Down memory lane with Peter Tuffrey: Night of the big gas blast

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TWO people were rescued from the flames after an explosion ripped through three shops in Holmes Market on the night of Saturday November 17, 1973.

The explosion, caused by a cracked gas pipe, demolished a second-hand shop and a fish and chip shop at the junction of Beckett Road and Queens Road and wrecked a farm produce shop.

Rescue workers pulled an injured man and woman from the flames which engulfed the wreckage of one of the shops.

Both were taken to the intensive care unit of Doncaster Infirmary with severe burns.

The blast, heard as far away as Warmsworth, scattered debris over a wide area and shattered house and shop windows up to 100 yards away. It also knocked out 400 telephones in the area. Engineers worked Saturday and Sunday night repairing them.

Men from Wheatley mines rescue station were called to help police and firemen when it was feared more people might be trapped.

But the second-hand shop was unoccupied and the only other person normally in the buildings Betty Cook who lived above the farm produce shop was out baby-sitting for the night.

Grace Parrish and her husband William were in bed above their sweet shop, two doors from the explosion.

She said: “There was a terrific bang followed by a lesser explosion. We got up and got outside. Two young men helped to get the injured man and woman out. They were marvellous. Every window of our home was smashed and the blast knocked down the conservatory at the back.”

Monica Margaret, Mrs Parrish’s daughter, was returning home at the time of the explosion shortly before 3am.

She said: “I felt the ground vibrating and saw glass and rubble flying in the air. I immediately thought it was my parent’s shop.”

Gwen Lay, who ran a wool shop next door to the farm produce business, was one of two people slightly hurt who were sent home after treatment at Doncaster infirmary.

Doncaster Fire Brigade put out the blaze.

Streets leading to The Holmes Market area, a row of shops stretching from King’s Road to Queen’s Road, were closed to traffic and bulldozers brought in to clear the wreckage. A mountain of rubble was shifted from the site to nearby Wheatley Lane.

Superintendent Jim Carlin was in charge of a large squad of police controlling the area.

The Holmes encompasses the area once bounded by Don Street, the River Don, Gashouse Bight, and the old Dockin Hill Road to Wheatley Lane thoroughfare.

Eric Braim in his article Wheatley and its Methodist Churches published in the Doncaster Civic Trust Newsletter Number 62 of November 1990 reveals that Holmes is an old name meaning low land beside a river.

‘The name was applied to the land between Wheatley Lane and the River Don... (at one time) many of the inhabitants of The Holmes worked on the river or on the land, possibly on the Wheatley Hall estate.’

Some of The Holmes former features – on the north side – included two sets of six Almshouses.

The first group – known locally as Stock’s Almshouse – were completed in 1861.

Charles Jackson, in his Doncaster Charities Past and Present (1881) wrote: “At a meeting of the town council, held May 9, 1860 it was resolved, that the Lords of the Treasury be memorialised to permit the town council to give and grant to the trusts of Stock’s Charity 440 superficial square yards from a large close of land adjoining the Holmes leading from Doncaster to Wheatley... for the erection of four almshouses for the habitation of decayed widows... in lieu of the houses lately belonging to Stock’s Charity, taken by the Great Northern Railway Company [in Factory Lane].

“It was ordered, at the request of the Mayor (Alderman Hatfield) he be permitted to erect two similar houses as almshouses, adjoining Stock’s houses, upon land belonging to the Corporation... for the use of decayed servants of the Corporation or their widows, as vacancies may occur.”

A second group of almshouses was completed in 1892, next to The Church of Christ, built around 1905 to the designs of local architect Henry Beck.

There was a school room beneath the main room.

Both sets of almshouses were demolished for the construction of the East By-Pass around 1960.