Low Moor Local History Group
Chemical Works and Explosion
On August 21st.1916 when the eyes of the world were concentrated on the titanic struggle in the Somme Valley, there occurred at Low Moor. Bradford. one of the most awful industrial disasters ever, in this country.
This took place at the premises of the Low Moor Munitions Company, formerly the Low Moor Chemical Company, situated at the bottom of New Works Road, where picric acid, used in the making of high explosives, was being manufactured in large quantities.
Efforts were made by the works fire brigade to bring a fire under control, but to no avail. The first of the Bradford firemen to arrive came from Odsal station and were later joined by 18 men from Central. A tremendous explosion occurred which blew them completely off the engine and, in the words of Chief Officer Scott, "within half an hour of turning out to the fire, all 18 men were in the infirmary or killed". Explosions, large and small occurred at frequent intervals, each scattering blazing debris in all directions, and gradually the whole works were destroyed.
At the adjoining North Bierley Works in Cleckheaton Road, a large gasometer containing 270,000 cubic feet of gas was ruptured by falling debris. The escaping gas quickly ignited and the heat could be felt almost a mile away. In the nearby railway sidings almost 30 carriages and wagons were destroyed and 100 seriously damaged.
Damge to surrounding areas was extensive, with broken windows in all houses and shops for 2 miles around. Roofs were badly damaged, ceilings brought down and doors were broken, so that for several days, people could not live in their houses and were forced to camp out in neighbouring fields or live with relatives. Some properties were completely demolished by the blast and 29 houses in First Street were erected in 1919 to replace these.
One thing which one eye witness recalls was the number of dogs running away in all directions, later to be found as far away as Wakefield, Huddersfield and Halifax.
The official casualty figures given were - 34 people killed and 60 injured. These figures applied only to the works, but outside the works, many more were injured by flying glass and debris.
The above is a brief synopsis of the event. If further information is required, a book was published following extensive research by Doctor R. Blackwell and is entitled THE LOW MOOR EXPLOSION.August 21st.1916.A MYSTERY EXPLAINED ?. Published by Coventry Lanchester Polytechnic Press, Coventry. ISBN. 0 86157 116 9.
The photographs which follow, were collected at the time of this research and remained lying in a box a until John Nicoll made them readily available as part of the original Low Moor History Web site.