Remembering Lizzie and a family devestated by the Silvertown explosion

Elizabeth Preston who was killed by the Silvertown explosion along with her two children.

Elizabeth Preston who was killed by the Silvertown explosion along with her two children. - Credit: Archant

One family torn apart by the disaster was that of Elizabeth Priscilla Preston.

Three-year-old George and 11-month-old Dorothy Preston died along with their mother and grandmother.

Three-year-old George and 11-month-old Dorothy Preston died along with their mother and grandmother. - Credit: Archant

After hearing the commotion caused by the fire at the Brunner Mond works, Elizabeth went to the bottom of her garden at 6 Mill Road, just over the road from the munitions factory.

She took her mother-in-law Hannah Preston and her two children, George, three, and 11-month-old Dorothy, along with her.

Elizabeth and her husband James, who had just got a better paid job as a rollerman at Vernon & Sons’ flour mill in Silvertown, had moved from Boundary Road, Upton Park, but had no idea their new terraced home was less than 100 metres from the “danger building” where the hazardous work of purifying explosives was being carried out around the clock.

James’s 28-year-old wife was reluctant to move to Silvertown, but had to oblige.

Rose Roberts saw her sister Elizabeth's ghost at the time of her death in the Silvertown explosion.

Rose Roberts saw her sister Elizabeth's ghost at the time of her death in the Silvertown explosion. - Credit: Archant


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Whilst her neighbours, who knew about the work, ran in the opposite direction, Elizabeth and her family remained outside right in the path of what was to follow.

Five minutes later two huge explosions split the air, damaging the fire station opposite and obliterating Elizabeth and James’s neighbours’ homes.

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The factory was ravaged by fire, yet James survived.

He would later discover that his mother, his wife and their two children had been killed by the explosion.

At 6.55pm, in a house in Forest Gate, Elizabeth’s younger sister Rose, orphaned along with her sibling and two brothers in 1901, was brushing her hair after finishing work as a maid.

Suddenly, standing behind her, to her amazement, she saw her sister in the mirror.

But when she spun round to see, Elizabeth had vanished.

The deaths shook the whole family. Broken by the ordeal and maddened by grief, James later begged Rose to marry him, but she refused.

Rose married a man 13 years older who took his life after returning from the trenches.

For Rose’s descendents, her family’s story is a moving one.

Granddaughter Sheila Simpson, 59, who lives in Scotland and will lay flowers at a private memorial service on Thursday for relatives of those killed or injured in the disaster, said: “My mum would have had cousins if George and Dorothy had survived.

“It’s just really sad. It may have been worth the risk to the Ministry and to Brunner Mond, but frankly, they weren’t the people taking the risk. That was the people of Silvertown.

“It wasn’t worth the risk to their unborn descendants who would never see the light of day.

“It wasn’t worth the risk to the even larger number of people affected by losing their loved ones, or having them rendered disabled.”

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