Fireworks in Barnsley – 1868 Explosion

This is a sad tale from October 1868 when an explosion wrecked a Barnsley fireworks factory killing eleven men, women and children.

On Taylor Row there was a plot of land with a small detached building licensed for the making of fireworks and storing gunpowder. George NorrisĀ  a local hairdresser and business man owned the firework business employing over 30 people often young children. He extended the firework assembly into another unlicensed building divided into 4 sheds. On the morning of 8th October 1868 everything went !bang!


Maria Cooper was a trusted worker with firework experience gained in the midlands. On the fateful morning she complained that the ‘chemical mixture’ for filling the fireworks was too damp. Seemingly she spoke her intentions of drying the ‘composition’ of nitre, sulphur and charcoal over an open fire. The inevitable happened and firecrackers started to explode. Bodies were throw about and some escaped with clothes on fire only to die later. Up to 20 youngsters survived despite various burns and injuries.

At an inquest Maria Cooper was found to have died from her recklessness in placing ‘composition’ in a tin on a stove where it exploded. The verdict was manslaughter by Maria Cooper against the other 10 who died. Among the dead were the owner George Norris and Bill Bywater the foreman and children of 11, 12 and 14. Norris lived long enough to be taken home and make futile protests about the incident. The youngest fatality was 9 year old George Yates who had only worked at the factory for a few weeks.

Yorkshire Fireworks Suppliers
Fireworks by bayasaa CC BY 2.0

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