Low Moor Explosion
On 21st August 1916 there was a large explosion at the Low Moor munitions factory that killed 38 and injured over 100 people
The Low Moor Chemical Company produced Picric acid which was used as a dye to colour carpets. The people that worked there were called canaries because their skin, hair, eyes and teeth all went yellow. In contained spaces it was explosive.
So when the war started picric acid was used as an explosive. Low Moor Chemical Company was turned into a munitions factory and expanded to cope with demand.
Monday 21 august 1916 was a sunny day in the school holidays at the time about 200 people worked in the factory.
At 2.30 a man was moving picric acid across the yard when he heard a sizzling sound, he turned and saw the fire which knocked him to the ground.
There was no fire alarm just people shouting to get out, the water sprinkler system was turned on but no one knows if any water actually came out. People ran for their lives they knew a big explosion was coming.
10 minutes later the explosion happened it sent up a huge cloud of smoke and a fireball. It was heard as far away as York, debris fell for several miles around and the air smelt of bad eggs.
Firemen from Bradford were called bringing the “hayhurst” a motorised fire engine with them. They arrived at the factory and started to connect hoses when a second explosion happened and knocked the firemen off killing 6 and seriously injuring the rest.
Another fire engine from Odsal was crushed under a wall that fell over in the explosion killing 2 firemen.
The manager directed the factory firemen (his son the chief fire officer was away on holiday) and firemen from the railway and neighbouring factories joined in. The manager was not seen for a few hours then came crawling out on his hands and knees at 6pm, he was taken home but died that night from shock and poisonous gases.
The factory was next to the train line and the man in the signal box telephoned in the explosion set his signal to red to stop the trains and escaped in time before his signal box was destroyed.
The fire spread to the nearby Bradford Gas works, the gasometer exploded sending up a huge fireball that was so loud a 7 year old boy was made deaf by it.
Lots of people helped bringing carts to take people to hospital. The explosions continued for the rest of the day and it took 3 days to put the fire out completely.
People had to stay with friends, family, some slept in woods, or sheltered in schools.
The factory and gas works were destroyed, a neighbouring factory seriously damaged. 50 houses had to be demolished and 2000 were badly damaged (windows blown out, chimneys down, doors off hinges, ceilings down, roof tiles broken).
Train lines were ruined, 30 railway carriages destroyed, 100 badly damaged. 3 schools had to close – one didn’t reopen until following January.
Due to the war newspapers were not allowed to say what had happened or where. However thousands of people came from across Bradford to see what had happened it became a tourist attraction.
Word of mouth spread and thousands of people came out for the funeral prosession to thank the fire fighters who helped and pay respect to those who died. Medals were given to all the fire fighters involved.
BLACKWELL, R. (1986). The Low Moor Explosion August 21st 1916: A Mystery Explained. Coventry Lanchester Polytechnic Press.
Bradford World War One Group (2007) Bradford in the Great War, Sutton Publishing.
WYAS 8D91 - West Yorkshire Archive Service Ron Blackwell, historical notes re Low Moor Explosion