Sunday, November 20, 2005

Erith, Gunpowder Explosion in 1864.

A picture from the London Illustrated News, depicting the aftermath of the gunpowder explosion in 1864. The following notes are taken from 'A History of Erith, Part 3: 1837 - 1894' by John A. Prichard:-

During the nineteenth century the Thames between Erith and Woolwich was the scene of two notable disasters. The first was the Gunpowder Explosion, which occurred on the 1st August, 1864. About 7 o'clock in the morning, two barges were being loaded with powder from one of the magazines on the marshes, when one barge exploded, instantly followed by the other, and then by the magazine. The explosion was heard all over London, and was felt 50 miles away. A tall column of black smoke rose above the area and hung for some minutes until dispersed by the wind. No trace of the barges was found, but bricks and timber from the magazine and nearby houses which were destroyed were scattered over a wide area.

Contemporary prints show a scene oddly prophetic of many from the Blitz of 80 years later. Considerable damage was done all over Erith and Belvedere and windows were broken several miles away. Ten persons were killed and many injured. One of the more alarming consequences of the explosion was that 300 feet of the river wall were destroyed by the blast. Fortunately it was low tide at the time, and prompt action by 1,500 soldiers from Woolwich helped to plug the gap in time to prevent flooding of the marshes. The cause of the explosion was never discovered.

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