Needless loss of life marked with Tipton plaque

It is remembered as the darkest episode in a Black Country town's history, when 19 young girls lost their lives in a devastating explosion.

Needless loss of life marked with Tipton plaque

Now their needless loss of life has been commemorated with a Tipton Civic Society blue plaque near the site where the tragedy happened.

The plaque has been placed at Tipton Toddlers Nursery on the corner of Dudley Port and Groveland Road, a second plaque has also been erected next to it to commemorate the site of Tipton's last cinema.

The Dudley Port factory employed dozens of girls to break up the live cartridges left over from the First World War for scrap.

But on March 6, 1922 at around 11.45am one of the cartridges inexplicably went off, igniting or discharging several thousand others waiting to be dealt with.

The explosion ripped through the L K Knowles factory in Groveland Road, where the young women worked, blowing the iron roof from the building and setting it on fire.

A total 24 young girls were working at the time and the explosion killed all but five.

The funeral for the victims of the factory explosion that happened in 1922

The Express & Star covered the disaster and described how the panic-stricken girls tried to escape the inferno. Many had to be dragged from the burning building. Some were severely burned and injured.

The report describes how the Guest Hospital in Dudley was stretched to its limit.

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.

A memorial was erected in 1924 at Tipton Cemetery, two years after the explosion and was given a clean-up in 1994 and refurbished in 2010. But there has not been a memorial on the site of the explosion itself.

Doreen Rushton, whose aunt Lizzy Williams died at the age of 13, attended the ceremony to unveil the plaques.

Mrs Rushton, 69, of St Mark's Road, Tipton, said: "She was my father's sister, but he was only three at the time. When we were growing up they never really talked about it. We had a photograph of her horse-drawn funeral carriage, and books from chapel which had been dedicated to her, but did not know much else. The King had also written to my family expressing his condolences."

The grandmother of three who attended the event with her sister Mavis Smith and cousins Jean Smith, Rita Kempson and Barbara Hughes, said: "We just felt it was important to go and remember Lizzy. It was a terrible, horrendous tragedy, but it was lovely to have the ceremony and remember her together."

Doreen Rushton from Tipton. Her aunt, Lizzie Williams, 13, was killed in the blast

Vice chairman of Tipton Civic Society Keith Hodgkins said: "It was an horrific tragedy, and the most tragic episode in Tipton's recent history. We felt it was very important to mark the spot where the tragedy happened.

The second blue plaque marks the site of the former The Alhambra cinema, which was built in 1933 and was once Tipton's finest cinema. It closed down in 1963.

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