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Priestgate Explosion

1883

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On 4th May a large explosion occurred in Priestgate between the Phoenix Brewery and Angel Inn. Reports claimed that fumes from the Phoenix Brewery had mixed with sewer and coal gases. It's then thought these were accidentally ignited by a discarded cigarette.
The Explosion
The explosion was dramatic and affected both Priestgate and Narrow Bridge Street, but the effects were worse in Priestgate. Paving stones were thrown high up into the air and all of the windows were smashed in Priestgate, with more in Narrow Bridge Street. To make things worse the contents of the sewers, including thousands of dead rats, were thrown up against the buildings. People were particularly alarmed because there had been a recent threat to blow up the Cathedral. There were no records of any deaths, other than the rats, and no record of how long it took to get rid of the smell!





The Big Bang

13.7 billion years ago

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The Big Bang Theory is the scientific model for the origin of the universe, it was born out of the observation that other galaxies are moving away from our own at great speed as if propelled by an explosive force. The theory states that about 13.7 billion years ago all the matter and radiation of the observable universe was compressed into a hot, dense mass just a few millimetres across. This state is theorised to have existed for just a fraction of the first second of time after which a massive blast allowed all the universe's matter and energy to escape. In the instant (a trillion trillionth of a second) after the Big Bang the universe expanded from a few millimetres to something astronomically vast and has continued to expand , though more slowly in the billions of years since. Cosmic microwave background radiation received from all parts of the universe is thought to be the heat left over from the original explosion.        





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The Creation of Stars and Galaxies

13.7- 4.6 billion years ago

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In the first moments after the Big Bang, the universe was extremely hot and dense. As it cooled, conditions gave rise to the building blocks of matter, quarks and electrons. A few millionths of a second later, quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons and in minutes these protons and neutrons combined into nuclei. As the universe continued to expand and cool, things slowed down and it took 380,000 years before atoms were formed when electrons were trapped in orbits around nuclei. These atoms were mainly helium and hydrogen, still the most common elements in existence. In the following  half-billion years, clumps of gas collapsed enough to form the first stars and galaxies. In the hearts of these stars elements like iron, carbon and oxygen are produced which are then seeded throughout the universe following explosions called supernovae. A little after 9 billion years after the Big Bang, our solar system was born. We are currently finding out more about the invisible as well as the visible universe, through agencies like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and CERN ( European Organisation for Nuclear Research) who investigate phenomena like dark matter which does not emit any electromagnetic radiation and dark energy, comprising a huge part of the universe that we can only detect through its effects.





An Immense Icy Flood

1795

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In February 1795 a large flood affected many parts of the country, due to a combination of thawing snow, ice and torrential rains. Peterborough's story reads like something out of a Hollywood movie: "We learn from Peterborough that the flood in that neighbourhood is so immense as to threaten several villages. The ice had formed a complete bank across the coast, from the South bank to the North bank, and consequently stopped the current of water. A gentleman there, however, at the risk of his life, contrived to dispel the ice by gunpowder, contained in oilskin bags, in the execution of which he was assisted by two barges; but he had the misfortune to be left upon a large shoal of ice; the boats being driven away, it was impossible for any person to render him assistance, and in this dangerous situation, with the momentary apprehension of the ice separating, he floated down to Whittlesea bridge, and then jumped to one of the pillars, which was expected every minute to give way. From this situation he was released by some men who put off in a boat to save him. Soon after this the South bank gave way; and so terrific was the effect, from the shrieks of the multitude near it, and the explosion so tremendous, that the noise was heard by persons stationed four miles below the spot. The number of lives lost has not been ascertained: the damage exceeds calculation."1 Other information relating to the flood suggested that 30,000 acres of Deeping Fen were flooded and that many bridges had been damaged or destroyed, including those of Wansford and Northborough which 'blew up'! Peterborough's wooden bridge was saved.
  1. Northampton Mercury, Saturday 21st February 1795, p3, column 4