Follow us on Twitter
Ashton Reporter
September 8th 1888


On Friday morning week another lamentable affair occurred at Fernilee Gunpowder Mills, and although one life was lost as a result of the disaster, the consequences might have been far more serious. Following so quickly the explosion by which a man and a girl lost their lives a short time ago, the sad event of Friday created a good deal of excitement in the district. The mills are something akin in their construction to a common mortar mill. There is a pan into which the materials are placed which are to be ground by the revolving mill. About 60 lbs of powplaced in the pan at one time, and the material is damped with water, as in the case of mortar making.

The mills are separated by stone walls, two feet in thickness, and are covered with woodwork and other light material, which will easily give way in case of an explosion.

At about ten o’clock a terrific explosion was heard, which sounded like the roar of a cannon, and was heard for two or three miles away. Directly afterwards a second report was heard, and when the attention of some persons who were working in a hayfield was drawn to the place, they saw a large quantity of material and dust flying in all directions. Of course the workpeople were much alarmed, and began to escape from the works in all directions.

When the excitement had somewhat subsided it was found that Thomas Phillipson, the mechanic employed at the works, had been struck on the face by a piece of timber, which inflicted a deep gash, and seriously hurt the jawbone.

Mr John Ault, the manager, perceived a horse running along the lane near the works, and upon going to the bridge, he found that the animal, which had come to a stand, was unattended by Thomas Ford, the driver. Upon search being made the dead body of poor Ford was found in the lane. The cart was laden with coal, and was passing to the works at the moment of the explosion.

There can be no doubt the animal bolted, and that in attempting to stop it Ford was knocked down and killed. A messenger was dispatched to Whaley Bridge and as speedily as possible Dr Allan proceeded to Fernilee. His services in Ford’s case, of course, were of no avail, but every attention was paid to Phillipson.

In a short time many people were attracted to the scene to view the wreck, and on Saturday and Sunday considerable numbers flooded to the place.

The funeral of the victim of the explosion took place on Monday, at the cemetery connected with the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Dove Holes. Prior to removing from Dove Holes, the deceased was connected with the Primitive Methodist body, but latterly he attended the Wesleyan body at Fernilee. As the deceased was well known and highly respected, a large number of relatives and friends were present, and such a cortege had not been witnessed in the village for many years. Many of the workpeople from Fernilee, as well as Mr John Ault, and some of the directors, joined the procession.

The members of the chapel choir, the teachers in the Sunday school, and many of the senior scholars attended as a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased. The deceased was a member of the “Mayflower” Lodge of the Ancient Order of Shepherds, and many of the brethren joined in the funeral procession. The service was conducted within the chapel in a most impressive manner by Mr John Richardson, of Whaley Bridge, and at the grave side by the Rev. W.H. Mason, of Bradwell. A goodly number of wreaths and flowers had been sent by loving friends.
High Peak News
1 April 1893

Explosion at Fernilee Gunpowder Mills.

On Friday morning last, an accident occurred at the Chilworth Gunpowder Company’s Mills, situate at Fernilee, by which two workmen were injured - one of them rather seriously. It appears that a man named Phillipson, a fitter, was engaged in his particular work when an explosion quite unexpectedly took place in the room where he was. He was burned about the face and head, and a man named Heather, another employee, was approaching the doorway leading into the room when the explosion occurred, and a piece of ignited timber that had been hurled from the roof struck him and set fire to his clothes. Medical assistance was speedily obtained. The men were both removed to their homes at Fernilee and Horwich End. Dr Allan, of Whaley Bridge, is attending the sufferers, who are progressing favourably.

Buxton Advertiser
8 April 1893

The Accident at Fernilee.

We are glad to hear that the two workmen employed at the Chilworth Gunpowder Works, who were injured by an explosion there a few days since, are progressing satisfactorily.
The Powder Mill Fire Brigade
The Powder Mill Fire Brigade
Ashton Reporter
14 August 1909

Walking in Flames to the River.

The Whaley Bridge Wakes holidays were overshadowed by a terrible explosion which occurred on Thursday afternoon at the Fernilee gunpowder works, owned by the Chilworth Gunpowder Company.

The works are midway between Whaley Bridge and Buxton, and cover about half a mile of ground in a secluded valley.

What was the exact cause of the explosion is not known at the time of writing, nor would the officials advance any theories. The report was terrific, and could be heard as far away as Bridgemont on the New Mills side of Whaley, and nearly at Buxton. The explosion occurred in what is known as the “corning magazine,” and “corning” is one of the last processes through which the powder passes before it leaves the works. The building was practically destroyed. The roof was torn off, and the slates were hurled yards away. The lane leading to the works was strewn with them, and even branches were cut off the trees.

