren and great great grandchildren are all living in various parts of the country, mostly all keeping in touch with one another. My father also knew Mr H T Farthing the Fire Brigade man who attended the scene; he often spoke of him to us. Another proof I have is that it was West Farm Yeovilton and not Manor Farm Yeovilton where the accident happened but in later years the farm is gone and is part of the Yeovilton airfield station

 Signed of A. Hann

17 Queens Terrace,

Bristol Road,

Sherborne,

Dorset,

DT9 4ED

 Sherborne phone 813160

 Annex B

 

The incident with the steam engine At Yeovilton – Gerry Master

 

Manor farm, Yeovilton was being farmed by two farmers, one of whom was Edmund Earnest Haine helped by his brother. It was February 1895, there was a good layer of snow on the ground and it was cold. It was time to get some oats thrashed. By this time there was some mechanisation on farms and thrashing was no longer done by hand but with a thrashing machine driven by a steam engine. Cereals were drawn with horse drawn binders, which cut the corn and tied it in to bundles called sheaves. These sheaves were gathered in and transported to the Rick yard at the farm, a small paddock surrounded by a stock proof barrier or wall. Built in to Ricks at harvest time they were thatched over and left until the winter for thrashing. Mr Haine contacted his usual choice of steam engine owner, Mr Hann of Somerton, who brought his machinery to the farm and went to work. Soon there were problems with the boiler leaking and losing all its water and work had to cease. With his engine out of commission and being repaired some other arrangements to borrow a machine somewhere had to be made. In the event he eventually tracked one down to Sparrows of Martock. There was a snag, the engine, which usually drives the machinery at Martock was currently on hire to Key Farm, (near Red Post Yeovil?). Not to worry said Hann, I will go there and see if it is finished with? Hann successfully concluded some sort of deal for the machine and it was delivered to Yeovilton for work to recommence. Thrashing was an activity, like many others on farms before WWII, which required lots of manual labour. A couple to feed the thrasher, (direct employees of Hann as it was a specialised job), several to pitch the sheaves in to the feeder, someone to change and tie the bags of grain and clear them from the machine. Others would be dealing with the chaff spilling from the thrashing machine, reforming it in to sacks for winter bedding, whilst Mr Hann would be tending the steam engine and be in overall charge of the operation of the thrashing machine. Saturday 16th was much like any other day on the farm and in any case work had got a bit behind with the problems with the engine. Lunch break was called late in the afternoon, around four o’clock. The workmen found somewhere sheltered to sit and eat their bread, cheese and quaff their cider, some, understandably, choosing to sit around the steam engine to gain comfort from the heat of the boiler. Hann, the engine driver, Harry Hughes, one of the feeders, Charles \Perry and his eldest son William, T Gawler, William Gillard and W B Holland, who all worked for the Haine family, were the ones who chose the heat of the boiler. Harry Hughes had finished his grub so Hann sent him to oil the thrasher, doing so took him to the far side of the machine, at the same moment there was a ‘Wooshing sound’, he looked back towards the engine to see nothing but smoke, fire and the front wheels of the engine. There was no sign of his boss nor was he aware of the others as he himself was ‘running around in the smoke and fire’. Others said that there was a report like a cannon going off. Baker Holland, who was working for Mr Haine for a few days to help with the task, said “I heard a report and thought I’d been shot in the arm, looked down at my arm but found no shot holes”. He then ran back to where the engine had been to find the lad Perry lying almost lifeless, he rolled him over, although he did not move he realised there was still a spark of life in him. By now others had started to help and move the injured away from the fire, which was now burning fiercely in the yard. Where the engine had been minutes before there was now a shallow crater, the engine, weighing four tons, had lifted feet in to the air and come down 26 yards away. The drag shoe (a 14-lb cast iron affair, hanging from a chain, put under the wheel when travelling downhill to stop the wheel turning) was found 150 yards away. The front wheels of the engine were still standing on the work position but the rest of the engine was smashed to pieces. Someone sent a messenger off to Ilchester for Dr Watts and to Northover for Dr Ross, unfortunately they were both out on calls but Mrs Watts returned to the scene with bandages and splints to do what