The man who hung Christopher Robinson – (Catherine Eddowes’ second cousin). Catherine was the 4th canonical victim of the notorious ‘Jack the Ripper’, 30th Sept 1888
[Read the whole story..]
The Rowley Hangman – George Smith (1805–1874)
George Smith was the second of the regions famous “higglers” (a local expression for a hangman), after William Calcraft (1800–1879), from Dudley. George, popularly known as ‘Throttler Smith’, or ‘The Dudley Higgler’, the son of Thomas and Frances Smith, born in a tiny cottage in Rowley Regis near Dudley, later resided at Oakham, Staffordshire. Although from a good family he became involved in petty crime early in life, and was imprisoned in Stafford gaol on several occasions for theft.
There is a record of him marrying in Dudley in 1827, though much of his family history remains vague. He may have fathered a son, also called George. Between his various labouring jobs, George was a heavy drinker, and was no stranger to the courts and prison staff. His first brush with the Law was in 1825, when he got 12 months for poaching. This was followed in 1829 with 1 month for petty larceny, a spell of 3 months in 1839 for the same offence, and numerous appearances and fines for being drunk.
Smith had a stroke of luck in 1840 during his latest period of incarceration for failing to support his family and petty larceny again, when William Calcraft arrived for a double hanging. Calcraft’s assistant failed to show up, (drunk in The Leg of Lamb), so he asked the prison Governor, then Thomas Brutton, for assistance. George Smith, was the only volunteer, and so began his career as a hangman, preferring the “short-drop” method where the victim could take some time to die, much to the delight of the crowd.
Smith’s highest profile hanging was Doctor William Palmer, (the infamous Rugeley poisoner), executed on 14 June 1856 after having been found guilty of poisoning John Parsons Cook, but who supposedly had murdered 14 people including his mother in law to fund his gambling debts. Smith’s fee was 5 Guineas to carry out the grizzly task, although as much as £15 plus expenses was possible.
On Tuesday 10th Jan 1866 – George Smith, sporting his usual attire of top hat and smock, stepped up to the gallows outside Stafford gaol in front of a rather cold, but excited crowd of nearly 4000 spectators. Christopher ROBINSON, after convulsing and jerking for seven minutes, was sent to meet his maker.
George’s final public execution took place on 5th July 1866, outside Stafford gaol. The victim this time was Collier, a poacher who had been found guilty of the murder of a local worthy (VIP). Unfortunately for Collier the rope slipped from the overhead beam of the gallows on Smith’s first attempt, resulting in a five minute delay before a replacement could be rigged.
He died a pauper on 3rd April, Good Friday, 1874 aged 69. “The Hangmans Tree” public house at 143 Oakham Road, Rowley Regis, opened in George’s honour in the 1930’s but was demolished in 2007.
CITED: Wade, Stephen (2009), Britain’s Most Notorious Hangmen, Wharncliffe Local History, ISBN 978-1-84563-082-9
Frank Arthur Brock, son of Arthur Brock of Haredon, Sutton. (Nephew of C.T. Brock)
Born: 29th June 1888, Cheam, Surrey, England.
Died: 23rd April 1918, St George’s Day, (aged 29), Port of Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Wing Commander Royal Naval Air Service 1914–1918, Zeebrugge Raid.
UK OBE 1917 military BAR.svg Order of the British Empire.
Victory Medal MID ribbon bar.svg Mentioned in dispatches.
Wing Commander Frank Arthur Brock, RNAS
Wing Commander Frank Arthur Brock OBE was a British officer of the Royal Air Force who devised and executed the smoke screen used during the Zeebrugge Raid on 23 April 1918, in the British Royal Navy’s attempt to neutralize the key Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge during the First World War.
Member of the Admiralty Board of Invention and Research and founded, organized and commanded the Royal Navy Experimental Station at Stratford.
In an extract from ‘WINGLESS SAILOR’ By Sidney Hesse (Royal Naval Air Service) Hesse recalls:- “The Royal Marines landed on the Mole, and they had no cover – it was all wharf. Some that went ashore were killed. My CO, Wing Commander Brock, was on the Vindictive as one of the landing party. He went ashore and he was killed going along the Zeebrugge Mole, and so was the man with him. Brock was drunk too, but he probably knew more than I did about what was going to happen!”
Tuesday, 23rd April 1918
Frank Arthur Brock, dies, St George’s Day, (aged 29), Port of Zeebrugge, Belgium.
As reported by Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell, VC, DSO.
After the Zeebrugge Raid, April 1918, H.M.S Vindictive returned to Dover under her own steam. The cruiser played an active part during the operations at Zeebrugge and her officers and men displayed extraordinary heriosm. Many of them were killed during the action. After the Bruges Canal had been blocked, the Vindictive withdrew.
Brock VIIK Mark I
Designed by Wing Commander Frank Arthur Brock, RNAS ((Royal Naval Air Services).
The Brock explosive bullet was first developed in .45 inch calibre using a .45 inch Express rifle. It was trialled by the Admiralty and they sponsored the development of a .303 inch version for use by the Royal Naval Air Service.
‘Cartridge S.A. Incendiary BIK .303 inch (VIIK) Mark I’ was approved to design IDW 3418 in late 1916 for Naval Service. The tile was changed in 1917 to ‘Cartridge S.A. Ball BIK .303 inch (VIIK) Mark I’.
It utilised a normal Berdan primed case, and whilst the official drawing showed the headstamp to include the code “VIIK” all known examples have a normal ball headstamp.
A blue primer annulus was approved in June 1918 but by then production had ceased.
The bullet had a cupbrock-nickel envelope with a hole in the nose 0.09 inches wide. The lead antimony core had a .8 inch deep nose cavity into which the main composition was placed with an air channel running through the centre.On top of this was the priming charge which protruded through the envelope and was covered by orange varnish. The bullet weighed 149 grains and had one cannelure.
The bullet is seated deeply to give a short overall cartridge length and is secured by three indents low down the cartridge neck.
The main composition was potassium chlorate and the priming mix was potassium chlorate and mercury sulphocyanide.
The propellant was 37.5 grains of Cordite MDT 5-2 with one wad.
Muzzle velocity was about 2,380 fps.
BROCKS DART (Anti Zeppelin Incendiary Flechette)
12th August 1915 – Brock’s submition to Munitions Inventions Dpeartment.(transcript).
MUNITIONS INVENTION DEPT.
MINISTRY OF MUNITIONS
COPY FOR DRAFTING ROOM
SUBJECT:- SPECIAL BROCK ZEPPELIN DART. For evaluation by Royal Flying
Corps. Technical Section. Aldershot. For approval and
acceptance in List of Changes in War Material.
Submitted by:- C.T. Brock & Co. Sutton Surrey. An incendiary and or
incendiary/explosive dart for hand release when above
zeppelins or other dirigeables. Designed by Commander
F. Arthur. Brock. R.N.V.R.
Description:- Round conical point four inches long and three eigths
of an inch in diameter, affixed to this a brass tube
of same diameter with three small fins attached to
rear end for stabillity, the brass tube will be stamped
C.T. Brock SBZD and will carry the charge.
In trials conducted by the R.N.A.S. at Fort Grange Gosport on 26/6/15
with the board of Navel Ordnance in attendance the following charges
I/. White Phosphorus/Aluminium Powder.
2/. Tungsten/Phosphorus mixed 80/20 and centre portion to
be charged with N.P.E. (nitronentaeythite) or Guhr
Dynamite of 75% nitroglycerine.
3/. 74% Potassium chlorate 13% Red Lead Oxide. 13% Salicylic
To prevent oxygen contacting with the charge the end will be closed
with a brass disc and removable air tight cap, the cap would have to
be removed by the Pilot/Observer before release.
The special brock zeppelin bullet has been very successful
when used on zeppelins also the Pomeroy and Buckingham.
Companys who could assist in the productionof the zeppelin
dart are as follows:-
Kings Norton Metal Co.
Nobels Explosive Co.
12. August 1915
12th August 1915 – Brock’s submition to Munitions Inventions Dpeartment.(scan).
Special Brock Zeppelin Dart
Items similar to these were dropped from high altitude onto the enemy trenches, with devastating results.
An Ariel dart designed to be used as a counter measure against the Zeppelin airship.
The weighted dart would have contained a phosphorus mix in the hollow centre tube section.
This would have burned on contact with the air and was to be dropped from an aircraft above the Zeppelin.
‘C.T.BROCK SBZD’ (Special Brock Zeppelin Dart).
The objective target of the ‘Special Brock Zeppelin Dart’.
BACKGROUND Charles Peace’s father, John Peace, began work as a collier at Burton upon Trent. After losing his leg in an accident, he joined “Wombwell’s wild beast show” and soon acquired some reputation for his remarkable powers as a tamer of wild animals. About this time John Peace married at Rotherham the daughter of a surgeon in the Navy. On the death of a favourite son to whom he had imparted his skills in taming wild beasts, Peace gave up lion-taming and settled in Sheffield as a shoemaker. On May 14, 1832, his wife gave birth in Sheffield to a son, Charles, the youngest of a family of four.
Monday 14th May 1832 Born on this day, Charles (Charlie) Frederick Peace was, until Jack the Ripper, the most infamous of Victorian criminals.
Charles Frederick Peace (14th May 1832 – 25th February 1879), was an English burglar and murderer, who embarked on a life of crime shortly after an accident he met with in 1846 at some rolling mills, in which he was employed. A piece of red hot steel entered his leg just below the knee, and after eighteen months spent in the Sheffield Infirmary he left a cripple. About this time his father died.
Peace’s earliest criminal exploit is said to have been stealing an old gentleman’s gold watch, and he soon passed to burglary. On October 26, 1851, the house of a lady in Sheffield was broken into; some of the stolen property was found in the possession of Peace, and he was arrested. Owing to a character reference from his former employer, he was let off with only a month’s imprisonment. After his release he seems to have devoted himself for a time to music. He taught himself to play tunes on a violin with one string, and at entertainments which he attended was described as “the modern Paganini.” In 1854 the houses of a number of well-to-do residents in and about Sheffield were burglarised. Peace was arrested, and with him a girl with whom he was keeping company, and his sister, Mary Ann Neil. On October 20, 1854, Peace was sentenced at Doncaster Sessions to four years’ penal servitude, and the ladies who had been found in possession of the stolen property to six months apiece. Mrs. Neil died shortly afterwards.
On his release in 1858, Peace resumed his violin playing, but his main occupation was burglary. His operations extended to Manchester, where he broke into a house on the night of August 11, 1859, carrying off substantial booty. This was found the following day concealed in a hole in a field. The police left it undisturbed and awaited the return of the robber; when Peace and another man arrived to reclaim, Peace was arrested, though not before nearly killing the officer who was trying to arrest him. Peace was sentenced to six years’ penal servitude.
He was released from prison again in 1864, and returned to Sheffield. Unsuccessful there, he went back to Manchester. In 1866 he was caught in the act of burglary at a house in Lower Broughton. He admitted that at the time he was fuddled with whisky; otherwise his capture would have been more difficult and dangerous. He was given a sentence of eight years’ penal servitude at Manchester Assizes on December 3, 1866.