In charge of this magazine was George Raven, and working with him was a man named Jos. Hill, of Bridgemont.

Hill was killed outright. His skull was fractured, and he had also received a compound fracture of the leg. One arm was completely blown off, and two hours after the accident the limb had not been found.

Raven was blown through into a field close by, through the top of the building, which was open through the roof being displaced. He was not rendered unconscious, but his clothing was all in flames. He had the presence of mind to rush down to the river which runs close by, and by that means extinguished the flames. He was in a thoroughly exhausted condition, and was got out of the river by his brother, James Raven, and Job Wright.

At the time the explosion occurred, Percy Southern, a young man, was crossing a bridge which connects one part of the works with another. He was hit on the chest by some of the flying stone from the building and rendered unconscious. He was also badly burned. There were about 80 pounds of gunpowder in the magazine.

Dr Flint and Dr Cox, of Buxton, were shooting on the Errwood Moors, and hearing the explosion immediately went to the works, and rendered what assistance they could.

Drs Johnston and Welch, of Whaley Bridge, and the matron of Devonshire Hospital, Buxton, were early on the scene to help. The injured were taken to the Devonshire Hospital, Buxton, on the works ambulance. Both of them were suffering from frightful shock and collapse, and were in a critical condition; Raven was badly burned about the head, chest and hands, and Southern was badly scorched. When they were removed it was not known whether they had any internal injuries.

The firemen connected with the works turned out immediately after the explosion, and played with water on the other magazines, to prevent any further disaster. Fully a hundred men are employed at the works.

Joseph Hill, who was killed, was a single young fellow about 30 years of age. He was a quiet, steady-going young man, and connected with the Bridgemont Mission Room.

Raven and Southern are also single young men, and are about 20 years of age.


The occurrence was witnessed by Mr Albert Goddard, a farmer, who said to a press representative: “I was at the top of a load of hay, and happened to be looking in that direction. It put me in mind of being at Belle Vue fireworks last night. The roof was hurled many yards in the air. You would hardly believe how high it went. Then it came down with a rattling noise.”
The affair caused a very painful sensation throughout the district. An explosion occurred a dozen years or more ago at the same works, when several people were killed. Some people are of opinion that the explosion was caused by the heat. That question will be gone into at the inquest, which will probably be opened today (Friday.)


A terrible catastrophe occurred at the Chilworth Gunpowder Works, Fernilee, on Thursday afternoon. The manufacture of the explosive in which about a hundred men and boys are engaged is mainly carried on in a series of small buildings, and in one of these, known as the “corning” shed, Joseph Hill, aged 32 years, of Bridgemont, and George Raven, aged 26, of Fernilee, were engaged, when the building suddenly blew up. The motive power to this part of the works is supplied by a water wheel, over which the debris of the wrecked building collapsed, whilst slates and other material were scattered about for hundreds of yards. On rushing to the spot the workmen from the other buildings found Percy Southern aged 19, of Old-road, Whaley Bridge, who had been working outside the demolished shed, lying rather badly hurt and scorched from the effects of the explosion.

The work of removing the debris was quickly commenced under the direction of Mr John Ashling, the cashier, who was in charge of the works at the time, and it was a terrible task that confronted them.

Hill had been blown to pieces, and Raven had sustained shocking injuries.

Two doctors, who were in the vicinity at the time, were soon present, and shortly afterwards the injured men were attended by Doctors Johnson and Welch, and removed to the Buxton Hospital.

The work of recovering Hill’s remains occupied a considerable time.

George Raven, the young man who was hurled out of the building by the force of the explosion, died in the Devonshire Hospital at Buxton on Saturday night.

His life had been despaired of from the first. The wonder was how he ever came out of the mill alive.

The deceased was 26 years of age. He had resided in Fernilee all his life, and had always worked in the mill. He was one of the representative youths of the hamlet, and a popular cricketer and footballer.

The deceased was a member of the Fernilee Reading and Recreation Room. He was a very steady-going young man, and very highly respected.

It is a sad fact that for some time past he had been the only support for his widowed mother.

The second death increased the gloom which the calamity spread over the district.
George Raven
George Raven

The funeral took place on Saturday afternoon at St. James’ Church, Taxal, amidst signs of sorrow and respect. From Bridge Mont, where the deceased had resided, to Whaley Bridge and Horwich End the blinds of nearly every house and shop were drawn, whilst in the church there was a large and reverent congregation.

