Explosion in Alderney, 10 September 1903

'Buildings Wrecked. Hayricks afire.' The Helcke fulminate of mercury works explodes. From The Star of September 11, 1903.

At ten o'clock last night, our Alderney correspondent telegraphs, the town of St Anne's was alarmed by several successive explosions at the Helcke1 fulminate of mercury works in West Town. The debris, all ablaze, fell over Trigale, the Marais, and Little Street, setting the hayricks of Messrs Le Lièvre and Prudhomme afire. The threefold conflagration presented a stupendous sight in the terrific gale, and could be seen miles away at sea. Windows, greenhouses, etc., in the vicinity of the works were damaged, but no-one was killed by the shock of the explosion.

Panic almost prevailed, as many feared other more fearful explosions might happen, which, however, was not the case.

It is supposed a thunder-bolt caused the explosion, the lightning falling in the yard among the sheds east of the main building, where the spirit vault and powder magazine were situated. The strength of the wind kept the flames and sparks away from the building, but these flew over the town. Major Mosse, with the Fort fire engine and a detachment of Leicesters, eventually arrived to render help, and the troops remained ready for an emergency.

This morning the works present a striking appearance. The wreckage is complete. There is an immense hole on what was formerly level ground, showing the effect of the explosion. There was no-one at the works a the time, or they must have been killed.

Our correspondent in a subsequent message wires: Later news shows the public feeling of dread was increased by a second explosion following the first. Delicate and nervous women and children rose from their beds and ran into the streets, many leaving town for Mannez, where they stayed the night. The people were thankful nothing worse happened than proved the case, but the possibility of renewed explosions gave rise to such fear that a petition has been signed praying the States to take drastic measures to deal with factories for explosives and dynamite vessels calling at Alderney. It is felt that unless some steps are taken visitors will stop calling at Alderney.

1 Helcke Brothers, who made the explosive for the British Government, had started out in Guernsey at the 'Grandes Rocques Chemical Works' in 1840 and from there into the Ruettes Brayes, but had moved to Alderney by 1885. For an eyewitness account, 'My God! Helcke's place is on fire! The Postmaster's wife promptly fainted &c.' and more information see Victor Coysh in Lucas, A S H, An Alderney scrap-book, pp. 33 ff.

Paintings by Arnold Helcke at the Guernsey Museum.