Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Lyddite Works Explosion

From the Huddersfield Examiner, Thursday December 3, 1914.

Six persons were killed, four are reported missing, and twelve have been more or less seriously injured as the result of the disastrous explosion of lyddite on Wednesday at White Lea, a district situated between Heckmondwike, Dewsbury and Batley.

The works, which were owned by Messrs. Henry Ellison, Ltd., were wrecked, considerable damage was done to buildings in the vicinity, windows more than a mile away were smashed, and the explosion itself could be heard as far away as Leeds and Bradford.

It appears that three lyddite magazines exploded in a field near the works.  So terrific was the explosion, however, that not only were the whole of the works involved in ruin, but property within a radius of  hundreds of yards suffered damage.  …. [list of dead missing and injured follows.]

Among those employed on the premises was Jim Gath, the famous forward who played with Yorkshire when the star of the Batley Football Club was in the ascendant.  The discovery of his insurance card in the remains of a coat among the ruins led to the assumption that he had been killed, but it was afterwards discovered that he had gone quietly home to nurse injuries which were not serious.

Messrs. Ellison’s factory was situated on the brow of a hill overlooking the Spen Valley, and the force of the blast, travelling straight across the intervening gap, smashed in shop windows at the other side two and a half miles away. ....

The explosion obliterated all trace of its origin, and as presumably the men nearest the magazines lost their lives, it is very doubtful whether the cause will ever be ascertained.  The manufacture of explosives was not a new undertaking at these works.  Lyddite was made there during the South African War.  The production of powerful explosives had been resumed since the outbreak of the present war and an extension of the premises was being made in order better to cope with the work.  Lyddite, the modern military high explosive, is chemically much the same as picric acid.  The consignment of picric acid – a yellow solid crystalline – stored in the magazines had only just been prepared for delivery to the Government.

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