Today marks the 100th anniversary of the fire and explosion at the Brunner-Mold munitions factory in Silvertown, East London. Later known as the ‘Silvertown Explosion‘, the devastation caused by the igniting of 50 tons of TNT caused 73 people to lose their lives, including firemen who had attended the initial fire, and 400 people injured including 94 seriously. Some 900 homes were destroyed as well as factories and other buildings. About 65,000 properties sustained some damage and the blast was heard as far afield as Norwich and Southampton with shockwaves felt in Essex. The repair and clean-up costs were estimated to be in the region of £250,000 which was a great deal of money at the time.

Sheds Royal Victoria Dock
Sheds destroyed Royal Victoria Dock                                        (c) Museum of London

In her recollections, the indomitable Commissioner Catherine Bramwell-Booth (1883-1987) then based at the Salvation Army training school in Clapton, recalls gathering together a group of Cadets and marching in the direction of the ‘dreadful noise’ armed with jars of Bovril and kettles etc. for making hot drinks. After ‘negotiating’ their way through the police cordon they set about offering comfort and support to those local people affected by the explosion including persuading one elderly man to evacuate his house which was now sans roof ‘for the sake of his cat’. Commissioner Bramwell-Booth discusses the incident here (from 23.24).

The Brunner-Mold factory was located on Royal Wharf at the bottom of Silvertown near to the ‘Pleasure Gardens’ and the Thames Barrier Park. It was engaged in making chemicals but with the onset of Total War and despite the protests of its Directors regarding safety, had been pressed into making munitions. A memorial to the victims is located on the large site which has recently been redeveloped into housing becoming a ‘new waterside village for London’.

Diamond Geezer wrote about his recent visit to the site here. (Scroll down to January 19 2017)


The Slvertown Explosion 1917

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