While serving this sentence he emulated Jack Sheppard in a daring attempt to escape from Wakefield prison. Entrusted with repair work, he smuggled a small ladder into his cell. With the help of a saw made of tin, he cut a hole through the ceiling of the cell, and was about to get out on to the roof when a warder came in.
Peace knocked him down, ran along the wall of the prison, fell off on the inside owing to the looseness of the bricks, slipped into the governor’s house where he changed his clothes, and there, for an hour and a half, waited for an opportunity to escape. He was recaptured in the governor’s bedroom. The prisons at Millbank, Chatham and Gibraltar were all visited by Peace before his final release in 1872. At Chatham he is said to have taken part in a mutiny and been flogged.
On his release from prison, Peace re-joined his family in Sheffield. He was now a husband and father. In 1859 he had married a widow named Hannah Ward. The next two or three years seem to have been spent in an endeavour to earn an honest living by picture framing, a trade in which Peace proved remarkably proficient. In Sheffield his children attended Sunday School. Though he never went to church himself, he was an avowed believer in both God and the devil. As he said, however, that he feared neither, it did not restrain him from crime.
In 1875 Peace moved from Sheffield itself to the suburb of Darnall. Here he made the acquaintance of a Mr Dyson, a civil engineer. Towards the end of 1873 or the beginning of 1874, he returned to England with his wife, after a period working in America, and obtained a post on the North Eastern Railway. His engagement with the North Eastern Railway terminated abruptly owing to Dyson’s failing to appear at a station to which he had been sent on duty.
Peace had got to know the Dyson’s, first as a tradesman, then as a friend. He became intimate with Mrs Dyson; a few days before his execution, Peace asserted positively that she had been his mistress, but she strenuously denied this. She called him a demon, “beyond the power of even a Shakespeare to paint,” who persecuted her with his attentions, and, when he found them rejected, devoted all his malignant energies to making the lives of her husband and herself unbearable.
According to Peace’s story he was a slighted lover who had been treated by Mrs Dyson with contumely and ingratitude. Sometime about the end of June, 1876, Dyson threw over into the garden of Peace’s house a card, on which was written: “Charles Peace is requested not to interfere with my family.”
On July 1 Peace met Dyson in the street, and tried to trip her up. The same night he approached Mrs Dyson, who was talking with some friends, and threatened to blow out her brains and those of her husband. In consequence of these incidents Dyson took out a summons against Peace.
Peace left Darnall for Hull, where he opened an eating-shop, presided over by his wife. From Hull he went to Manchester on business, and in Manchester he committed his first murder. Entering the grounds of a gentleman’s home at Whalley Range, about midnight on August 1, he was seen by two policemen.
One of them, Constable Cock, intercepted him as he was trying to escape. Peace took out his revolver and warned Cock to stand back. The policeman came on. Peace fired, but deliberately wide of him. Cock drew his truncheon, and Peace, determined not to be caught, fired again, this time fatally. Two brothers, John and William Habron, living near the scene of the murder, were arrested and charged with the killing of Constable Cock.
To get away from Peace the Dysons left Darnall. They took a house at Banner Cross, another suburb of Sheffield, and on October 29 moved into their new home. One of the first people Mrs Dyson saw on arriving at Banner Cross was Peace. “You see,” he said, “I am here to annoy you, and I’ll annoy you wherever you go.”
Later, Peace and a friend passed Mr. Dyson in the street. Peace took out his revolver. “If he offers to come near me,” said he, “I will make him stand back.” For the moment Peace was interested more immediately in the fate of John and William Habron, who were about to stand trial for the murder of Constable Cock at Whalley Range.
The trial commenced at the Manchester Assizes before Mr. Justice Lindley on Monday, November 27. John Habron was acquitted. The judge was clearly not impressed by the strength of the case for the prosecution. In spite, however, of the summing-up the jury convicted William Habron, but recommended him to mercy. The judge without comment sentenced him to death. Two days before the day of execution Habron was granted a respite, and later his sentence commuted to one of penal servitude for life.
Peace was present in court during the two days of the trial. No sooner had he heard the innocent man condemned to death than he left Manchester for Sheffield. The afternoon of the next day Peace spent in a public-house at Ecclesall, entertaining the customers by playing tunes on a poker suspended from a piece of strong string, from which he made music by beating it with a short stick.
A little after eight o’clock Peace was watching the Dysons’ house from a passage-way that led up to the backs of the houses on the terrace. He saw Mrs. Dyson come out of the back door, and go to an outhouse some few yards distant. He waited. As soon as she opened the door to come out, Mrs. Dyson found herself confronted by Peace, holding his revolver in his hand. “Speak,” he said, “or I’ll fire.” Mrs. Dyson in terror went back. In the meantime Dyson, hearing the disturbance, came quickly into the yard. Peace made for the passage. Dyson followed him.
Peace fired once, the shot striking the lintel of the passage doorway. Dyson undaunted, still pursued. Then Peace, according to his custom, fired a second time, and Dyson fell, shot through the temple. Mrs. Dyson, who had come into the yard again on hearing the first shot, rushed to her husband’s side, calling out: “Murder! You villain! You have shot my husband.” Two hours later Dyson was dead.
After firing the second shot Peace had hurried down the passage into the roadway. He hesitated a moment, until the cries of Mrs. Dyson warned him of his danger. He crossed the road, climbed a wall, and made his way back to Sheffield. He then walked to Attercliffe Railway Station, and took a ticket for Beverley, but got out of the train at Normanton and went on to York.
He spent the remainder of the night in the station yard. He took the first train in the morning for Beverley, and from there travelled via Cottingham to Hull. He went straight to the eating-house kept by his wife, and demanded some dinner.
Two detectives arrived and asked his wife if a man called Charles Peace was lodging with her. Mrs Peace said that she had not seen him for two months. The detectives proposed to search the house. Some customers in the shop told them to go round to the side door. This gave Peace time to slip up to a back room, get out on to an adjoining roof, and hide behind a chimney stack, where he remained until the detectives had finished an exhaustive search.
Once again during the day Peace had to repeat this experience. For some three weeks, however, he contrived to remain in Hull. He shaved the grey beard he was wearing at the time of Dyson’s murder, dyed his hair, put on a pair of spectacles, and for the first time made use of his singular power of contorting his features in such a way as to change altogether the character of his face.
The hue and cry after him was unremitting. There was a price of £100 on his head, and the following description of him was circulated by the police:
“Charles Peace wanted for murder on the night of the 29th inst. He is thin and slightly built, from fifty-five to sixty years of age. Five feet four inches or five feet high; grey (nearly white) hair, beard and whiskers. He lacks use of three fingers of left hand, walks with his legs rather wide apart, speaks somewhat peculiarly as though his tongue were too large for his mouth, and is a great boaster. He is a picture-frame maker. He occasionally cleans and repairs clocks and watches and sometimes deals in oleographs, engravings and pictures. He has been in penal servitude for burglary in Manchester. He has lived in Manchester, Salford, and Liverpool and Hull.”
This description was altered later and Peace’s age given as forty-six. As a matter of fact he was only forty-four at this time, but he looked very much older. Peace had lost one of his fingers. He said that it had been shot off by a man with whom he had quarrelled, but it was believed to be more likely that he had himself shot it off accidentally in handling one of his revolvers. It was to conceal this obvious means of identification that Peace made himself the false arm which he was in the habit of wearing. This was of gutta percha, with a hole down the middle of it into which he passed his arm; at the end was a steel plate to which was fixed a hook; by means of this hook Peace could wield a fork and do other dexterous feats.
During the closing days of the year 1876 and the beginning of 1877, Peace was perpetually on the move. He left Hull for Doncaster, and from there travelled to London. On arriving at King’s Cross he took the underground railway to Paddington, and from there a train to Bristol. At the beginning of January he left Bristol for Bath, and from Bath, in the company of a sergeant of police, travelled by way of Didcot to Oxford. From Oxford he went to Birmingham, where he stayed four or five days, then a week in Derby, and on January 9 he arrived in Nottingham.
Here Peace found a convenient lodging at the house of one, Mrs. Adamson, a lady who received stolen goods. It was at her house that Peace met the woman who was to become his mistress and subsequently betray his identity to the police. Her maiden name was Susan Gray. With characteristic insistence Peace declared his passion by threatening to shoot her if she did not become his.
In the June of 1877 Peace was nearly detected in stealing some blankets, but by flourishing his revolver he contrived to get away, and, soon after, returned for a season to Hull. Here Mrs. Thompson (Susan Gray) and he lodged at the house of a sergeant of police.
Peace had some narrow escapes, but with the help of his revolver, and on one occasion the pusillanimity of a policeman, he succeeded in getting away in safety. The bills offering a reward for his capture were still to be seen in the shop windows of Hull, so after a brief but brilliant adventure Peace and Mrs. Thompson returned to Nottingham.
Here, as the result of further successful exploits, Peace found a reward of £50 offered for his capture. On one occasion the detectives came into the room where Peace and his mistress were in bed. After politely expressing his surprise at seeing “Mrs. Bailey” in such a situation, one of the officers asked Peace his name. He gave it as John Ward, and described himself as a hawker of spectacles.
He refused to get up and dress in the presence of the detectives who were obliging enough to go downstairs and wait his convenience. Peace seized the opportunity to slip out of the house and get away to another part of the town. From there he sent a note to Mrs. Thompson insisting on her joining him.
He soon after left Nottingham, paid another brief visit to Hull, but finding that his wife’s shop was still frequented by the police, whom he designated freely as “a lot of fools,” determined to quit the North for good and begin life afresh in the ampler and safer field of London.
CAREER IN LONDON Peace’s career in London lasted only two years, but they were very active ones. From 25 Stangate Street, Lambeth, the dealer in musical instruments, as Peace now described himself, went out every night to burgle houses in Camberwell and other parts of South London.
In the beginning there were few musical instruments in Stangate Street to justify his reputed business, but “Mr Thompson,” as he now called himself, explained that he was not wholly dependent on his business, as Mrs Thompson “had money.” Peace moved from Lambeth to Crane Court, Greenwich, and before long took a couple of adjoining houses in Billingsgate Street in the same district. These he furnished in style. In one he lived with Mrs Thompson, while Mrs Peace and her son, Willie, were persuaded to leave Hull and come to London to dwell in the other.
PEACE IN PECKHAM Greenwich was not to the taste of Mrs. Thompson. To gratify her wish, Peace, some time in May, 1877, moved the whole party to 5 East Terrace, Evelina Road, Peckham. This house was an ordinary suburban villa, with basement, ground floor, and one above; there were steps up to the front door, and a bow window to the front sitting-room.
A garden at the back of the house ran down to the Chatham and Dover railway line.
It was by an entrance at the back that Peace drove his horse and trap into the stable which he had erected in the garden. Though all living in the same house, Mrs. Peace, who passed as Mrs. Ward, and her son, Willie, inhabited the basement, while Peace and Mrs. Thompson occupied the best rooms on the ground floor. The house was fitted with Venetian blinds. In the drawing-room stood a good walnut suite of furniture; a Turkey carpet, gilded mirrors, a piano, an inlaid Spanish guitar, and, by the side of an elegant table, the beaded slippers of the good master of the house completed the elegance of the apartment. Everything confirmed Mr. Thompson’s description of himself as a gentleman of independent means with a taste for scientific inventions.
