For those that were unaware of the fact that a gunpowder mill existed in Fernilee it was there for many years but as with lots of businesses it eventually folded due to lots of circumstances the main one being that it would be beneath 90 feet of water in the shape of the Fernilee Reservoir.
Below is the famous Inkerman photo of ‘work in progress’ at the Powder Mill and below it is the start of the construction works at Fernilee by the contractors.
You can see the ruins of the works that are just behind the dam wall.
With the eventual construction of Errwood Reservoir and the way in which the water supply is accessed it is very doubtful if the ruins will ever appear again.
Inkerman photo of ‘work in progress’ at the Powder Mill
Start of the construction works at Fernilee
27 May 1836
We are sorry to state that an explosion took place at the Powder Mills, at Fernilee, this morning, about seven o’clock, in the stoving house, by which two unfortunate creatures were in one moment deprived of their existence.
Saturday 4 June 1836
On Thursday week, about six o’clock in the morning, one of the most dreadful accidents which we have ever had to record, occurred at Shallcross, in the County of Derby, about eight miles from Macclesfield.
The powder mills of Messrs Williamson, which contained at the time a ton and a half of gunpowder, blew up with a tremendous explosion.
George Heaps, a married man, with a wife and four children, who was in the mill at the time, was blown a distance of six hundred yards, to his master’s farm at Taxal, in this county, Shallcross being on the border of Cheshire and Derbyshire.
He was, of course, quite dead when found.
Mr Hollins, the coroner for Cheshire, held an inquest on his body the very day that the poor man’s youngest child was baptized. The persons who went in search of him when very near him observed something, which had not the most resemblance to a human body; but on going up they discovered that it was the miserable object of which they were in search.
The clothes and the hair of his head were completely burnt off him, and the body almost reduced to a cinder. One of his legs had been torn off and has not at present been found. John Heaps, a single man, and the brother of George, was found in the ruins of the mill, with his clothes and hair burnt off, but still alive.
He died, however, the day following in the greatest agony.
High Peak News
26 November 1892
The Late James Sayer.
On May 4th 1848, a workman names James Sayer was burned to death at the Fernilee Powder Works, and Mr W. Srigley, who now resides at Burbage, Buxton, and is an employee of the Buxton Lime Firms (Limited,) wrote an account of the accident and composed some lines on the subject. We quote the following from the pamphlet, which, by the way, was printed by J. Taylor. Chapel-en-le-Frith, and sold at 1d. The profits to go to the widow. Mr Srigley says: “The reason of me publishing this little treatise, is because I feel much concerned on the sudden removal of that pious and devoted man, James Sayer; not that I wish to add to his virtues, for his past life portrays that he was a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost, instant in season and out of season, doing all that lay in his power.
To save poor souls out of the fire
And snatch them from the verge of hell.
But now he is no more, for on the morning of the 4th day of this month, when busy making powder, the mill took fire and burned him almost to a crosil. But when the men in the other mills saw what was done, they ran to his assistance, but on entering the place they could not proceed for the sulphur and smoke which was so thick and strong: but after pausing a little they attempted again, and found him in a corner with his hands lifted up crying, in a feeble tone,‘Help! Help!’ But on laying hold of his hands to rescue him, his flesh and finger ends came off, while all his clothes were burned save the waist of his trousers; but as soon as he was brought out of the place, he exclaimed,
‘Thank God for having the fullness.’ Previous to this, some narrow-minded people would say that he was insincere in his worship, while others would call him an enthusiast, but now his religion is brought to the test: his soul is on the verge of eternity, and his body is tortured with pain, but yet he is a happy man. He was a champion in the cause of God before, and now carries it to his latest moments. He could talk of death as being his friend, or but a passage to the skies, and now he meets it with a smile. Nor had he lost that Holy zeal which he carried through the world, of telling lost sinners of a dying Saviour, for when his friends were carrying him home he called aloud to the unconverted, ‘Give your hearts to God,’ and then he broke forth into singing these beautiful lines:-
Would Jesus have a sinner die?
Why hangs He then on yonder tree?
What means that strange expiring cry?
Sinners: He prays for you and me;
Forgive them father, Oh forgive,
They know not that by Me they live.
He was taken home and attended by a doctor, but it was with great ado that his friends could keep him still for the great weight of glory that awaited him so animated his soul that he cried aloud in praise and thanksgiving to God, for says an eye-witness ‘If we had not restrained him I believe he would have made the very house to have rung with prayer and praise.’ But as he was sensible that the time of his departure was at hand, he entreated his wife very tenderly to give him up, as he shortly must bid her a final adieu. He survived until 9 o’clock in the evening, and then his happy spirit took its flight to flourish in perpetual bloom. Appended to the account are lines entitled ‘The Dying Peace’ and ‘His Ascension to Glory.’”
Chapel-en-le-Frith, Whaley Bridge, New Mills & Hayfield Advertiser.
17 August 1878
Fernilee: explosion in a powder mill
An explosion occurred on Saturday at Fernilee Gunpowder Mills, worked by Messrs J.H. Williamson & Co., whereby three men, named Thomas Ryder, John Ward and Matthew Collier were severely burnt. The men were engaged in making some repairs in one of the departments, using a copper hammer, when an explosion took place, which did considerable damage to the structure.
