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Old Firework Factory Locations


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#61 pyrotechnist

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 09:45 AM

Cant wait for the pictures mate, the main Sanquhar factory that is still used how damaged would you say the buildings are? To what I can see from aerial views, finally updated, and road side view the outsides dont look awfully bad accept for stripping of paint though I dont see any broken windows thank god. Are all the buildings unlocked by any chance? just that 3 appeared to have no doors right at the back of the site. I am glad it is currently occupied and they at least keep it half maintained, I am sure with some restoration work the factory could be re-stored to its original if not better glory as nothing appears to be as worse off as the Wells factory.
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#62 crystal palace fireworks

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 02:21 PM

I would be happy to share my experiences of some of these sites:

Brocks.

Visited three or four times over the past 2 - 3 years, it is just as described in previous posts, mothballed / forgotten, a real time capsule in places, simply derelict in others.

The factory was established on the site of a former colliery, Gateshead Colliery (from memory).

The original site is on the eastern side of the road heading north out of Sanquhar, about a mile out of town. This site has the original buildings associated with the coal mine, the baths, offices and a couple of which cottages presumably housed the pit security personnel. They were converted into offices for the company and the main building became an amorce production line. In later years this became the main offices.

The site is built on a slight incline, the buildings I mention are towards the top of the hill, a few hundred yards beck from the road, closer to the road are the remains of the technical department and in the mid-ground one or two old magazines.

The place is a complete shell. When I visited there were one or two old bits remaining, the original "Explosives Act" sign for Brocks Fireworks and the General Rules were on a board on the floor of the magazine. All the windows were broken and pigeons had taken the place over.

The new factory was built on the western side of the road, this is a much larger site, has a 1950's look about it, white blockwork buildings scatterred all about, the grass is kept short and the whole place is built along the lines of the traditional factory. Only one building seems to be in regular use and they make other products there, I won't disclose the nature of their work for legal reasons.

I have pictures, took loads, will try and find them.

I had business in Sanquhar, hence the visit, but my connection with the place goes back to my first job at Astra in Kent. The guys who bought Astra were all ex-Brocks. I have met many impressive people in my life but these guys were, in my opinion, the most inspirational, wonderful bunch you could ever meet. Some are still involved in the business - Martin Guest and John Park are amongst the most experienced firework people you will ever meet, Christopher Gumbley now works in defence. I am still in touch with all three and very priviledged to be so. - I have digressed a bit......anyhow, visiting the place a while back, travelled up the night before, popped into the town for a beer or two and whilst in a quiet bar, announced my reasons for being there to the barman. A moment later an elderly gentleman appeared alongside me and informed me that he worked at the site for twenty years and knew it like the back of his hand. We agreed to meet the following morning at 8.00 at the factory gate for a factory tour and history lesson. I spent 5 hours walking around with him (with the managers permission) and was given the rundown on every single building on both sites and on the site before it was built. Was offerred a job there years ago but the money was not too good and the surroundings less than cheerful. Nonetheless it is a place to behold.

Astra

Worked there from 1983 to 1988/89. A really lovely factory and an absobulte crime for it to have disappeared.

There is another post going about starting up a factory today - when they shut Astra down they decided to prolong the demise by taking on odd jobs to use up the chemicals and tubes etc. they couldn't readily sell off, by the time they cleared the stocks of raw materials they had accumulated unwittingly 6 months advance orders, a friend of mine who was still on site sorting out the closure told me the phone didn't stop ringing and they could have just kept going and going, but these are different times now and the chinese situation wasn't such a threat then.

The place had not changed since its birth in places when I joined, old fashioned processes, buildings, fireworks, labels and workers! (proper old bags and grumpy old men working their socks off). Bags of memorabilia all around the place, tonnes skipped when the company changed label designs in the mid 80's.

The factory became a victim of the companies success unfortunately and a following a series of acquisitions in the course of expansion was closed down in 1990. Again I have some photographs - to my shame no-where near enough - which will be up-loaded.