Charles James Booth
The Booth collection at LSE Library contains the original records from Booth’s survey into life and labour in London, dating from 1886 to 1903.
In 1899 whilst surveying District 44, Evelina Road, Nunhead, area of Peckham, with PC Dolby, Booth wrote:-
“Evelina Road: More of a business street, especially at the west end; all pink as the map”.(refers to key, see below).
Just south of the railway, on the north side, are three or four houses uncoloured on map; “additional pink here.”
“At the house next to the railway, with its passage and boundry running along the bottom of the embankment, the notorious criminal, Peace, lived for some years.
PC Dolby said that he frequently arranged to come home after nighfall from one of his housebreaking exeditions, and that his plan was to throw his booty out of the carriage window as the train passed his house. He then arrived at the station (Nunhead) without luggage, and without exciting suspician; went home and picked up the booty.”
Everything confirmed “Mr Thompson’s” description of himself as a gentleman of independent means with a taste for scientific inventions. In association with a man named Brion, Peace did, as a fact, patent an invention for raising sunken vessels, and it is said that in pursuing their project, the two men had obtained an interview with Samuel Plimsoll at the House of Commons.
At the time of his final capture Peace was engaged on other inventions, among them a smoke helmet for firemen, an improved brush for washing railway carriages, and a form of hydraulic tank. He attended Sunday evening services at the parish church, and it must have been a matter of anxious concern to “Mr Thompson” that during his stay in Peckham the vicarage was broken into by a burglar and an unsuccessful attempt made to steal the communion plate which was kept there.
Night after night, he went out to burgle. If the job was a distant one, he would take his pony and trap. Besides the pony and trap, Peace would take with him on these expeditions a violin case containing his tools; at other times they would be stuffed into purpose-made trouser pockets. These tools included a skeleton key, two pick-locks, a centre-bit, gimlet, gouge, chisel, vice jemmy and knife; a portable ladder, a revolver and life preserver completed his equipment.
Peace’s activities extended as far as Southampton, Portsmouth and Southsea; but mostly worked in Blackheath, Streatham, Denmark Hill, and other suburbs of South London. His career as a burglar in London lasted from the beginning of the year 1877 until October, 1878. On one occasion a detective who had known Peace in Yorkshire met him in Farringdon Road, and pursued him up the steps of Holborn Viaduct, but just as the officer, at the top of the steps, reached out and was on the point of grabbing his man, Peace slipped through his fingers and disappeared. During the last three months of Peace’s career, Blackheath was agog at the number of successful burglaries committed in the very midst of its peaceful residents.
About 2am on October 10, 1878, a Constable Robinson saw a light appear suddenly in a window at the back of a house in St. John’s Park, Blackheath, the residence of a Mr. Burness. Another officer went to the front of the house and rang the bell, a third waited in the road outside, while Robinson stayed in the garden at the back. No sooner had the bell rung than Robinson saw a man come from the dining-room window which opened on to the garden, and make quickly down the path.
Robinson followed him. The man turned; “Keep back!” he said, “or by God I’ll shoot you!”. Robinson came on. The man fired three shots from a revolver, all of which passed close to the officer’s head. Robinson made another rush for him, the man fired another shot. It missed its mark. The constable closed with his would-be assassin, and struck him in the face. “I’ll settle you this time,” cried the man, and fired a fifth shot, which went through Robinson’s arm just above the elbow.
In spite of his wound, the officer held his prisoner, succeeded in flinging him to the ground, and catching hold of the revolver that hung round the burglar’s wrist, hit him on the head with it. The other two constables came to the help of their colleague, and Peace was caught.
When next morning Peace appeared before the magistrate at Greenwich Police Court he was not described by name–he had refused to give any– but as “a half-caste about sixty years of age, of repellent aspect”. He was remanded for a week. The first clue to the identity of their prisoner was afforded by a letter which Peace, unable apparently to endure the loneliness and suspense of prison any longer, wrote to his co-inventor Mr. Brion. It is dated November 2, and is signed “John Ward.”
Peace was disturbed at the absence of all news from his family. Immediately after his arrest, the home in Peckham had been broken up. Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Peace, taking with them some large boxes, had gone first to the house of a sister of Mrs. Thompson’s in Nottingham, and a day or two later Mrs. Peace had left Nottingham for Sheffield. There she went to a house in Hazel Road, occupied by her son-in-law Bolsover, a working collier.
The honour and profit of putting the police on the right scent were claimed by Mrs. Thompson. To her Peace had contrived to get a letter conveyed about the same time that he wrote to Mr. Brion. It is addressed to his “dearly beloved wife.” But Peace was leaning on a broken reed. Loyalty does not appear to have been Susan Thompson’s strong point. Since, after Peace’s arrest, she had been in possession of a certain amount of stolen property, it was easier no doubt to persuade her to be frank.
On February 5, 1879, the day after Peace had been sentenced to death for the murder of Dyson, Mrs. Thompson appealed to the Treasury for the reward of £100 offered for Peace’s conviction. She based her application on information which she said she had supplied to the police officers in charge of the case on November 5 in the previous year, the very day on which Peace had first written to her from Newgate Gaol.
The police scotched the idea that any revelation of hers had assisted them to identify “John Ward” with Charles Peace. They said that it was information given them in Peckham, no doubt by Mr. Brion, who, on learning the deplorable character of his coadjutor, had placed himself unreservedly in their hands, which first set them on the track.
From Peckham they went to Nottingham, where they no doubt came across Sue Thompson, and thence to Sheffield, where on November 6 they visited the house in Hazel Road, occupied by Mrs. Peace and her daughter, Mrs. Bolsover. There they found two of the boxes which Mrs. Peace had brought with her from Peckham. Besides stolen property, these boxes contained evidence of the identity of Ward with Peace. A constable who had known Peace well in Sheffield was sent to Newgate, and taken into the yard where the prisoners awaiting trial were exercising. As they passed round, the constable pointed to the fifth man: “That’s Peace,” he said, “I’d know him anywhere.” The man left the ranks and, coming up to the constable, asked earnestly, “What do you want me for?” but the Governor ordered him to go on with his walk.
It was as John Ward, alias Charles Peace, that Peace, on November 19, 1878, was put on his trial for burglary and the attempted murder of Police Constable Robinson, at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Hawkins. His age was given in the calendar as sixty, though Peace was actually forty-six. The evidence against the prisoner was clear enough.
Peace’s assumption of pitiable senility, sustained throughout the trial, though it imposed on Sir Henry Hawkins, failed to melt his heart. He told Peace that he did not believe his statement that he had fired the pistol merely to frighten the constable; had not Robinson guarded his head with his arm he would have been wounded fatally, and Peace condemned to death. Notwithstanding his age, Mr. Justice Hawkins felt it his duty to sentence him to penal servitude for life.
With as little delay as possible he was called on to answer to the murder of Arthur Dyson. The widow of the murdered man had been found in America, whither she had returned after her husband’s death. On January 17, 1879, Peace was taken from Pentonville prison, where he was serving his sentence, and conveyed by an early morning train to Sheffield. There at the Town Hall he appeared before the stipendiary magistrate, and was charged with the murder of Arthur Dyson. Mrs. Dyson’s cross-examination was adjourned to the next hearing, and Peace was taken back to London.
On the 22nd, the day of the second hearing in Sheffield, an enormous crowd had assembled outside the Town Hall. The stipendiary came into the court about a quarter past ten and stated that Peace had attempted to escape that morning on the journey from London to Sheffield, and that in consequence of his injuries the case would be adjourned for eight days.
Peace had left King’s Cross by the 5.15 train that morning, due to arrive at Sheffield at 8.45. He kept making excuses for leaving the carriage whenever the train stopped. To obviate this nuisance the two warders, in whose charge he was, had provided themselves with little bags which Peace could use when he wished and then throw out of the window. Just after the train passed Worksop, Peace asked for one of the bags.
When the window was lowered to allow the bag to be thrown away, Peace with lightning agility took a flying leap through it. One of the warders caught him by the left foot. Peace, hanging from the carriage, grasped the footboard with his hands and kept kicking the warder as hard as he could with his right foot. The other warder, unable to get to the window to help his colleague, was making vain efforts to stop the train by pulling the communication cord.
For two miles the train ran on, Peace struggling desperately to escape. At last he succeeded in kicking off his left shoe, and dropped on to the line. The train ran on another mile until, with the assistance of some gentlemen in other carriages, the warders were able to get it pulled up. They immediately hurried back along the line, and there, near a place called Kiveton Park, they found their prisoner lying in the footway, apparently unconscious and bleeding from a severe wound in the scalp. A slow train from Sheffield stopped to pick up the injured man. As he was lifted into the guard’s van, he asked them to cover him up as he was cold.
On arriving at Sheffield, Peace was taken to the Police Station and there made as comfortable as possible in one of the cells. Even then he had energy enough to be troublesome over taking the brandy ordered for him by the surgeon, until one of the officers told “Charley” they would have none of his hanky-panky, and he had got to take it. “All right,” said Peace, “give me a minute.”
THE TRIAL The doctor pronounced him fit to appear for his second examination before the magistrate on January 30. To avoid excitement, both on the part of the prisoner and the public, the court sat in one of the corridors of the Town Hall. The scene is described as dismal, dark and cheerless.
The proceedings took place by candlelight, and Peace, who was seated in an armchair, complained frequently of the cold. At other times he moaned and groaned and protested against the injustice with which he was being treated. But the absence of any audience rather dashed the effect of his laments.
The most interesting part of the proceedings was the cross-examination of Mrs. Dyson by Mr. William Clegg (a former international football player with Sheffield Wednesday and England), the prisoner’s solicitor.
Its purpose was to show that Mrs. Dyson had been on more intimate terms with Peace than she was ready to admit, and that Dyson had been shot by Peace in the course of a struggle, in which the former had been the aggressor.
In the first part of his task Mr. Clegg met with some success. Mrs. Dyson, whose memory was certainly eccentric–she could not, she said, remember the year in which she had been married–was obliged to admit that she had been in the habit of going to Peace’s house, that she had been alone with him to public-houses and places of entertainment, and that she and Peace had been photographed together during the summer fair at Sheffield. She could not “to her knowledge” recollect having told the landlord of a public-house to charge her drink to Peace.
A great deal of Mrs. Dyson’s cross-examination turned on a bundle of letters that had been found near the scene of Dyson’s murder on the morning following the crime. These letters consisted for the most part of notes, written in pencil on scraps of paper, purporting to have been sent from Mrs. Dyson to Peace.
In many of them she asks for money to get drink, others refer to opportunities for their meetings in the absence of Dyson; there are kind messages to members of Peace’s family, his wife and daughter, and urgent directions to Peace to hold his tongue and not give ground for suspicion as to their relations.
