Chilwell is a suburb of Greater Nottingham, to the west of Nottingham City in Nottinghamshire, England. Originally a small hamlet, in modern times Chilwell was absorbed by Nottingham’s urban sprawl and made part of the wider urban area. Chilwell shares its long history with Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, right back to Saxon times, and as a suburb of Nottingham today, it too has a tradition in industry.
Before the 1900s, Chilwell was a very small village without any major industry. During and after the industrial revolution, the usual cottage industries of framework knitting and the likes would have been common in Chilwell, but it wasn’t until the advent of World War One that significant population growth and industrial activity was seen in the area.
In 1915, an ammunition factory was started in Chilwell, eventually become the most productive British shell firing factory throughout the First World War. Over the course of the war, more than half of the shells used in battle by British forces were produced at Chilwell. With the factory came a population increase, and Chilwell had quickly caught up to industries in even more established areas.
At its peak, the Chilwell munitions factory was employing 10,000 workers, but unfortunately, in these early days, safe methods of handling chemicals and munitions were still being developed. There were many initial complaints from workers about irritations, chest pains and nausea, due to some of the chemicals being handled in the factory. Regardless, conditions slowly improved as the factory adapted, adding more ventilation and safety equipment, and productivity boomed.
But at its productive peak, disaster occurred, all but destroying the factory and injuring much of the workforce. On July 1, 1918, an explosion including eight tonnes of TNT in the factory killed 134 people and injured hundreds more. This dark day was devastating for the local community, as well as Nottingham as a whole, as many workers came from the surrounding areas.
Today a memorial stands in remembrance of those lost in the disaster, and the event forever remains a part of Chilwell’s history.
Today, this quiet, picturesque suburb on the edge of Nottingham is home to many happy residents, and aside from the memorial, no remnants of the factory remain. The memorial stands as a chilling reminder to the dangers of war, and as a testament to the sacrifice of civilians from all walks of life, who put the lives of millions above their own as they laboured for their country, and peace in Europe.
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