Unwins

One such acquisition was Unwins, better known to the forum as Wells. The older members of staff at Astra still referred to the place as the old Joseph Wells place. I think I have already gone into some detail on this site previously and won't bother repeating it. The reason for the company purchasing the place was that we were involved by now in mortar ammunition and other projects which demanded increased safety distances. Dartford provided that, in particular with regards to magazines. Those of you who have been on site will possibly have seen the magazines at the bottom end, beyond this lies the Thames at Long Reach, and between these places nothing.

Alas, the company in the meantime bought BMARCo at Grantham and Faldingworth and in my opinion Dartford became a bit of a white elephant. We never really did a great deal there other than the jobs we would want to accomodate down at Sandwich, C.S. smokes etc.

The place was decommissioned at around the same time as Sandwich, maybe slightly late, I cannot remember really. I did call in once - it was around the time we were setting up Spectrum and I bought up some of the chemicals and a set of scales. The same personnel were involved in the clearance there as at Sandwich, men I had worked with. I didn't realise the significance of what was going on, the place was always a bit scruffy and run down and so the closure didn't seem that dramatic.

I did ask if they found any memorabilia but they didn't, it had been cleared out long before, I was given the name of the man who took it all but he is dead now - I never got to talk to him about it. I know the laboratory was taken by Haley and Weller, Colonel John Kent ran the place (they were also owned by Astra and although we had connections and visited in the course of our work I never worked there), as soon as he saw the Lab he declared that he wanted it and off it went. I presume it is installed there.

Unwins was small but industrious, the workforce featured a higher proportion of pretty girls than Astra (some would argue this was not a difficult thing to achieve) but it always seemd happy and carefree there, maybe because the sun always seemed to be shining during my visits and perhaps because I was there in a different capacity to those grafting away in the sheds.

There were natural differences in the way things were done there and these were explained to me whenever I was on site, at Astra we had men wheeling barrows around to deliver chemicals and other supplies from bay to bay called servicers, at Unwins they had telephones outside every shed - whether they all still worked or not was a different matter as the place was very tired and the electrics shagged.

The company installed a second acquisition on site, a company called OFS I believe, they were involved in security from memory and occupied a big well set out building on the left hand side towards the canteen.

I really will try and get the photographs together. As for public records the HSE tell me they shred everything.


Spectrum,

Thanks for posting the info above.

Is there any chance you can give me contact (email addresses) details of any of the guys you meet that worked at Brock`s?. please PM me if you can

I just want to collect as much info as possible for the Wells at Amberley firework museum.

regards

Keith Brock

#63 spectrum

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 11:03 PM

of course keith

#64 spectrum

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 11:13 PM

Cant wait for the pictures mate, the main Sanquhar factory that is still used how damaged would you say the buildings are? To what I can see from aerial views, finally updated, and road side view the outsides dont look awfully bad accept for stripping of paint though I dont see any broken windows thank god. Are all the buildings unlocked by any chance? just that 3 appeared to have no doors right at the back of the site. I am glad it is currently occupied and they at least keep it half maintained, I am sure with some restoration work the factory could be re-stored to its original if not better glory as nothing appears to be as worse off as the Wells factory.



I would describe the site as having varying degrees of delapidation throughout. Some places locked, others not, some windows broken others not. The place is a sleeping museum but it is also a working factory. In view of this, the location and with regard to the current owners plans and wishes this is, I regret, not a place for the society to preserve the past, but to observe it.

I will certainly upload my images though

#65 pyrotechnist

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 11:46 PM

Is the owner knocking the place down :o?
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#66 spectrum

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 11:17 AM

Is the owner knocking the place down Posted Image?



I think they simply maintain the places they use and ignore the places they don't

#67 pyrotechnist

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 12:03 PM

How much of the site would you say they still use? I thought you was going to say they where selling up or pulling it down.
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#68 spectrum

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 05:25 PM

How much of the site would you say they still use? I thought you was going to say they where selling up or pulling it down.


They only use a small part, I won't go into this in detail for legal reasons, but the place is not for sale nor, so far as I understand are there any plans for demolition. I have only provided my comments for rerence purposes and hope I have not created any false impressions.

