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Firework Factory Sanquhar

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Derelict Gateside Factory, © http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/9050
Derelict Gateside Factory
© Patrick Pavey

The site of a derelict fireworks factory is located to the west of Sanquhar, on the south side of the A76.

The existence of this site came to our notice by chance, in 2002, when the unmistakable construction of lightweight buildings within deflective earth banking banks was noted while passing through the area.

Known as the Gateside Factory, this was formerly the head office of Brock's Explosives Ltd, more commonly known as Brock's Fireworks, which occupied the site until 1988 when it was taken over by Standard Fireworks, at which time the Scottish operation was transferred to their Huddersfield site. In 1998, Standard Fireworks were taken over by Black Cat Fireworks, and all manufacturing was moved to China, with Huddersfield becoming the sales, marketing, and distribution centre for the combined operation.

Factory buildings, 2010
Factory buildings
© James T M Towill

Brock's appears to have originated in Swaffham, Norfolk, from where it expanded into its main site in Hemel Hempstead in the late 1950s. The factory was a significant employer prior to World War II, and remained in production there until the mid 1970s, when the head office was moved to the Scottish factory in Sanquhar

Following its closure in 1988, the Gateside Factory was used for the manufacture of military pyrotechnics, ncluded Brocks ground indicating markers, Brocks screening smoke grenade, and Brocks smoke grenades and generators.[1], an operation for which we have little further details or references, although the Teleramics link given below reports that artefacts with military ordnance marking were found on the site in 2006.

Grenades marked with the letters SQ are described as having been manufactured by Brocks Explosives Ltd of Sandquhar. [2]

Brocks Explosives Ltd took over the site producing commercial explosives for mining purposes and pyrotechnic articles such as smoke simulators for fire brigade and police training.

West end of site, 2010
West end of site
© James T M Towill

Safety was always a concern in such facilities, with ferrous metals being banned from the buildings to avoid the possibility of sparks. Tools were generally made of non-hazardous materials, such as wood, and there was no heating to avoid any possibility of sparks or other sources of ignition. The buildings were constructed of weak materials which were designed to disintegrate (to dust) in the event of an explosion, allowing its force to disperse, rather than build up within a confined space. This disintegration also avoided the danger of large pieces of debris being thrown into the surrounding area. Earth banks were arranged around the buildings, to deflect the result of any explosion upwards, and prevent it from propagating to the side and spreading through the site.

Factory buildings, 2010
Factory buildings
© James T M Towill

A search of the internet for Brock's and Sanquhar at the time of writing (2006) still returned a large number of automated trade directory entries for the company:

Brock's Explosives Ltd
Gateside Factory
Sanquhar
Dumfries & Galloway
DG4 6JP
United Kingdom

Complete with telephone and fax numbers, it must be assumed that none of these online trade directories checks the data they harvest from one another.

Reference in The Sunday Herald 2005

Most companies had shut by the mid 1970s, among them the venerable Edinburgh firm of Hammondís, and Joseph Wells, which was founded in 1837 and which, a century later, supplied fireworks to a certain Walt Disney for a theme park he was building in California. The last British manufacturer of retail fireworks, Astra, closed in 1997. Now there are a few firms supplying the specialist display market but everything for sale in our shops is imported. The fate of the Sanquhar-based company, Brockís, is typical. It was bought over in 1988 by Standard, which was itself bought out by Black Cat Fireworks. It transferred all firework manufacturing to China.

Brock's appeal

The following request for assistance in tracking down some family history has been received, so if you have any info, the relevant email address is given at the end of the message:

I wonder if you can help me.

My name is Peter James Brock. I am researching my roots and looking for my lost relatives.

The reason that I am contacting you is that two of my Brock relatives, John and William, were "firework makers" or "pyrotechnicist's" in London according to the 1861 Census. Were they involved with 'Brock's Fireworks' in a management role or were they workers with a famous name? Did they have anything at all to do with Brock's Fireworks? Their name and occupation seem to be too much of a co-incidence to ignore; don't you agree?

Thank you very much for any help that you can provide.

Sincerely,
Peter James Brock.
[email protected]

Riding the Marches

Riding the Marches is a traditional ceremony, once common, which was undertaken annually to mark out the boundary of an area.

In Sanquhar, locals have told us that the traditional ceremony was accompanied by the addition of an impressive fireworks display which marked the end of the day's festivities, and the firework were, of course, provided by Brocks.

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