This bundle of letters contained also the card which Dyson had thrown into Peace’s garden requesting him not to interfere with his family. According to the theory of the defence, these letters had been written by Mrs. Dyson to Peace, and went to prove the intimacy of their relations. At the inquest after her husband’s murder, Mrs. Dyson had been questioned by the coroner about these letters. She denied that she had ever written to Peace; in fact, she said, she “never did write.”
It was stated that Dyson himself had seen the letters, and declared them to be forgeries written by Peace or members of his family for the purpose of annoyance. Nevertheless, before the Sheffield magistrate Mr. Clegg thought it his duty to cross-examine Mrs. Dyson closely as to their authorship. He asked her to write out a passage from one of them: “You can give me something as a keepsake if you like, but I don’t like to be covetous, and to take them from your wife and daughter. Love to all!”
Mrs. Dyson refused to admit any likeness between what she had written and the handwriting of the letter in question. Another passage ran: “Will see you as soon as I possibly can. I think it would be easier after you move; he won’t watch so. The r–g fits the little finger. Many thanks and love to–Jennie (Peace’s daughter Jane). I will tell you what I thought of when I see you about arranging matters. Excuse this scribbling.” In answer to Mr. Clegg, Mrs. Dyson admitted that Peace had given her a ring, which she had worn for a short time on her little finger.
Another letter ran: “If you have a note for me, send now whilst he is out; but you must not venture, for he is watching, and you cannot be too careful. Hope your foot is better. I went to Sheffield yesterday, but I could not see you anywhere. Were you out? Love to Jane.” Mrs. Dyson denied that she had known of an accident which Peace had had to his foot at this time. In spite of the ruling of the magistrate that Mr. Clegg had put forward quite enough, if true, to damage Mrs. Dyson’s credibility, he continued to press her as to her authorship of these notes and letters, but Mrs. Dyson was firm in her repudiation of them. She was equally firm in denying that anything in the nature of a struggle had taken place between Peace and her husband previous to his murder.
At the conclusion of Mrs. Dyson’s evidence the prisoner was committed to take his trial at the Leeds Assizes, which commenced the week following. Peace, who had groaned and moaned and constantly interrupted the proceedings, protested his innocence, and complained that his witnesses had not been called.
The apprehension with which this daring malefactor was regarded by the authorities is shown by this clandestine hearing of his case in a cold corridor of the Town Hall, and the rapidity with which his trial followed on his committal. There is an appearance almost of precipitation in the haste with which Peace was bustled to his doom. After his committal he was taken to Wakefield Prison, and a few days later to Armley Gaol (later HMP Leeds), there to await his trial.
This began on February 4, and lasted one day. Mr. Justice Lopes, who had tried vainly to persuade the Manchester Grand Jury to throw out the bill in the case of the brothers Habron, was the presiding judge. Mr. Campbell Foster, Q.C., led for the prosecution. Peace was defended by Mr. Frank Lockwood, then rising into that popular success at the bar which some fifteen years later made him Solicitor-General, and but for his premature death would have raised him to even higher honours in his profession.
In addressing the jury, both Mr. Campbell Foster and Mr. Lockwood took occasion to protest against the recklessness with which the press of the day, both high and low, had circulated stories and rumours about the interesting convict. As early as November in 1878 one leading London daily newspaper had said that “it was now established beyond doubt that the burglar captured by Police Constable Robinson was one and the same as the Banner Cross murderer.”
Since then, as the public excitement grew and the facts of Peace’s extraordinary career came to light, the press had responded loyally to the demands of the greedy lovers of sensation, and piled fiction on fact with generous profusion. “Never,” said Mr. Lockwood, “in the whole course of his experience–and he defied any of his learned friends to quote an experience–had there been such an attempt made on the part of those who should be most careful of all others to preserve the liberties of their fellowmen and to preserve the dignity of the tribunals of justice to determine the guilt of a man.”
Peace exclaimed “Hear, hear!” as Mr. Lockwood went on to say that “for the sake of snatching paltry pence from the public, these persons had wickedly sought to prejudice the prisoner’s life.” Allowing for Mr. Lockwood’s zeal as an advocate, there can be no question that, had Peace chosen or been in a position to take proceedings, more than one newspaper had at this time laid itself open to prosecution for contempt of court.
The Times was not far wrong in saying that, since Muller murdered Mr. Briggs on the North London Railway and the poisonings of William Palmer, no criminal case had created such excitement as that of Charles Peace. The fact that property seemed to be no more sacred to him than life aggravated in a singular degree the resentment of commercial people.
The first witness called by the prosecution was Mrs. Dyson. She described how on the night of November 29, 1876, she had come out of the outhouse in the yard at the back of her house, and found herself confronted by Peace holding a revolver; how he said: “Speak, or I’ll fire!” and the sequence of events already related up to the moment when Dyson fell, shot in the temple.
In spite of Mr. Lockwood’s questions, she maintained that, though her husband may have attempted to get hold of Peace, he did not succeed in doing so. As she was the only witness to the shooting there was no one to contradict her statement.
Mrs. Dyson admitted that in the spring of 1876 her husband had objected to her friendship with Peace, and that nevertheless, in the following summer, she and Peace had been photographed together at the Sheffield fair. She made a vain attempt to escape from such an admission by trying to shift the occasion of the summer fair to the previous year, 1875, but Mr. Lockwood put it to her that she had not come to Darnall, where she first met Peace, until the end of that year. Finally he drove her to say that she could not remember when she came to Darnall, whether in 1873, 1874, 1875, or 1876.
She admitted that she had accepted a ring from Peace, but could not remember whether she had shown it to her husband. She had been perhaps twice with Peace to the Marquis of Waterford public-house, and once to the Star Music Hall. She could not swear one way or the other whether she had charged to Peace’s account drink consumed by her at an inn in Darnall called the Half-way House.
Confronted with a little girl and a man, whom Mr. Lockwood suggested she had employed to carry notes to Peace, Mrs. Dyson said that these were merely receipts for pictures which he had framed for her. On the day before her husband’s murder, Mrs. Dyson was at the Stag Hotel at Sharrow with a little boy belonging to a neighbour. A man followed her in and sat beside her, and afterwards followed her out.
In answer to Mr. Lockwood, Mrs. Dyson would “almost swear” the man was not Peace; he had spoken to her, but she could not remember whether she had spoken to him or not. She denied that this man had said to her that he would come and see her the next night. As the result of a parting shot Mr. Lockwood obtained from Mrs. Dyson a reluctant admission that she had been “slightly inebriated” at the Half-way House in Darnall, but had not to her knowledge” been turned out of the house on that account.
The evidence of Mrs. Dyson was followed by that of five persons who had either seen Peace in the neighbourhood of Banner Cross Terrace on the night of the murder, or heard the screams and shots that accompanied it.
Another witness was a labourer named Brassington. He was a stranger to Peace, but stated that about eight o’clock on the night of the murder a man came up to him outside the Banner Cross Hotel, a few yards from Dyson’s house. He was standing under a gas lamp, and it was a bright moonlight night. The man asked him if he knew of any strange people who had come to live in the neighbourhood.
Brassington answered that he did not. The man then produced a bundle of letters which he asked Brassington to read. But Brassington declined, as reading was not one of his accomplishments. The man then said that “he would make it a warm ‘un for those strange folks before morning–he would shoot both of them,” and went off in the direction of Dyson’s house. Brassington swore positively that Peace was the stranger who had accosted him that night, and Mr. Lockwood failed to shake him in his evidence.
Evidence was then given as to threats uttered by Peace against the Dysons in the July of 1876, and as to his arrest at Blackheath in the October of 1878. The revolver taken from Peace that night was produced, and it was shown that the rifling of the bullet extracted from Dyson’s head was the same as that of the bullet fired from the revolver carried by Peace at the time of his capture.
Mr. Campbell Foster wanted to put in as evidence the card that Dyson had flung into Peace’s garden at Darnall requesting him not to interfere with his family. The Judge ruled that both the card and the letters were inadmissible, as irrelevant to the issue; Mr. Lockwood had, he said, very properly cross-examined Mrs. Dyson on these letters to test her credibility, but he was bound by her answers and could not contradict her by introducing them as evidence in the case.
Mr. Lockwood in his address to the jury did his best to persuade them that the death of Dyson was the accidental result of a struggle between Peace and himself. He repudiated the suggestion of Mr. Foster that the persons he had confronted with Mrs. Dyson in the course of his cross-examination had been hired for a paltry sum to come into court and lie.
Mr. Justice Lopes in summing up described as an “absolute surmise” the theory of the accidental discharge of the pistol. He asked the jury to take Peace’s revolver in their hands and try the trigger, so as to see for themselves whether it was likely to go off accidentally or not.
He pointed out that the pistol produced might not have been the pistol used at Banner Cross; at the same time the bullet fired in November, 1876, bore marks such as would have been produced had it been fired from the pistol taken from Peace at Blackheath in October, 1878. He said that Mr. Lockwood had been perfectly justified in his attempt to discredit the evidence of Mrs. Dyson, but the case did not rest on her evidence alone.
In her evidence as to the threats uttered by Peace in July, 1876, Mrs. Dyson was corroborated by three other witnesses. In the Judge’s opinion it was clearly proved that no struggle or scuffle had taken place before the murder. If the defence, he concluded, rested on no solid foundation, then the jury must do their duty to the community at large and by the oath they had sworn.
It was a quarter past seven when the jury retired. Ten minutes later they returned with a verdict of guilty. Asked if he had anything to say, Peace replied faintly, “It is no use my saying anything.” The Judge, declining to aggravate the prisoner’s feelings by “a recapitulation of any portion of the details of what I fear, I can only call your criminal career,” passed sentence of death. Peace accepted his fate with composure.
EXECUTION In obedience to the wishes of his family, Peace had refrained from seeing Sue Thompson. This was at some sacrifice, for he wished very much to see her and to the last, though he knew that she had betrayed him, sent her affectionate and forgiving messages.
These were transmitted to Sue by Mr. Brion, a fellow-applicant with Sue to the Treasury for pecuniary recognition of his efforts in bringing about the identification of Peace, and furnishing the police with information as to the convict’s disposal of his stolen property. In his zeal he had gone so far as to play the role of an accomplice of Peace, and thus had discovered a place in Petticoat Lane where the burglar got rid of some of his booty.
Peace had one further act of atonement: to show the innocence of William Habron, who was now serving the third year of his life sentence for the murder of Constable Cock at Whalley Range. Peace sent for the Governor of the jail, and drew a plan of the place where Cock had been shot, and made a full confession of his own guilt.
“Lion-hearted I’ve lived,
And when my time comes
Lion-hearted I’ll die.”
Though fond of repeating this phrase, Peace would have been the last man to have attributed to himself all those qualities associated symbolically with the lion.
A few days before his execution Peace was visited in his prison by Reverend Littlewood, the vicar of Darnall. Peace pointed out that if he had intended to murder Dyson, he would have set about it in quite a different and more secret way. Peace then repeated to Littlewood his confession of the killing of Constable Cock, and his desire that Habron should be set free. William Habron was subsequently given a free pardon and £800 by way of compensation.