#69 pyrotechnist

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 05:29 PM

No no just that I have plans for the place in the not to distant future. Cant wait to see your pics of it though.
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#70 spectrum

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 05:51 PM

A factory which has not been mentioned is the Reliance Snap Co., I think they were in Bishops Stortford.

This company produced the snaps which went into the Christmas crackers for years, until they were copied in china and the market then flooded with cheaper copies.

I first came across the company whilst looking for premises when setting up Spectrum, I obtained a list of all factories and magazines in the U.K. and they were listed.

I am not sure when they closed but recently discussed the set up with John Park, (mentioned in previous post) who worked for Brocks many years ago. John is a VERY knowledgeable man and was one of the founder directors of Astra Pyrotechnics, again referred to previously, a first class man.

The Reliance Snap factory was based in a victorian building and not constructed along the lines of the traditional factory, it may have been licensed as a "Toy Firework Factory", these were licenced with exceptionally lenient terms owing to the very small quantites of materials present.

The snaps used silver fulminate from what I understand, John could even remember the supplier of Silver ribbon used in the process, this was kept in a safe in the upstairs office and had to be signed for when drawn from stock with meticulous controls in force. As an aside, another associate from my past, Larry Oliver, again a former Astra colleague recalled a factory which, undertaking a similar process, used a silver shilling for the purpose, they went through a coin a week and the boss sourced the coins specifically for the purpose, from what Larry told me they required a certain type of coin of a certain age hence, they were collected carefully.

I would be very surprised if there was a single member of the society who hadn't dismantled a cracker snap and wondered at the black composition at the interface of the two strips - I will reveal a delightful snippet here:

The snaps were constructed with composition on one strip and an abrasive surface on the other, in order to avoid confusion they coloured one side black using emulsion paint. When the Chinese copied the product they even went to the trouble of replicating this, probably in ignorance, unaware of the reasons behind the design feature, the black colouring is still employed on cracker snaps to this day for no other reason!

On a less favourable note, Sonhi Esco (I believe) saw the opportunity to make some money by copying the product in the far east and this led to the demise of the factory, from memory they did not disappear for some time, I think the licence was still in place whilst I was at BMARCo in 1989, that is when I discovered the company on the listing, I cannot recall the licence number. I believe they employed half a dozen or so workers, I will check this out, and also produced finished Christmas Crackers - I have seen old examples of these under the Brocks branding.

#71 spectrum

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 06:02 PM

Something I should have mentioned earlier. In addition to my work at the factory - which is now rather more specialised and limited to technical issues rather than full scale production (which bores me rigid) I am investing time and effort in a Media Production degree, this is aimed at supporting a specific work project which I will not go into here. I have discussed this in the past with a small number of society members so it is not a complete secret.

A funny thing for a 45 year old pyrotechnist to do I know and slightly mad I accept.

Part of the course involves a single camera production, I am opting to produce a documentary on the history of the pyrotechnics industry in the U.K., again I will not go into any detail owing to the fact that all too frequently, my activities are copied by another company and I have to maintain a degree of secrecy about myself and my company.

Anyhow...before too long I intend to visit some of the old sites, record film footage of what is left and piece together the documentary from what can be gathered in the future, I have some exciting ideas about how the production will be put together....but cannot say.

I would be happy to include the society in my plans and the information recorded in this thrad is particularly valuable, I am enouraged and reassurred by the level of interest in the subject....or are we all anoraks!!!



#72 exat808

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 06:09 PM

A factory which has not been mentioned is the Reliance Snap Co., I think they were in Bishops Stortford.

This company produced the snaps which went into the Christmas crackers for years, until they were copied in china and the market then flooded with cheaper copies.


The Reliance Snap factory was based in a victorian building and not constructed along the lines of the traditional factory, it may have been licensed as a "Toy Firework Factory", these were licenced with exceptionally lenient terms owing to the very small quantites of materials present.