she could. By now most had been accounted for. Charles Perry was killed most certainly instantaneously; his son William was dreadfully injured, with broken arms and a serious skull fractures and was badly scalded and was expected to die soon after. William Gillard had broken legs and Gawler had less serious injuries. By now the two doctors had arrived and did what they could, sending William Perry and Gawler to hospital. Sadly, nothing could be done for Mr Hann; the force of the explosion had blown him in to one of the Ricks, along with debris from the fire box of the engine. The Rick immediately burst in to flames and no-one could get near to rescue him. Hann’s remains were not recovered until the Sherborne and Martock Fire Brigades had dealt with the fires, by then all that was left was a skeleton. The inquest convened the following week in the dairy house on the farm, with a jury, to inquire in to the circumstances of the two deaths. After identification was given by the son-in-law of Hann and the brother-in-law of Perry, Farmer Haine was next to give evidence. He reported that he had remarked that the engine looked a bit odd and did not recall any pressure gauge on the engine, just a few tubes he knew nothing about. At this point in the inquest one of the jurors arrived late to take his place and was immediately fined one pound by the Coroner. Next up was Hughes, the employee of Hann, who had had the lucky escape, he told that he had seen the engine working at Key farm and it looked OK to him despite the missing gauge and the whistle emitting just a squeak. He had in fact been its driver two years before. He went on to tell that there were no weights on the safety valve, they just relied on the screw, which was hard down. He could also tell that a couple of days before, the little wooden plug stuffed in the hole where the gauge should be, had blown out, his boss had driven it back in and reinforced it with string. Others, working there and those who rushed to give assistance continued to give their accounts of the circumstances and the enquiry was adjourned to a day the following week to receive more technical evidence. The first technical witnesses, William Sibley, Mechanical Engineer of Parret works said he had seen the remains of the engine and recognised it as one he had inspected three years before and, at the time opined that it was not worth overhauling. Issac Hawkins, engineer of Somerton, acting on behalf of the Coroner then gave a report of his examination of the remains of the engine, which was damning. The safety valve was screwed down so tight that there was no possibility of steam escaping through it and the fact that no steam could pass through it meant there was no visual warning of too much pressure. His examination also revealed that some of the boiler plates were badly corroded with some having lost three quarters of their thickness to rust and that it was positively dangerous to use the machine. At the prompting of Mr Sparrow, the owner of the machine, he suggested that there should be some scheme of certifying boilers overseen by the Board of Trade. The Coroner when giving his verdict acknowledged the vast difference of opinion between the expert Hawkins and the owner Sparrow but concluded that the responsibility for the accident lay with the driver, Mr Hann. The story doesn’t end there. The Rector started a fund immediately after the accident to provide some relief for the families of the dead and injured. Mrs Perry, with her seven sons, (it does seem that William survived his horrific injuries), were homeless after the accident as they were in a tied cottage. Mrs Perry did what she thought was the only thing that she could and moved to Wales, thinking that the older boys would find work in the mines. The incident had been covered quite widely in the press and came to the attention of Earl Temple of Newton Park nr Bath. He was so moved by the family’s plight that he sent a member of his staff to bring them back to his estate, where he gave them a cottage to live in and jobs for the eldest boys. There is more. Earl Temple is said to have been an acquaintance of David Lloyd George and influenced him to introduce the first widow’s pension a few years later. In 1915 Mrs Perry received a letter from King George V praising her for her loyalty and patriotism for having six sons serving in the war, five of them at the front.

Annex C 

Earl William Stephen Temple – Gore – Langton

The 4th Earl Temple of Stowe (March 1892 – Royal permission to add Temple to Gore – Langton), Son of William Henry Powell – Gore – Langton of Combe Hay, Somerset and Lady Anna Eliza Mary Temple – Nugent – Brydges – Chandos – Grenville of Hannover Square, London.

Occupation: Landowner & Conservative politician

Born: 11th May 1847

Died: 20th March 1902

Buried: Newton St Loe, Somerset – UK Grave No. 271