Pyro Company Histories - The British Classics

Discussion in 'Fireworks Nostalgia, Collectables And History' started by Andy_P, Mar 30, 2011.

  1. Andy_P

    Andy_P Moderator

    Here are three threads for those who are interested in the way various firework companies have evolved into one another.

    These topics comprise whatever info I've cobbled together over the years, mainly thanks to the Cyber-heritage museum, several pyro company websites and a few company search / due diligence search engines.

    Topic #1 (this one) - The classic British companies (only a couple of which still survive)
    Topic #2 - The modern companies from around the 90s onwards
    Topic #3 - Some of the Chinese factories

    So first, lets start with some nostalgia....

    The Classic British Companies:

    Astra

    Astra_thumbnail.jpg

    Founded 1946 by two Eastern European immigrants Bertie Yellin and Dr Paul Lax. Originally made sparklers in Bromley, Kent
    Moved to Richborough near Sandwich to begin full-scale manufacture in 1948 and were one of the most popular 1960’s and 70’s brands. Also produced the Red Lantern brand.
    Ceased all home-based manufacture after a serious fire in 1989, but continued with imported Chinese goods until closing in 1997. The “Astra” name still survives as a Cosmic brand (see the Next post for more details).

    Astra also made industrial pyrotechnics, see a reminiscence by forum member "Spectrum" on the UKPS site here

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    Benwell

    Benwell_thumbnail.jpg

    Started in 1949 by Benjamin Weller, who worked for the Haley and Weller Ltd toy company,
    Factory at Draycott in Derby operated until 1974 when they moved to the old Wizard Fireworks site at Chedburgh. Production continued there until 1988.

    The Benwell name was bought by a German owned company Feistel Fireworks, who then changed it's name to Feistel & Benwell Ltd, manufacturing from Fauld Camp in Tutbury near Burton-Upon-Trent

    They subsequently sold the company to the Chinese Li & Fung who changed the name to Black Cat Fireworks and the rest is history!

    The Benwell name was also used by importers (Festival?) for a while AND is currently owned by the Bagha family of Cosmic fame!. See the next post for their modern history.
    Update Nov 2013 - A relaunch of the 'Benwell Fireworks' brand has been announced, see the next post.

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    Britannia

    (see Phoenix)

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    Brock's

    Brock\'s_1_thumbnail.jpg

    The history of Brock's began before 1720 and is probably the oldest British firework manufacturer.
    Brocks was founded in Islington by John Brock. The company moved to south London (South Norwood and Sutton) and took the “Crystal Palace” brand name after staging many free public displays there.
    CT Brock (1843 to 1881) played a major role in the drafting of the Explosives Act of 1875

    Moved to Hemel Hempstead in 1910 and stayed there until 1971 (the site is now the Woodhill Farm housing estate).
    They then moved to premises at Swaffham in Norfolk (now the Ecotech Business & Innovation Park) and Sanquhar, Scotland which is still an explosives factory (postcode DG4 6JP)

    In the 1930s, Brock's built homes and a sports club for its workers near to its 207 acre site on the north eastern side of Hemel Hempstead.
    Henry Brock died in 1938 and was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Leverstock Green.
    Brock's bought the Wilder's Fireworks Company in 1961and continued using the name as a distinct brand
    Brock's itself was bought by Standard in 1988 and all fireworks production transferred to Yorkshire, but the Brock's trade name survived until the early 21st century.

    UPDATE: Jan 2013 - Brocks Fireworks Limited is now trading once more. Their professed aims are "to produce quality Pyrotechnics back in the UK and to protect the history of the UK fireworks industry" although their website is currently mainly "for members only" and I can't see how you sign up!.
    brocksfireworks.com.

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    Cordays (Liverpool)

    Mainly bangers?

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    Crane's (Bristol)

    Cranes_Box_thumbnail.jpg

    Based at Warmley in Bristol (51°27'40"N 2°28'51"W), the company was founded by I.Crane in 1887 and played its part in the Boer War & in World War One when the factory switched to making hand grenades (or "Mills Bombs" as they were known) as part of the war effort.
    Despite a good safety record, they had a major fire in 1935 with injuries (and one subsequent fatality) to five female staff. Then another explosion in October 1937 did immeasurable damage to the factory buildings. The company never recovered and closed in1938.
    Local street names like "Fawkes Close", "Firework Close" and "Crane Close" are a lasting memory of the old factory.

    Cranes Box.jpg
    More details at http://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/8753895396/
    Picture and some of the above info, courtesy of Paul Townsend (http://www.bristolpast.co.uk/)

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    Excelsior (Southport)

    Started life around 1909 as Oswald Bradley and Co. Ltd, in Ripon, Yorkshire, before relocating firstly in 1911 to Freshfield on the Lancashire coast, and again in 1913 to the outskirts of Southport, at which point they became known as Excelsior Fireworks.
    Produced a wide and very respected range of retail fireworks (especially Bangers) right up to its closure in 1971 when Fredrick Bradley, Oswald's son, retired.

