MARK Murphy, George Sutcliffe, Ernest Wolfendale, George Slater, Thomas Henry Jowett, Harry Massheder, Frederick Clegg…

These names are among the 39 men and one woman who died in a catastrophic event that took place in Bradford 100 years ago this week.

The event took place due to a combination of factors, investigated and explained in a book by Ronald Blackwell, which has this year been reprinted by Low Moor Local History Group, with amendments from additional research by history group members Barbara Reardon and Mary Twentyman.

Barbara and Mary have also written a detailed book Yellow Poppies, giving accounts of those who died and those who received honours as a result of the explosion.

At the centre of the tragic event is the chemical compound picric acid. Widely used as a dye, this pale yellow, crystalline solid was also used by the military as an explosive.

Low Moor Chemical Company began to make picric acid in 1898 for use mainly as a dye, with a smaller amount being used to fill shells for ammunition.

As the First World War began the demand for high explosive shells gradually increased as did the demand for picric acid, mixed as a produce known as Lyddite after the town of Lydd in Kent, where it was first produced in Britain.

At this time Low Moor Chemical Company was renamed the Low Moor Munitions Company. It was located in a triangle formed by Low Moor iron Works, Sharp’s Dyeworks and Bradford Corporation’s Gas Works.

On August 21 a fire started in a drum and entered the factory via the dust-laden air. The stored picric acid caught fire, leading to explosions all over the site. Hot, flying debris landed on the adjacent gas holders, leading to their destruction along with many nearby properties.

Sharp’s Dyeworks was ‘completely wrecked’, Low Moor Gas Works ‘were struck by falling debris and both gasometers were wrecked, causing a tremendous sheet of flame to ascend many yards into the air’, records Blackwell’s book. ‘The flame bellied out into a great ball and then forming a second, similar ball.’

Husbands and sons were lost, children lost fathers and for those left behind, the grief was compounded by the tragic losses suffered in the Great War.

In a poignant tribute, Yellow Poppies profiles each of those lost, their jobs, cause of death, family background and events following their deaths.

Of those who died, six were firemen who arrived on the scene within minutes of the outbreak.

Martha Briggs, who lived in Kellett Buildings, Carr Lane, Wyke, was the only female and non-worker among the casualties. Aged 59, she died from a fit of apoplexy brought on by the shock of what happened.

Husbands and sons were lost, children lost fathers and for those left behind, the grief was compounded by the tragic losses suffered in the Great War.

Those who died included 70-year-old dining room attendant George Sutcliffe and manager John Majerus aged 54 who suffered fatal injuries while helping firemen.

Investigations indicated that the works - which was under pressure to produce as much picric acid as possible for the war effort - were possibly holding twice the amount of than its licence permitted.

Says Mary Twentyman: “Ron Blackwell’s book, which was published in the 1980s has been out of print for some time and in the intervening years many new sources have become available, but conversely some of the items he found are now no longer in existence.

“Much of the interest has been in the six firemen who gave their lives in the explosion, but we should never forget that another 34 people died. Many of them were from the community in Low Moor. Our research revealed many facts of which the families of the dead were not aware, for instance, some of them lost a loved one the previous month in the battle of the Somme, only to lose another much nearer to home in the explosion.

The talk and our “Low Moor 1916” show have been very moving occasions when descendants of those who died have been able to meet descendants of those helped in the rescue.

A plaque commemorating the event and naming for the first time, all those who died, has been erected on the Spen Valley Greenway near the explosion site.

The firemen's medals and pieces of the engine are to be displayed at City Hall until February as part of the anniversary in association with West Yorkshire Fire Service who are developing text to explain the disaster. They will be displayed outside the Lord Mayor's Office on the Civic Staircase.

*The show ‘Low Moor 1916’ by Low Moor Local History Society, will be performed at Aldersgate Methodist Church on the evening of Friday September 9.

*As part of Heritage Weekend members of the society will be leading a walk to the site of the explosion on Sunday September 11.

*Yellow Poppies and The Low Moor Explosion…..a Mystery Explained are £8 - £15 if bought together. Further details from Low Moor Local History Group 01274 673274.