19th April 1882 - hoax 'dynamite outrage' at Salisbury Cathedral

Explosion in SalisburyOn 19th April 1882 there was a hoax ‘dynamite outrage’ at Salisbury Cathedral[1].

19th Century historian TJ Northey tells the story:

The year 1882 is a period marked by the prevalence all over the country of stupid scares perpetrated by a number of foolhardy and. inconsiderate persons who took advantage of the public state of terror at the time to commit what were called "dynamite outrages," but which were often nothing more than alarming tricks played by wickedly mischievous youths. "On Wednesday morning," said a local paper, dated Tuesday, April 24th, 1882, " the citizens of Salisbury were thrown into a degree of the greatest consternation by the report that there had been made a diabolical attempt to blow up their beautiful Cathedral.

The report was on all hands discredited. It soon proved, unhappily, that either an outrageous hoax had been perpetrated, or that the reported attempt had been actually made, and there were put in circulation various rumours more or less exaggerated."

The Chief Constable (Mr. Mathews) made the following official report in his Occurrence Book :

"At 11 p.m. ou Tuesday P.C. Tomkins was patrolling the Close, when in one of the recesses he discovered a mysterious looking box under the Cathedral wall. He reported the circumstances, after which he returned with Inspector Ainsworth and Mr. Lucas, one of the constables of the Close, to the spot.

The box was found to be in dimensions 18in. by 12in. by 1Oin. of wood, and 1in. thick. It was fastened with two bands of iron hoops and six screws, with a piece of paper inserted in a touch hole at the top, which was sprinkled with white powder.

On being removed and lighted by Inspector Ainsworth, the powder burnt slowly with a hissing noise. The box was at once taken to Superintendent Mathews at the Police Station, and he and Inspector Ainsworth opened it.

A portion of the substance taken from the paper bag under the touch hole, on being tested, exploded slightly. The box was, by direction of Superintendent Mathews, removed to the magazine at the back of the Market House. Afterwards Superintendent Mathews, Inspector Ainsworth, and Mr. Lucas, one of the Close constables, examined the Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace, also the Cloisters, but they failed to make any discovery."

This affair turned out to be a stupid hoax.

The Chief Constable afterwards made an examination of the "infernal machine" in company with Inspector Lansdowne, of Scotland Yard, and found it filled with mould and saw dust, whilst a grim looking bottle with a label, "Nitro-glycerine, to be kept in a cool place, and do not take out the cork," was found to contain gum water !

The Dean and Chapter offered a reward of £50 for the apprehension of the persons guilty of this insane act of "facetiousness," and also for the seizure of the writer of an anonymous threatening letter to the Bishop.[2]

Image Credits

The picture has nothing to do with Salisbury or dynamite. It’s a detail from an illustration from Jules Verne’s novel “Around the Moon” drawn by Émile-Antoine Bayard and Alphonse de Neuville.

Attribution: Henri Théophile Hildibrand [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


[1] The date here is uncertain, but it was close to that date. The extract from Northey says that:

On Wednesday morning,” said a local paper, dated Tuesday, April 24th, 1882, “ the citizens of Salisbury were thrown into a degree of the greatest consternation by the report
I used the Unix ‘cal’ command for April 1882:

Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  
 2  3  4  5  6  7  8
 9 10 11 12 13 14 15  
16 17 18 19 20 21 22 
23 24 25 26 27 28 29  

….which puts April 24th on a Monday. Either Northey is wrong or ‘cal’ is wrong. Or I’m missing something - the most likely explanation.

[2] The Popular History Of Old & New Sarum. T. J. Northy, Published by the Wiltshire County Mirror & Express Co. Ltd., 1897. Available digitally on the Internet Archive - URL: https://archive.org/stream/popularhistoryof00nort/popularhistoryof00nort_djvu.txt.