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Stowmarket: Tragic factory explosion victims remembered

14:00 06 March 2014

The memorial plaque in Stowmarket

The memorial plaque in Stowmarket's Old Cemetary in memory of the victims of the explosion at Stowmarket's guncotton factory in the town. L-R: Sue Williams, Jeannette Baldry, Darren Dordoy, Heather Salmon, Annette Beresford, Steve Williams, with 18 month old Elijah Hyland.

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A devastating explosion which killed 28 people over 140 years ago has finally been marked by a memorial.

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The disaster at Stowmarket’s guncotton factory in 1871 left a crater 40ft wide and 10ft deep.

Buildings hundreds of metres away were damaged by the explosion which is arguably the biggest tragedy to occur in the town’s history.

Although money was raised at the time to help the families of those who died and to rebuild parts of the town crippled by the incident there was never a formal memorial commissioned.

But now a plague has been installed in the town’s Old Cemetery to commemorate the disaster’s victims after funds were raised by the Stowmarket Local History Group.

The group’s chairman, Steve Williams, explains how the idea for a memorial came about.

“There’d never been a plaque or any sort of commemoration,” Mr Williams said.

“A few years ago our local history group decided to take on the project of transcribing all the names in Stowmarket cemetery.

“Some people would often stop and have a chat and we noticed there were people coming round trying to find the plots of people killed in the explosion.”

Mr Williams said only three of the victims had their own headstones and the queries from members of the public prompted the group to consider fundraising for a plaque.

Money was raised through donations and fees from talks given by the history group.

And contributions from national companies such as Wetherspoons and Morrisons, as well as local funeral directors Andrew Bingham and Ipswich stonemason James Wright, also boosted the projects coffers.

The completed plaque was unveiled last month in a small ceremony attended by members of the history group, the Mayor of Stowmarket Vera Waspe, the Rev Michael Eden and the Rev Leslie Ivory.

Mr Williams added reaction to the plaque had been favourable and the group was considering new projects.

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