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Imperial War Museum War Partnership logoFirst World War - On this day...... 2nd April 1916

 

Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War

On the centenary of their death,
on 2nd April 1916
we remember:

Henry ANDERSON (Oare) chr. 5th April 1891
Arthur William BEESLEY (Teynham) b. 1881
Albert Edward COLE (Oare) b. 1885
Cornelius William TAYLOR (Teynham) b. 1891
Henry Charles WALKER (Oare) b. 1864
Herbert John WOODS (Oare) b. 1891


Mass Grave in Love Lane (B 2040) Cemetery, Faversham

1916 Faversham Explosion - Graves

This tragic accident has been researched and described in a booklet published by the Faversham Society - "Great Explosion at Faversham, 2 April 1916". That booklet (and many more of local interest) can be purchased from the Faversham Society bookshop or inspected online as an article for the Kent Archaeological Society (1984 - Item 27). The article, written by the late Arthur Percival, remains the most authoritative and informative text about this terrible event.

Consequently, with one exception (Cornelius William Taylor), we focus here on censored newspaper reports that could not mention "Faversham". The War Office was very guarded about the loss of explosives manufacturing capacity as this might give comfort to the enemy. We have also added the personal details as far as they can be discovered for men lost from Teynham and Oare. However, because our casualties were civilians, information at the level of the individual is very limited.

To reflect on the jeopardy of this work, we have added reports of prosecutions for carelessness at other times.

Due to censorship, initial reporting surrounding the Cotton Powder Company was a bit mysterious concerning the location and losses involved, even though the location by the loading docks at Uplees was widely known at the time.

At around 1.20pm a fire broke out in some empty sacks. Attempts were made to extinguish the fire but eventually the factory manager ordered an evacuation of the site. Sadly, at 2.20pm fifteen tons of TNT and 150 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded before the evacuation could be completed. The blast caused widespread damage, including broken windows in Southend and the blast 'felt' in Norwich. Remains of some casualties were picked up across surrounding marshes and dykes, but a few were atomised and no remains discoverable. Initially reported as "200 casualties", the final total is not universally agreed. We believe the final death toll was 109 men including the entire Gunpowder Works Fire Brigade, local firemen and ambulance men. Five men of the 4th Buffs were also killed. Several others were spectators who pointedly ignored the warnings given to leave the area. Approximately 100 more people were injured. No female workers perished as they were not allowed to work on Sundays.

This accident remains the most costly in terms of lives in the history of the UK explosives industry.

Burials and Commemoration

On the afternoon of 6 April 1916, a slow procession of 69 coffins proceeded from Faversham Market Square to the Municipal Cemetery in Love Lane where they were buried in a mass grave. Of the 69 bodies, only 34 could be identified, 5 were tentatively identified and the remaining 30 could not be identified. The following week another body was found and also interred in the mass grave.

As some records now stand it appears there are now 74 bodies interred in the mass grave, a further 35 were buried elsewhere at the request of their families. The Memorial is inscribed:

SACRED TO THE
MEMORY OF THE MEN
WHO DIED IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR
COUNTRY 2ND APRIL 1916.
'FATHER IN THY GRACIOUS KEEPING
LEAVE WE NOW THY SERVANTS SLEEPING'

The names of those buried in the mass grave are identified by inscriptions in the boundary stones. The names of those buried elsewhere are inscribed on the stone that sits in front of the memorial cross.


NEWSPAPER CUTTINGS


The Dover Express reported on Friday 7th April 1916.

"POWDER WORKS EXPLOSIONS.- 200 CASUALTIES.-ACCIDENTAL FIRE IN A KENT FACTORY.
Press Bureau, Tuesday.
The Ministry of Munitions reports with great regret that during the week-end a serious fire broke out in a powder factory in Kent, which led to a series of explosions in the works.
The fire, which was purely accidental, was discovered at mid-day, and the last of the explosions took place shortly after two o’clock in the afternoon. Approximate number of casualties – 200.
The funeral of a number of victims of the explosions of the Kent powder factory took place on Thursday, all being buried in one large grave. The Archbishop of Canterbury conducted the committal service, and minsters of various denominations participated in the service. The Archbishop said that the relatives had died as bravely as our soldiers and sailors. There was a long procession from the town to the cemetery. Three volleys were fired over the grave, and the “Last Post” was sounded.
The victims include several people from the Dover district, among these being Mr. Sidney William Holbourn [aged 38], son of Mr. Edward Holbourn, of 24, Granville Street, Dover.
Another victim is Mr. W.E. Legge, who was one of the Deacons of the Eythorne Baptist Church.
Mr. Legge was held in high esteem in the district and great sorrow is manifest and deep sympathy felt for the widow and child. The funeral will take place at Eythorne on Saturday at 2 o’clock.
Mr. G.F. Robus, of Eythorne, is also among those who met their death by the Disaster, and he leaves a widow and three children. He is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Robus of 24, Westbury Road, Dover."

{Other newspapers reported on their local losses to this explosion; workers were drawn from Dover to Tunbridge Wells, Ticehurst, Maidstone and further afield}


South Eastern Gazette reported on 8th April 1916:

"THE KENT EXPLOSION – RESULT OF A FIRE - TWO HUNDRED CASUALTIES. Not until Tuesday afternoon was any official announcement made of the home disaster which occurred on Sunday, particulars of which were known generally throughout Kent.
The announcement issued by the Press Bureau is as follows:-
"The Ministry of Munitions reports with great regret that during the week-end a serious fire broke out in a powder factory in Kent, which led to a series of explosions in the works.
The fire, which was purely accidental, was discovered at mid-day, and the last of the explosions took place shortly after two o’clock in the afternoon.
Approximate number of casualties 200"
FUNERAL OF VICTIMS.
The Archbishop of Canterbury took the Committal Service at the interment of some of the victims of the explosion. All were buried in one large grave. Clergymen of the Church of England, Ministers of Nonconformist Churches, and members of the Salvation Army took part. The Primate spoke of the bravery of the victims, who, he said, gave their lives for their friends, as but for their endeavour to limit the fire the loss of life would no doubt have been greater than it was. The ceremony concluded with the firing of three volleys and the sounding of the "Last Post."


Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald reported on 8th April 1916:

"THE TERRIBLE DISASTER OF SUNDAY. – POWDER FACTORY BLOWN UP. – TWO HUNDRED KILLED AND INJURED.
Not until Tuesday afternoon was any official announcement made of the home disaster which occurred on Sunday, particulars of which were known generally throughout Kent.
The following was issued by the Press Bureau, and is all that the newspapers will be allowed to publish respecting the calamity:-

“The Ministry of Munitions reports with great regret that during the week-end a serious fire broke out in a powder factory in Kent, which led to a series of explosions in the works.
The fire, which was purely accidental, was discovered at midday, and the last of the explosions took place shortly after two o’clock in the afternoon.
Approximate number of casualties 200.”

MESSAGE OF SYMPATHY FROM THE KING AND QUEEN.
The following letter has been sent by the King and Queen to Lord Harris, the Vice-Lieutenant of the County of Kent:-

Buckingham Palace,
April 4, 1916

The King and Queen were indeed deeply grieved to hear of the disastrous explosion at the powder factory, involving the loss of many valuable lives and injuries to several workmen. Their Majesties join in the universal sympathy which will be felt for those who have lost relatives and friends, and hope for an early restoration to health of those who have been injured.
The King appreciates the prompt manner in which the mayor and local staff rendered assistance to the sufferers.
Yours sincerely,
CLIVE WIGRAM.

FUNERAL OF THE VICTIMS – ARCHBISHOP’S TRIBUTE TO THE DEATH.
The funeral of a number of victims of the explosions at the Kent Powder Factory took place yesterday, all being buries in one large grave. The Archbishop said the relatives had the consolation that these men had died as bravely as our soldiers and sailors.
There was a long procession from the town to the cemetery.
Three volleys were fired over the grave and the “Last Post” was sounded."


Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald reported a stern rebuke on 8th April 1916:

"TAKING MATCHES ON TO EXPLOSIVE WORKS. HARD CASE AGAINST A WORKMAN. – A BUFF FINED.
At the Faversham County Police Court on Friday in last week, before Mr. C. Cremer (in the chair) and Mr. E. Chambers, Ernest Hunt, an electrician’s mate, who is in the employ of a firm of contractors at the Harty Ferry extension works was charged with taking matches on to the Cotton Powder Co’s works contrary to the regulations on the previous day: Prisoner pleaded not guilty.
Lieutenant Chant, one of the managers, stated that about 3pm on the previous day he was on a certain part of the Harty Ferry extension works and had suspicion that prisoner and another man in a certain compartment were smoking. On entering he saw prisoner with a pipe in his mouth, but he denied smoking. He showed witness his pipe, which had burnt tobacco in it, and which in witness’s opinion had recently been lit. Witness took prisoner to P.C. Smith and he admitted having matches on him. Only certain foremen were allowed to have matches for lighting fires etc.
P.C. Smith stated that he searched prisoner and found a box containing eight matches. Prisoner told him that he wanted the matches to light his blow lamp and could not do without them.
Prisoner, on oath, stated that in his work he had to use a blow lamp for sweating wires to ensure contact. He considered matches part of his tools and they were kept in the tool chest. They were taken into the works before the notices were put up on December 31st. He had never taken any matches past the guard since the notices were put up.
William George, an electrician, corroborated and added that they were not supplied with any artificial ignition or informed where they could get their lamps lit.
The Chairman said the Bench felt it was a very difficult case to adjudicate upon. They were most anxious to help the company to carry out the regulations, but after hearing the evidence they could not but come to the conclusion that the matches were taken into the factory prior to December 31st when the notices were put up. It also seemed to them necessary for electricians to have matches for their work, and, therefore, they must dismiss the case, but they thought some means should be devised whereby workmen should have tools provided so that matches would not be necessary in their particular work.
Lieut. Chant stated he felt it was a hardship to prisoner and he was glad of the Court’s decision, but he was obliged to bring the case forward under the regulations. He might say they add they had made provision to meet the difficulty, and it was the fault of the contractors that the regulations had not been obeyed. Prisoner had an excellent character for work and he felt that he was carrying out his legitimate trade. Alfred Short, a private in the Supernumerary Company of the 4th Buffs, who had been working for the Explosive Loading Co. for about six months was charged with a similar offence. He pleaded not guilty.
William Bliss, time keeper, stated that at 7 o’clock that morning he saw the Explosive Loading Co’s lorry draw up full of men. He went out to search them and while doing so prisoner tried to get by. Witness asked him if he had got any matches, but got no response. While searching him he pulled out the box of matches produced from his right hand trousers pocket. Witness did not know that prisoner was deaf.
Prisoner stated that he did not hear witness ask him if he had any matches. When he began searching him he knew what he wanted and handed the matches to him. He had no intention of taking them onto the works.
In reply to Mr. Foley (foreman) prisoner said he told him that he forgot about the matches till he felt his pocket.
The Bench imposed a fine of £1 or seven days’.
Prisoner said he only got 6s. a week military pay.
Mr. Foley said they would not take him back at the works, but they could not stop him going on guard as the officer then became responsible.
The Bench gave prisoner a month to find the money.”


Dover Express reported on 28th April 1916:

"KENT EXPLOSION CASUALTIES.-The latest estimate of the casualties arising from the explosion at a powder factory in Kent on April 2 was given by Mr. Herbert Samuel yesterday in a written answer to a question by Mr Neville.
Mr Samuel said: "The number of casualties though large, was happily not so great as the first estimate. One hundred and six men were killed and sixty-six injured. No women were killed or injured. With the exception of five men belonging to the military guard all the killed were employed in the works affected by the explosions. The majority of them were rendering assistance when killed and the rest were present as spectators. No one was killed or injured while engaged in his ordinary work. Those who were present as spectators were warned to leave and would have ample time to do so."


