A brief history of Brocks

Our recent exhibition allowed us to explore the history of fireworks and festivals.  Within the display we were able to pay particularly attention to the history of Brocks fireworks.  Brocks, who at one time ran the world’s largest fireworks factory right here in Hemel Hempstead.  For those who missed our recent exhibition, let us take the opportunity to give you a brief history of Brocks.

Brocks was founded in Islington in 1698 by John Brock and is the oldest British Firework manufacturing company  Unsurprisingly this early history of fireworks manufacture was particularly unsafe, and John Brock died after an accident in the build up to Guy Fawkes Day 1720, which would also result in the death of his daughter two weeks later. Despite this early set back Brocks would go from strength to strength and become synonymous with the British fireworks industry as a whole.

Brocks created the yearly public fireworks display that took place at Crystal Palace from 1865-1936 and were noted for their spectacular pyrotechnics and for increasing the availability of fireworks displays for the public. The displays were so popular that they eventually led to Brocks renaming themselves C.T. Brock & Co’s ‘Crystal Palace’ Fireworks.

Brocks Displays have been closely linked to great events. Some of the most memorable have been the Official Peace Displays of 1919 and 1946 to mark the end World War I and World War II, The Coronation Displays of King Edward VII, King George V, Queen Elizabeth II.

Brocks factory at Woodhall farm

Brocks factory at Woodhall farm

As time went on Brocks went from their original location in central London, to South Norwood and to Sutton before eventually having to find more permanent residency in Hemel Hempstead.  The reason for the relocation, was to comply with safety regulations, allowing themselves a vast amount of space to work. In the early 1930s Woodhall Farm in Hemel Hempstead was being farmed by one of the six Brock brothers, and so the company decided to move their factory from Sutton in Surrey to the 207-acre site at Woodhall Farm, Hemel Hempstead.   Here they built what was the world’s largest firework factory, which involved taking down some of the buildings at Sutton, loading the sections on to lorries and moving to Hemel Hempstead where they were rebuilt.

Over 100 employees from Sutton applied for transfers to the new site and so Houses were built in Ranelagh Road and Vauxhall Road for factory workers, and a Sports and Social Club for workers to ensure that they maintained a certain standard of living.  Brocks began production at their new site in 1933 and according to their monthly magazine employed nearly 500 people.

Brocks remained in Hemel Hempstead for almost 50 years until eventually downsizing and relocating elsewhere. The site at Woodhall farm was converted into a residential area which it remains to this day.

So there you have a truncated history of the Brocks firework company who once dominated the world of fireworks all from a factory in Hemel!

 

Patrick Antipof

Marketing Assistant 

The Dacorum Heritage Trust Ltd.

The Museum Store, Clarence Road, Berkhamsted, Herts HP4 3YL

Telephone/Fax 01442 879525   Email info@dacorumheritage.org.uk

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