Tragedy of how major explosions at Sheffield gasworks and British Steel just months apart killed eight in 1970s

An explosion at a Sheffield gasworks killed six men and injured many 48 years ago, the first of two fatal industrial tragedies just months apart.

Friday, 12th November 2021, 9:51 am

The blast at East Midlands Gas Board works on Effingham Street on October 24, 1973 blew apart a huge disused tank.

The six men who died were William Donaldson, Cyril Kennedy, John Lomas, Patrick Sleight, Harry Smith and Harry Wilson.

Father-of-three Mr Donaldson died on his wedding anniversary. His widow, Ella, told reporters: “I can’t believe he isn’t coming home.

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An aerial view of the aftermath of the explosion at Effingham Street Gas Works, Sheffield in October 1973 that damaged properties in a quarter-mile radius. Six workers were killed and many were injured

"He was a quiet man, he lived for his family and his garden.”

Newspapers also reported that Mr Sleight was a father of six. They also said that relatives tried to contact his widowed mother, who he lived with at the time, on holiday in Spain to tell her of the tragedy.

Reports in The Star in 1973 said there was "a huge flame like a volcano, it must have been a sheet 200ft high”.

An eyewitness added: “I have never seen an atomic bomb, but that must be what it is like.”

A mobile crane which was shattered by the explosion at Effingham Street Gas Works, Sheffield in 1973. Firefighters were still trying to free the body of the crane operator who was one of six men killed in the blast

Several cars were badly crushed and more than 50 showered with debris.

Police described one worker, 31-year-old Derek Copley, as “the luckiest man alive”. He had nipped to a corner shop for a sandwich when disaster struck.

The tank was being converted to hold diesel oil and contractors had been removing water from it.

The contractors had not realised the tank still contained some highly flammable liquid and used a flame cutter.

Vehicles overturned by the fatal October 1973 explosion at Effingham Street Gas Works, Sheffield

An inquest reached verdicts of accidental death.

In 2018 the National Grid unveiled a memorial near the war memorial on Effingham Street.

Firefighters killed by steelworks blast

Another fatal accident took place in February 1974 at British Steel’s Tinsley Park Works on Shepcote Lane.

A disused tank at Effingham Street Gas Works, Sheffield that blew up, damaging properties in a quarter-mile radius. Six men were killed

Five fire engines had been called after bricks came away from a furnace wall and molten iron oxide slag began to leak on to the floor.

The incident was quickly dealt with but without warning there was a massive explosion, injuring 11 firefighters and two British Steel workers.

Two firefighters died of their injuries.

Paul Parkin, aged 27, and colleague Bob Smith, 47, were trying to cool the overheating furnace when it blew up.

The blast was so severe it was heard more than half a mile away and described as “sounding just like a bomb”.

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Cars covered in rubble after an explosion at Effingham Street Gas Works, Sheffield in October 1973 that killed six men

In 2014, Paul Parkin’s family received a posthumous bravery award for him from the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun Peter Rippon.

He had two children and a baby on the way when tragedy struck.

Both firefighters already had rooms named in their honour at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s city centre headquarters on Eyre Street.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Shaw said: "I know Paul will never be forgotten by his family and friends who knew and loved him.

“It is just as important for it to be known that Paul’s sacrifice will never be forgotten by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and the people of Sheffield.

“That is why this presentation is important. It shows that, 40 years on, we still remember.”

Sheffield firefighters including steelworks explosion victim Paul Parkin, right, who was killed with colleague Bob Smith in 1974