Kent Messenger reported on 29th April 1916:

"The Kent Powder Works Explosion.- 106 killed and 66 injured.- Mr. Herbert Samuel stated in the House of Commons on Wednesday, in answer to a question concerning the fire and explosions at a Kent powder factory on Sunday, the 2nd inst., that the number of casualties, although large, was not so great as the first estimate. One hundred and six men were killed and 66 injured. No women were killed or injured. With the exception of five men belonging to the military guard, all the killed were employed in the works effected by the explosions. The majority of them were rendering assistance when they were killed, and the rest were present as spectators. No one was killed or injured while engaged in his ordinary work. Those who were present as spectators were warned to leave, and would have had ample time to do so."


Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on 29th April 1916.

"KENT EXPLOSION CASUALTIES.- THE OFFICIAL FIGURES AT LAST.- 172 MEN KILLED AND INJURED. "The number of casualties on this occasion, although large, was happily not so great as the first estimate. One hundred and six men were killed and sixty-six injured. No women were killed or injured. With the exception of five men belonging to the military guard all the killed were employed in the works affected by the explosions. The majority of them were rendering assistance when killed and the rest were present as spectators. no one was killed or injured while engaged in his ordinary work. Those who were present as spectators were warned to leave and would have ample time to do so.
Steps will be taken as speedily as possible to bring the essential conclusions and recommendations resulting from the inquiry to the notice of all firms engaged in the manufacture of similar explosives."
*It was officially announced that the approximate number of casualties was 200."


Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on 27th May 1916, recorded

"that the Salvation Army Band will give an open air programme of music in the Horsebridge Road at 8 o'clock on Sunday evening, when a collection will be taken for the Kent Explosion Widows and Orphans' Distress Fund."


Creekside Casualties - Teynham and Oare


Creekside casualties came from Oare and Teynham. In alphabetical order:-

Henry Anderson (Oare)

The Anderson family of Oare had at least four generations working in the Oare Gunpowder Works. Henry Anderson was born in Oare (christened - 5th April 1891) to Frank Anderson (Brickfield Labourer) and his wife, Susannah Elizabeth Anderson. His family were living in Russell Place, Oare at that time. By 1901, the family were registered in Church Road, Oare. Henry had an elder sister, Fanny born in late 1889 (died a spinster on 11th June 1931, in Oare) and one surviving younger sister, May Elizabeth, christened on 3rd June 1894 in Oare. There was another child (Louisa Florence) but she died (12th November 1892) in the month she was born.

By the time of the 1911 census, the family circumstances had changed significantly. Both Henry and his sister, May, still lived with their mother and father, but they were now living at The Vicarage, Oare (the vicar was Alfred Dyson, single, born in Cambridge, England). Henry's father was still a labourer, but his mother was the Housekeeper in the vicarage and May Elizabeth was a Domestic Servant. Henry now answered to the name "Harry", which was commonly interchangeable, he is single and works at the Cotton Powder Works. The gunpowder works was a major employer for those living in Oare/Luddenham, Teynham/Conyer and Faversham and this explains why his grandfather (Daniel) and his great-grandmother (Harriott) were Powder Mill workers with others in each generation also working in the Powder Mills.

Tragically, 40 years earlier, Frank's grandfather (Daniel) also died from injuries sustained at the Gunpowder Works where he was Foreman. Daniel died soon after receiving extensive burns to his upper and lower torso after an explosion on 23rd December 1868. See below, under "Artefacts", for newspaper extracts that describe the accident and the several deaths resulting from burns.

Arthur William Beesley (Teynham)

Arthur William BEESLEY is recorded on the Teynham (St. Mary's) Church Memorial Plaque and the Gunpowder Mill Burial Plot, Faversham Cemetery. Sometimes recorded as simply William Beesley, he was born in 1881 (registered early 1882) in Bermondsey (Diocese of Southwark), London and died at the age of 35 years. His father, Henry Thomas, was a bricklayer who married Eliza Barrett, daughter of waterman, James Barrett. On marrying Eliza, Henry Thomas moved from Warwickshire to Rotherhithe, London.

Before working at the Gunpowder Mill, Arthur William Beesley was a cowman, living in Payden Street, Wychling, with his wife, Elsie Kate Smith (born in Frinsted) and three children - Arthur William, Edith, and Harry Thomas. Arthur and Elsie married in the third quarter of 1907 in Hollingbourne District. We don't know when the family moved to Teynham, nor their address whilst there. Elsie's father was a local agricultural labourer - carter on a farm, living in East Lenham Cottages.

Albert Edward Cole (Oare)

Albert came from a very large extended local family with his father's generation born in and around Graveney, but Albert set up his marital home in Oare. His father was the eldest of 10 children to George Robert and Ellen Cole - nearly all of whom were born in Graveney and lived their early lives there or nearby. In earlier years, Albert's father lived in Abbey Street, Faversham, working as a maltster who later became Farm Bailiff on Provender Farm. Albert's grandfather, George Cole (b. Sheldwich) was a farm labourer living on Seasalter Road, Faversham, later moved as a labourer to Church Farm, Harty (Isle of Sheppey), and then became Farm Bailiff on Marsh Farm, Luddenham. This extended family, over three generations, barely moved a greater distance than 6 miles in any direction.

In 1881, George Robert Cole (Albert's father) was a maltster lodging in 56 Abbey Street, Faversham, next door to the Payne Family, whose daughter, Esther (dressmaker), he married on 27th November 1881. He died at the relatively young age of 40 years.

In 1901, aged 16, Albert Cole is recorded in census records as a labourer in the Cordite Department of the Cotton Powder Works. His father had died, leaving his mother to head the household now living in No2. Pheasant Cottages, Oare. In 1911, Albert is still a Gun Cotton worker. Albert was born in Goodneston, but by 1911 lived in No.4 Church Cottages, Church Row, Oare, with his wife, Sarah Jane (aged 27; born in nearby Davington). They didn't have any children by 1911; we don't know if there were any children at a later day. By the outbreak of war Albert found himself in one of the reserved occupations as an experienced munitions worker.

Two of Albert's brothers died in WW1: Walter David (d.18/11/1916; 10th Battalion, London Regiment) and Charles Robert (d.23/11/1918; 26th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers)

Albert Edward Cole

Cornelius William Taylor (Teynham/Conyer)

We benefit from the kindness of a descendant - Emma Knight - who has shared material about Cornelius and his extensive family - some of whom served in WW1 (and survived). With this additional information, Cornelius's family story has its own page here.

