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Author Topic: Dartford Gunpowder Mills, Wilmington  (Read 867 times)

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Offline kms

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Re: Dartford Gunpowder Mills, Wilmington
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2018, 18:50:47 »
Blimey.. forgot I wrote that for the Mills Archive. 

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Dartford Gunpowder Mills, Wilmington
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2018, 22:56:41 »
The watermills were first established in 1585 by John Spilman as paper mills, the site out of use by 1724. In 1732 the mills were converted to gunpowder mills by Edward Pyke and Thomas Edsall. In 1778, following bankruptcy, the factory was sold to Frederick Pigou and Miles P Andrews. The mills remained in Pigou family hands until 1873, when the firm was amalgamated with Messrs Charles Laurence and Son of Battle, Sussex. In 1889 the factory was sold to Curtiss & Harvey Limited for £70,430. It ceased making gunpowder in 1907 and continued by making guncotton and incandescent gas mantles. By the early 1920's the site had been abandoned.

The factory covered some 50 acres of land on both sides of the river Darent. An archaeological excavation in 1984 uncovered the remains of three double water powered mills.
The location of the factory, together with photos of the uncovered remains, can be seen @ http://millsarchive.org/explore/mills/entry/11003/dartford-gunpowder-mills-wilmington#
For details of the Pigou family at Dartford see http://www.nwkfhs.org.uk/pigou.pdf

The making of gunpowder was a dangerous process and there were regular explosions at the mills with fatalities occurring in 1790 (7 men killed), 1795 (11), 1796 (6), 1799 (6), 1805 (2), 1810 (2), 1827 (3), 1833 (8), 1839 (5), and 1885 (1).

Below are three newspaper reports from 1827, 1833, and 1839.

DREADFUL EXPLOSION OF A POWDER MILL.
Dartford, Kent, Thursday, Oct.18. (The explosion was on the 12th October 1827).
A most shocking accident occurred here on Friday last, occasioned by a dreadful explosion of the powder mills belonging to the firm of Pigou and Co. The cause of the accident is unknown, as not one escaped to tell the sad tale. The sight was most appalling. Men, women, and children repaired to the scene of desolation in the most agonizing state possible, when, horrible to relate, it was discovered that three workmen had fallen victims to its unlimited power. Human flesh and the limbs of the poor sufferers lay scattered in every direction, even as far as half-a-mile from the places where they were at work. Widows and fatherless children beheld the parts of their husbands and fathers scorched and quivering (for life had not left them) in the field. Not a dry eye was to be seen, and nothing to be heard but sighs and shrieks of those who were left to deplore the loss of their relatives and friends. Their names were, Hatchman, Roots, and Threadwell, Roots having left a wife and seven children. The explosion first took place in a pressing-house, which was the cause of setting fire to a corning-house and sifting-house. This town would have sustained irreparable damage, had it not been for a strong south-east wind, which carried the shock in an oblique direction, otherwise it did little damage except by breaking the windows, of which but few escaped. It was severely felt at Sittingbourne, a distance 30miles from this town. The sensation was similar to that of an earthquake, it killed several head of game which lay within some  distance of the place, and the whole of the men's bodies have not yet been found. The accident occurred at a quarter before eight o'clock in the morning.
The shock occasioned by the awful explosion of the powder-mills at Dartford, on Friday last, was felt by many persons at Tunbridge Wells, and we are informed by the postman from East Grinstead, that the inhabitants at that place were thrown into great alarm in consequence of that sad catastrophe, by which three men in the mills were blown to pieces, and a leg and another detached part of one of the sufferers were found at a considerable distance.- Brighton Paper.



Dreadful Explosion of the Dartford Powder Mills. — Seven persons killed.
(Not sure of the date, it was either in January or March 1833.)
On Monday morning the inhabitants of Dartford, Kent, and for many miles around were thrown into the most describable alarm by several dreadful explosions at the Dartford Powder Mills belonging to Messrs. Pigou and Wilks, situate in the Downs, about half a mile south of the town.
At a quarter past ten o'clock in the morning, the persons employed at the mills, exceeding sixty in number, were alarmed by a sudden and unaccountable explosion in the packing-room, which was almost instantly followed by another in the charge-house. The shocks were tremendous, and all those engaged in these particular departments met their deaths. The consternation that prevailed at this time was truly awful. The air was filled with the shattered fragments of the premises, and the workmen were seen hurrying from the scene of destruction, many of them with the blood flowing from wounds in different parts of their persons.—Nearly the whole of the town was instantly, in commotion, and numbers of the inhabitants fled from their houses for fear the roofs would fall in and crush them.,
All the inmates of the workhouse at Dartford, and the children of the National School adjoining, were instantly removed to Crayford, and other precautionary measures taken to ensure safety, it being expected every moment that the magazine would blow up.
In about a quarter of an hour after the second explosion, which destroyed the packing room and charge-house, the powder in adjoining mill ignited, and a third "blow" took place, which was exceedingly destructive in its consequences.
Five other mills exploded in rapid succession, but the last "blow" was considered to be more severe than the previous ones. It was materially felt at Horley and Wilmington, and for several miles along the line of road leading from Dartford to Farningham. Many houses had not a whole pane of glass remaining, and numerous others were materially damaged. Several persons were injured by the falling of tiles from the houses. It is said there were sixteen reports in the whole, and all within an hour. The magazine providentially escaped the general destruction. Had it exploded, it is conjectured that the loss of life and damage in the town of Dartford would have been considerable. The two principal stores also escaped, but the three steam engine mills and three others were totally destroyed. Many hundred persons assembled on the Downs after the first two or three shocks, but were afraid to lend any assistance to the workmen,who endeavoured to prevent further mischief.


The Australian Fri 5 July 1833.

Explosion at Messrs. Pigou and Wilks's Powder Mills at Dartford. Five Lives Lost.

On Monday morning, (9th September 1839) a few minutes after ten o'clock, an awful explosion took place on the premises of the above named gentlemen, which threw down and scattered the corning house, the whole of the implements and materials contained therein, in every direction, and we regret to add five lives have been sacrificed in the tremendous shock, which spread dismay throughout the town of Dartford and its vicinity, and which was distinctly felt and the explosion heard at Maidstone, a distance of 20 miles. Most of the sufferers, if not all of them, have left wives and families to deplore their loss. It is at all times difficult to arrive at the particulars in explosions of this nature, as the persons employed on the premises, and who might possibly know the immediate cause, are generally the sufferers, which has been the case on this occasion. The names of the unfortunate men are John Bush, aged 58; Thomas Prescott, 27; John Horress, 40; Henry Fawn, 39; and Joseph Brown, 28.- Times.




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