Explosion of a Saddle-Boiler at Swadlingcote Free Methodist Chapel, near Burton-on-Trent

Boiler Explosions Acts, 1882 and 1890, no. 203, 18 December 1886
Preliminary Enquiry
The explosion occurred about 6pm on the 18th instant, in a small outhouse adjoining the Free Methodist Chapel, Swadlingcote, near Burton-on-Trent.
Owners: trustees. Mr Thomas Stacey, Warren, Stacey & Co, Swadlingcote, was one of the superintendents of the chapel. No one was injured.

The small air-pipes … were originally made of lead, and as they were found to be easily damaged by children kicking them, they were replaced by 3/8 in wrought-iron pipes, shortly after the apparatus was fixed.

Nature of the explosion
The boiler was broken in several pieces, which were thrown in various directions. One piece, weighing several pounds, was projected over a wall into the back yard of an adjoining house. The brick setting and the boiler house were completely demolished. Two windows of a schoolroom under the chapel were blown in, and considerable damage was done by flying bricks, &c. to the roofs of some outhouses situated a few yards to the rear of the chapel.

Cause of the Explosion
The explosion was due to excessive internal steam pressure, produced by the fire having been lighted and allowed to burn when the outlets from the boiler were blocked by ice.

General Remarks
The boiler was about 10ft below the range of pipes through which the heated water circulated. It was stated that the cold water supply tank, the feed-pipe, and the upper portions of pipes C and D were unprotected from the atmosphere. The apparatus was full of water, and there had been no fire in the boiler for several days … In consequence of the severe frost which prevailed in the district the water in the exposed part of the pipes was frozen, and thus all the outlets from the boiler were blocked. The attendant stated that before lighting the fire, he opened the drain cock (A) and finding water issue from it, he closed it again, concluding that the pipes were free from ice. He lighted the fire, and, leaving it burning, went home. About two hours after the explosion occurred.
It was said that ice was found in the exploded portion of the pipes and the supply tank immediately after the explosion. … Although a thaw had set in several hours after my visit, both still contained ice.
Mr Stacey said that he had previously told the attendant not to leave water in the apparatus during frosty weather when not in use. The attendant did not remember having received these instructions, but stated that during the severe weather of previous winters he had made it his practice to keep both the boiler and the pipes empty when not required for warming purposes. He had, however, not considered the weather of this winter cold enough to make it necessary to adopt this precaution.
The attendant was an elderly man employed at a colliery in the neighbourhood, and the trustees of the chapel allowed him a small annual sum for looking after the heating apparatus in his spare time.

Observations of the Engineer Surveyor-in-Chief
The boiler was part of an apparatus of a description not infrequently used for warming buildings. Its explosion should be a warning to those in charge of similar appliances to take ordinary care in the management of them. … It was fortunate no one was injured.

(Transcribed from the Board of Trade Boiler Explosion Reports held at Southampton Local Studies and Maritime Library)

Comments about this page

  • Swadlincote – no “g”, and in Derbyshire rather than Staffordshire – but interesting nevertheless.

    By Mark H (02/11/2023)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.