Tuesday, February 25, was the day fixed for Peace’s execution. On February 24, Peace was visited for the last time by his wife, stepson, his daughter, Mrs Bolsover, and her husband. In good spirits, he asked his visitors to restrain themselves from displays of emotion, as he felt very happy and did not wish to be disturbed. He advised them to sell or exhibit for money certain works of art of his own devising. Among them was a design in paper for a monument to be placed over his grave. The design is elaborate but ingeniously drawn; in the opinion of William Powell Frith, the painter, it showed “the true feeling of an artist.”
It is somewhat in the style of the Albert Memorial, and figures of angels are prominent. Peace asked his weeping relatives whether they had anything more that they wished to ask him. Mrs Peace reminded him that he had promised to pray with them at the last. Peace knelt with them and prayed for half an hour. He then shook hands with them, prayed for and blessed each one singly, and himself gave way to tears as they left his presence. To his wife as she departed Peace gave a funeral card he had designed himself. It ran:
In Memory of Charles Peace Who was executed in Armley Prison
Tuesday February 25th, 1879 Aged 47 For that I don but never Intended.
The same day William Marwood, the public executioner, and inventor of the “long drop” arrived (he was a shoemaker at Horncastle, Lincolnshire). February 25 was a bitterly cold day. Peace ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and awaited the coming of the executioner with calm.
Apparently the quality of the bacon was less than desirable, for after the cap had been placed over his head Peace asked twice, very sharply, like a man who expected to be obeyed, for a drink of water; but his request was ignored. He died instantaneously and was buried in Armley Gaol.
The original Brock’s was by far the oldest and most respected Firework companies and one whose very name is synonymous with the National and International face of the British Firework Industry.
1677 John Brock, (1677- 1720), born 1677, St. James parish, Clerkenwell. Married Eleanor.
John Brock, (son of John and Eleanor) , born 1700.
Married Martha. (1700 – 1750).
Brock’s was founded in Islington in 1698 by John Brock and was the oldest British Firework Manufacturer.
Thursday, 25th November 1700
Thomas Brock, (1700-????), born 1700 who made the first distinctive position in the history of “Brock’s Fireworks”.
Tuesday, 5th November 1720 Brock’s Star, issue 2, page 3, June 1939 “John Brock, who was buried on November 5th, 1720, at St. John’s Church, Clerkenwell. Possibly the rush of buisness, induced by the approach of Guy Fawkes Day, had cost him his life, besides injuring his daughter, Mary, so badly that she was buried in the same grave a fortnight later.”
Brock’s Fireworks Ltd. Established in 1725.
1728 Benjamin Brock, born 1728.
Thomas Brock, (1750-????), born 1750, (later opened a factory at North London).
Married Mary Shute.
1756 Thomas Brock (1756-1819), son of John and Mary Brock)
settled in Spitafields, the home of an entire colony of fireworks people.
Wednesday, 17th February 1779
William Brock, (1779-1849), son of Thomas and Mary Brock.
Married Elizabeth in 1800.
Established a factory to the east of the City of London, and where the earliest recorded accident in the firm of Brock appears to be that of 1825, when “seven persons were seriously injured”.
Thursday, 29th September 1814
William Edwin Brock (the son), (1814 -1869), born.
Married Mary Ann Isabella Miller, (born 1st Dec 1838).
Monday, 1st August 1814
Fireworks (Brock’s?) burned down the Pagoda in Green Park, London.
Monday 5th August 1816
Sunday, 4th September 1825 – Bell’s Weekly Messenger
DREADFUL EXPLOSION IN WHITECHAPEL.
Yesterday morning, about half-past eight o’clock, Whitechapel Road, and the numerous streets that abound there, were thrown into the greatest state of agitation, by the inhabitants experiencing a most tremendous shock, as if caused by a volcano or an earthquake. The houses for a considerable distance were deserted by their inhabitants,
and men, women, and children were seen running about in all directions, under the impression that the world was at an end. It was soon ascertained that their alarm was pro-
duced by the explosion of the factory of Mr. Brock, the artist in fireworks, at No. 11, Baker’s Row, Whitechapel Road, nearly opposite the London Hospital. [See full text]
Monday, 10th July 1826
After passing through the control of several generations of the Brock family the company became world famous for presenting what would become forever known as ‘Brock’s Benefits‘, displays for the enjoyment of the public, the first of which was fired on July 10, 1826.
The ‘Brock’s Benefits’ term for the free firework displays has long since passed into the English language as denoting a spectacular display. Transferred to the battlefield, as earlier news reports attest – “could draw attention to the paradoxical beauty which war could offer”, here by means of the colours and brilliance of the bursting shells set against the dark skies of the Western Front.”
John Robert Brock, born in Whitechapel.
(son of William Edwin Jonathan Brock and Mary Ann Isabella Miller).
Managed the factory in Harold Wood, Romford (1886 – 1906).
Wednesday, 17th May 1843 Charles Thomas Brock, born, and baptised on 15 Oct 1843, in Clerkenwell.
(son of William Edwin Jonathan Brock and Mary Ann Isabella Miller).
Married Rhoda Ann Garland, on 16th Dec 1865, in St John of Jerusalem.
Tuesday, 29th June 1858
Arthur John Brock, born, he established the factory at Sutton.
(son of William Edwin Jonathan Brock and Mary Ann Isabella Miller).
Married Ann St. Hill Dewdney.(1959 – 1949).
The explosion at Madame Coton’s firework factory, Westminster Road, London.
Chevalier Blondin was a very highly paid entertainer guaranteed to pull in the crowds.
He was paid the enormous sum of £1,200 for twelve performances at the Crystal Palace.
These were the talks of London and Charles Dickens proclaimed: ‘Half of London is here eager for some dreadful accident’.
Blodin the Human Fireball at Crystal Palace.
Wednesday, 12th July 1865
The Directors of Crystal Palace Company, who had more than once been applied to for permission to hold displays in the grounds, eventually, after many months of delay, consented to make the experiment, and the favourable result of the trial.
1865 From 1865 onwards became a regular attraction at the site of The Crystal Palace. (These Brock’s displays continued regularly with just a decade long break between 1910 and 1920). So connected with the palace was the company that it was renamed C.T. Brock & Co’s ‘Crystal Palace’ Fireworks in 1865, a reference that would live on long after Paxton’s famous glass and iron strcture had gone
1865 The “Grand International Pyrotechnic Competition” among six of the best fireworks manufacturers,” took place at the Crystal Palace in 1865.
The brainchild of C.T. Brock, was held at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, it was a spectacular success, with over 20,000 people attending. Thus began a series of magnificent displays at this prestigious venue, continuing until 1936. It can be argued that the first “contest” at the Crystal Palace was the forerunner of other fireworks competitions, which have, particularly in recent years, become popular once again with members of the public. It is interesting to note the “rules” laid down for the first Crystal Palace competition – The competition was won by CT Brock’s father.??? [See full text]
Brock’s Firework Display material at the Crystal Palace probably exceeds in one season the whole of the other private and public displays in the United Kingdom during the year.
Calculations based upon official records show that the amount paid by the public to see the Fireworks at the Crystal Palace since the great Competition of 1865 is 2,250,000, which justifies the newspaper statement to the effect that “there is no form of entertainment which pleases so many persons far and near at so small a cost as Fireworks.”
Saturday, 16th December 1865
Parish Register Marriage:
Name: Charles Thomas Brock, aged 22, (born: 1843).
Father Name: William Brock (died. 29 Jul 1869, aged 56).
Spouse Name: Rhoda Ann Garland, aged 22, (born: 1843 Whitechapel).
Spouse Father: Edward Garland.
Event Date: 16 Dec 1865 Parish St John of Jerusalem, South Hackney, Middlesex.
[Church of England Marriages and Banns, London, England, 1754-1921].
1866 – First ‘official’ mention of Brock’s in NUNHEAD. Cited: “A Brief Account of the Parish of Camberwell, Its History and Antiquities” in 1877.
As a result of the company’s success at the Crystal Palace, CT Brock built extensive works at Nunhead and produced larger and larger fireworks and set pieces grew from 12 feet to 300 feet. The set pieces sound extraordinary: sea battles were created including the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Trafalgar, famous buildings were reproduced including Worcester and Salisbury Cathedral and natural disasters such as the Destruction of Pompeii.
“A Magnificent Display of FIREWORKS and ILLUMINATION FOUNTAINS. MONDAY NEXT, SEPTEMBER 21st This great display Messrs. C. T. Brock and Co., of Nunhead, the Pyrotechnists the Crystal Palace will consist of the following; PART I Aerial Maroons. Illumination Water Temples.”
Thursday, 5th November, 1896 Brock’s in Nunhead Referenced in article about South Norwood.
The Windsor Magazine [v4 #5, November 1896] (London: Ward, Lock & Bowden)
Apropos of Fireworks Day, in the Windsor Magazine for November Mr W. J. Wintle
gives an account of a visit to Messrs C. T. Brock and Co.’s firework factory.
IN FIREWORK-LAND – By W J Wintle
Illustrated by STEPHEN REID and C. M. WATTS.
“Their connection with the Crystal Palace dates from 1865, when the famous C. T. Brock was successful in a competitive display for the position of pyrotechnist to that well- known place of amusement. Three years later the manufactory was established at Nunhead, and by that time the business has increased by leaps and bounds”
(Later Printed in the Manawatu Herald, 5th January 1897 – New Zealand)
A branch factory of Brock was established in Turkey in 1870 by command of H.M. the Sultan.
Tuesday, 1st February 1870 THE LONDON GAZETTE page.621 NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership between us the undersigned, Charles Thomas Brock and Robert Milner, as Pyrotechnists, under the style of C.T. Brock and Co., at No.3, Percy Terrace, Nunhead, S.E., was dissolved by mutual consent, as from the 1st day of January, 1870, the said Robert Milner having sold his share in the business to the undersigned, Charles Thomas Brock.
All debts and liabilities due to or owing by the said firm will be Deceived and discharged by the said Charles Thomas Brock, who will continue to carry on the business as heretofore under the same style of C. T. Brock and Co.
—Dated this 1st day of February, 1870. Charles Thomas Brock. Robert Milner.
1870 – In 1870 Brock’s made 2m cartridges tubes for the French army in the Franco Prussian war.
Sunday, 2nd April 1871
CENSUS – 3, Percy Terrace, Nunhead Charles Brock, Head, age 27, pyrotechnist, from Surrey. Rhoda Ann Garland, Wife, age 27, from Lower Hill Middlesex.
Isabella, Sister, age 21.
Mary A, Sister, age 16.
Sophia Clay, Adopted, age 14, Colchester.
Julia Morgan, Servant, age 18, Islington.
Emma King, Servant, Bury St. Edmunds.
Sunday, 2nd April 1871 CENSUS – 6, Bath Terrace, Nunhead Green. The Pyrotechnist’s Arms (Owned by Noakes and later Courage).
(2016 – 39, Nunhead Green, SE15).
(1934 – 38, Nunhead Green).
Thomas Mortleman, Clerk, age 41, Harwich, Essex.
Lucy Mortleman, Wife, 42, Rochester, Kent.
Lucy Mortleman, Daughter, age 17, Rotherhithe, Surrey.
Thomas Taggart, Grandson, age 4, Camberwell, Surrey.
