Today marks the anniversary of a TNT explosion which claimed 73 lives and injured a further 400.
At 6:52 pm on 19 January 1917 in a Silvertown factory, 50 tons of TNT ignited in a massive blast which completely destroyed the premises, caused widespread damage to the surrounding area, and could be heard throughout most of London. It wasn’t the biggest or the worst industrial explosion in Britain during World War I, but it became the most notorious.
From early in the conflict, Britain found herself critically short of munitions. So the War Office decided to expand the capacity of the Brunner Mond (later known as ICI) factory in West Ham, against the advice of Brunner Mond themselves, on safety grounds. On the fateful evening a fire broke out in the melt-pot room, precipitating the fatal blast. An estimated 70,000 properties were damaged, including a gasometer which released an enormous fireball into the sky.
While no actual cause of the accident was identified, enemy involvement was ruled out. To this day, the site of the Silvertown factory remains derelict.
Sources: This incident is well-documented on the web. Here is a partial list of links.
Newham Story (excellent site by Newham council, with superb image archive)
List of Casualties (pdf file)