Faversham TNT Disaster
The North Kent town of Faversham was where gunpowder making is thought to have begun in England, in Tudor times, the location offering relatively easy access for raw materials from the sea and for transport of its product to the capital or to conflicts in mainland Europe. The industry of course is not without risk, and in 1847 an accident occurred at one plant there which claimed the lives of 18 workers. Sadly, however, far worse was to happen during WWI .
By 1916 the two munitions factories in Faversham were manufacturing rather more powerful explosives than gunpowder. On Sunday April 2 1916 an accident at the plant in Uplees killed 115 people there. During a period of hot weather some empty sacks somehow caught fire at a store containing 200 tons of TNT, with inevitably disastrous consequences. The works fire brigade, every member of which eventually died in the series of explosions through the plant, tried to fight the blaze without success. Evacuation was ordered, but too late, as many were killed before they reached safety.
Such was the power of the explosions that many windows in Southend , on the other side of the Thames Estuary beyond the Isle of Sheppey , were blown out by it; the shock was actually felt in Norwich and Great Yarmouth scores of miles distant. A crater 40m wide and about 6m deep was created by the blast.
The disaster could have been many times worse, as it is thought some 3000 tons of the same explosive stored on the site remained intact when the emergency was over. All the dead were men and boys: it being a Sunday there were no women working in the factory. Several of the dead were never found. Those whose bodies were recovered were buried in a mass grave in the town.
Faversham was far from the last munitions disaster of WWI in England: the following year Silvertown in London saw another TNT plant explosion; and in July 1918 an accident at the shell factory at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire resulted in an even greater death toll than Faversham’s.
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