At the house, service was conducted by Mr J.G. Downs. A large number of the employees of the Chilworth Gunpowder Company walked in front of the hearse, whilst a good many were unable to attend because they were required to be on special watching duty at the works.

Among the employees who were present were Messrs Charles Smith (engineer), J.T. Mellor, J.W. Southern (foremen), the latter of whom is the father of Percy Southern, John Ashby (cashier), Jos. Southern, A. Shaw, Gee McBean, R.D. James, D. Sherwood, Jos. Bennett, John Mellor, J.C. Clayton, Geo. Clayton, Abraham Higginbottom, A. Heather, J. Sherwood, C. Mycock, J. Vaughan, J. Boothby, Wm Simpson, C. West, W. Hulme, A. Porter, R. Mycock, A. Jodrell, J. Braddock, H. Lowe, J. Smith, T. Ollerenshaw, J. Riley, Wm Barnes, J. Harrison, R. Beard, J. Barrow, W.E. Lamb, L. Riley, H. Heather, H. Fox, A. Hill, Wm Boothby, E. Thomas senr., E. Thomas junr., R. Mycock, F. Oyarzabal, Wm Taylor, A. Pickup and Jos. Bennett.

Following the hearse were four coaches, occupied by the chief mourners, namely: Mr Wm Hill (grandfather), Miss Mitchem, Miss Elizabeth Hill (aunt), Mr and Mrs Samuel Hill senr (uncle and aunt), Mr and Mrs Thomas Hill (uncle and aunt), Mr and Mrs Wm Hill (uncle and aunt), Mr Capewell, Mr and Mrs Samuel Hill junr (cousins), Mr and Mrs Norman Hill (cousins), Mr J.W. Kinder and Mr J.G. Downs. The bearers were Messrs S. and N. Hill, F. Bennett and W. Mellor


The wreaths bore the following expressions of regret:

“In loving memory” from Uncle Will and Aunt Nelly, Plumpton.
“With deepest sympathy”, Cousins Norman and Amy, Stockport.
“With deepest sympathy”, Grandfather and Aunt Lizzie.
“With deepest sympathy”, Cousins Sam and Maggie.
There were also four wreaths each inscribed “With deepest sympathy and condolence”, from the Chilworth Gunpowder Company, Mr E. Kraftmeier, Mr and Mrs H.S. Cox, and the staff of the Company. Bunches of flowers were placed upon the grave by Mrs Wood of Newtown, New Mills and Mrs Brough of Plumpton Farm.

An impressive service was held in the church, the officiating clergyman being the Rev. W.P. Stamper. In the course of a short address, said that before they proceeded from the House of God to the graveside it was only right and fitting that he should address one or two remarks to them with regard to the shortness and the uncertainty of life.

Many a time had they brought before them this fact, that man knew not his time; but there were times, like the present, when the thought was brought more closely home to them when those near and dear to them had been suddenly snatched away from the home, from the circle of friends, from those amongst whom they laboured. Such was the course before them that day. There were times when they mourned those who had gone hence, because they had known the nature and character of the lives they had led.

There were many who were taken away in the midst of their sins, but he understood that their departed friend was a religious man, and that he placed his trust in God, and that being so, they believed that the God in whom he trusted did not desert him.
When they felt the shock of a terrible accident, like the one that took place the other day, and when they thought of the result, did they not also think of their own lives? Man’s life at the longest was described as being a span, and did it not go home to each of them how necessary it was to be in a state of preparedness? They knew that their time was short, and that sometimes the inevitable step between time and eternity must be taken. They were told “Now is the day of salvation.”

It was in this life they must make preparation for a better. A wicked man could not enjoy the glories of heaven, but they believed that a good man, when he was taken away was transplanted and translated to a better place. They must take to themselves the lesson that had been set before them of the shortness and uncertainty of life, for they knew not what a day might bring forth.

Their blessed Saviour had taught them that though they would have to endure persecution and affliction, there was a better place prepared for them. Whatever the term of their earthly existence might be, if they believed in Him they would enter into His glory and rest with Him in Paradise.

The last sad rites were administered in the presence of a large and sympathetic crowd by Mr Stamper.

The funeral of George Raven, the second victim of the calamity, took place on Tuesday afternoon, at the Fernilee Wesleyan burial ground, there being every evidence of respect and sympathy.

The Gunpowder Works were closed for the day, and the whole hamlet mourned with the widowed mother.

