An alarming explosion which shook Hemel Hempstead from end to end and occasioned great damage to property, occurred on Tuesday morning. At 9.15 a.m. a terrific report, which was heard miles away, startled the inhabitants, and a big fire was observed in the direction of Apsley. It transpired that the explosion had occurred in a mill situated in Two Waters Road, and used for the manufacture of petrol substitute and artificial manure. It appears that a tank or well containing a highly explosive chemical burst, and the force of the explosion practically demolished the whole of the extensive range of buildings and reduced them to a heap of ruins. The wreckage burst into flames which spread rapidly.
Members of the Hemel Hempstead Fire Brigade rushed to the fire station on hearing the explosion in anticipation of a call, so that when the call came they were able to leave with their motor engine immediately. Dickinson’s Apsley Fire Brigade and the British Paper Company’s Fire Brigade from Frogmore Mills also turned out with their engines. An ample supply of water was available and the 3 brigades directed a tremendous volume onto the burning building. The flames were gradually mastered. The mill itself was destroyed and the effect on all property in close proximity was disastrous. A bombardment from the air or by ‘heavies’ could not have produced a more appalling scene of destruction. The effects of the explosion were so far reaching that scarcely a pane of glass within a mile was left unbroken.
Happily, there was no loss of life and, considering the magnitude of the material havoc caused, this is the most amazing feature of the occurrence. There were some 20 or more employees in the mill, but they appear to have had some warning of the impending danger by smelling the chemical fumes, or ‘poison gas’ as one workman described it, and all managed to get clear of the building just as the terrible crash came. Miraculous escapes innumerable are reported. Mrs W.J. Locke, of Corner Hall, wife of the well-known novelist, very kindly opened her house and offered temporary shelter and hospitality to the unfortunate people rendered homeless. To those who have suffered so much damage by the wrecking of their homes the greatest sympathy will be extended.
Supt Hansell, with a large number of police, was on the scene quickly and among those present proffering help and advice was the Deputy Mayor.