On Saturday 1 June 1974 the chemical plant at Flixborough exploded resulting in the death of 28 people and seriously injuring 36. It was the largest explosion in peacetime history and it destroyed the village.  The blast waves could be felt in Scunthorpe three miles away and heard in Grimsby 30 miles away.

All Saints Church provided a sanctuary to the villagers in the days after the blast and the church recently updated the pond in the memorial garden to honour those who died with generous funding from the Grange Windfarm Community Benefit Fund. The existing bench was kindly refurbished by Chris Theaker.    Churchwarden Jeremy Jolley said: “That explosion was the darkest day in Scunthorpe’s history. It still affects people today and we have people who come to church to remember their lost loved ones.” The original plaque, listing all those who died, is also sited outside the church and it is looking at how that can also be renovated.

Revd Canon Peter Hearn was the Vicar of Flixborough at the time of the disaster, and only six months into the post. On the day of the explosion he was at home with two of his children when all of the windows in the vicarage blew in and he realised immediately it was something to do with the chemical plant. His wife, Ann, who had been out in Burton-Upon-Stather with another of their children, came home and whilst she and the children left to the safety of Gainsborough, Peter put on his dog collar and went down to Flixborough to see how he could help.

“Wearing a dog collar gets you into places” he said “and it means that people are more likely to talk to you so you can get information”. This was key as the residents were understandably shocked, distressed and angry. Where were they going to live and who would pay for the loss of their home? Their fury was obviously directed at Nypro UK, the chemical company, and Peter was concerned about the future relationship between the villagers and the plant.

Peter said: “This was a huge disaster, many died and the village was completely flattened so there were a lot of media in the area looking for stories. On the Monday the local authority called a meeting for the residents to take place outside the pub.  All the journalists were there with the villagers and people were very angry and it quickly descended into chaos. I saw a solution and so I took the villagers to All Saints Church and closed the doors to everyone else.

“It gave us a space in which to think about what people really needed to know which was generally about legal matters and insurance; so I established a link with a solicitor and another one with the council and took on the role of being the liaison point between the villagers and other organisations and started to get answers.

“Right after the explosion the village was evacuated and people were taken to a college in Scunthorpe so I worked with the Emergency Services and the Local Authority to help to account for everyone.  It’s said that it takes two years to get to know people in your parish and for them to get to know you. I got to know everyone in six weeks. Everyone rallied around and the help was amazing. 

“Amongst the anger and despair there was hope as we received so many donations from people as cash, furniture and even holidays to help those who were made homeless, it was very touching. Some donations even got to us addressed with just ‘Flixborough’ written on them or ‘Rector of Flixborough’ and they still found their way.  

“It is a blessing from God that the church survived as following the explosion it was inspected by surveyors who said the roof had been lifted off and had then settled down again.  It was a hub for everyone – for information, as a space to both mourn and pray. But people are resilient, the village was rebuilt and they bounced back. Through a terrible tragedy came a strong community and it was my privilege to serve there for 25 years.”