Gunpowder is of course, a main component of fireworks, and used to be made extensively throughout Britain. Like many British manufacturing industries it has disappeared today, but much remains as ‘visitor attractions’ or just sites which you may encounter on a country walk.
The main requirements for manufacturing gunpowder are:
1. Accessibility of a port: two of the three ingredients were imported
2. Proximity of forests: charcoal – preferably alder or willow – is the third ingredient
3. Water: needed not only for the manufacturing process but also to drive the machinery. Hence centres of production were gunpowder mills.
4. An isolated location: in case of accidents and for testing of the finished product.
It helped also if the industries which were heavy consumers of powder, such as quarrying and mining, were closely situated.
This tin of gunpowder, made by Hall & Sons of Faversham, was found under the floorboards during building work in Arkwrights Stores in Cromford, Derbyshire.
It was said that ‘Tower Proof’ refers to the claim that it can be stored without detriment in the Tower of London for a year.
Notable Gunpowder Mill Areas:
Among the areas noted for gunpowder production are Kent, the Lake District and South Devon.
Three mills in the Faversham area – Oare, Marsh and Home Works- were the centre of the nation’s explosives industry for almost 400 years. All three factories closed in 1934, because their situation close to Continental Europe made them vulnerable in the event of war. Production, and some machinery and staff, were transferred to Ardeer, near Saltcoats, in Ayrshire, Scotland.
The 18th century Chart Gunpowder Mills, part of Home Works,are the oldest of their kind in the world, powder from which was used at the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo.
Old Sedgwick was the earliest gunpowder works in the area, established in about 1764. Seven works operating at times during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries,until the closure of Gatebeck in 1937.
The manufacture of gunpowder in Cumbria developed initially in response to demand from the mining and quarrying industries of the region, making use of the natural resources of woodland and water power available in Furness and South Lakeland.
Low Wood – one of the few remaining Lakeland sites showing any evidence of the once-thriving black powder industry.
The Royal Gunpowder Mills has been restored as a visitor attraction with indoor and outdoor exhibits for the whole family the Mills’ focus is a hands-on interactive exhibition telling the story of gunpowder manufacture at the site from the mid-1600s right up to it’s final closure in 1990.
The manufacture of gunpowder and guncotton at Dartford has a long history going back to the first half of the eighteenth century.
In 1790, there were only four mills at Dartford, but within just twenty years the powder magazines had become the most extensive in England.