Research into a shell filling factory in Chilwell which saw a huge explosion in 1918, killing 134 workers, has been carried out by a volunteer at Erewash Museum who grew up in the village.
Volunteer Marian Dean, 70, has written ‘Remembering the Chilwell Explosion of 1918 and the Canary Girls’ after she developed a fascination with the First World War factory, which she says haunted her as a child.
Marian lived in Chilwell from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, before moving back to the village 50 years later. After stumbling across a book called Canary Girls of Chilwell, her fascination with the factory began. The women gained the name ‘Canary Girls’ because the chemicals they were working with led to discolouration of the skin and their hair turned green.
During the First World War thousands of women, including many from Erewash, worked at National Shell Filling Factory No.6 Chilwell. The site later became Chilwell Ordnance Depot and is now partly occupied by Chetwynd Barracks.
“I look out over Hobgoblin Wood from our kitchen window every day and often reflect on the chaos, horror and tragic events of that terrible, unforgotten day. Certain road names nearby are named after some of those who lost their lives that day, July 1, 1918, which I personally think is a wonderfully fitting tribute to the workers and story of the National Shell Filling Factory No.6 Chilwell.”
The Chilwell explosion on 1 July was one of Britain's worst wartime disasters involving an explosion and saw the biggest loss of life (134 killed) incurred during a single explosion during the entire First World War. One victim was Charlotte Herrdidge, 53, who lived at Severn's Yard, High Street, Ilkeston.
Councillor Mike Wallis, Lead Member for Culture and Leisure, says:
“This is a fascinating part of local history and we are grateful to Marian for taking her time to carry out this research. I’m sure many people will find it incredibly interesting.”
A video of Marian speaking about her research is available on our Facebook page. Her work is available to read at the museum.
Photo credit: Chetwynd Barracks