The Low Moor Memorial, Birkenshaw: The memorial to explosions which caused devastated across Bradford

On August 21, 1916, at 3.16pm, the first of a series of explosions ripped through a chemical works in the Low Moor area of Bradford.

It was manufacturing picric acid, which can be used in antiseptics and dyes. Indeed, the factory had been supplying Yorkshire’s textile and carpet mills with dyestuffs since 1898.

However, by the First World War all production at Low Moor was used to manufacture explosives.

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In all 40 people died, including six firemen who tackled the resulting blaze. A total of 60 people were reported injured.

Low Moor Memorial in BirkenshawLow Moor Memorial in Birkenshaw
Low Moor Memorial in Birkenshaw

Around 2,000 homes in south Bradford were damaged, 50 of them so badly they had to be demolished.

On a nearby railway line 30 wagons were destroyed. Flying debris ignited a gasometer, resulting in a fireball said to have been visible as far away as York.

The local paper later said the explosion was so severe it shattered every window within a two-mile radius, but at the time the disaster was not widely publicised due to wartime reporting restrictions.

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Initially, investigators suspected the involvement of Belgian workers at the factory. They were accused of being sympathetic to Germany, something they denied.

However, it soon emerged that the actual cause of the explosion was the woefully unsafe storage of chemicals, leading to their accidental combustion.

Some of the dead firemen were so severely injured they were identified only by the unique numbers on their axes.

A memorial was erected at their graves in Scholemoor Cemetery. In 2003, it was moved to the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s HQ in Birkenshaw.

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