Object of the Month

November Object of the Month: Explosive Cheam

Brocks Firework Factory workers at the factory Gander Green Lane, Cheam, 1930 Pictures are Violet Everitt, Elsie Smith, Winnie Carter, and one unnamed worker.

With Cheam’s sky being lit by fireworks this month we want to ‘remember, remember ‘ Brocks Fireworks Factory. Originating in Islington in 1698, Brocks moved a number of times in its long existence, from Islington to Whitechapel to South Norwood to Cheam and settling in Hemel Hempstead. Brocks came to Cheam in 1901, staying until a subsequent relocation in 1935. While in Cheam, Brocks covered the area between Gander Green Lane, Windsor Avenue, and Marlow Drive, 200 acres of land which was once used as farmland. More than 400 people were employed to produce 100,000 fireworks and sparklers every day for a worldwide market.

Our November object of the month is a photograph of ‘Brocks firework factory workers at the factory Gander Green Lane Cheam, 1930.’ The image gives us an insight into the fireworks and workers that made Brocks, the oldest British fireworks manufacturer. Looking at the photograph we know three of the ladies name: Violet Everitt, Elsie Smith and Winnie Carter.

Looking at the image in more detail, the black boiler-suit uniforms worn by Violet, Elsie, and Winnie tell us they would have handled the black powder in the filling sheds. The filling sheds and workshops housed small quantities of explosive materials and process which were spread apart to cut the risk of accidents during manufacture. These sheds were linked by a series of tramlines covering four miles.

Despite safety precautions at the factory, unfortunate accidents did occur due to the volatile nature of the materials in use. From Tony Brett Young’s A Stroll Through North Cheam’s Past (1991) recounted an interview with James Smith, he recalls “ I did see one or two of their shed go up, and Brocks men – the women and all- used to run with their hose-pipes to put them out. Brock’s Rolls-Royce used to take some of the injured down to the hospital.”

Postcard depicting Brocks Fireworks illuminations.

The Fireworks they are holding in the photograph may have been one of the fireworks that would find its way dispatched to illuminate the sky at Crystal Palace. Brocks would put together great fireworks displays for the public in London. The Brock family 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 and from 1865 onwards became a regular attraction at the site of the Crystal Palace. So connected with the palace was the company that it was renamed C.T. Brock & Co’s ‘Crystal Palace’ Fireworks in 1865.

The November Object of the Month is currently on display in Whitehall’s free temporary display on Brocks Fireworks Factory now on at Cheam Library (Church Rd, Sutton SM3 8QH) during regular library opening hours.


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