The Danger of Explosives

With New Year and fireworks displays approaching it may be a good time to remind people of the risks of explosives with a further instalment of Carol’s investigations within the Woodhorn archive:

In 1784 a series of letters to Dr John Sharp piece together to provide details of a lucky escape at the Castle……

In NRO452/C/3/2/14/40 Mr George Wood-Accountant to the Lord Cewe Trustees based in Durham, writes-

I have heard nothing of your mishap but from yourself and therefore can only guess that it must have happened in Mr Boult’s [Curate at St Aiden’s Church in Bamburgh, and lodging at the Castle] Preparations of Fireworks for celebrating the King’s [ George 111]Birth Night. I am truly glad however that none has suffered any personal injury”

On June 24 a fellow Trustee-and clearly an affectionate friend as revealed in other correspondence, Dr John Rotheram wrote (NRO452/C/3//2/14/43)-

“I am glad to hear you have got all the damages repaired (except a part of the slated roof) to your satisfaction”

Bamburgh Castle from the sea
We are not sure which part of the castle survived the explosion, and no scorch marks have been reported!

Finally all is revealed in a further letter from Mr Rotheram-

I am extremely sorry to hear of your alarming accident. I am greatly obliged to you for your early communication of it; for had I heard it by any other means, I should not have known what bounds to put on my apprehensions. I sincerely join you in thankfulness to Providence that none of your family received any hurt and that the whole damage was confined to walls and ceilings which may easily be repaired. It is needless to ass any caution against admitting a large Quantity of Powder within the Walls of the Castle, as that lesson has been too strongly impressed by the Accident itself. It is happy that the explosion was in the upper parts of the Castle. I am glad to hear you have reason to be satisfied with your Fire Proof ceilings.

I beg my best respects to the Ladies and am dear Sir…

This amusing incident (let us hope there were no singed wigs or eyebrows!) alludes to another of Dr Sharp’s innovations-there is a great deal of correspondence referring to his work in fireproofing rooms in the Keep, another reason for which the castle became famous. Indeed, there is correspondence to him-for instance from the owner of Berwick Docks-asking for his blueprint. In view of the amount of powder and ammunition kept at the Castle-for use against enemy invasion, pirate sloops-an ever present danger-and the firing of the Fog Guns from the Castle to warn passing shipping, the Sharp family in residence escaped lightly!

Carol Griffiths, with thanks to Woodhorn Archive.

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