PARK STEAM ENGINE EXPLOSION 1904
As you travel into Cambridge
from Linton I am sure that most people have noticed the gap
in the old railway embankment which leads to the huge Camgrain
silos. If you follow the track for one to one and a half miles,
you reach the Great Chesterford Parish boundary and the remains
of Catley Park farm.
All the land to this boundary is now part of Little Linton
farm, but in 1904 Catley was a separate farm of about 303
acres. Henry Green had been the tenant farmer since 1896 and
he lived in the main farmhouse. This farmhouse building was
pulled down in 1978, and it had once been part of a much larger
Catley cottages, located near the scene of the explosion,
were demolished in the 1950’s. The Ruck-Keene family
of Swyncombe Park in Oxfordshire were the owners of the Linton
Estate at this time.
In those days steam powered engines were used in pairs to
pull the plough across the field by means of steel cables.
Heavy ground could place a severe strain on the pulling engine
and sometimes jam the plough. A very careful watch had to
be kept on the temperature gauge to prevent the engine from
overheating. The driver of the main engine was Robert Morrison
and he was assisted by twenty one year old Frederick Mynott.
His responsibilities included carting water to top up the
boiler and carrying the coal needed to power the engine.
On June 16th 1904, at about 6pm the plough seemed to stick
in the soil, and within seconds there was a tremendous explosion.
The engine blew up and scattered jagged fragments of metal
in every direction.
Robert Morrison was struck on the chest by a large piece of
iron, but miraculously escaped death and ended up badly bruised
and shaken. He had been chatting to Frederick Mynott when
the plough stuck fast, and poor Frederick was struck on the
head by a flying piece of metal and died instantly.
Parts of the engine were scattered over a distance of more
than one hundred and fifty metres, and the noise of the explosion
was heard over a wide area. The late Sam Taylor told me that
at that precise moment his father was on the toilet at Little
Linton farm and thought that his whole world had come to an
The sad incident created a sensation in the local press and
over three thousand sightseers swarmed over the site the very
next day. The narrow track to Catley Park was jammed with
horses and carts and a film was shot for local cinema audiences.
Films of local events were all the rage at this period and
amateur film makers made a good living before the emergence
of the professional film producer. The film was screened at
the Cambridge Midsummer Fair. It would be nice if this old
film was ever found.
An inquest was held at the “Crown” Hotel in Linton
and the cause of the explosion was believed to be the faulty
settings on the engine’s safety valves. Some witnesses
blamed the tragedy on the practice of some steam engine drivers
who often tampered with the valves to prevent interruptions
to their work. No conclusions were drawn about this case.
The engine, numbered 3616, was a 16hp Fowler single cylinder
model and was fitted with Church valves. It was built in Leeds
in May 1879, together with its sister engine numbered 3624.
Pamplin Brothers of Cherry Hinton had purchased both engines
from the Eastchurch Steam Plough Company of Kent in 1897.
The boiler had previously exploded on number 3616 but the
engine had been completely re-built and re-boilered. The jury
returned a verdict of “accidental death” and recommended
more careful maintenance in the future.
Over three hundred people turned out for Frederick Mynott’s
funeral held on June 18th, 1904. The service was conducted
by the local vicar, the Reverend John Longe. The Cambridge
Daily News journalist described the service as a very moving
occasion and wrote, “The sweet voices of the boy choristers
were interspersed with the audible sobbing of the many persons
in the sympathetic assembly.” The gravestone can still
be seen today in the section of the churchyard nearest to
the Camping Close.
Frederick Mynott’s parents lived in one of the Catley
cottages situated half way up the track leading to the main
farm. You can just make out the old foundations. Henry Green
set up a special fund to pay for the tombstone and arranged
for the parents to go away for a short break. Some local residents
I have interviewed told me that they could still identify
the exact spot on which this tragic event took place.