John Dearing, Servant, age 17, Bedfield, Suffolk.
Thursday, 28 March 1872 – London Daily News (First mention of Nunhead Green)
Thursday, 4th April 1872. Extract from: PYROTECHNICS: THE HISTORY AND ART OF FIREWORK MAKING – (page 68) by Alan. st. Hill Brock, (published, London, 1922)
EXPERIMENTS WITH FIREWORKS AT NUNHEAD
(In a Field near Messrs. C. T. Brock & Co.’s Firework Manufactory),
On Thursday, April 4th, 1872.
THE OBJECTS OF THE EXPERIMENTS ARE – 1. To determine if the distance between Firework Sheds, as at present laid
down by law, viz. 20 yards, is amply sufficient to prevent an explosion in one shed
communicating to other sheds situated at the statutory distance.
2. To determine the liability of Fireworks to ignite by concussion or friction.
3. To determine the liability of Fireworks to explode en masse if from any
cause they should be accidentally ignited.
4. In the event of Fireworks exhibiting a liability to explode, to determine the
area of destructive effect of such explosion.
5. To determine, with reference to the conclusions which may be arrived at as
to points 3 and 4, the degree of danger which attends the transport of Fireworks
by rail, barrier or other public conveyance.
6. To determine at what distance from dwelling houses stores of Fireworks
may be safely established.
PROGRAMME OF EXPERIMENTS. 1. Explode 30 lbs. of loose Firework Composition in a Shed, another Shed being 10 yards distant. Screen between.
2. Explode 30lbs of Composition in Fireworks in a Shed, another Shed being 10 yards distant. Screen between.
3. Ignite a Box of ¼ cwt. of mixed Ordinary Fireworks in open air
4. Ditto ditto ditto in contact with another Box of ditto.
5. Place a Box of ¼ cwt. of ditto in a bonfire.
6. No. 3 repeated, with mixed Fireworks bought over the Counter.
7. No. 4 ditto ditto.
8. No. 5 ditto ditto.
9. Hammer various sorts of Fireworks — Wood on Wood.
10. Ditto ditto Wood on Iron.
11. Ditto ditto Iron on Iron
12. Run a Railway Truck over some of the different sorts.
13. Repeat such of above as may seem necessary with “ Parlour Fireworks.”
V. D. MAJENDIE, Captain R. A., H.M.’s Inspector of Gunpowder Works , Spc.
Monday, 8th April 1872 – As reported by the London Evening Standard
Thursday, 16th May 1872
Charles Thomas Brock Sangster was born.
(16 May 1872 – 18 March 1935) was a British engineer and industrialist.
Born in Aberdeen and named after his godfather, fireworks manufacturer Charles Thomas Brock. He attended school in Aberdeen before continuing his education at King’s College London. He was apprenticed to Messrs. Linley & Biggs, noted cycle engineers and makers of “Whippet” spring frame cycles at Clerkenwell Road, London.
Wednesday, 25th December 1872
The South Australian Advertiser (Adelade, SA). page 3.
EXTRAORDINARY DISPLAY OF FIREWORKS The Times reports a wonderful display of fireworks at The Crystal Palace. The verbal description is exciting, but the spectacle itself must have been marvellous.
The Times says:
The occasion was rendered the more attractive from the fact that it was announced to be for the benefit of Mr. C. T. Brock, of Nunhead, who for some years past has provided all the displays of this kind for which the Crystal Palace has now become so famous, and that for this reason the fireworks were to be, if possible, unusually remarkable and splendid.
The display had been fixed to be held a week earlier, but the sudden rain threatened to spoil all the set pieces, and rendered the affair a inisemblic failure, and it was consequently determined to carry out the original programme in its integrity last night. [See full text]
?? ??? Original – DATE ???? PYROTECHNICS: THE HISTORY AND ART OR FIREWORK MAKING – (page 47) By Alan st Hill. Brock, (published, London, 1922)
My excuse for adding another volume to the literature of the art is that I am of the eighth generation of a family of pyrotechnists, whose work, I venture to claim, has not been
without its effect. If I succeed in interesting, and in some degree enlightening, my readers, I shall feel I have not written in vain; if I fail, I shall know it is not in my choice of subject
but in my capacity for dealing with it. Alan St. Hill BROCK. – Sutton, August, 1922.
“The success of the fireworks at the Crystal Palace having become an accomplished fact, I built extensive works at Nunhead and commenced manufacturing on a scale never previously dreamt of in the trade – the vast expanse of the locale of my displays obviously necessitating extraordinary expenditure of material”
Saturday, 18th October 1873 (and Saturday, 1st November 1873)
The Bedfordshire Times and Independant
CRYSTAL PALACE FIREWORKS (by C.T. BROCK & CO, of Nunhead Green, London) for the FIFTH OF NOVEMBER.
BROCK’S CRYSTAL PALACE FIREWORKS, Sold only in Bedford by B SAVAGE, 1 DAME ALICE STREET. Every article bears clear instructions for firing and the name….
Saturday, 28th February 1874 The Nautical Magazine for April 1874 – (Pages: 286 to 290)
SIGNALS OF DISTRESS, PRIVATE SIGNALS AND LIFE-SAVING GEAR.
Sir, – On the 28th of February last, I represented you at the Crystal Place, to witness and exhibition of
pyrotechnic distress and other signals fired by Messers. C. T. Brock & Co. of Nunhead Green, London, the sole pyrotechnist to the Crystal Palace Company. The exhibition-and a very beautiful and complete one it was-was very private, got up by Messrs. Brock for the delectation, as stated in the programme, “of the assistant secretary, the professional officer, and the chief surveyor of the Marine Department of the
board of Trade”…
Tuesday, 7th July 1874 The Theatrical Observer and Daily Bills of the Play. 1874
No. 16,289. TUESDAY, July 7, 1874. Price 1d.
MR. BROCK AND THE LICENSING SYSTEM At the City Sessions on Saturday Mr. C. T. Brock applied for a license to keep and sell fireworks at 109, Cheapside, applicant said his manufactory was at Nunhead, and that he supplied the Crystal Palace with fireworks.
He had been in business nine years, and during that time no accident had occurred to any of his employes.
His fireworks were not liable to spontaneous ignition, or to explosion by concussion.
There were, he had heard, nine persons licensed to sell fireworks in the City, and as they were not manufacturers they kept large stocks on their premises.
His fireworks, to be limited to 56lb., would be kept in one of Chatwood’s safes, and the quantity of powder in them would only amount to 6lb.
He wanted to use his Cheapside premises more as an office than a store room, there to show samples, for he would have a telegraphic communication with his manufactory at Nunhead, and in that way execute large orders.The area of the destructive effect of his fireworks was limited.
The Bench thought they would not be doing their duty if they granted the application, for how were they to tell that no more than 56lb. of these inflammable things would be kept ou the premises at the same time? Mr. Besley said “his client would assent to an inspection of his premises at any time, and would reduce the weight of the fireworks to be kept on the premises to a point below that of 56lb. The Bench refused to grant the application.
We think the magistrates, in Mr. Brock’s case, were a little too cautious. His application was reasonable enough, and there was no difficulty in the way of granting it: the more especially as Mr. Brock explained that his fireworks were subject neither to spontaneous combustion, nor to explosion by ignition. are the nine licenses granted and the tenth refused? This is one of the things that must be placed in the category of those that can neither be explained nor understood. Verily, magistrates, in their collective wisdom especially, are something wonderful to contemplate.
Saturday, 21st November 1874 – Greenwich & Deptford Chronicle. A visit to Brocks Factory: “Our visit extends to a point beyond the eastern end of the Green, where we enter upon a rather desolate region. On the left is a brick-work, and on the right a grass field, with an area of about seven and a half acres, used for grazing and occupied for another of its uses, as Messrs. Brock and Co.’s Fireworks Manufactory”
C T Brock and Co.’s – Advert 1874
“Dispalys undertaken in any part of the world.”
Friday, 29th January 1875
THE LONDON GAZETTE ISSUE 24175
247. To Charles Thomas Brock, of Nunhead, in the county of Surrey, Pyrotechnist, for the
invention of “improvements in apparatus for displaying fireworks.”
Monday, 14th June 1875
Explosives Act 1875 (1875 CHAPTER 17 38 and 39 Vict).An Act to amend the Law with respect to manufacturing, keeping, selling, carrying, and importing Gunpowder, Nitro–glycerine, and other Explosive Substances.Charles Thomas Brock played a major role in the drafting of the Explosives Act of 1875.
Brock’s Fireworks Series at Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876, for which £1,000 per display was paid, brought 250,000 payers to the turnstiles in one day, and founded the knowledge of and taste for Firework Displays on the American Continent.
Monday, 12th March 1877 – Brock’s in Woodside, South Norwood.
The Times, Mar 12, 1877
At the second attempt, Charles Thomas Brock, pyrotechnicist, succeed in his application for a licence to establish a fireworks factory in South Norwood. [More details]
1877 In the 1887, and several subsequent editions of Whitaker’s Almanack, there are advertisements for Brock’s, under an earlier name. It provided for the Crystal Palace company, the UK War Office, Government of India, and many other bodies.
Extract from “A Brief Account of the Parish of Camberwell, Its History and Antiquities” The firework factory of Mr. Brock has introduced a still further disturbing element to the tranquillity of the place; and Nunhead has become, in spite of itself the head quarters of pyrotechny.
There are about eighteen grand displays of fireworks at the Crystal Palace in the course of the year, or in the season of six months. Since 1866 in the quality and effectiveness of Mr. Brock’s displays, of the marvellous delicacy, variety, and brilliancy of his coloured lights, the heights to which they are propelled, and the great distances they are made to float in the upper air ;—
“And fiery darts at intervals Flew up all sparkling from the main, As if each star that nightly falls. Were shooting back to heaven again.”
As regards the comparative magnitude of the grand displays now made at the Crystal Palace, it is within the truth to say that they are now four times larger than the most ambitious attempt of 1866, nearly two tons of combustible matter being fired on every occasion of a grand display.
Stanfords 1878 map of London, shows a section of Nuhead. The Brock’s factory is mentioned in a 1860 text, as being: “in a field between Nunhead Green and the railway embankment in Evelina Road, off Slough Lane” (now Kirkwood Road).
This structure, with its 8 seperate ‘sheds’ and a path leading up to where the Pyrotechnicans Arms Public house is still located today, at the corner of Kirkwood Road (previously Surrey Lane), seems to be the Brock’s “manufactory?”
Friday, 25th March 1881
Charles Thomas Brock died, aged only 38.
Athur Brock, brother – suceeded Charles Thomas Brock.
Sunday, 3rd April 1881 The 1881 CENSUS shows that one of Brock’s “artist in fireworks”, William Harrison, aged 63, from Newinton Butts, resided at No.4, East Terrace, Nunhead, with wife, son, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, daughter and grandson.
Sunday, 3rd April 1881 CENSUS The Pyrotechnist’s Arms (Owned by Noakes and later Courage). 1871 – 6, Bath Terrace, Nunhead Green.
(2016 – 39, Nunhead Green, SE15).
(1934 – 38, Nunhead Green).
