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Relatives of Silvertown explosion victims mark centenary of disaster

PUBLISHED: 11:34 20 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:02 20 January 2017

Sir Hugo Brunner, (great-grandson of JT Brunner, chairman of Brunner Mond, the company on the premises of which the explosion took place)  speaking at the commemoration of 100th anniversary of Silvertown explosion event. Picture by Ellie Hoskins

Sir Hugo Brunner, (great-grandson of JT Brunner, chairman of Brunner Mond, the company on the premises of which the explosion took place) speaking at the commemoration of 100th anniversary of Silvertown explosion event. Picture by Ellie Hoskins

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Relatives of those killed in “London’s biggest ever explosion” at a munitions factory have paid their respects at a centenary memorial.

Commemoration of 100th anniversary of Silvertown explosion event. Picture by Ellie Hoskins Commemoration of 100th anniversary of Silvertown explosion event. Picture by Ellie Hoskins

Seventy three people died, 400 were injured and more than 60,000 homes were destroyed in a 50 tonne TNT explosion at Brunner Mond works, in Crescent Wharf, Silvertown at 6.52pm on January 19, 1917.

Guests including Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, and Sir Hugo Brunner – the great-grandson of the chairman whose company owned the factory – observed a two-minute silence at the Royal Wharf last night to mark the exact moment when people had lost their lives.

Sir Robin said: “The Silvertown of a century ago was a major industrial hub, a place of hard work and invention.

“But the area was much more than just a place of work, it was a community.”

Sir Robin Wales speaks at the commemoration of 100th anniversary of Silvertown explosion event. Picture by Ellie Hoskins Sir Robin Wales speaks at the commemoration of 100th anniversary of Silvertown explosion event. Picture by Ellie Hoskins

“Tragically that community was torn apart by one of the largest explosions ever seen in the UK.

“In all the accounts about the explosion you cannot help but be moved by the bravery and community spirit of the people of Silvertown from the firemen running towards the danger to the people supporting those made homeless by the blast.”

Speeches were made by the mayor, Sir Hugo and historian Dr Malcolm Graham before wreaths and flowers were laid at the memorial stone in front of approximately 70 guests on the Royal Wharf developement at the site of the former factory.

Attendee Sheila Simpson, 59, was invited as her grandmother’s sister, Elizabeth Priscilla Preston, was killed in the blast at 6 Mill Road, just over the road from the munitions factory.

Elizabeth had taken the fateful decision that January evening in 1917 to leave her house with her mother-in-law Hannah Preston and her two children, George, three, and 11-month-old Dorothy.

Sheila said: ”I was amazed to find to the house still standing but that was the reason why they had died – because they went out into the garden.”

Despite feeling “sad” by the occasion, she said she was “really glad that it was marked in some way tonight”.

Sir Hugo, who initiated the commemoration and attended with members of his family, said “the place meant a lot” to him.

The 81-year-old only found about his connection to the explosion in 2008 when a film director from Toronto contacted him about a lesser-know trench disaster in World War One, eventually linking this back to the Silvertown disaster.

He said: “The Brunners and Monds, whose family business operated the factory, are very pleased to be associated with this act of remembrance to honour those who suffered in the explosion and their families.”

Last night’s cententary event was organised and hosted by the Royal Wharf developers Ballymore and Oxley, in partnership with Newham Council and Sir Hugo.

A factual display about the explosion will be shown in the borough’s libraries in the coming weeks.

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