Takeley Telephone Exchange  Explosion - Ray Altham's Story

The late Ray Altham lived just a few doors away from the telephone exchange and took a number of photographs of the scene immediately after the explosion. These are the notes he made some time after the event.  

1The date is Wednesday 14th November 1962, the time is 7.30am, the location is the kitchen of the Four Ashes public house in Takeley. Percy Rushen, the landlord of the pub, has just finished his breakfast and realising he can smell gas goes round making sure all his gas taps are turned off: still the smell persists so he decides to telephone the Gas Board.  Having finished the call he has no way of knowing that he is about to make local history. As he puts the telephone down there occurs a shattering explosion which rocks the whole village and is heard for many miles around.


2At this point it would be appropriate to mention that Post Office Telephones, as it was known, had in the fairly recent past as part of the policy of reducing street clutter, re-routed it's previously overhead telephone cables underground and in doing so had laid them adjacent to the elderly and somewhat rusty gas main.  





3It would appear that gas leaking from the decomposing iron pipe had found its way into the telephone cable conduit and thence traveled upwards to fill the local small automatic exchange housed in a modestly sized wooden building sited near the Four Ashes crossroads. The concentration of gas mixed with air, an explosive combination, must have turned the little building into a bomb just waiting for a detonator. The tiny spark from the contacts as they opened when Percy replaced his receiver was all it took and BANG!!!  




The Fire Brigade was soon on the scene and was kept busy as gas was still burning in the underground conduits. At one point a firemen was seen dealing with a manhole cover around the rim of which gas was flaming. As he lifted the cover and allowed air to enter there followed another small explosion underground and all the manhole covers between the crossroads and the village hall were blown into the air!  






As can be seen from photographs taken at the time damage to property in the immediate vicinity was considerable and was comparable to the effect of a wartime bomb with blast damage to many roofs and numerous windows blown in and ceilings brought down.  





6Almost miraculously there were no fatalities and apart from a few cuts from broken glass no injuries of any significance.










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