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 You must seek permission prior to publication of any of our images.

The Great War Centenary 1917 - Exhibition

Boomtown - From Front Line to White Lund

How did the fire start?

‘Death in all cases was due to injuries accidentally received whilst carrying out their duties in a National Factory during a fire there being no evidence to show how the fire originated.’
Coroner’s verdict

There have been many theories of how the fire started that led to the explosions at White Lund.

TNT ignited spontaneously …
Although the filling rooms at White Lund were kept warm, because of the sensitivity of the explosives, this was dismissed by Colonel Barlow investigating the fire.

Someone smoking nearby and threw a lighted match or cigarette end onto the TNT…
Workers were searched for cigarettes and matches on entering White Lund. Even so, men and women were caught with them and prosecuted. Between July 1917 and October 1917 there were 50 convictions for possessing smoking materials including matches, cigarettes, a pipe and tobacco. Punishments were severe and could mean prison. Ada Williams, aged 18 years, from Oldham was fined £5 in February 1917 after being found with a part smoked cigarette in her pocket. The local paper reported that the case was brought ‘…in consequence of the heavy amount of smoking in the case of young girls at the factory. There had been smoking recently at the rear of a change house. They must protect the factory and the town.’

Attacks from a Zeppelin
Britain had suffered a range of attacks from German Zeppelin airships from January 1915. Morecambe had experienced its own scare in April when the Corporation siren had sounded after the alarm was raised by a Special Constable and a group of soldiers outside the Grand Hotel, who were convinced they had seen an ‘engine of destruction’ hovering over the bay in the direction of Ulverston. Whilst these raids had focussed heavily on London there had been a serious raid on York in May 1916, killing 9 people. Zeppelins remained a very real fear.

At the request of the Ministry of Munitions, Scotland Yard detectives were sent up ‘to investigate the possibility of the disaster having been due to malice’. Options for who might be to blame included:

From a German spy…
Little effort was needed to keep the public suspicious of foreigners. In an article in the Lancaster Guardian 50 years after the explosions, George Pedder gave his view on the culprit. ‘There was a man who looked after the TNT store whom I swear was a German spy. He was a little man who had a black patch over one eye and he was always the last to go to the canteen.’ Mr Pedder was convinced this man could have concealed matches under his eye patch. However, there were no registered ‘aliens’ on the staff and the Works Police did not take the matter seriously.

From Irish militants
After the Easter Rising of 1916, aimed at ending British rule and bringing about the Republic of Ireland, there were concerns about the allegiance of Irish people in England. Indeed background checks with the Royal Irish Constabulary were recommended for all possible Irish employees and that anyone with Sinn Fein sympathies should be ‘rigorously excluded.’

Or was it something else?


© Images are copyright, Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum.
 You must seek permission prior to publication of any of our images.

Only a proportion of our collections are on display at anyone time.  Certain items are on loan for display in other institutions.  An appointment is required to consult any of our collections which are held in store.

© 2017 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum