PortCities London
UKBristolHartlepoolLiverpoolLondonSouthampton
You are here:  PortCities London home > Historical events
Text Only About this Site Feedback
Explore this site
About maritime London
Early port
Tudor and Stuart port
18th-century port
19th-century port
20th-century port
People and places
Port communities
Crime and punishment
Leisure, health and housing
Thames art, literature and architecture
The working Thames
London's docks and shipping
Trades, industries and institutions
Port of science and discovery
Historical events
Ceremony and catastrophe
London in war and conflict
Fun and games
Things to do
Timeline games
Matching games
Send an e-card

London's biggest explosion

Introduction
Development of Silvertown
The explosion
The rescue effort
The human cost
The cause
*
Send this story to a friendSend this story to a friend
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
View this story in picturesView this story in pictures

Development of Silvertown

Harmful trades

Map of Silvertown
View full size imageSilvertown's location in East London.
Silvertown developed into an important industrial area during the 19th century. It grew because of the Metropolitan Building Act of 1844, which limited harmful trades inside the boundaries of London. Silvertown was an ideal site for businesses of this kind because it was just outside these boundaries.

View of docks from Silvertown Way.
View full size imageA view of the Royal Docks from Silvertown Way.

The area was originally marshland. It was named after Samuel Winkworth Silver who opened his India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Cable Works there in 1852.

Easy access

The area offered easy access for shipping and, eventually, easy access to a labour force which was being housed further and further away from the East End of London. In 1800 there were barely 6500 inhabitants, but by 1900 there were nearly 300,000 residents.

Woolwich Reach, Silvertown.
View full size imageSilvertown as viewed from Woolwich Reach, c. 1872.

The muddy north bank of the Thames was not easy to build on, but it was possible to construct factories and refineries with their own dock facilities.

This soon sealed the fate of the declining sugar refining and chemical trades in Whitechapel and St George's. Companies in those lines of work moved down stream. This image is of the industrial skyline of Silvertown as seen from Woolwich Reach.

Brunner, Mond and Co.

Brunner Mond Works.
View full size imageThe Brunner Mond Works at Silvertown.

In 1894 the firm Brunner, Mond & Co. opened their chemical works at Crescent Wharf in Silvertown. They began to make soda crystals and, in a smaller plant, caustic soda. Production of caustic soda ended in 1912 and the smaller plant closed.

Brunner Mond Works from the north-west.
View full size imageThe Brunner Mond Works from the north west.

When the First World War started in 1914 the government adapted the remaining chemical plant for the production of the explosive substance trinitrotoluene (TNT).

The Brunner-Mond management were not happy to do this, largely because the surrounding area was densely populated.

Eventually, under pressure from Lord Moulton at the Explosives Supply Department, they agreed to the government's demands. Production of high-grade TNT began in September 1915 and the plant was soon producing 9 tons of TNT per day. 

 


*
*
Glossary
Dock
Telegraph
TNT
Wharf

Find out more
StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
*
*
8
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
Legal & CopyrightPartner sites:BristolHartlepoolLiverpoolSouthamptonAbout this SiteFeedbackText Only