The extended Taylor family generations tell a fascinating story because they provide 'touchstones' for the growth and decline of our most significant local industries. The parents of Cornelius, William and Adelaide (who raised 13 surviving children out of 16 born), started out from Bapchild and Eastling respectively. But with the severe decline in local agricultural employment over many decades with farming innovation and mechanisation, it was natural for William and Adelaide (and many in their generation) to move their family to find work. This pressure led them to Conyer/Teynham, which sat at the heart of a thriving cement and brick industry alongside the Swale arterial creeks and the new railway, which opened access to new industry and opportunities. The railway's arrival also sounded the death-knell for the once thriving coach and van trade between Dover and London (damaging the economies of Greenstreet and Sittingbourne).

The whole story can be read on the "Taylor Family" page with its collection of images and stories of family members who served and survived WW1.

Sadly, it appears that Cornelius's grandfather, also William, ended his days in the Faversham workhouse, a pauper at the age of 61 (1861). William's eldest daughter, Mary (unmarried and 40 years old), had for many years been his "house keeper" (1851 Census entry) and was also found in the Faversham Workhouse at that date (1861). Follow this link for more....on the story of Cornelius's family......


Henry Charles Walker (Oare)

Described as an "acid condenser" (fn1) employed by the Cotton Powder Company (Gun Cotton Factory) in the 1911 census, Henry was one of the older victims of the accident at the age of 47 - a valuable and experienced man in the Gun Cotton industry and too old to join up. We have not been able to find out much about him. Born around 1864 (Battersea), Henry Charles came from a local Faversham family and it is around Faversham that Henry lived out most of his life. At this time, he and his wife, Christiana/Christine (42), were living at No.11 Cyprus Road, Faversham. They had been married for 18 years without any children - interestingly, his wife was born in Germany; did this affect them during the war and is this why her name changes from Christiana to Christine?

Earlier, in 1901, Henry Charles (37) and Christiana (32) lived in No.2 Amos Cottages, Oare, married to Christiana (32) ("German subject") and a "labourer" in the Cotton Powder Works.

Henry Charles was born to, Henry, a painter (born in Faversham around 1840), who was widowed by the time of the 1871 census but is remarried (Sarah A.) by 1881, living in 17 Abbey Street, Faversham. In 1881, Henry Charles had left his family home (before he was 17) but we discover he had a full sister, Edith E (15), who is listed as a "general servant". It was not uncommon for daughters to be so described in census returns. Henry Charles had half-brothers and sisters - Jessie M. (dau. scholar, 5), Francis W. (son, 3), and Lilian (dau. 1) - all born in Faversham.

From marriage records it is possible (but not at all certain) that Henry's mother was Eliza (Wilcox) who married "Henry Walker" on 28th July 1872 in St. John's, Walworth, Surrey, England. Giving her father's name as William Wilcox. This is the best fit that we could find.

Footnote 1:"Acid condenser" in gun cotton (gun powder) production refers to the process of distillation of vapours to capture nitric acid. The term also applies to the chambers used for storage of vitriol liquor. This work environment was potentially very hazardous.


Herbert John Woods (Oare)

In 1890, Herbert was born immediately opposite the Isle of Sheppey in Essex - Shoeburyness. He was the youngest child of Thomas and Suzanah Jones, both of whom were locally born; Thomas was born (1854) in nearby Great Wakering and Suzanah (1855) in Shoeburyness. They married late in 1874.

In the 1891 Census, Herbert had six brothers, William T (16), Ernest (15), Walter (George) (13), Isaac (8), Henry (6), and Arthur J. (2). He also had three sisters, Alice A.A. (12), Emma E (5), and Minnie (4). All born in or near to Shoeburyness.

In the context of how Herbert found himself in Oare in 1911 there is a curious thread in the 1901 Census. In that year, Herbert's father is recorded as widowed and accompanied by Herbert in the household of William John and Alice Ann Edmund/Edmonds (47). William Edmund was a brickfield labourer living in 13 Love Lane, South Shoebury but born in Sittingbourne, Kent. His wife, Alice Ann (nee Maylum) was a laundress on her own account at home, also born in Kent (Preston, near Faversham). In the same household was an adopted son, John Maylum (6), who may have lost his parents. John Maylum is recorded as born in Sittingbourne but the Maylum family has strong associations with the Parish of Lynsted too. It may be that the Edmunds were close friends who were able to place the 12 year old Herbert in the Sittingbourne-Lynsted-Teynham-Faversham area where he could take up brickfield labouring or other opportunities? This is a purely speculative connection.

Also in 1901: Herbert's brother, Arthur, is living with his cousin - Alfred E. Groves and his wife, Emma E (Arthur's sister). Another brother, Henry Woods, has been placed with his Aunt Eliza Holden, a widow, in Shoeburyness.

In any case, by 1911, Herbert Woods is found lodging with brickfield labourer Alfred (60) and his wife Ann Foster (67), at No.2 Russell Place, Oare, near to Faversham. Herbert worked as a labourer in the Gun Cotton/Powder Factory where he perished in the 1916 Explosion.

In the same year, Herbert's father, Thomas Woods, remained a brickfield labourer, boarding with George William Dale in 44 Friars Street, Shoeburyness. Thomas is alone without any of his children who appear to have been parcelled out to relations by 1901.

Herbert's story is typical of many labouring families that lost one of their parents. Either the extended families looked after the younger children or they ended up on Poor Relief. This solution meant that Herbert's father could continue working rather than end up in a Workhouse with his children.


Artefacts


Daniel Anderson's death - newspaper cuttings.

Nine casualties - Oare gunpowder works - 23rd December 1869. Daniel Anderson was Grandfather to Henry Anderson (who was killed in the 1916 Faversham Explosion)

Reported by the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, on 2nd January 1869.

