Memories of a gas explosion that claimed the life of Moulton Seas End mum

The front page of the Spalding Guardian of January 28, 1981.
The front page of the Spalding Guardian of January 28, 1981.
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A daughter has paid tribute to the mum she lost after an horrific gas explosion at her home in Moulton Seas End.

Thirty-six years have passed since the tragedy but memories are fresh for Mo Woodhouse (69) who is searching for the long lost school pal she last saw at the funeral of her mum, Ena Berridge, in 1981.

Ena and Jack enjoying a happy day at the seaside.

Ena and Jack enjoying a happy day at the seaside.

Ena died aged 53 in hospital after receiving 85 per cent burns in the explosion at Earlesfield on January 21.

Her husband John, known as Jack, was badly burned going to his wife’s aid.

With 35 per cent burns, Jack survived but life for him – and the family – was never the same again.

Mo recalls the retired chimney sweep was well known.

Ena and Jack as proud grandparents at a family christening.

Ena and Jack as proud grandparents at a family christening.

“He was the first electric chimney sweep around here for miles,” said Mo. “Everyone knew him, bless him.”

It was 9pm when Ena put the kettle on for a cup of tea but a spark ignited gas that had been leaking, unknown to the family, for up to two years.

The tragedy could have claimed more victims because, unusually, the couple’s grandchildren didn’t pop across the road to say “good night”.

At the time, Mo lived in the house opposite and told the Spalding Guardian then that she was putting her three children, Debbie, Gavin and Andrea to bed.

She spoke to her mum soon after the explosion. Speaking in 1981, Mo said: “My mother said she had just put the kettle on for a cup of tea and then she could not remember what happened.

“The children had been watching television, which was lucky in a way because they usually went to their grandparents to say ‘good night’ about that time.”

Neighbour Andrew Dobbie (19), was yards the Berridges’ home calling his girlfriend from a phone box.

At the time, he said: “I was ringing my girlfriend when I heard a terrific bang. It came from the back of the house. I could not see anything but I put the phone down without telling my girlfriend. I dialled 999 and asked them to hang on because I didn’t know what had happened.”

Andrew ran to the back of the house, where he found glass strewn across the garden and curtains on fire.

He then went to the front of the house and gave a door “a shove” so Ena and Jack could escape.

Andrew returned to the phone box to ask for an ambulance and the fire brigade.

Mo, who has since remarried, and her sisters, Linda Hodds and Jenny Hutchinson, spent days at Nottingham City Hospital.

Ena sadly passed away two weeks later.

Mo recalls: “We were there all of the time, me and my two sisters.”

She says her mum came in and out of consciousness and knew her family were by her side.

Mo said: “Mum was a lovely lady and she would help anybody.

“She was just a normal village girl. She never moved out of the village and stayed in Moulton Seas End all of her life.

“Dad was maimed for the rest of his life. He came to live with me and he couldn’t do anything for himself. Eventually he got a bit better and he managed to get out and about again.”

She said his main comfort was talking on his CB (citizens’ band) radio, using the handle (name) Henpecked.

Sometimes he would talk to her about the tragedy that claimed Ena’s life.

“It was just the normal sort of thing,” said Mo. “He talked about ‘if he had done this, if he had done that’ and asked why did mum have to die.”

Jack had retired through ill health before the tragedy and passed away aged 69 in October, 1989.

He gave evidence at an inquest into his wife’s death.

Jack told police that he rushed into the kitchen, which was in darkness but for a few flames, and could hear his wife “moaning”.

His statement continued: “I tried to get my wife out of the back door, but it was too hot and my hands kept peeling.”

An inquest in May that year heard the couple had lived with a smell of gas without calling in an expert to find the cause.

That mistake proved fatal when a spark from an electric kettle ignited the gas and an explosion ripped through their home.

Jack Berridge told the inquest “there was always a smell of gas”.

He said: “The wife used to complain about it, but I thought it was just a normal gas smell.”

A new gas cooker was installed at the couple’s home two years previously but the 30-year-old Calor gas system was not replaced.

An accident investigator for Calor group, John Tickner, said the regulator on one of two gas cylinders connected to the system was out of date.

He said: “It was not fitted with a non-return valve and this caused a build-up of pressure which ruptured the diaphragm and leaked gas into the air.

“Had it been a modern valve the accident would never have happened.” The Coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.

• Maureen’s old school pal was with her at Gleed Girls’ School, in Spalding, and known then as Jill Danskin.

Her first married name was Calvert and she married again, perhaps to a Patterson or Pattinson. Jill or anyone who knows Jill can call Mo on 07565 722859.