Whittall Street Explosion of 1859

In-Memoriam Card for those killed in an explosion at Messrs. PurI stumbled across this Memorial Card in the ephemera collection at the Library of Birmingham one day and I could not help but be moved by it and wanting to know more about the explosion at the Percussion Cap Manufactory.   I’ve since used the image and some basic details of the tragic explosion  which took the lives of eighteen young women and one young man, for a couple of years in a talk on ‘Death in the Archives’. But accepting an invitation to do a talk at the Gunmakers’ Arms in Birmingham’s historic gun quarter has given me the opportunity (or should I say excuse) to delve deeper into the events of that fateful day.

Like all good Victorian melodramas the story has heroes and villains but sadly for the  numerous damsels in distress most of them don’t get rescued. If you want to find out more about the trade, the roles of the young women, the sole male victim and the aftermath come along to the Gunmaker’s Arms on Tuesday 22nd November at 7pm. Free admission – and some good beer on tap!




4 thoughts on “Whittall Street Explosion of 1859

  1. Kenneth H Bayliss says:

    Liz, Though this was more than a year ago, and though I live in Minnesota, USA, I’m sorry to have missed your talk on the Whittall Street explosion of 1859. My ancestors include an Edward Bayliss who was a gun implement maker who lived and I believe worked in Whittall Street in the mid-1800’s. I’m glad to have discovered your website!

    • brummieliz says:

      Many thanks for your comments. I haven’t had the opportunity to delve much more into the Whittall Street story for a while but hope to over the holiday period in preparation for delivering the talk again at the Library of Birmingham on May 19th for the Friends of Birmingham Archives & Heritage. In addition to the talk there will be a small display of archive items relating to the explosion and Birmingham’s gun quarter in general. So if you have any plans to be in the UK next May……

  2. Sue Thomas says:

    Hi Liz, looking forward to your talk at LoB in May. I’ve just come across the Whittall St explosion while researching the working life of George Edmonds, Clerk of the Peace, who lived in Whittall St. George’s house seems to have been unaffected but I don’t know for sure. However,his previous law partner, Alfred Walter, seems to have been caught up in the blast and was involved in the rescue, as was George’s nephew, Inspector Edmonds.

    • brummieliz says:

      Hi Sue
      Thanks for your comments. I’ve just checked my research to do date and I have come across Alfred Walter and Insp. Edmonds – but was unaware of their family connection. I’ve concentrated mainly on the victims and found several family relationships. I’d be interested in hearing about any additional information you have come across. It’s a fascinating story with many different strands of interest – I only hope I do it justice!


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