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International Workers Memorial Day: Residents remember those who died at Rainham Chemical Works fire

PUBLISHED: 14:32 30 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:34 01 May 2019

Sean Connolly, MP Jon Cruddas and Maunel Cortes from TSSA with the stone which was laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

Sean Connolly, MP Jon Cruddas and Maunel Cortes from TSSA with the stone which was laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

Ellie Hoskins Photographer www.elliehoskins.com ellie@elliehoskins.com

A devastating fire which killed seven men more than a century ago, was remembered at the weekend at a commemorative stone laying ceremony.

The Mayor of Havering, Councillor Dilip Patel gave a speech as the stone was being laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie HoskinsThe Mayor of Havering, Councillor Dilip Patel gave a speech as the stone was being laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

Residents as well as Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas and Mayor of Havering, Councillor Dilip Patel gathered at the green opposite Rainham Library, Celtic Farm Road, on Saturday, April 27, to mark the stone memorial being placed in memory of those killed and injured following an explosion on September 14, 1916, at the Rainham Chemical Works in Ferry Lane.

Sean Connelly from the union Unite, said: “After a long and protracted campaign to get council approval, firstly for the oak tree, and then again for the memorial stone, it's a huge relief to finally see this tragic event commemorated locally.

“Having already researched the names on Rainham's war memorial, which can be viewed within the library (or Facebook - Rainham War Memorial Project) it seemed fitting that the 1916 Chemical Works tragedy be commemorated as close as possible to the existing village Clock Tower memorial.

“The green outside the library was therefore an obvious choice for us, as was combining the commemoration with an International Workers Memorial Day event.

A stone was laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie HoskinsA stone was laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

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“As a trades council we planted an oak tree in the grounds of Dagenham Civic Centre during a previous IWMD event which, I might add, involved a lot less red-tape. Lastly, I'd like to thank the local Trade Union branches and residents whose generous donations have made this commemoration possible.”

Since the declaration of war in 1914, the factory had been producing picric acid for the war effort when the fire broke out in 1916 in one of its drying stoves.

During the incident, seven men died, more than 80 people were injured after the blast and fleeing residents used boats to escape down river.

A stone was laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie HoskinsA stone was laid on the green in Rainham to commemorate the people who lost their lives in a terrible factory fire in 1916. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

The incident wasn't reported in the Recorder at the time to ensure intelligence didn't leak about where ammunition was being made.

Following a two-year campaign to get support for the stone as well as £1,000 to install it, everyone involved were happy to see it placed at the weekend.

Mr Cruddas said: “Hats off to Sean Connolly for all the work he put in to ensure that the tragic event of September 14, 1916, the workers who lost their lives, and the volunteer firefighters who bravely extinguished the blaze are never forgotten.

“International Workers Memorial Day was a fitting day to commemorate this piece of local history and I want to thank the Barking, Dagenham and Havering Trades Union Council as well as all the local residents who chipped in to fund the memorial stone.”

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