Hull Packet (24/Feb/1818) - Fire at Colne Bridge

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


On Saturday morning [...?], a most destructive and calamitous fire broke out in the cotton factor of Mr. Thomas Atkinson, situated at Colne Bridge, about three miles from Huddersfield, which consumed the whole of the manufactory, and in which the lives of seventeen female children were lost. It appears that the machinery in a part of this building was worked by night as well as by day, and that about five o’clock in the morning, a boy of the name James Thornton had been sent down for rovings into the card room : taking a naked candle, (instead of a glass lamp, provided expressly for the purpose). One of the overlookers after he was gone, feeling sensible of the danger of such an act of imprudence, hastened after the lad, but in vain, for just as he was entering the lower room, he perceived the flames rising from a quantity of cotton and carded laps, several skeps full of which were standing under the stairs, were instantly in a blaze. Thornton, distracted at the sight of the mischief which he had inadvertently committed, ran upstairs to communicate the appalling tidings that the factory was on fire. He then hastened back to the top of the stairs and escaped out of the building ; but so rapid was the progress of the flames, that a girl who followed him out of one of the spinning rooms, dropped through the landing and perished in the flames. All this occurred in the short space of two minutes, and the communication by the stairs being now cut off, the situation of the persons still in the mill, became alarming in the extreme. To add to the horror of the scene, the flames ascended through a tunnel which communicated with the top room, where several thousand pounds weight of cotton lay ready to catch the blaze, and to spread the awful conflagration. The card room too, where the fire commenced, was filled with cotton in different stages of process, and gave the flames a fatal progress. To attempt to save any part of the property in the mill, seemed a hopeless effort ; and the attention of the persons assembled, was wholly directed to rescuing the sufferers within, who were all girls, from the fact that awaited them. With this view, a ladder was placed against a small window at the end of the factory, near the manager’s house, and at the greatest distance from the place where the fire had first appeared ; but every endeavour to induce the children to approach the ladder proved unavailing. On breaking the window, a dense column of smoke, which soon burst into flame, issued from the opening ; and it is probable, that before this humane effort to rescue the children was made, the suffocating influence of the ignited cotton, had terminated their sufferings. A heart-rending scene now took place without, such as a parent who has witnessed the destruction of his child without being able to afford him any relief can along conceive. Renewed efforts, prompted by a glimmering of hope, were made to ascertain the place where the poor children might have fled, and to rescue them from the flames ; but in the midst of their exertions the roof and floors fells in, and hope gave place to despair. In less than half an hour the entire building, all the machinery, and every article of the stock, were destroyed. From a combination of unfortunate circumstances, this fire was more like an explosion, of the conflagration of stubble, than the destruction of a substantial building. Not a vestige of property was saved in the mills ; but the counting-house and warehouse, being protected by a strong main wall, were preserved.

The following is a scan of an original article and is made available under the terms of fair use for research purposes.

Hull Packet 24 Feb 1818.png