Linton in Pictures
A History of Linton
in Photographs
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CATLEY 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 mansion house.

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 end!

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.