PortCities London

London's biggest explosion

The rescue effort

Local rescue efforts

Barking Road Wesleyan Methodist Church. Feeding people left homeless after the Silvertown Explosion.
View full size imageFeeding homeless people at the Barking Road Weslyean Methodist Church.
The immediate local response was massive. The army, emergency services, charities, local government officers and ordinary people rushed to Silvertown. First aid stations were set up in the surrounding streets to deal with the thousands of minor injuries.

Hundreds of ordinary people searched through the rubble for survivors and provided shelter for the thousands of homeless people. By the following evening 600 people were being housed temporarily at centres such as churches, boys clubs and the local Seamen's Mission.

The Explosion Emergency Committee

Council staff inspecting a wrecked house.
View full size imageCouncil staff inspecting a wrecked house.
The next day, the local authorities set up the Explosion Emergency Committee to oversee the rescue effort. It included the Mayor, councillors and settlement workers.

The committee offered help with:

  • clearing up
  • reuniting and re-housing families
  • providing money for burials and medical assistance.


Relief and assistance

Notice from the Mayor offering emergency assistance to those affected by the Silvertown Explosion.
View full size imageNotice from the Mayor offering emergency assistance.
A relief office was also set up at the Public Hall in Canning Town. Its purpose was to relieve immediate distress by making payments to people who could not work because of the blast and giving grants to deal with essential needs.

Efforts were also made to tell everyone in the area that they could apply for aid. They were also told that compensation claims could be made against the Ministry of Munitions. The government eventually paid out about £3m in compensation. That is the equivalent of about £40m in today's money.

The aftermath

Fireman's dwelling on Fort Street after the Silvertown Explosion.
View full size imageFiremen's dwelling on Fort Street after the explosion.
The day after the explosion, the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, went to the scene. The King and Queen also made a brief tour of the devastated docks.

On the same day, the London newspapers announced:

'The Ministry of Munitions regrets to announce that an explosion occurred last evening at a munitions factory in the vicinity of London. It is feared that the explosion was attended by considerable loss of life and damage to property.'

In fact, 69 people lost their lives in the immediate blast and a further four died shortly afterwards from their injuries.



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