James Vickers, Licensed Victualler, Widow, age 61, Ashbrittle, Somerset.
Ann Bennett, Housekeeper, age 39, Frome, Somerset.
Kate Baker, Barmaid, age 20, Billingshurst, Sussex.
Friday, 25th March 1881 Charles Thomas Brock died – Reigate, Surrey.
Friday, 12th August 1881
Probates for England and Wales, Will of Charles Thomas Brock Proved.
Monday, 22nd Mar 1886
Alan St. Hill Brock born, (son of Arthur John and Ann Brock).
Henry Brock & Son, later Charles Thomas Brock & Co., opened a fireworks factory at Harold Wood, Romford – It was about ½ mile south of the railway station, in the area of the present Prospect Road. The factory was managed by John Robert Brock (died 1906), and seems to have closed soon after his death.
Friday, 29th June 1888 Frank Arthur Brock, son of Arthur Brock of Haredon, Sutton. Born: 29th June 1888, Cheam, Surrey, England.
Died: 23rd April 1918, St George’s Day, (aged 29), Port of Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Wing Commander Royal Naval Air Service 1914–1918, Zeebrugge Raid.
UK OBE 1917 military BAR.svg Order of the British Empire.
Victory Medal MID ribbon bar.svg Mentioned in dispatches.
Wing Commander Frank Arthur Brock OBE was a British officer of the Royal Air Force who devised and executed the smoke screen used during the Zeebrugge Raid on 23 April 1918, in the British Royal Navy’s attempt to neutralize the key Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge during the First World War. [Read More on Brock’s WW1 Munitions]
At South Norwood, a serious accident involving the death of one workman and the injury of another, was caused by a barrel of chlorate of potash being delivered and marked nitrate of potash (saltpetre).
Its use in a composition containing sulphide of arsenic (orpiment) produced a mixture approximately to that used in some fog signals and designed to fire by percussion.
The natural effect was the serious explosion that followed.
In August, 1893, a man was fatally burned whilst simply emptying a small quantity of crimson stars from one tray to another; the slight friction so caused was sufficient to ignite the stars and thus fire the whole contents of the building.
This unfortunate accident took place at the works of C. T. Brock and Co., then at South Norwood, surry and seems even more unfortunate when one learns that with the exception of this particular crimson, they had practically eliminated chlorate and sulphur colours.
As a result of the accidents the year beore, the South Norwood in Surrey and Harold Wood in Essex sites were both found to be inadequate and the factory works were moved to Sutton in Surrey.
c: 1900 Created for publication in a newspaper, probably in ‘The Penny Illustrated Paper’.
The illustration shows a firework display at Crystal Palace as sketched from the Royal Balcony. Crowds of men and women has gathered to watch ‘The Niagara of Fire’ which has been organised as part of ‘Brocks Benefit’ at Crystal Palace.
A head and shoulders, profile of Mr. C.T. Brock has been included in the top left hand corner. The painting is not dated but has been signed by the artist, Sydney Higham.
The area between Gander Green Lane, Windsor Avenue and Marlow Drive, once farmland, was purchased in 1901 by C. T. Brock & Co. ‘Crystal Palace’ Fireworks Ltd.
The site was chosen for it’s remoteness and space which enabled safer production of fireworks. Sheds and bunkers were dispersed across the site and connected to the central building by a light narrow-gauge railway. Brock’s continued to operate on the site until 1935.
Friday, 4th October 1901
Henry Brock died in 1901, aged 53, and was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Leverstock Green, Bedmond Road, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.
Saturday, 9th August 1902
Brock’s Displays had been closely linked to many great events and amongst the more memorable have included The Coronation Display of King Edward VII.
Monday, 24th September 1906 – Brock’s Benefits, Sutton, Surrey. (one Shilling Day!) Postcard from Brocks Fireworks Ltd, advertising their “Illuminations” at Crystal Palace postcard 1906 featuring animals, including spider, pterodactyl, and dinosaurs. It also includes a model Diplodocus. These animals were not fireworks, but “illuminations” – electric light displays place in and around the fountains.
Brocks Fireworks were famous for their Guy Fawkes night fireworks displays.
Thursday, 22nd June 1911 Brock’s Displays had been closely linked to many great events and amongst the more memorable have included The Coronation Display of King George V.
Saturday, 19th July 1919 Brock’s Displays had been closely linked to many great events and amongst the more memorable have included the Official Peace Display to mark the end of World War I.
1922 Listed Exhibitor (Stand No. F.26)
British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of World-renowned ‘Crystal Palace’ Fireworks, Unique Christmas Crackers, Novel Popular Joke Bombs, Sports Goods, Strong Wooden Toys. Speciality – Toy Cricket Bats and Sets. http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/1922_British_Industries_Fair
1929 Listed Exhibitor (Stand No. D.5)
British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of the World-famous ‘Crystal Palace’ Fireworks, Firework Displays in any part of the World, Sparklers, Indoor Fireworks, Firework Novelties and Christmas Crackers, Sports Goods, and Toy Cricket Bats and Sets. http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/1929_British_Industries_Fair
1933 From 1933 until the early 1960s, Hemel Hempstead was the home of Brock’s Fireworks. In the late 1930’s Brock’s employed nearly 500 in the town. Henry Brock built housing and a Sports and Social Club for his workers to ensure that they maintained a certain standard of living, near to its 207 acre site on the north eastern side of Hemel Hempstead.
(the site is now the Woodhill Farm housing estate).
Setting Up At The Crystal Palace 1930s
Monday, 6th May to Sunday, 12th May 1935
Silver Jubilee Celebrations- His Majesty King George V and Her Majesty Queen Mary.
Monday, 30th November 1936
All of the fabulous firework displays ended when The Crystal Palace was completely destroyed by fire in 1936, an event which spelt the closure of this traditional and hugely popular firework institution.
The Daily Mirror reported: “Spectacular to the last, the Crystal Palace, famous for its magnificent firework displays, went out in the greatest and most awe-inspiring show in its history.”
Ironically, one of the exhibits on the world trade display inside had been a new, ultra-modern fire engine, lauded for its capacity to produce a more forceful stream of water than ever before. It was named the Princess of Wales.
Monday, 24th June 1946
Brock’s Displays had been closely linked to many great events and amongst the more memorable have included the Official Peace Display to mark the end of World War I. Brock’s produced ‘The World’s Largest Firework Bombshell’ which is shown below, being loaded into its mortar which had a 25″ diameter. When the shell was projected and exploded in the air, it created a canopy of coloured stars over a quarter of a mile radius.
Thursday, 15th August 1946
Brocks Firework Factory at Woodhall Farm, Cupid Green, Hemel Hempstead.
Houses were built locally to house 300 Brocks workers and named Ranelagh Road and Vauxhall Road after the London Gardens where Brocks fireworks displays were held.
Tuesday, 2nd June 1953
Brock’s Displays had been closely linked to many great events and amongst the more memorable have included The Coronation Display of Queen Elizabeth II.
Friday, 7th October 1955 – Firework factory for Swaffham (From the Eastern Daily Press)
Brock’s bought the Wilder’s Fireworks Company in 1961 and continued using the name as a distinct brand.
Thursday, 5th August 1971 – Blaze at firework factory (From the Eastern Daily Press)
Brock’s bought the Wilder’s Fireworks Company in 1961 and continued using the Brock’s name as a distinct brand.
The Brock business undertook its relocation to two factories, one in Sanquar, Dumfriesshire, Scotland and the other at Swaffham in Norfolk, remaining there until 1981.
Tuesday, 23rd March 1976 – Brock`s factory closure `only temporary` (From the Eastern Daily
Sanquhar, Scotland which is still an explosives factory (postcode DG4 6JP)
Brock’s was bought over in 1988 by Standard Fireworks, when all firework production was transferred to Yorkshire, Standard was then itself bought out by Black Cat Fireworks.
All firework manufacturing was transfered to China, due to the much cheaper wages of workers.
Brock’s Fireworks Limited trading once more. Their professed aims are “to produce quality Pyrotechnics back in the UK and to protect the history of the UK fireworks industry”.
Guy Fawkes’ Day, according to some, is a dying festival; while others
. . . Don’t see no reason,
Why Gunpowder Treason,
Should ever be forgot;
Even although the original significance of the pyrotechnic commemoration that takes place on the 5th of November, has somewhat faded from memory. In one respect Guido de Fawkes may be considered a national benefactor, since from the annually recurring date of his ignoble attempt has arisen the pyrotechnic art of today; an industry, the effects of which startle and delight equally the civilized and savage, throughout the world. South Norwood is especially identified with pyrotechny.
The Firework Manufactory of Messrs. Brock was originally commenced in London, nearly one hundred and seventy years ago; Mr. Arthur Brock, the present head of the firm, claiming to represent in his own person, “the concentrated essence of seven generations of fire-work manufacturers.”
Until a recent period the making of fireworks was a mere hole and corner affair, recklessly carried on amid crowded thoroughfares, with frequent loss of life, and grave damage to property. But all this is altered; and, through the Explosive Act of 1875, an d the searching supervision of the Explosive Department of the Home Office, firework making has now become comparatively as safe as undoubtedly it is a healthy occupation. By an Order in Council of June, 1894, the use of firework compositions containing chlorate of potash and sulphur was prohibited; and thus, danger has been finally reduced to a minimum.
The connection of the firm of C. T. Brock & Co. with the Crystal Palace dates from the year 1864.
Messrs. Brocks firework manufactory at South Norwood occupies about fifty acres of land; the firm have another large work at Harold Wood in Essex, besides quantities of explosives stored in magazines elsewhere, and in the floating hulks off Gravesend. Scattered over the South Norwood acres, referred to, are numerous small wooden, brick, and corrugated-iron buildings, of peculiar construction; at some distance apart from each other.
A large portion of the field is carefully fenced off; for here are the magazines; strongly built iron structures, each protected by a screen. The remaining widespread area is more closely dotted over with slightly-built wooden sheds, each averaging in size 16 feet by 12. Their interiors are varnished, and the floors covered with lead or linoleum, fastened by copper nails. Any artificial light they may require is to be obtained only from gas jets, burning outside their windows. Throughout, the most scrupulous cleanliness is enforced, so as to avoid grit.
Every precaution also is taken with the work-people. On entering the factory each person undergoes a search; and dons a non-inflammable guernsey, and overshoes of brown leather without nails. Government regulations, exhibited by the door of each shed, indicate the number of persons allowed in it; and prescribe the kind of work, and quantity of composition, permitted. If the work-people want anything they must hang out a red flag, and an attendant comes. Hydrants, and buckets of water, are in every direction. The Magazines are supplied with carefully tested lightning conductors. Both Magazines and forwarding departments are connected by a system of tramways. All is silent; save a low tapping sound, emanating from some of the sheds.
In the paper stores may be seen shells twenty five inches in diameter, and upwards of two and a quarter hundredweight. Paper cylinders, of all sizes, from tiny tubes used for squibs and crackers, to the massive cases of the largest rockets, are made in the rolling sheds.
