From the archive
How the mysterious collapse of nearly 300 young musicians at a rural English fete became one of the most controversial examples of ‘mass hysteria’ ever
Just after 10:30, the children and some adults began collapsing. They were ferried by dozens of ambulances to four local hospitals, where about 259 children were examined and nine were detained overnight. Symptoms included fainting, running eyes, sore throats, dizziness, vomiting, trembling, weakness, numbness and a metallic taste in the mouth… but neither all at once nor all felt by the same person. Besides the felled musicians, 15 adults, two babies and some horses were affected. Horses? We’ll come to that.
Let’s begin with the moment that chaos broke out. An organiser for one of the bands, Terry Bingham, said: “We were ready for the display when one or two children collapsed. Then a few more went, and a few more. We called off the event but others fell as they came out of the arena. Then spectators started dropping. 
Another witness said: “Some kids were catching their friends as they fell, and then they were falling down themselves… No one could understand what was happening.”
One of the girls affected, Petula Merriman, 14, said: “We were on the field in full uniform for an inspection… I’ve never had to stand to attention that long before. As we marched off, I tried to grab hold of my drum but just fell on the floor. My friends were collapsing all around me.” Another of the afflicted, Kerry Elliott, 10, said: “I went all weak and got pains in my stomach and then I fainted. Everyone was falling down and some were crying. My stomach was all tight and aching. I felt better when I came round in hospital.” Kerry’s 7-year-old brother, Steven, was similarly affected. Enid Holmes, secretary of the ‘Creswell Craglanders’, said she had “noticed some children had blobs on their backs and legs” when she loosened their uniforms. Two other bands reported water-filled blisters – which the locals call ‘blebs’ – on children’s skin.