"GUNPOWDER EXPLOSIONS. NINE MEN INJURED. We regret to have to report the occurrence of another explosion at the works of Messrs. Hall and Co, gunpowder manufacturers, which took place on Wednesday. The results are of a serious character, though happily nothing in comparison with those which attended the fatality which happened this time last year, when no less than eleven lives were sacrificed, and we are glad to state that at present, though some of the men injured are badly burnt, there is reason to hope that all of them will ultimately recover. The explosion took place at half past nine o'clock in the press-house at the Davington, or what are more commonly called the Oare Works, the situation of which is so well known that it is unnecessary to describe it.
It appears that the machinery of the works is thoroughly cleansed, or, as the workmen would say, "overhauled," periodically, and the present being a broken or holiday week was devoted to that purpose. No doubt this overhauling was general throughout the entire works, but whether such was the case of not it matters little, and we will confine our attention to the scene of the accident.
The press-house had been swept out, and the powder which exploded, therefore, was very small in quantity, and only that which was left upon the floor and in the chinks and cracks of the building into which no brush can be got. One of the injured men - Thomas Gutteridge, a millwright - was in the act of driving an iron pin or bolt from a portion of the machinery with a copper drift and a hammer of the same metal, and he states that immediately following a stroke of the hammer a flame came from the hole from which he was driving the bolt, and the explosion instantly succeeded. nine men were engaged in the building at the time, and the whole of them were more or less burnt.
As soon as the nature of the accident had been ascertained, medical aid was sent for. The messenger, on passing through the Market Place, met Mr. Spong, surgeon, to whom he communicated the intelligence. Mr. Sherwood, Veterinary surgeon, who happened to be close at hand with is horse and trap, volunteered to drive Mr. Spong to the works, and his offer being accepted that gentleman was quickly at the scene of the explosion. He proceeded at once to a building called the "meal room," whither the injured men, all of whom were able to walk, had been conducted, and was shortly afterwards joined by Dr. Spyers and also by Dr. Gange. No time was lost in dressing the wounds of the sufferers and this having been completed, a van was procured in which the men were conveyed to their respective homes. Subjoined is a list of their names, and the nature of the injuries they sustained:-

  • Daniel Anderson, aged 37, residing at Oare, foreman of the press-house - burnt about the upper and lower extremities and face. [Later in the same page - an inquest: "Another death has resulted from the explosion of gunpowder at the press-house of the Oare Works on Wednesday, the 23rd December. On Sunday morning Daniel Anderson, one of the injured men, expired. He was very badly burnt, but still it was thought at first that he would recover. As, however, in the case of William Wood, reaction suddenly set in, and death shortly afterwards followed. Deceased was about 40 years of age, and he leaves a widow and six children to deplore his loss.
    On Monday T.T.Delasaux, Esq., coroner, attended at the residence of deceased in Oare Street, and took the evidence of William Honess, the foreman of the works, who identified the body of Anderson as that of one of the nine men who were in the press-house at the time of the explosion. The Coroner then signed the order for burial, and adjourned the inquiry till the 20th of January. Mr. Smith, the resident partner of the firm of Messrs. Hall and Sons, and Mr.Vials (for Mr. Tassell, solicitor to the firm) were also in attendance at the inquiry.]
  • Thomas Gutteridge, aged 23, living in South-road, Faversham - badly burnt about the knees, hands, and face.
  • George Gutteridge, 41 years of age, South-road, brother of the above - one foot, both hands and arms, and face burnt.
  • William Manooch, aged 25, St John's-road - burns on the hands, right knee, and both feet.
  • John Ottaway, aged 27, Brents - burnt about the face, arms, hands, and legs.
  • William Saunders, aged 29, South-road - burnt about the face and neck, and upper and lower extremities.
  • Thomas Smith, aged 29, Brents - burns about the face, upper extremities, and lets below the knees.
  • William Allen, 26, Oare - burnt about the upper and lower extremities and face.
  • William Wood, 36, Luddenham - burnt about the body, upper and lower extremities, and face. This is the worst case, none of the others having sustained actual bodily injury. [Later in the same page - an inquest: "We regret to state that the explosion reported above has terminated fatally. In the case of William Wood, of Luddenham, re-action set in, and the poor fellow expired on Thursday afternoon".]

With the exception of of Thomas Gutteridge, all the men are married, and several of them have families.
The damage done to the building is very slight, only a portion of the roof having been blown off, and the machinery remains intact. Dr. Spyers, in his official capacity as certifying surgeon under the new Factory Act, has visited all the sufferers, and will make his report as to their condition, as well as upon other matters connected with the explosion, to the Government, pursuant to the requirements of the Act under this he is appointed."

 


Four Deaths Recorded from explosion of 23rd December 1868

Reported in the Kentish Gazette on 5th January 1869.

"THE EXPLOSION AT THE FAVERSHAM POWDER WORKS. DEATH OF FOUR OF THE SUFFERERS. As stated in our last issue the catastrophe which occurred on Wednesday week at these works had already resulted in the death of one of the powder men, named William Wood, and we regret to say that since then three more men have succumbed to the injuries they received.


On Monday week Mr. Delasaux, attended at the residence of Anderson in Oare Street, and took the evidence of William Honess, the foreman of the works, who identified the body of Anderson as that of one of the nine men who were in the press-house at the time of the explosion. The Coroner then signed the order for burial, and adjourned the inquiry till the 20th January. Mr. Smith, the resident partner of the firm of Messrs. Hall and Sons, and Mr. Vials (for Mr. Tassell, solicitor to the firm) were also in attendance at the inquiry. The proceedings were similar in the case of Attaway and Smith. Their names will be included in the inquest in the same manner as Wood's had been.
The number of children already made orphans by the explosion is 15.
Hallen, Manooch, and George and Thomas Gutteridge are under the care of Dr. Gange, and Saunders is attended by Dr. Spyers. Much depends on the strength of their constitutions to carry them through. Their wants are supplied by Messrs. Hall.
A portion of the works has been stopped since the accident occurred."