Close by are the carpenter’s and fitter’s shops. In one building the ingredients are cautiously mixed; in others, various kinds of rockets are filled; the composition being driven home by taps from a box-wood mallet. At one shed are made those brilliant stars that tall in showers from rockets and shells; they consist of small cubes of composition, moulded with methylated spirits and shellac; and afterwards hardened.
Another hut is devoted to the manufacture of quick-match; this is simply cotton wick, steeped in a mixture of gunpowder and starch; it is the necessary link between the coloured lights in set pieces.
In the trenches of the Crystal Palace are the mortars, fired by means of slow matches, whence arise the huge shells, fabricated at this factory, which hurtling through mid-air, and bursting at heights of from 700 to 1,000 feet, finally descend in showers of corruscating stars. For large set-pieces a huge framework is first constructed, and divided into convenient square sections. On this the artist makes an immense design, the same being outlined in lath and cane. With the aid of wire nails, many thousand coloured lights are then arranged along the design; all being connected by quick-match. The set-piece having been hoisted into position, by means of an ingenious hydraulic contrivance, amid the darkness of night, is then fired; when, to the delight of gazing thousands is revealed, it may be ” Jack and the Bean Stalk,” wherein figures the cow, sold to the artful butcher for a sack of beans, which, duly sown, a giant bean-stalk springs upwards and burns, whilst Jack, a real man, clad in asbestos and enveloped by lighted fireworks, nimbly climbs to its summit. Perhaps the set-piece may turn out a huge fiery Chrysanthemum; or, greater
pyrotechnic achievement still, a colossal sea-fight,— “The Battle of Trafalgar,” or “Battle of Manila Bay.” These, the largest set-pieces ever made by Messrs. Brock, each measured about an eighth of a mile in length. In the set-piece of the Battle of Yalu River, between China and Japan, the engagement was represented to scale, the masts being 105 feet high; whilst the entire tableaux measured 600 feet across.
A very considerable amount is annually spent in fire-works. At the rejoicings attendant on H.R.H.The Prince of Wales’ tour through India, in 1875, Mr. Brock visited that country, in order to let off the fireworks, of which some hundreds of tons were then used; ten separate displays being given, at costs varying from £1,000 to £2,500 each.
Of Historic Displays, the largest ever prepared by this or any other firm, was that, given at Lisbon, in 1888, on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen of Sweden. The fireworks were let off on the river Tagus, when three iron-clads with ten other craft, drawn up in a line extending a mile long, were placed at Mr. Brock’s disposal. The display cost £3,500. But this amount was much exceeded on the marriage of the Duke of Braganza, when no fewer than 10,000 large rockets were simultaneously discharged. Roughly speaking, a Crystal Palace display, on an ordinary night, costs 10s a minute; and on a benefit night, about £10 a minute ; the display usually lasting half an hour. After witnessing one of Messrs. Brock’s Crystal Palace Displays, Li Hung Chang declared that the fireworks for which China is famous were completely eclipsed by the splendours of English pyrotechny.
It is not only for purposes of amusement however that fireworks are formed, since here were made those rockets utilised by the Niger Company during their late African War. These require no match; a string is merely pulled; and the rocket, reaching its destination, fastens on whatever it touches, and sets alight all within reach. For the same expedition also, was invented, and made at South Norwood, a peculiar kind of friction light. Attached to these is, a long string which can be stretched across a path, so that an enemy approaching in the dark, and pressing the string, ignites a fire, which lights up the surrounding country: or, hung on trees, at some distance round the zareba, at sound of the enemy’s stealthy approach, the string of these friction lights can be pulled in camp, when the blacks are instantaneously lit up, and effectually surprised.
As if in contrast to such murderous devices, at South Norwood are manufactured enormous quantities of lights and rockets to be used as distress signals by ships at sea, or in cases of shipwreck, by the coast-guard, and the brave fellows who man our Life-Boats. Five hundred tons of fireworks is the ordinary annual output of the South Norwood Manufactory.
The average number of persons employed here is two hundred, of whom about seventy are females.
From 1864 Charles Thomas Brock supplied the huge spectacular displays at the Crystal Palace Park. They also manufactured flares for distress signals, and pyrotechnic devices for the military.
14th July 1867
Explosives of a more powerful kind. Alfred Nobel hired a train to carry guests from Charing Cross to chalk pits at Merstham to witness his second UK demonstration of his recently invented dynamite.
His aim was to convince his guests, railway officials and quarry owners, that dynamite is both very safe but when detonated, was a very powerful explosive. His train was routed through Croydon, but the dynamite went separately by road.
In or about 1728 a member of the Brock family set up a fireworks factory in London, which was for a while near Peckham (Nunhead), but moved to South Norwood in 1877.
It was not, like most factories, a single large building, the whole of which might be destroyed in seconds in the event of a major fire or explosion. Rather, the Brock’s establishment consisted of many small sheds scattered about over a large area, said to have been about 50 acres, purchased in 1873 (more than three times the size of South Norwood recreation ground).
If one shed caught fire or exploded, the idea was, that all the others would be reasonably safe. The sheds were all linked by horse-drawn tramways. Steam locomotives and their sparks are not a good idea near explosives.
According to an entry in KELLY POST OFFICE DIRECTORY 1878 [page 2482]…
CT Brock’s residence was:-
Brock Charles Thos, The Lodge, Birchanger Road, Woodside, Sth. Norwood, Surry. S.E.
The South Norwood works was set up according to rules laid down in the Explosives Act of 1875, and suffered no major disasters, using the results from testing at the Nunhead manufactory by Charles Thomas Brock – C.T.Brock ‘Crystal Palace’ Fireworks & Co.
Brock’s was said to have been the largest fireworks factory in the world at the time, employing 200 men and women, and making 500 tonnes of fireworks every year.
Explosion at Messrs. C. T. Brock & Co.’s Firework Factory, South Norwood, on 13th March 1893. (Explosion, No. 16, 1893.) (Colonel Majendie, C.B.)
Explosion at Messrs. C. T. Brock & Co.’s Firework Factory,
South Norwood, on 19th August 1893. (Explosion, No. 63, 1893.) (Captain Thomson, R.A.)
There is nothing left of the works to see today. It was partly built over (Birchanger Road) and partly excavated for brick clay (Woodside brickworks).
1894 OS Map
London XV.SE (includes: Beckenham; Croydon St John the Baptist; Penge.)
Revised: 1894 to 1895, Published: 1894 to 1896 http://maps.nls.uk/view/96805083
The history of Brock’s Fireworks dates back to before 1720, but it was during the 19th century that the Brock family established themselves as leaders in the field.
The Crystal Palace displays became a national institution, and any public event worthy of such recognition was accorded a pyrotechnic celebration there on a scale hitherto unattempted.
The credit for the original introduction of fireworks at the Crystal Palace must belong to the late C. T. Brock, who succeeded in inducing the Directors to institute a competition among pyrotechnists in 1865.
It may be interesting to give in his own words an account of the matter, taken from an article written by him some few years later:
(FROM CT BROCKS OWN WORDS)
“It occurred to me that of all the places of public resort suitable for the inauguration of a new era for pyrotechny, none offered such glorious advantages as the Crystal Palace, then at the height of its popularity.”
“Its terraces, fountains and foliage offered unrivalled advantages for the display of grand effects. The Directors of the Crystal Palace Company, who had more than once been applied to for permission to hold displays in the grounds, feared that, inasmuch as fireworks had been recently associated solely with gardens of the Cremorne class, the Palace itself would be degraded to the same rank if consent were granted. I urged that the Exhibition of 1862 had afforded no opportunity for competition among firework makers necessarily excluded by the nature of their trade — although almost every other branch of manufactures were embraced, that such a contest might with reason and advantage be held at Sydenham, and that fireworks were really not of an immoral tendency. I further agreed that in the event of the result being unfavourable, either financially or from a social point of view, no second display need take place, but if, as I felt confident, there should be a large attendance of the better classes, then other exhibitions might follow.”
“The Directors, after many months of delay, consented to make the experiment, and the favourable result of the trial on July 12th, 1865, far exceeded my most sanguine expectations.”
“The result was an unlooked-for success, 20,000 people being present on the occasion. Three more displays took place that year upon a small scale, but always with successful results.”
“The first display was produced jointly by my father and Mr. Southby, the winner of the first prize, and continued to the end of that season by my father alone under my management.”
“The success of fireworks at the Crystal Palace having become an accomplished fact, I built extensive works at Nunhead, and commenced manufacturing on a scale never previously dreamt of in the trade — the vast expanse of the locale of my displays obviously necessitating extraordinary expenditure of material.”
“By degrees the set pieces grew from twelve feet in diameter to 300 feet. Shells for which the Crystal Palace has been renowned grew to one hundred times more than the ordinary shells of my early days, and thousands of pounds weight of material was gradually introduced to increase the effectiveness of these displays.”
In 1865, a “Grand Competition of Pyrotechnists”, the brainchild of Charles Thomas (CT) Brock, was held at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham; it was a spectacular success, with over 20,000 people attending. Thus began a series of magnificent displays at this prestigious venue, continuing until 1936. It can be argued that the first “contest” at the Crystal Palace was the forerunner of other fireworks competitions, which have, particularly in recent years, become popular once again with members of the public. It is interesting to note the “rules” laid down for the first Crystal Palace competition. Each participant was required to display:
1. 25 coloured lights; each 2” in length and 2” diameter, 5 each of white, yellow, green, blue and red.
2. 12 rockets of ½ lb calibre.
3. Three tourbillions.
4. 12 shells of 5” diameter.
5. one set-piece.
6. a finale of 200 rockets of ¼ lb calibre, 50 containing bright stars; 50 tailed stars and 100 coloured stars.
Each company was allowed up to five assistants. No work could be done on-site prior to the day of the show. Use of rockets or shells of calibres greater than those specified would lead to disqualification. Even in those days there were strict “ground rules” that had to be obeyed by each competitor so that a level playing field could be established. Significant advances in chemistry during the 19th century gave rise to a greater spectrum of colours in pyrotechnics, and it is no surprise that the first fireworks competition at the Crystal Palace included a demonstration of “coloured lights” (bengal illuminations) — one of the simplest pyrotechnic devices. This would enable the judges to assess the colour purity and intensity achieved by each competitor’s products.
It is interesting to note that in 1875 the Explosives Act was introduced, which laid down detailed regulations for the manufacture, sale and firing of fireworks. This was subsequently strengthened by later legislation and effectively replaced, in 2005, by the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations. Prior to 1875, regulation of fireworks-related activities had been poor although centuries earlier, in 1685, an Act of Parliament limited the manufacture, sale and display of fireworks. It was largely ignored. The latter part of the 19th century, leading up to the First World War, was a “golden age” for firework displays. Brock’s had become established as the leading lights in the UK and were contracted to provide shows throughout the world for all manner of celebrations, often associated with royal events. Other companies such as Pains and Wells also strengthened their reputations during this period, but Brock was pre-eminent. Their displays would invariably include huge and complex set-pieces; massive lancework devices depicting royal portraits, Heads of State or triumphant scenes such as battle victories were very common. This necessitated great expenditure and considerable manpower requirements, in contrast with modern displays that tend to be more economical in terms of personnel.