Colin Grainger

Help tell the story of the Silvertown Explosion in 1917 – and add to history archive


Local people are being asked to contribute to a history archive being created on the Silvertown Explosion in 1917 in our Royal Docks.

Did you or your family used to work in or grow up in or around Silvertown in the Royal Docks area? Do you remember hearing any family stories about the Silvertown explosion? Perhaps a member of your family experienced the explosion first hand and has their own story to tell?

The London’s Royal Docks group are looking for people to come forward with “Forgotten Stories” about London’s biggest ever explosion which hit Silvertown on January 19th 1917, in preparation for the 100th year anniversary in January 2017.

These “Forgotten Stories” will be collated and some of them published as a new series – “Forgotten Stories of Silvertown” – within the online history archive that the Royal Docks have created  The archive provides a historical record of a unique area on the eve of major redevelopment.

Mike Luddy, Managing Director of RoDMA, the Royal Docks Management Authority, said:” “Our Forgotton Stories programme has already revealed some amazing memories from local people who recall when the Royal Docks was the primary entry point for goods for London.

“It’s already created a fantastic visual and verbal archive of the docks in its prime. The Silvertown Explosion was a terrible but important point in the history of the docks and its right that we should mark its centenary by seeking to capture memories of relatives who can recall the event.”

The Silvertown Explosion was the biggest there had ever been in London, the blast occurred at Brunner Mond works, a munitions plant manufacturing explosives for WW1 located on the south side of the North Woolwich Road – now the A1020. Approx. 50 tons of TNT exploded resulting in 73 deaths and almost 500 injured. Over 900 houses were totally destroyed leaving thousands homeless and up to 70,000 more were badly damaged by the blast.

The organisation are looking for more stories and ask anyone who is interested in taking part in London’s Royal Docks ‘Forgotten Stories of Silvertown’ project to please get in touch with or or call them on 01273 775520 or via their Facebook page @LondonsRoyalDocks

Once completed, the archive will be available for people to view at


One story they have already publicised is that of Keith Lloyd. He was born in 1932 and lived in Cranbrook Road, West Silvertown, for 24 years. He finally moved to Stratford in 1956 and now lives in Ilford, Essex.

Keith has written a book about the explosion – Weapons of Mass Destruction – in which he recalls asking his Mother, Ivy Orley (who passed away in 2007) what she remembered about the Silvertown explosion. Ivy, aged 4, was at home on Cranbrook Road with her Mother (Agnes Orley) when they heard the first explosion at 6.52pm. They ran to hide under the stairs. Ivy recalled the “walls coming down like jelly” as the explosion hit their house as she watched through the gap in the doorway. The house was destroyed to rubble and they could not get out. They were found by the eldest son Bob, who had been sent out to get some bread…he ran home to find the house in rubble and his Mum and sister shouting for help. Astonishingly, as soon as she saw her son, Agnes asked, “where’s the bread?”

As a consequence of the damage to the house, the family had to find somewhere to live and had no alternative to split up. Keith’s mum went with her mum to live with an Aunty (who was not a close family member), and the other children went to another distant family

Keith’s Dad also witnessed the explosion He remembers looking up at the sky thinking ‘the sun must have fallen out of the sky.’ and the brutal image of a head blown off a young girl.

Further accounts from Keith can be found here

Silvertown Explosion pictures:



  1. MRS M Cronin
    November 28, 2016

    MY Late Father Henry Beckford was injured in the Silvertown Explosion and I have some imformation I would like to give you

    • Colin Grainger
      December 20, 2016

      Hi Mrs Cronin, I have only just seen your email, many apologies as it did not come through to my email.


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This article was written on 12 Oct 2016, and is filed under History, London's Royal Docks, Silvertown, Silvertown Explosion 1917.

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