The Silvertown Explosion – share your memories

Do your family have any connection to the Silvertown Explosion of 1917?  The One Show are looking for people to interview for a forthcoming programme and would love to hear from anyone with a personal connection to the tragedy.

PP memorial

The explosion happened on 19 January 1917 at 6.52pm, claiming the lives of 73 people.  The Brunner Mond factory had been turned over to war work, and was producing TNT.

Oliver Lyle described the impact at Tate & Lyle’s Plaistow Wharf factory:

“Brunner Mond, now I.C.I., half a mile down the road, were producing TNT. A fire broke out in their factory and after about 20 minutes reached a vessel containing 16 tons of TNT which exploded. The damage was enormous. The pressure wave went out in strange lines, one of which went right along the Edgware Road breaking windows as far as Maida Vale. At Plaistow all large windows were broken and every roof was lifted and dropped down out of position with or without its slates or tiles. It took only a few days to get straight enough to start melting again because the process buildings were so strong and their window panes so small that few were broken.

After the explosion

“The loss of life in the district was very great but not nearly so great as might have been expected because everyone knew what was going on inside Brunner Mond’s and everybody who could was going up the road as fast as possible.

“In 1906 we had built the big ferroconcrete chimney, 25′ high and 20′ in diameter. It very soon cracked all over so in 1909 steel bands 3″ wide and 1″ thick were fitted every three feet. After the explosion it was seen that all the bands had dropped 3” quite evenly. It was assumed that the passing compression wave had compressed the chimney by closing the cracks sufficiently to allow the bands to drop freely.

“The compression wave struck the big gas-holder at the South Metro­politan Gas Works at Blackwall. The top plating rolled up like the shaving from a plane and the heat from the tearing metal ignited the gas so that 12,000,000 cubic feet of gas burned in a few seconds. This caused the great glow that was seen for 20 miles round.”

If you have a personal connection to the Silvertown Explosion, and would be willing to speak to The One Show, please contact Will Steel

 

12 Comments

  1. My grandmother had a laundry business in Silvertown and she used to tell us of how she took in many injured people on that day to help them. They were lying on the ironing boards and the floor.

    • We are about to run a project on the Silvertown Explosion at Eastside Community Heritage to mark the 100 year anniversary of the tradegy on 19th January 2016. If anyone has any family memories or histories then we’d love for you to get in touch by emailing lydia@ech.org.uk or calling 02085533116

  2. My father’s mother and her sisters worked at this factory, and they were all killed. Dad was only a lad (born 1908) he used to meet his mum from work, that day it had already exploded before he left home, he just saw the fire. He was sent to his grandparents, who lived in Coopersale Common, Epping, At the age of 14 he was sent to the Navy as part of their orphan intake, he stayed in the service until 1949. I still have cousins who live in the area, I think Dad was the only one of the siblings who lived away from London (Portsmouth), that was just because of the ships he served on.
    Until I saw the item on “The One Show” I didn’t know the cause of the explosion, or the name of the factory. This has enabled me to find a lot more information about the death of my grandmother and greataunts.

    • My great grandfather was a fireman who was killed at Silvertown. We know nothing about him apart from he was Irish and that he was the father of my grandad, William Rogers. If there are any websites to find out more information I would love it if someone could share this so we can find out a bit more about our family history.

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  4. My great grandfather, William Sinden, was killed in the Silvertown explosition. He was on his way home from work when it happened and they found his body some 3 days after the explosion, under the factory gates. I think he was in his early 50’s.

    19 January is also the date our son was born, tho 1974!

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  6. My great-grandfather, Carl Langer, was a scientist working for Brunner-Mond. When the war department announced their intention of using a redundant part of the factory for explosives production he was a among a number of senior Mond employees who argued against the idea in such a built up area, an argument, alas, he lost….

  7. My NaN born 1897, 26th January….. Worked there…. Don’t know the details. I have a photograph of her and some girls there. Her name, Lillian Emily Webb.

  8. I became interested in the Silvertown explosion while researching my family history as they lived nearby at the time. I am an artist and painted my version of the event. You can see the painting along with a write up of the event at: https://www.katherinexanda.co.uk/paintings/the-silvertown-explosion/

  9. I recently came across the Silvertown book by Melanie McGrath in my local library and then discovered that 19th Jan was the 100 year anniversary of the great fire and explosion in Silvertown! I have been trying to find out more about my maternal grandparents who lived in Cold Harbour Lane about the time of the explosion and it is possible my grandmother worked at the armaments factory where the explosion took place. She was Lorna Bessie White and he was William Henry Hardy and I believe they had a café in Cold Harbour Lane. They married in Coventry in 1918 and lived in Fenny Compton, Warwickshire after that. Another Hardy relation, also William, had a fish and chip shop opposite Tate and Lyles. Does anyone have any information about my grandparents and my other relatives who lived in the East End just after WW1. Thanks Tom.

  10. My Mum’s grandfather, William Lambert, worked at the factory and was killed in the explosion. He was 34 years of age and the father of 5 young children. We know very little about him, other than that only belt was found at what is now the Canning Town flyover (a fair distance away) and possibly the nearest human remains were attributed to him. His death undoubtedly caused great hardship and sorrow to the family, as his wife (my great grandmother) took in washing in exchange for bowls of soup to feed herself and her children, and she herself died just 6 years later from “exhaustion”. It was left to their eldest child, my great aunt, to raise her younger siblings.