PortCities London

London's biggest explosion

The cause

Popular theories

Damaged housing after the Silvertown Explosion.
View full size imageDamaged housing after the Silvertown explosion.
The precise cause of the explosion has never been found. The official inquiry, led by Sir Ernley Blackwell, produced few definite conclusions when it was published on 24 February 1917.

The first thought was that the factory had been hit in an air raid, but there were no raids that night. Another popular theory was that a German spy had sabotaged the factory.

In the end, it was suspected that a fire broke out in the melt-pot room of the plant. This quickly spread and ignited about 50 tons of TNT. Much of it was sitting in railway wagons waiting to be transported.

An unsuitable site

Car park at the north end of Thames Barrier
View full size imageThe site of the Brunner Mond Works, now a car park at the north end of the Thames Barrier.
The inquiry did decide, however, that Silvertown was a totally unsuitable place for a TNT plant. It also said that the management had failed to look after the welfare of the staff.

The government decided not to publish the report at the time. It was not made public until the 1950s.

The site of the Brunner Mond Works was never built upon and the area is still an empty space, used for car parking, at the north end of the Thames Flood Barrier.


   Back to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and steamships