Explosion In Spitalfields

One thing you most certainly don’t associate with Spitalfields is the manufacture of fireworks. or, to be more precise, I don’t associate fireworks with the enclave.

The weaving trade, fruit and vegetables, tailoring, and boot making – these you do think of when you think about Spitalfields.

But fireworks? Most certainly not!

However, as The Derry Journal reported on Wednesday, 25th September 1850, the was a firework manufacturer in Spitalfields, and one day – well, read on:-


One of the most frightful explosions of fireworks that have occurred in the metropolis for many years happened on Monday, the 16th, at a few minutes before noon, and speedily laid in ruins a large amount of property, besides, seriously, if not fatal!v, injuring the proprietor of the manufactory and one of his men.

A great many other persons, some living many hundred yards from the immediate scene of the catastrophe, were badly hurt.

The scene of this disaster was Weaver Street Spitalfields. The premises were in the tenure of Mr. John Clitherow, an artist in fireworks.


It appears that the first explosion happened in what is termed the mixing house, at which time only Mr. Clitherow and one of his men were at work.

It is supposed that, whilst engaged at their dangerous calling, some rockets must have fallen to the ground, and that the force of the blow caused them to explode.

In an instant, a series of loud and fearful explosions followed, which made a noise like the roar of a park of artillery.

At the same time some hundred rockets shot through the roof and ascended many feet above the house-tops, whilst two men, who have since been ascertained to be Mr. Clitherow and one of his workmen, were blown out of the building into the yard.

Two young men, named William and John Elfenbein, had climbed over the back wall in the hopes of rendering assistance when another and still louder explosion than the first happened, and some score of fireballs and maroons rose to a great height, showering their content in every direction.


Houses nearly a quarter of a mile distant suffered severely, whilst some buildings nearer were partially riddled, the furniture destroyed, and the occupants thrown into an indescribable state of alarm.

The two men who had thus volunteered their assistance were obliged to lie down in order to allow the combustibles to fly over their heads; but one was, notwithstanding, severely injured by a fireball striking his knee-cap.


The noise occasioned by the second explosion had scarcely subsided when the contents of the storeroom became ignited.

When the third explosion, which is described to have in the magazine as well as in the store, occurred, the houses in Weaver-street, Spicer-street, Buxton Street, and New Church Court were shaken to their very foundations; the window frames were forced from their bearings, the roofs broken in, and the furniture thrown into the utmost disorder or broken into fragments.


When the explosions had subsided, the manufactory broke out into and general mass of fire.

Fortunately, several fire engines quickly attended, and the flames were prevented from extending beyond the factory.

The moment the fire was extinguished, the firemen commenced inquiry, with a view of ascertaining the extent of the mischief done; but some time must elapse before the whole of it will be known.


Up to six o’clock, last evening, the following damages were ascertained:-

The premises of Mr. Clitherow, used as the firework factory, blown down, the contents consumed, and private residence very extensively damaged, the roof being displaced, window-glass demolished, and furniture much broken.

About 20 houses belonging Mr. Dew, the builder, in Buxton Street are very severely damaged.

The major portion of the large sheets of plate glass, in the goods depot of the Eastern Counties Railway, in St. John’s street, a long distance off, is demolished.

All Saints’ National School and the Church are seriously injured, especially the latter building, as scarcely a window is left entire.

Numbers 10,11,12, 13, and 14 in Spicer street, have the windows forced in, the roofs broken, and the furniture of the occupants destroyed.

Numbers 12,14, 15, 16, 18, and 19 in Weaver-street, are similarly damaged.

On the other side of the same street, the houses numbered 1, 2 3, 4, 5. and 6, are extensively shattered, and the furniture was broken.


The Spitalfields Catholic schools have also received material injury, but none of the children were hurt.

The silk works of Mr. Jeffrey, in front of the factory, have also sustained great damage, and so has the stock in trade.

The whole of the windows in Mr. Dew’s carpenters’ workshops are demolished, and the roof of his painters’ shops forced in.

Nearly the whole of the houses on the North side of Spicer Street are also more or less injured.


In fact, as far as the eye can reach, nothing but broken glass and roofs displaced can be seen.

Mr. Harris, one of the Inspectors of the H division, has lost a considerable deal of property, and his son had a narrow escape with his life.

Almost all the occupants of the above houses were thrown down, but luckily, with one or two exceptions, they received only trifling injuries.

Mr. Clitherow and his workman, John Wheeler, have been removed to the Loudon Hospital, where they remain in a state of great suffering.