Our Century

Blast kills 19 Dudley girls

Nineteen girls lost their lives in horrendous circumstances while working in a small workshop after a massive explosion rocked a Dudley Port metal dealers.

The mystery blast at the works of L K Knowles in Groveland Road, Tipton, on March 6, resulted in 22 working girls and a married woman being taken to the Guest Hospital, Dudley, for treatment. The effects of the incident were described as "appalling" as the girls worked dismantling miniature rifle cartridges.

It appeared the cartridges arrived in wooden boxes and the work of the girls involved removing the copper and metal portions which were to be melted into ingots.

The girls emptied the gunpowder from the cartridges into boxes. For some reason one of the cartridges went off, igniting or discharging several thousand others waiting to be dealt with.

The building immediately caught fire, the iron roof was blown away "and the suffering of the poor girls was almost indescribable."

The manager had left the the shop and returned to find it a "veritable inferno." He and others dashed round the rooms putting out the flames and dragging the "shrieking and panic-stricken girls from the building.

Reports in the Wolverhampton Midland Counties Express said some of the girls were scorched beyond recognition. The flying gunpowder had totally disfigured them and their clothing "was literally torn from their bodies." One report said girls ran screaming round the works yard with their skin torn away.

One witness, William Banes, of Dudley Port, said he had never seen anything to compare with the tragedy. He saw girls running about the yard in a nude state and threw "bagging" round them.

Police said some of the injured were unrecognisable. Not only were their features defaced but most had no hair left. As the news spread thousands of people gathered in the vicinity of the blast. Tipton District Council opened a fund for the distressed families of the victims.

One of the girls who escaped with less serious injuries, Gladys Williams, aged 14, said: "I heard a fizz. Then there was a loud report. I ran to the door to get out but the stove must have blown and the pipe of it struck me across the nose.

"It blocked the doorway and I could not get out until someone pushed open the door. My pal was standing next to me and was killed." Gladys suffered injuries to her hands, eyes and legs.

In July of that year, following a court case, company manufacturer, John Walter Knowles, aged 55, was jailed for five years for manslaughter by Staffordshire Assizes.

Many gather to greet the future king: Duke of YorkWolverhampton gave a right royal welcome to the Duke of York in July with people lining the streets as his procession passed on its way to the Royal Orphanage where the royal guest was due to distribute prizes.

The town was decorated with flags and colourful bunting while bells rang out a welcome.

The Duke lunched at the orphanage before presenting prizes to successful students. He later attended a children's sports events at the Molineux ground and then a reception the town hall.

The crowds began gathering long before the train carrying the royal visitor reached the town's Low Level station.

The Duke was greeted by the mayor and a sailor swarmed up a lamp post, along with a civilian, to get a better view.

All along the Penn Road, people sat on walls waving and boys and girls waited in lines outside the orphanage to greet the Duke.

Admiral unveils town's new war memorial: St Peter's memorial A new 5,000 memorial to the Wolverhampton men who fell in the Great War was unveiled in November on open space near the town's St Peter's Church by Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee before a crowd of thousands.

It included representatives of the military, naval, municipal and general life of the town. Relatives of the fallen also attended.

For many weeks the public had watched with growing interest the building of the monument, erected in the form of a slightly tapering stone shaft and executed in red Hollington stone.

Standing on a square base, the monument rose to a height of 43ft 6in and bore the motto: "Out Of The Darkness Cometh Light."

Holly Bank mine sunk at Hilton: Engineering and colliery chiefs turned out in force in September for the new "sinking" of the Holly Bank Colliery Company at Hilton, near Shareshill.

The company faced tremendous difficulties in sinking the Hilton shaft but the end result was praised by visitors from the South Staffordshire and Warwickshire Mining Engineers, and the South Staffordshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire Colliery managers during a conducted tour of the premises.

The huge power station was said to be without equal in the Midlands coalfields and its electrical equipment was described as "the latest word."

It was revealed that Hilton would be the first colliery in South Staffordshire to be run solely on electricity - marking a new era in local mining.

The main discussions centred round a massive diagram fixed in the power station showing sections of the shaft.

It was pointed out that the shaft would have sunk 1,890ft when it was completed.

The visitors went down the shaft to inspect the progress but it was stressed that it would be another 15 to 18 months before coal could be mined in the new colliery.


Dorothy Reynolds
The scripture lessons she gave us with kindly advice and love...