Ryder and Ward were so severely injured that it was deemed necessary to convey them to the Stockport Infirmary, and, as Ryder is advanced in years, his case is considered the most serious.
Whaley Bridge: Ryder, one of the unfortunate men injured by the explosion at Fernilee (as reported on page 6) died at the Manchester Infirmary on Wednesday.
High Peak News
14 March 1885
Explosion at the Fernilee Gunpowder Mills.
An explosion of somewhat serious character, but fortunately without any loss of life, occurred at the Fernilee Gunpowder Works on Saturday afternoon. The works which are owned by Messrs Williamson & Coy, are situated midway between Whaley Bridge and Buxton, and are in close proximity to the quiet village of Fernilee. It appears that about two o’clock a number of small powder mills used for grinding purposes were in full operation, when suddenly one of the mills exploded with terrific force smashing the roof, which was of wood, into atoms, and doing some considerable damage to windows, &c. in the locality.
Almost simultaneously with the explosion at the mill, two others a few yards apart were heard to “blow” up, completely demolishing the buildings and doing other damage. The workmen engaged at the mills had fortunately left the place a short time before the explosion, or the consequences might have been most serious, as a good many hands were employed at the spot.
The force of the explosion was heard some distance away, and caused many of the people living in the neighbourhood to rush out of their houses in an excited condition. How it occurred is as yet unknown.
14 March 1885
Explosion at the Fernilee Gunpowder Mills.
On Saturday last what is termed as a “blow up,” but what is no doubt an explosion on a smaller scale, occurred at about two o’clock on the works of Messrs Williamson & Co., the Fernilee Gunpowder Mills, by which happily no one was injured though damage was done to buildings and to windows in its vicinity. It appears that there were only some few men about at the time, and these were not near the mills which exploded. The works are situated in a secluded dell or valley, a few miles from Buxton, and not far from the source of the river Goyt, and consists of various buildings suitable for the purposes required, besides the offices, coopering works, steam engines, &c., and the greatest care is taken in the preparation of the explosive, so that the damages which otherwise might seem imminent are greatly lessened.
The man in charge of the mills had two or three grinding mills almost ready for clearing, and had been inspecting the lower mills at a little distance, and was on his way over the stream, intending to examine the other mills, when one of them “blew” up, and was succeeded by two others going off. Timbers flew in all directions, and the noise caused in the valley was heard some two miles off.
The mills being but lightly constructed, the roof especially being made so as to lessen the effects of an explosion, were easily demolished, and easily repaired.
Consequently the mills were soon repaired and at work again, we are assured, soon after the occurrence.
High Peak News
Saturday 24 March 1888.
GUNPOWDER EXPLOSION NEAR BUXTON
THREE PERSONS BURNED
A serious explosion occurred at the Fernilee Gunpowder Mills, near Errwood Hall, a few minutes before nine o’clock on Thursday morning.
In the cartridge-house a man named Whitfield, aged 24, who lives at Fernilee, and two girls named Turner, aged respectively 17 and 19, who live at Taxal, were engaged making mining cartridges, at two machines. In the box at the top of one of the machines was from 30 lbs to 40 lbs of powder, which was running through a hole in the ordinary process, into moulds, and came out at the bottom as cartridges, of which there are nine to the pound.
Without the least sign of anything having gone wrong in the machinery to cause the man and the girls to stop work the gunpowder in the box exploded with a deafening noise. The persons named were blown to the floor, and the building was completely wrecked.
The cartridge-house was constructed solely of lightly-made woodwork. Its size was 16 feet by 10 feet. A portion of the roof fell about ten yards on the one side of where the house originally stood and another portion fell on an embankment on the opposite side. Each of the four sides were blown away like so much matchwood, the only part of the building remaining to all appearances, intact, was the heavy wooden floor.
Whitfield and the girls Turner were found seriously burned, principally about the face and hands. Had they not been wearing the non-inflammable clothing supplied to all the people working at the mills, they would, undoubtedly have been burned to death.
Fortunately the wreckage did not take fire, and there was no difficulty in removing the injured persons. They were at once attended to as far as the skill of those on the ground would allow, and then a covered carriage was procured, and they were at once taken to Stockport Infirmary.
The place will not be disturbed in any particular until a Government Inspector has paid a visit.
It cannot be conceived from what cause the gunpowder exploded, every possible means to provide against such an occurrence being adopted throughout the works.
About 30 hands are employed on the works, which are well laid out, and cover an extensive area, and none of these happening to be in the vicinity of the cartridge house no doubt accounts for the fact that the number of injured is not more.
Ashton Reporter. 31 March 1888
(Addition to the above article, which is otherwise identical)
The man Whitfield succumbed on Monday, and on Tuesday an inquest was held at the Infirmary. Major Cundill, Government Inspector of Explosions, attended. The evidence showed that the deceased was aware that the machine was out of order, and the Coroner pointed out that, according to the rules of the works, he ought to have stopped the machine. This neglect caused the fatality, and no other person was to blame.