Fireworks Explosion – Marvellous Escape

From the Fife Herald – Thursday 08 September 1842.

St Andrews. – Explosion – Marvellous Escape.—Mr Gyngell, the celebrated constructor of fire works, who has entertained the folks here on several occasions, having received an extensive order from Perth, prepared the articles in a room situated at the head of the Baker Wynd, and fronting Market Street, belonging to Alexander Wilson Wemyss. While packing them on the morning of Saturday last, betwixt five and six o’clock, the tightness, or the rubbing against each other, as it supposed, having caused ignition, the whole went off with a tremendous noise, shattering the ceiling of the room, the windows, and the roof. How Mr Gyngell managed to escape, he can hardly tell. On the first symptom of the approaching catastrophe, he rushed down stairs and luckily was only half-way when the explosion took place — had he reached the street, he would have been exposed to the falling of the tiles, &c., which were blown the air, and strewed in all directions. The house took fire, but the accident being observed by Messrs Cruickshank, Kennedy, Steele, and Pringle, (the committee for that day measuring the meal for distribution to the poor in the Town Hall), they were promptly the spot. In the course of five minutes the fire bell was set agoing, and the fire engine on the spot, which, by the activity those who worked it, soon extinguished the flames. As soon as Mr Gyngell recovered, he made desperate efforts to get at Mr Wemyss, who slept in the room adjoining that in which the accident happened; but “Sandy’s” good fortune had led him to visit the harbour half-an-hour before.  Mr G. had hung his coat with L.1. 13s. in the pocket; the coat disappeared, and with it the contents, excepting eighteenpence, which was found amongst the ruins.

The fireworks could have been intended for the visit of Queen Victoria to Perth. She had on the day of the explosion (Saturday 3rd September 1842) landed at Granton and was staying in Dalkeith prior to moving on to Perth on the 6th.

The illustration is of the junction of Baker Wynd and Market Street as it is today. Sandy Wemyss’ house would have been on the left; it was demolished and replaced in the 1960s.

Sandy Wemyss is my 4th-great-grandfather. He was born in St Andrews in 1783 and died sometime around 1860. His grandfather, Robert Niven, was the town treasurer of St Andrews and in 1842 was in charge of the fire engine. He was also an agent for the recently formed Phoenix Fire insurance Company.

Karon McBride

Writer, consultant, founder Astrantium Hosting.

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