The Gun Powder Mill Explosion 1916

    During the Great War, on Uplees marshes just outside Faversham, close to the Swale between Conyer and Oare, stood the site of a munitions works. The site belonged to The Cotton Powder Company Ltd, which made and exported explosives, and its offshoot The Explosives Loading Company Ltd which loaded high explosives into mines bombs and other projectiles. The area was ideal for this type of work being approximately a mile from the nearest populated area. The site consisted of rows of huts set well apart for safety with a landing stage on the Swale to receive the raw materials and export the completed ordnance.

    On Sunday April 2nd 1916 at 11:30 a small fire was discovered close to the landing stage, this was soon put out by the men on site with fire extinguishers kept close by for this purpose. The previous year the site had, had a problem with sparks from one of the boiler houses setting grassland alight, and new state of the art spark arresters had been installed. Since these arresters had been installed the problem seemed to have been halted. The men returned to work, once the grass fire had been put out. Because of the urgent need for munitions at the front, the site was manned seven days a week. Only men and boys worked on Sundays however and on this particular Sunday approximately three hundred were employed. The day was bright and sunny with a stiff easterly breeze. At 12:20 another fire was noticed in a pile of sacks close to store number 823. An urgent attempt was made to put it out by the men working close by. But fanned by the breeze the fire quickly got out of control. The store, a hut measuring 60ft by 40ft contained 150 tons of ammonia nitrate and between 10 and 15 tons of TNT. A manual fire engine was used to try to combat the fire and a chain of men with buckets fought the fire with water from a nearby dyke, there were at this time approximately 120 men in the area all engaged in trying to prevent a major explosion. While the men outside the hut continued to fight the blaze, a detail of  men went inside and began to move the sacks out of the building from the side that was nearest the fire. This continued until 13:15 when almost all the sacks on the fire side of the building had been removed. Mr George Evetts the site manager for The Explosives loading company then gave the order to evacuate the area and allow the company fire crew to continue to douse down the flames as it was then thought that the battle had been won and the danger abated. Mr Evetts’s deputy went to tell the men on the other side of the building to leave the site as well.

    At 13:20 Mr Evetts was standing outside building 869 when he was knocked over by a heavy explosion, this was followed quickly by a second. Mr Evetts ran to his office to summon help. The call was answered by fire and ambulance crews across North Kent, from Canterbury to the Military and Naval services at Chatham. Thirty minutes later at 13:50 two further explosions occurred, one in building 861 where block charges were prepared and another in 862 a preparing house for priming charges. These buildings had been set on fire by the first two explosions. Between 60 and 80 men were injured and soon evacuated by the long line of ambulances that began to arrive. The first explosion had left a crater 40 yards across and 20 feet deep. It was said that windows as far away as Southend were shattered! Rescue teams began the grim task of searching for the dead.

See The Faversham Memorial

Steve McGarry 2002