The snaps used silver fulminate from what I understand, John could even remember the supplier of Silver ribbon used in the process, this was kept in a safe in the upstairs office and had to be signed for when drawn from stock with meticulous controls in force. As an aside, another associate from my past, Larry Oliver, again a former Astra colleague recalled a factory which, undertaking a similar process, used a silver shilling for the purpose, they went through a coin a week and the boss sourced the coins specifically for the purpose, from what Larry told me they required a certain type of coin of a certain age hence, they were collected carefully.

I would be very surprised if there was a single member of the society who hadn't dismantled a cracker snap and wondered at the black composition at the interface of the two strips - I will reveal a delightful snippet here:

The snaps were constructed with composition on one strip and an abrasive surface on the other, in order to avoid confusion they coloured one side black using emulsion paint. When the Chinese copied the product they even went to the trouble of replicating this, probably in ignorance, unaware of the reasons behind the design feature, the black colouring is still employed on cracker snaps to this day for no other reason!

.


Probably referenced on the forums before but an interesting web page on snaps can be found at http://www.classic-c.../christmas.html

#73 spectrum

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 06:16 PM

BMARCo, Grantham.

Not a firework factory but an ammunition filling plant constructed along very similar lines.

Back in 1989, as a naive 24 year old chapee I was despatched to Grantham, Lincolnshire where my employers, Astra Holdings, had purchased BMARCo, British Manufacture and Research Company.

The factory was originally based in Grantham, they went on to set up the satelite factory at Faldingworth a few miles north of Lincoln and around 25 - 30 miles from the Grantham site.

I arrived on a Sunday evening, quite alone, by train. Stayed at the Blue Ram Inn in the middle of town and remained there for about a year.

The factory made ammunition, medium calibre and was originally built as row after row of wooden huts, all mounded I believe with horsby and goodwyn magazines to the edges, if you saw the place you would swear it was a firework factory, it could have served as one certainly.

Shortly before Astra bought the place they demolished the huts leaving only a single multi-bay building for us to work in, this became the R and D block for the first year but eventually we have to cave in to pressure and re-locate to Faldingworth. I did get some pictures but lost them, a real shame. Some of the buildings are still there, even some of the original sheds which were built on a hillside, this was heavily subsiding when we arrived and was out of bounds, needless to say I explored the place, photographed it and then lost the photo's. Prat!

Some good things came of it all, I met my wife there. I am across there tomorrow and will no doubt call in and look at the place, it became an industrial estate eventually. The factory was the subject of a wartime film - "The Foreman Went to France".

A bit off topic but no doubt of interest. (I did attempt to locate our first factory there but there was huge political objection to this, the company were involved in the supergun affair and a former director was pulling strings the wrong way - nonetheless, I am pleased about this because I would not want to base my business on rented factory accomodation controlled by someone else. I know of one company in this position and understand their position to be very shakey as a consequence)



#74 exat808

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 06:28 PM

BMARCo, Grantham.

Not a firework factory but an ammunition filling plant constructed along very similar lines.



The factory made ammunition, medium calibre and was originally built as row after row of wooden huts, all mounded I believe with horsby and goodwyn magazines to the edges, if you saw the place you would swear it was a firework factory, it could have served as one certainly.






BMARCo made the very fine cartridge cases for the 30mm Rarden cannon system. Hornsby and Goodwyn are still alive as H&G Explosive Services based in Scunthorpe and are the leading light in explosive storage facilities in the UK. Pyro and Fireworks not in their end of the market but have been involved in some very interesting projects with them over the years.

#75 spectrum

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 06:36 PM

BMARCo made the very fine cartridge cases for the 30mm Rarden cannon system. Hornsby and Goodwyn are still alive as H&G Explosive Services based in Scunthorpe and are the leading light in explosive storage facilities in the UK. Pyro and Fireworks not in their end of the market but have been involved in some very interesting projects with them over the years.


Funny enough, my boss at BMARC was Richard Topping, we were very close - I named our first child after him.

He was QAR at RARDE and principally responsible for putting the RARDEN round into service, it is his 70th birthday bash this evening and I should be with him, it is with great regret that I am not.




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