Inquest resumed - Anderson witness statement before dying

Reported in the Dover Express of 22nd January 1869:

"FAVERSHAM. THE EXPLOSION AT THE GUNPOWDER WORKS. The inquest on the unfortunate men who died from the late explosion at these works was resumed on Wednesday, before Mr. T.T. Delasaux, coroner for East Kent. Major Hall and Mr. Smith, members of the firm, were present. Mr. Tassell, their solicitor, and Mr. John Cooper, their foreman, were also in attendance.
The Manager said that two days before the accident occurred the works were stopped for over-hauling the machinery, and to avoid any danger arising from any irregularity in the men, it being Christmas week. The six powder men in the press-house had to assist the mill wrights, and to clean the bearings of the machinery from the accumulation of oil and gunpowder, and to remove two press boxes, each weighing 17 cwt.; two followers, weighing a ton; and two hydraulic rams from the cylinders, each weighing 18 cwt. Those press boxes would have to be taken to pieces. Anderson, who died from the effects of the accident, came to witness immediately after the explosion, and said, "Oh, Mr. Cowper, while I can speak let me tell you how it happened. George Gutteridge (dead) was driving the iron bolt out of the press box." Gutteridge had since said that he was driving the bold out, when it went off in the box like a gun cap. Witness had never of his own knowledge known iron and copper to emit a spark.
Thomas Pepper, a workman on the works, said that the floor had been properly watered, as well as the platform. One of the deceased, named Wood, watered inside the house. Witness was five yards off at the time of the accident.
Thomas J. Beard, millwright, believed the hammer was composed of copper and tin, which was probably safer than copper alone, tin being softer. The tools were never used until they had been immersed in water. The bolt in the press box was only removed when the door of the press box became too tight.
The Jury returned the following verdict:- "We find William Wood died from injuries received by the explosion of gunpowder whilst in attendance upon George Gutteridge, the said Gutteridge at the time having driven out the connecting bolt from the hinges of the press-door; but how the spark was drawn that ignited the gunpowder the evidence does not prove." The jury wish to add that they would suggest that the supervision of the works should be more strict, if possible, in future. They seemed to think there was neglect somewhere on the part of the men."


OFFICIAL REPORT TO THE WAR OFFICE - 17th April 1915

EXPLOSION OF TRI-NITRO-TOLUOL AND AMMONIUM NITRATE AT FACTORY NO.7, KENT.
Accident No. 110/1916.
No. CCXVII.

REPORT
To the
RIGHT HONOURABLE THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT
On the
CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING THE EXPLOSION, WHICH OCCURRED ON THE 2ND APRIL, 1916, AT THE
FACTORY OF THE EXPLOSIVES LOADING
COMPANY, LIMITED, AT UPLESS
MARSHES, FAVERSHAM, IN
THE COUNTY OF KENT
by
MAJOR A. COOPER-KEY, C.B.
H.M. Inspector of Explosives.
17th April, 1916.

Home office,
Whitehall, s.w.
17th April, 1916.
To the Secretary of State,
Home Office.

Sir,
I have the honour to report that in accordance with your Order dated April 3rd, 1916 I have held an Inquiry into the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred on Sunday 2nd instant at the factory of the Explosives Loading Company, at Uplees Marshes, Faversham.

By this explosion, the most disastrous in the history of my Department, no less than 106 persons were killed on the spot or died later from their injuries, and 97 were injured. Of those killed 20 were employees of the Cotton Powder Company and 4 belonged to the military guard.

Description of the factory.

The factory at which the accident occurred was established in 1912 under an Amending Licence granted to the Cotton Powder Company whose works immediately adjoin. The original purpose for which the factory was erected was the compression of tri-nitro-toluol into charges for shells, torpedoes and mines, and until the outbreak of war no other explosive substance was in use at these works. Since that time, however, the management has been called on to fill shells and bombs with “amatol”, a mixture of tri-nitro-toluol and ammonium nitrate.

Circumstances of the Accident.

At about 12.10 p.m. on Sunday, the 2nd instant, it was noticed by Mr. Underwood, Clerk of Works to the building contractors, that a heap of empty linen bags recently used for T.N.T. and resting against the matchboard wall of building No. 833 had caught fire and was burning at one corner. He at once gave the alarm at the office and Mr Palowker, the assistant manager who was in charge during the absence of Mr. George Evetts, the manager, at his mid-day meal, took immediate steps to deal with the matter by means of a hose and manual engine supplemented by fire-buckets. These failed however to have the desired effect and by the time Mr Evetts arrived the fire had obtained a good hold, and he had to decide whether to make an attempt to save a disaster by removing a number of cases of T.N.T. lying in the immediate vicinity of the building or to order everyone to retire to a safe distance and let the fire do its worst. After full consideration he decided that unless these cases were removed to a safe distance there was a considerable probability that the fire would spread to other buildings and that the consequences might lead to a disaster involving not only his own factory but also the cordite buildings belonging to the Cotton Powder Company, and that it was therefore his duty to prevent the fire spreading.

For over an hour water was poured on the fire without effect and at about 1.20 p.m. shortly after Mr. Evetts had given the order to retire the contents of the building detonated with appalling results to the crowd of men congregated around, very few escaping death of serious injury.

Damage to material.

Simultaneously with the explosion of this building the two final washing and filtering houses belonging to the recently erected nitro-glycerine plant of the Cotton Powder Company situated at a distance of about 120 yards and each containing a considerable quantity of nitro-glycerine blew up in sympathy, and about twenty minutes later one of the buildings used for moulding “amatol” charges, and after another twenty minutes a fifth containing filled primers for naval mines also exploded after having been set on fire by debris projected by the previous explosions. Of these five buildings no trace was left, the crater formed at the site of the original explosion being no less than 50 yards in diameter and ten to fifteen feet deep. A plan prepared for me by the management, but which I have not thought it necessary to produce with this Report, shows very clearly that within a circle of 225 yards radius drawn from the site of the first explosion as centre every building of ordinary light construction was totally destroyed, whereas outside that circle no building was completely wrecked although many of them were so damaged as to be incapable of repair. In one of these shell-filling buildings erected prior to the war and situated within the fatal ring the reinforced concrete partitions were, however, not even cracked.

In spite of the fact that the buildings belonging to the Explosives Loading Company are well spaced at distances from 60 to 70 yards apart not more than three or four out of a total of about 30 escaped serious structural damage, but it must be noted that, with the exceptions mentioned above, all these buildings were lightly constructed of wood and were not screened by mounds.

In the adjoining works of the Cotton Powder Company the damage was widespread but by no means regular. In addition to the six buildings within the 225 yard radius which were totally demolished not more than five were so damaged as to be incapable of repair and a further five seriously shaken but capable of repair. A very large number, however, amounting approximately to 150 to 200 received minor injuries or slight structural damage, a somewhat noteworthy feature being that the new magazines at the Harty Ferry extension in the extreme south-east corner of the factory area and therefore further away from the explosion centre than any other part of the works were more seriously damaged than the large majority of the intervening buildings. It has been suggested as a probable explanation that the greater apart of the factory is built on a floating crust above the marsh whereas these magazines were on practically the only solid ground in the area. As they were built right into the hill and well screened by mounds this explanation attributing the damage to the earth wave as distinct from the sound wave is very possibly correct.

So far as I can ascertain, although the effect of the explosions was felt many miles away, the damage outside the factory seems to have been limited to broken windows, falling ceilings, and removal of roofing slates, but here again, as is so usual in the case of a big explosion the wave seems to have been subject to no rue. Faversham, only four miles away, escaped almost entirely whereas Southend and Shoeburyness at fifteen to twenty miles suffered considerably, and I am informed that 2 windows were broken at Farlow in Essex fifty-two miles away.

Cause of the Accident.

There is little to doubt in my mind that the original fire in the heap of empty bags was due to a spark from the neighbouring boiler house. The three flues of this were each fitted with a spark-catcher, but this at best is of doubtful efficiency and the wind was blowing almost directly from this house towards the heap of bags. It is possible of course that a workman had been smoking and had thrown a cigarette end of a glowing match on to the bags which, impregnated as they were with T.N.T. dust, would easily ignite, but having regard to the time at which the fire was first noticed, viz. just before the dinner hour, and to the strict regulations against matches and smoking which had only recently been emphasized by prosecution and fine, it is extremely unlikely that any employee even if he had so far infringed the rules as to smoke on the premises would have failed to take the precaution of completely extinguishing his match or cigarette before throwing it away.

The theory of spontaneous ignition of the heap of bags has also been raised but from the description given by Mr Underwood of the first appearance of flame low down at one corner I consider this an improbable explanation, although having regard to the period of time, about three months, during which these bags had remained undisturbed it cannot be entirely disregarded. Lastly, it is not inconceivable that a mischievous person may have put a match to them on his way to the mess room, but in view of the fact that no one could have foreseen that the ignition of these bats would have had such serious consequences an unsupported surmise of this nature amounts at most to the vaguest suspicion. The arrangements for preventing the entrance of unauthorized persons appeared to me to be very strictly carried out and in addition to the military guard 128 strong, no less than 24 civilian patrolmen are employed at the combined factories.

All things considered then I am, as already stated, firmly of the opinion that a park from one of the flues of the boiler house offers by far the most probable explanation of the fire. The boiler was situated at a distance of about 50 feet from the building against which the bags were lying, and contained three boilers, the flues of which were 37 feet high. The spark arresters were of a type consisting of a succession of baffle plates against which the flue-gases impinged and were fitted in consequence of the former frequency of visible sparks. In spite of these, however, sparking from the flues seems still to have occurred at times and only the night before the explosion two of the patrolmen reported that they had extinguished an incipient fire from this cause between the boiler house and the T.N.T. store.

Had the building contained T.N.T. only, it is probable that no explosion would have occurred but that the fused material would have spread over the ground and burnt away quietly. Unfortunately, however, owing to the alteration in the loading arrangement, to which references has already been made, this building had for some time been used as a store for Ammonium Nitrate and about 150 tons of this substance were present in it at the time. As the building was only licensed for T.N.T. the use of it for Ammonium Nitrate was, strictly speaking, a contravention of the terms of licence but, had the matter ended there, the substitution of a practically non-explosive ingredient for a compound which, although particularly insensitive to friction or shock undoubtedly possesses explosive properties would be regarded merely as a technical irregularity to be covered by an amendment of the licence at the first opportunity. But owing to the excessive quantity of T.N.T. delivered at the works the magazines specially erected for the storage of this material were all full and of the surplus about 15 tons were deposited in the ill-fated building and the remainder appears to have been lying on the open ground outside it. As therefore, the theoretically most efficient proportions of these ingredients are about 20 per cent of T.N.T. to 80 per cent of Ammonium Nitrate there were present in the building alone the makings of at least 75 tons of high explosive.

But although the management cannot be completely exonerated from blame for allowing this departure from the conditions of the licence, it must be remembered that at the present time rapidity of output is of the first importance, and from this point of view it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, strictly to adhere to the exact letter of a licence. Changes are called for almost daily and have to be met in the way that appears best at the time with due regard to the essential matter of output. This particular combination of ingredients even when intimately mixed to form Amatol, an explosive now commonly used for the bursting charges of shells and bombs, is regarded more as a fire risk than as an explosion risk, and it may well be that the responsible officials failed to appreciate the danger they were running in keeping these two ingredients in the same building or that appreciating the risk they considered it justified by the urgency of the national requirements.

That in moderate quantities a mixture of these two ingredients constitutes a fire-risk only would seem to be indicated by the length of time the fire was burning prior to the explosion. In fact according to the evidence of the Works Manager it had passed its maximum fierceness at the moment the explosion occurred.

On first realising the serious nature of the fire the manager was placed in a most difficult position. In the immediate vicinity of the building there was a large number of boxes of T.N.T. and it was a question whether an effort should be made to remove these and thereby possibly reduce the effect of any explosion that might occur or to let them be involved in the fore and order the workpeople to retire to a safe distance. Mr. Evetts, as already stated seems to have decided, not hastily but with full appreciation of his responsibility, that in view of the proximity of the Cotton Powder Company’s Cordite Works and of the importance of these to the nation the proper course was to make every effort to limit the destructive effect of an explosion to the smallest possible area by removing to a safe distance all the T.N.T. that could be handled by the men at his disposal. In this he was, I understand, loyally supported by his men, and although the loss of life is most deplorable it may truly be said hat those who thus died at their posts gave their lives for their country in the fullest sense. Some of them possibly were unaware of the risk they were running as seems to be evidenced by the presence of a certain number merely as spectators who declined to retire in spite of repeated instructions, but many there were who, while fully appreciating the danger, threw themselves heart and soul into the struggle to prevent what could only be described as a national disaster, and it is some satisfaction to feel that their efforts were partially successful. An examination of certain of the guncotton drying sheds in the neighbouring works shewed that a very slight increase in the force of the explosion would have caused more than one roof to fall on the guncotton on the racks below and the explosion of even one of these sheds would probably have put the cordite plant out of action for a considerable time.

