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The Silvertown Explosion of 1917

Updated on May 28, 2013

As the world watched the 30th Olympic and the 14th Paralympic games unfold in London, many would have been unaware of the tragic circumstances that took place in the neighbourhood. Nearly one hundred years previously during the Great War of 1914-1918, the area around the great Olympic stadium was reduced to ruins in what was the one of the worst explosion's to ever hit the English capital. The now redundant Olympic village is due to be turned back into a residential centre and this will hopefully turn the regenerated Stretford back to an area that will house a mixed and vibrant community. The effects of the explosion caused a massive change for the Londoners who called the East End their home. In just one evening the face of one of London's communities was changed for several generations.

London 2012

Wembley Stadium London 2012
Wembley Stadium London 2012 | Source

Before the Olympic site was constructed, the vast majority of the site was given over for London's Dockland industry. It was on the ruined site of Silvertown that much of London's import and exports where housed from the post World War One period through to the end of Britain's Colonial age. From the tragic events of 1917 the township of Silvertown was changed from a Residential area with factories to a fully fledged Industrial hub. The East London docks brought in commodities and raw materials from the British Empire and helped the area and wider city prosper.

Silvertown took its name from the owner of the local Rubber factory and as far as can be researched the area had no industry attached to Silversmiths of Silver mining. At the outbreak of the Great War the British government in need of high explosives to use in Trench warfare, asked the Brunner Mond company to refine TNT on the Silvertown factory site. Despite the chemical factory owners fears over the danger to the resident population, they agreed to help the British war effort by using spare area to refine the explosive..

Memorial to those who died in the explosion.
Memorial to those who died in the explosion. | Source

Area effected

The owners worst fears were realised in 1917 when a fire started within the plant's melt-pot room and made an explosion so loud it was said to be heard by the Allied soldiers along the Belgium and French front lines. The flames from the explosion could be seen as far away as Maidstone in the county of Kent. The loss of life was fortunately smaller than what it could have been, the shock wave was powerful enough to destroy a gas works and narrowly avoided the Arsenal of explosives further up the River Thames. The effect on the local community was great and many of the families that called Silvertown their home were left grieving, homeless and facing a fight for their survival. Many of the houses were damaged by the blast and the surviving properties that were not demolished still show the damage of the accident. In reports to Parliament after the clean up, over 600 homes were damaged and the loss of life was 73 souls.

With part of the area's proposed redevelopment the Olympics has helped return the site back to its original use. Had the Olympics not been awarded to London, the deserted Dockland region may have been left idle for even longer and the descendants of those who survived the accident would still be waiting longer to return home. Whether or not the redevelopment will see those of an East London heritage occupy the new homes is unknown, but it is nice to see an area which has experienced so much have the opportunity to thrive once again.


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    • Asp52 profile image

      Andrew Stewart 5 years ago from England

      What made matters worse was the fact the owners had concerns but the war effort needed the additional munitions! The explosion was so fierce it blew out windows at the famous Savoy Hotel!. Thanks for stopping by!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Refining TNT in the middle of London-- every time there's a "war effort", common sense flies out the window. Very nice hub.