Faversham Explosive Industry
During a key period in the United Kingdom’s history -
Gunpowder, the first explosive, was being made in the town by 1573. Water-
Next to open, in the 1680s, was the Oare Works, about a mile W of the town. It was
started by Huguenot asylum-
Without Faversham gunpowder, Britain’s Industrial Revolution could never have taken place. It was used to blast routes for canals and railways and to quarry stone needed for bridges and other structures.
Guncotton, the first high explosive, was invented in 1846, and the world’s first factory to make it was established in Faversham in the following year. After the introduction of other high explosives, like cordite and TNT, two huge new factories were built alongside The Swale. Together these occupied a site about the same size as the City of London. On 2 April 1916 one of them was the scene of the Great Explosion, the worst in the history of the UK explosives industry.
The high explosives factories closed soon after the end of World War 1. The gunpowder factories remained in production till 1934, when the clouds of World War 2 were already looming and the owners thought it advisable to move the plant and many of the staff to a location in Scotland (Ardeer in Ayrshire) which was less close to the Continent.
One new high explosives factory opened alongside the Creek in 1922. This is still
at work but now makes an explosive-
In Faversham the industry has left a larger legacy than anywhere else in the UK, and many traces can still be seen. At the heart of the Home Works the Chart Gunpowder Mills, oldest of their kind in the world, have been rescued from the jaws of the bulldozer, and restored, by the Faversham Society. A Gunpowder Trail, available free of charge from the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, pinpoints these and other surviving features of the Works.
The remains of the Oare Works have been conserved as an attractive country park.
If this sounds paradoxical, gunpowder factories, unlike any others, were always places
of great inherent charm and beauty, even when in full production -
Just as impressive, the site of one of the high explosives factories is now a nature reserve, and one of international importance for its wildlife, in particular native and migrant birds. You could easily spend two or three days in Faversham just exploring its ‘explosive past’, and you wouldn’t be disappointed!
Ref: faversham history site
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