The behaviour of the manager, Mr. George Evetts, calls for special mention. At the time of the first explosion he was about 40 yards from the building and was knocked senseless by the concussion, his coat being torn off his back. On coming to himself he found his offices were on fire and he made an immediate attempt to save his books and papers. While so engaged the roof and walls fell in on him. He then ran to the main gate to summon medical assistance and ambulances and there me Mr. W. E. Bethell, Works Manager of the Cotton Powder Company. Accompanied by him Mr. Evetts then returned to the site of the explosion which was now a mass of flames, and while assisting to remove the injured narrowly escaped death or injury from the second and third explosions. After the last of these it was seen that the roof of the nearest magazine containing 25 tons of T.N.T. was on fire, and as by this time the scene was so terrible that they could get no-one to follow them these two gentlemen alone climbed on to the roof of this building and extinguished the fire thereby possibly preventing another explosion. The gallantry of both these gentlemen deserves the highest commendation, more especially as a very slight addition to the shocks already experienced would almost certainly have caused the explosion of one or more of the guncotton stoves to which reference has already been made.

Remarks.

The immediate neighbourhood of the matchboard wall of a building appropriated to the storage of even Ammonium Nitrate alone was an unfortunate place to select for the deposit of a heap of inflammable bags but, without any way desiring to relieve the Company’s officials of responsibility rightly resting on them it is only fair to point out that owing to the pressure at which the work was being carried on and to the vast amount of material delivered to or stored at the factory with no regard to the space available or to the protests of the management, it was practically impossible to maintain the orderliness and method considered so essential in normal times. No less than 250 tons of T.N.T. and nitrate had been despatched since the 1st February, there still remained a large accumulation of these. This congestion is indeed a matter which is very generally causing me considerable anxiety and to which I have already called the attention of the Ministry of Munitions on more than one occasion, but in view of the immense scale on which the manufacture of munitions is now of necessity carried on it is difficult to see how it can be entirely avoided.

In view of the very large quantities of T.N.T. and Amatol now stored throughout the Kingdom this accident cannot fail to be extremely disquieting, but on the other hand it would be a mistake to assume that a fire involving either of the these materials will invariably develop into an explosion. In the case of T.N.T. I think there is good ground for the belief that owing to its low melting point it would in the event of a fire spread itself over a large area and burn away quietly. Explosions have occurred no doubt, notably those at Penrhyndeudraeth and Ardeer, but in each case the detonation was preceded by a fire of considerable duration, of the T.N.T. was strongly confined, or both these conditions were present. Amatol also, or rather blasting explosive of the same composition, has been known to burn away in considerable quantities without explosion, but this is at the best merely negative evidence and must not be taken to imply that in very large quantities its behaviour will be equally satisfactory.

The circumstances attending this accident are curiously similar to those connected with an explosion which occurred at Witten in Westphalia in 1906. In this case also a detonation took place in the course of a fire which fused the same two ingredients and thus caused them to come into contact, and it is to my mind by no means impossible that the conditions under which a large quantity of Ammonium Nitrate and T.N.T. stored in the same building might combine in the event of a fire might be more likely to lead to a violent reaction than if the two ingredients had been previously mixed to form “Amatol”. In the present series of explosions at any rate, nothing occurred to prove conclusively that unconfined Amatol can be exploded by fire alone. The mixing and moulding house which caused the second explosion contained at the time a considerable amount of unmixed ingredients, and the “primer” house which caused the third and last explosion contained T.N.T. in stout metal cylinders primed with pellets of “tetryl”, and incidentally many of these cylinders were picked up later unexploded.

To ascertain if there were any probable foundation for the view that the unmixed ingredients might be more dangerous than the mixture the Messrs. Dupre carried out at my request a few tests in their laboratory but as they unfortunately have no open ground available, the scale on which they were able to conduct the experiments was too small to five any definite results an they were only able to show that when heated in a test tube, i.e., under slight confinement, “Amatol” is distinctly more violent in its explosive properties than T.N.T., whereas when ignited in a platinum dish the latter burns the more fiercely. The pointed out, however, that Ammonium Nitrate when heated produces large quantities of nitrous oxide (N20) a gas which in its property of supporting combustion does not differ materially from pure oxygen and that although when the two ingredients are combined in the form of “Amatol” this oxygen equivalent would be consumed as soon as produced it is not impossible that if large quantities of the nitrate were separately heated there might be an accumulation of this gas which on suddenly coming into contact with burning T.N.T. might give rise to a reaction of unforeseen and exceptional violence. It is also conceivable that the sudden precipitation of a mass of the nitrate into burning T.N.T. might produce a similar result.

In any case however it is clear that it is most essential to store these two materials in different buildings so situated that even in case of a fire involving both they cannot come into contact with one another.

I attended the adjourned Inquest held on the 11th instant by Mr. C. B. Harris, Coroner for the Sittingbourne District of Kent. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and acquitted the management of all blame in the matter, adding a rider suggesting that the Home Office should require more efficient fire appliances to be established in explosive factories. In regard to this I would point out that the provision of ample means to deal with incipient fires is a matter to which special attention is paid in explosives factories but during the present emergency it is frequently impossible to carry out the necessary work of laying watermains and that this had not been done at these works was due to no lack of effort on the part of the management. In the absence of a high pressure water supply the best substitute was at hand in the form of a four-man manual supplemented by fore-buckets and over one hundred chemical extinguishers.

In the course of my Inquiry I received valuable assistance from the officials of both Companies concerned.
I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your Obedient Servant,
A. Cooper-Key,
Major.
H.M. Chief Inspector of Explosives.