The Unexplained: The Mysterious Hollinwell Incident

What caused almost 300 children and adults to suddenly fall with an illness no one could explain Photo: Birmingham Live

The show was well underway when the unimaginable happened. The children started falling over like dominoes.

It all happened at about ten-thirty on the morning of July 13, 1980, in Hollinwell, near Kirby-in- Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England.  People were gathered at the Hollinwell Showground to participate in an annual show.

This year, the Forest League and Juvenile Jazz Bands were also in attendance putting on a charity show with a Junior Brass and Marching Band competition.

Over 500 children came from all over the Midlands to compete.  They arrived in coaches and buses and they had representatives from eleven marching bands.

The competitions started at nine o’clock.  The children competing were tired from the journeys and nervous about performing.  The show went on and was well underway when the unimaginable happened—the children started falling over like dominoes.

Sara Marie Hogg

They collapsed and fell to the ground.  Adults went to help the fallen children and more began to fall all around.  Over 300 children collapsed.   It was no childish prank.  Some were screaming and crying.  Many complained of burning eyes and throats.  A few vomited.  Most had headaches and body twitches.  “My arms and legs felt as if they had no bones,” a girl complained.

Most of the victims were children, but a few adults and babies were stricken.  One report said that some horses were taken ill.  The humans stricken were helped to get to four area hospitals, including Queen’s Medical Center.  Most of them were released that day, but nine of them were kept overnight or longer.

They were released because nothing at all could be found wrong with them.  No diagnosis could be made.  There was only conjecture, flying all about:  was it food poisoning?

No, but an ice cream vendor was almost lynched before that could be ruled out.

Was it radio waves?


Was it the effects of pesticide spraying nearby?  Almost positively not.  The illnesses could not be pinned on any of these things.  There were investigations that lasted over twenty years.  They all came to the same conclusion.  It was none of these things that caused the illness.  It was labeled as mass hysteria.

The conclusion that it was mass hysteria did not sit well with the victims who argued that they did not imagine anything and that their symptoms were very real.  Many are frustrated to this very day with the lack of any other answers.

Mass hysteria—also known as epidemic hysteria, or psychogenic illness—can be defined as a constellation of symptoms of organic illness that is not an organic illness, having an unidentifiable cause.  It occurs between two or more people in the same time frame in the same general location.

The victims of the Hollinwell Incident are convinced they did not have mass hysteria.

What was it?

Will we ever know?

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song, a mystery. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

Sara Marie Hogg

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