The Hollinwell Incident

Hollinwell is an area in North Nottinghamshire in proximity to the ex-mining town Kirkby-in-Ashfield. Perhaps it’s main claim to fame is a fine golf club and course of some considerable repute – that and a famous mystery still unsolved to this day.

The ‘Hollinwell Incident’ as it became known happened in July 1980 and people have been trying to understand what happened ever since. It was a story that reached the national media and one still enshrouded in mystery.

The story concerns a Summer marching band competition at a showground in the area. During the gala day approximately 300 children suddenly collapsed during the festivities. Observers likened it to ‘a battlefield’ and spoke of children ‘going down like ninepins’. At first children began to collapse in ones and twos but this quickly soon accelerated into dozens. Aghast spectators were bewildered at the dramatic scene, not comprehending what was unfolding in front of them. Children were scattered about the grass unconscious or vomiting and with noses and eyes streaming in a horrific scene.

Some of the first movements after the day were by the water companies checking that the local supply was not contaminated. Other theories considered a gas leak, radio waves and even a UFO intervention. Most of the youngsters recovered rapidly afterwards with only nine children being admitted to a local hospital.

As media outlets voraciously researched the incident a common theory became that crop spraying was to

Distressed and unconscious children at Hollinwell Showground
Distressed and unconscious children at Hollinwell Showground

blame. Shortly afterwards an official enquiry concluded that mass hysteria was the cause and this theory remained for more than twenty years until local television began delving into the mystery once more.

It’s since been discovered that chemicals containing tridemorph, since banned,  were possibly sprayed on the field priorly. Such a constituent became forbidden due to being an irritant to eyes and skin. Could such a chemical have caused the enormous drama on that show ground that day? The passing of time has made an accurate assessment difficult.

Another popular theory is that the incident was caused by mass hysteria amongst the children. Medical knowledge tells us that this type of reaction can cause fainting, nausea, malaise and convulsions amongst other symptoms. Interestingly an outbreak of mass hysteria can be created by a specific incident leading to anxiety. They are also usually relatively short-lived. Certainly Hollinwell that day manifested many commonalities with known symptoms.

What is left all these years later are those two main theories about what was a most terrifying day for the people of the area, and those who had travelled from far afield to participate and spectate at the competition. Crop spray poisoning or mass hysteria. Some believe that blaming the cause on mass hysteria is merely a cover up for the children being poisoned. One individual who actually took part in the events pointed to the fact that the (less susceptible) adults and small babies were also affected and that the cause of their problems was unlikely to be mass hysteria. A fair point.

However, no medical problems have been reported immediately afterwards nor since that time which would corroborate the theory that crop spraying was not the culprit that day.

Perhaps we will never know what really was the cause of the mass confusion in Hollinwell that day during the Summer of 1980. Was there a cover up? Do either of those common explanations adequately offer any clarity into what really did happen?

The mystery continues…

7 Replies to “The Hollinwell Incident”

  1. I was there with the creswell craglanders and I had not eaten so food poisoning couldn,t be the blame.the feelings I got leading up to collapsing were the strangest I have experienced and never felt like it since

  2. Very interesting and intriguing stuff, Julia, thanks for your comments. I have passed on to you via email, the email address of Clare Little from ITV who is researching the story of Hollinwell.

    Best wishes


  3. Hi Julia, I wondered if you might be interested in talking to me about your experience – do drop me an email, it would be great to hear from you as we’re really keen to explore what happened that day in our programme. Thanks, Clare

  4. hi. I never got an email but I will talk to you about that day and hope I can help you with the real details of that day. all the children were terrified and the sight that was all around them were that we were all dying.

  5. you can email me or call because even now there is no definite cause for what happened that day. the people who were there were frightened. everyone was dropping to the floor and some band members were only 5 years old. i can still remember that day as it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.mass hysteria, ufo, crop spray? there is still no reason or explanation of what happened that day and nbody thought it important enough to continue the investigation to find the cause. maybe there will never be one but one thing i know for sure, many of us believed we were going to die in the field that day.i never marched again in fear of it recurring and it wasn’t a chance i was willing to take

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