In the immediate neighbourhood of the fire was another bonded warehouse, filled with the most combustible of materials –naphtha, nitrate of soda and potash as well as immense quantities of tallow and sulphur and possible gunpowder. The building was considered a double fireproof structure and supported on metal pillars and floors but no sooner had the flames reached it than an explosion took place that made Newcastle and Gateshead shake to their foundations. The bridge shook as it would fall to pieces, and the surface of the river suddenly agitated as if by storm. The shock was felt in every street. The front doors of many private persons dwellings were violently opened shutters were shaken from their hinges and windows were broken families were roused from their beds to find the cause of the explosion. The sight was best witnessed from the High Level Bridge,
which was at that time crowded with anxious spectators, suddenly as the explosion took place that triumph of engineering skill began to vibrate like a piece of thin wire, and the first thought of everyone was that the magnificent erection was about to fall. A universal stupor seems to have prevailed everywhere first broken be the screams and wailing of women and children, and by the ignition of houses on the Newcastle side of the river. The shock of the explosion was felt over the whole eastern seaboard, from Blyth in Northumberland to Seaham, six miles to the south of Sunderland. The concussion shook all the buildings in the large manufactories on the shores of the Tyne between Newcastle and Shields extinguishing lights and causing great panic to the workmen who rushed out of the buildings in terror and excitement. In the seaports at Shields nine miles off, it produced all the effect of an earthquake, rocking the houses and thudding against doors. In detatched dwellings and farmhouses dogs began barking and in the colliery villages people thought it was an explosion deep in the bowels of the earth. Papers and books partially burnt were picked up near Brookley-whins railway station six miles off and a master of a sailing vessel on his passage to the Tyne felt the shock ten miles off at sea.The fire passed easily from house to house the houses of the poor in the vicinity of the warehouses fell like they were made of cards. When the explosion occurred there was a unit of fifty soldiers from the garrison were advancing with fire engines the explosion killed two of them and wounded thirty, Mr. Robert Pattinson a member of the Newcastle Corporation an active gentleman was suffocated by the fumes, as was Lieutenant Paynter and eight other persons including Mr. Davison jun.(miller); a barber named Hamilton; a sergeant of the Cameronians; Scott a Gateshead policeman: the rest were burnt and mutilated as scarcely to be recognised. Mr. Davison the father of the young man who was killed, and owned a neighbouring steam mill, has lost his eyesight.
Numbers of policemen on duty were severely injured by the falling debris. Mr. Ralph Little, an inspector had on of his legs broken, and several ribs fractured. The surgery of Mr. Rayne, surgeon to the force, was literally besieged with the sufferers. The infirmary was crowded at an early hour. Fully fifty indoor patients were received and twice that number had their wounds dressed. Altogether 500 persons were more or less injured and the number of dead is not known at this time.
SEE ALSO -Newcastle Fire Brigade.]
Source:- The London Illustrated News, October 14, 1854.