Tragic explosion remembered 150 years on

Claire Smith held a small service at Red Gables to commemorate the people that died in the Cotton ex

L-R Colin Lay, Claire Smith, Robert Horn at the service commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Stowmarket gun cotton explosion - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

It was one of the darkest days in Suffolk’s history: 28 lives lost many of them teenagers, the youngest just 12.  

Now, 150 years on residents are continuing to remember those lost in the Stowmarket Gun Cotton Explosion.  

The explosion took place at the Patent Safety Gun Cotton Company; gun cotton was a highly explosive compound used as an explosive.  

"It was a massive catastrophe for the town," said Claire Smith, a local historian. 

"The Prentice's were a big employer. 

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"Children were working there as young as 12." 

Those 12 year-olds were Alfred Bloom, Mary Mount, Alice Mutimer and Susan Wilding.

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It's said that Mary was only able to be identified because of the stockings she had been wearing that day.

A definitive cause for the explosion has never been properly ascertained.  

One posited explanation is that sulphuric acid was added either by mistake or on purpose by an unknown person. 

No one was ever charged in connection with the explosion despite a reward being issued. 

In addition to the 28 people who died, even more in the town were injured. 

The explosion was so loud that it left around 200 people deaf and was heard as far away as Southwold. 

The craters it left behind were around nine or ten metres deep in places. 

"It changed our town," said Mrs Smith. 

A memorial in the town names those who died in the explosion, while a road in the town, Gun Cotton Way, also commemorates the incident.  

On Wednesday Mrs Smith and a group of local people stood outside Red Gable, the former home of Eustace Prentice, the factory’s owner, and remembered those who had died at the exact time of the incident, 150 years on. 

Mrs Smith read the list of those who had died as well as a poem. 

Although many of the physical scars have since healed, Mrs Smith said it was important that people in Stowmarket continued to remember the incident. 

She said: "I can't believe there's people in the town that go along Gun Cotton Way and don't know why it's called that. 

"I just think that we are in a town and I know things will evolve and we have so much history and we should not let it go.” 

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