All Fall Down: What was the Hollinwell Mystery?

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NIA JONES tells us about the mysterious Hollinwell Incident….

The Hollinwell Incident was one of the most frightening incidents ever in Britain
The Hollinwell Incident was one of the most frightening incidents ever in Britain

Infamously referred to in the British media as “The Hollinwell Incident”, the exact cause of what transpired on July 13th, 1980 in a Holliwell field just outside Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire is a long debated mystery.

To this day the incident remains unexplained by the local community and experts alike.

Beginning like any typical summer’s day; the gala showground was set for a junior jazz marching band competition, children from all over the East Midlands came to attend the event.

Soon after the festivities started; around 300 children began to collapse one by one, then in pairs and ultimately in clusters, much like “ninepins” according to witnesses.

The scene quickly resembled a battlefield, some of the children were vomiting, their eyes and noses streaming, others remained flat unconscious, and the adults panicked at the sight of their children strewn across the grass. Bystanders and officials were terrified at what they saw and an official investigation to find the root cause soon ensued.

Perhaps it was a gas leak, some contamination in the local water supply? Maybe a gross human error, or was it the pesticides sprayed in the nearby crop fields? An inquiry into those sources were said to have been thoroughly checked by their companies and no irregularities were reported.

So what could cause so many children to get sick and just collapse in unison? Though most recovered quickly from their symptoms, only nine children were admitted to the local Mansfield hospital overnight, none of the children reported any lasting or permanent effects from the strange incident.

The Hollinwell Incident

After a brief investigation the official verdict was mass hysteria, some commentators remarked that this kind of hysteria had not seen since the days of the Beatles concerts.

The Hollinwell Incident certainly did display some of the characteristics associated with the phenomenon, common symptoms of mass hysteria include, fainting, headaches, vomiting and malaise, the majority of incidents last just a few hours..

Mass hysteria outbreaks are usually sparked off by a specific event which then triggers a domino effect of anxiety. But why would the children’s participation in a jazz marching band competition in Nottinghamshire have the same effect as a Beatles concert?

Who knew that blowing a kazoo could be so overwhelming?

Research around 20 years later discovered that the pesticide Tridemorph, (which was considered harmless at the time) was sprayed on the field itself some time earlier.

Was crop pesticide responsible for mass hysteria?

Now banned by the Government the W.H.O. classifies Tridemorph as a Class 2; ‘moderately hazardous’ pesticide – It certainly can cause irritation to the skin and eyes if in contact, and is harmful if ingested.

So if crop pesticide could bring on some of the symptoms, what caused the collapse, and why was it just the children? Was it really a case of mass hysteria or something more even sinister?

Theories have surfaced involving food poisoning, radio waves, radiation, extra-terrestrial and paranormal interference, even mass demonic possession.

Many local people were and still are deeply suspicious of the official inquiry’s conclusions, the controversial Hollinwell incident is one of the most frightening mysteries ever witnessed in Britain – and one which we will  never really be able to fully solve.

Watch Hollinwell Incident Video


  1. What was the weather like? If it was hot, could the heat and the exhaustion of the children from their trip to the festival and then playing for 90 minutes cause a sudden attack of tiredness and fatigue?

    • Wikipedia hints at that – “Around 500 children from 11 marching bands were in attendance, many of them brought in by coaches from up to 65 kilometres (40 miles) away. With the show scheduled to begin at 9 am, many of the children were tired from their journeys and nervous about performing.”

      The sun wouldn’t be a real problem at 10am in July etc though (would have to be much later in the day for that to happen) – and name the Beatle concert where 2 thirds of the audience collapsed due to hysteria – only a dozen or so used to.

      Making them stand still for ages (in the cold) might cause some to faint – but they were marching about (in July) and had runny eyes etc.

      So I’m with the crop spraying theory myself.


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