At the head of the procession walked members of the Court of Foresters, with which deceased was associated, including Bros A. Shaw, D. Sherwood, T. Redfern, G. Vaughan, James Sherwood, M. Wilson, T. Wilson, W. Wilson, J. Holmes, E. Holmes, J. Roberts, G. Clayton, Herbert Lowe, Chas Lowe, Horace Allen, John Bennett, George Lomas, W. Lomas.
Over 80 of the deceased’s fellow workmen and officials at the works were present, including Messrs H.S.C. Cox (manager), Chas Smith, J.T. Mellor, J. Ashby, R.D. James, G.S. Maclean and J.W. Southern (foreman.)

The occupants of the coaches were: Mrs Raven (mother), Mr Jas Raven (brother), Miss Florence Smith (fiancée of the deceased), Miss Edith Southern, Mr & Mrs T. Salt, Mr & Mrs W. Nadin, Miss Raven, Mr John Raven, Mrs Collier, Mrs Ball, Mr Horace Allen, Miss Maggie Raven, Master George Woolcock, Mrs Lomas, Mrs Horsfield, Mrs James Raven, Miss Collier, Miss Doris Southern.

Other friends present included Miss Annie Salt, Miss Lily Collier, Mr & Mrs J. Boothby, Mr & Mrs C. West, Mr W. Lomas, Miss Hill, Mrs J. Bennett.

Mr & Mrs Gosselin Grimshaw, of Errwood Hall, the Hon Mrs Preston, of Errwood Hall, Mrs H.S. Cox and Mrs Oyarzabul also attended the interment.

The obsequies were of a most impressive character, and most of the people were moved to tears as the remains of the deceased were reverently lowered into the ground, and also during the service in the chapel.

The minister was the Rev. W. Allen, Wesleyan superintendent, who delayed his departure to Bath so that he might show his sympathy with the bereaved by conducting the last rites. The bearers were Messrs Jas Lomas, H. Southern, C. Lupton and A. Porter, friends of the deceased.

The floral tributes were very numerous and beautiful, and were sent by the following:- Mother, brother and sister Fanny, Mr A. Porter (deceased’s “old pal”), Uncle John, Uncle Jim and family, Aunt Lizzie and family, Aunt Martha, Aunt Hannah Mary and family, Masters George and Jim Maclean, Mr Victor Smith and Miss Lily Turner, Mr and Mrs E. Lomas, Mr and Mrs R. Lupton, Mr C. Lupton, Mr and Mrs John Bennett and family, Mr and Mrs James Boothby, Cousins Jim, Sydney, Lily and Mary, Mrs Lomas and family (Royal Oak), the Chilworth Gunpowder Co. Ltd., Mr E. Kraftmeier (managing director), Mr & Mrs H.S. Cox, the staff at Fernilee Gunpowder Works and Mr Willcock.

The Fernilee Flower Show and Sports should have been held on Saturday (August 21st) but have been postponed indefinitely owing to the recent sad occurrence. George Raven was a member of the committee.

When the explosion occurred Mrs A.P. Shaw, of Whitehall, was early on the scene, bringing with her a trained nurse and a supply of stimulants. Mr Gosselin Grimshaw, of Errwood Hall, was soon down in his carriage ready to render any assistance, and with him was the Rev. Father Fouchere.

It will take about three months to get everything in order again. In the meantime the works will have to be closed, after the present “covered” material has been got out. It is hoped, however, that employment will be found for the men at other works in the neighbourhood until work can again be found for them at the Gunpowder Works.


From inquiries made on Thursday it was ascertained that Percy Southern, the other man who was injured, was doing very nicely, although he is not yet out of danger.


Considering the many and great dangers which attend the manufacture of gunpowder, and how slight a thing will cause an explosion, the disasters at Fernilee have been few in number. There was one about 70 years ago, in which two brothers named Heap were killed.

About 11 years ago three magazines exploded, but happily, this occurred during the night when nobody was working.
It is about 17 years ago since the last fatality occurred, and on that occasion a man and a girl were killed.
There was also an accident in the 70s.

The company are most careful in the proper management of the works, and also take a great interest in the welfare of the men.

Mr H.S. Cox, of Fernilee Hall, the manager, does all that he can to make them happy and comfortable both inside and outside the works. He was away at the time of the explosion, and was most distressed when informed of it.
He returned home on Friday afternoon.
The Chilworth Fire Brigade
The Chilworth Fire Brigade

Explosions in The Goyt Valley

The Inquest and Verdict, The Management Censored The Inquest on Raven