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    Hammond's (Edinburgh)

    Thomas Hammond and co. were based at Craigmillar, Dalkeith Road , Edinburgh.
    Producers of the "Victory" firework brand and the "Atom" series of bangers - Atom Bombs, Atom Smashers, Secret Weapons etc.
    Three adverts from 1902 and 1952
    Some Victory rockets and fountains (UKFR pic.)

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    W. Harbot (Leicester)

    Full name W. Harbot and Co. Ltd or W. Harbot and Co. (Pyrotechnics) Ltd - both names were used during the 1940's.
    Best known for their bangers, but also made novelty fireworks and indoor fireworks.

    Named directors/owners were Walter Harbot.and Sidney Simmons

    The company (or companies!) evolved out of previous ventures in the mid 1930's by one or both of the two owners, namely Princess Street Manufacturing Ltd and later Harbot and Simmons Co. Ltd.
    The first seems to have consisted of a couple of old army huts in Princess St, Narborough (on the edge of Leicester), where Harbot first started making armorces (caps for toy guns) and also indoor fireworks.

    Harbot's also had a business address at 5 East Street, Leicester, around this time, but once their main factory and stores were opened on a site in Regent Street, Narborough, it appears this became either just an office or simply a mailing address.

    Fireworks manufacture continued at the Regent Street site through the 1940's with several planning applications made for changes or extensions to the builldings.
    But in late 1949 or early 1950 there was a fire or explosion at a private address in Leicester which appears to have been used as a store for armorces (caps) by one of Harbot's companies, and the various companies and individuals involved were subsequently convicted and received fines.

    Meanwhile, local residents also speak of another explosion or fire at the main factory site around 1950, and by July 1950 both of the owners were involved in the first of several sets of bankruptcy proceedings which continued until their final release from bankruptcy in September 1955.
    A final planning application was made for changes at the site in 1952, although this may have been on behalf of potential new owners, rather than for Harbut.

    All then goes quiet until 1960 when the London Gazette posts a notice to strike of the name of W. Harbut and Co (Pyrotechnics) Ltd from the Register and to dissolve the company within three months, thus ending an 'interesting' business venture.

    Many thanks to Martin 'Firefiend' for the first clues and especially to Kevin S. ('Escht' on UKFR) for most of the above info...See "Fireworks" magazine #62 for a full report by Kevin.

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    Jessop (Lepton, Huddersfield)

    This single Yorkshire family created four firework businesses in and around Rowley Hill, Lepton, near Huddersfield in Yorkshire.
    Father Mr. Allen Jessop started the ball rolling in 1875 when he started up a fireworks factory there and brought in his sons, Ben, Humphrey, Eli and Elliot to assist.
    After Allen's death in 1880, sibling rivalries caused a split during the 1890's resulting in two new companies being formed in the same area.

    Elliot continued to run the original firm of Allen Jessop & Sons,
    Humphrey and Eli worked together to run their own company of Jessop Brothers,
    The fourth son, Ben, joined forces with a budding firework maker named Harry Kilner to start Jessop & Kilner Fireworks. They remained in business until the early 1900's when Harry left to start his own Yorkshire Firework Company later to become Lion Fireworks (see below)

    Eventually Jessop Brothers were purchased by another long established Yorkshire based firework concern, H. Shaw & Son, who had been making fireworks since 1876.
    In 1914 Ben Jessop sold what was left of his half of Jessop & Co. to the locally based and rapidly growing Standard Fireworks.
    By 1917 not one of them was left trading.

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    Lion Fireworks (Huddersfield)

    Lion_thumbnail.jpg

    The Lion brand was owned through its entire seventy-five year history by the Kilner family, It started out early in the 20th century under the leadership of Harry Kilner following his separation from partnership with Ben Jessop (see Jessop).
    Trading initially as The Yorkshire Firework Company, the name was changed to Lion in 1936 and the business grew to produce a wide range of very good quality shop goods.

    Along with many other British companies, they did not survive the extra burdens of new safety legislation in the late 1960's and the economic downturn of the early 70's, finally ceased trading in 1973
    - 1950's Picture

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    Mersey Fireworks

    Bangers

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    Octavius Hunt (Bristol)

    Octavius_Hunt_Bronco_thumbnail.jpg

    Founded in 1870, and now the largest company in Europe specialising in pyrotechnic products according to their website.
    Specialising in "specialist matches" and smoke products (including pesticides). Makers of their own brands of 'Bronco' Bengal Matches and 'Stalla' sparklers as well versions for many other companies. The first manufacturer of sparklers in the UK.
    Possibly behind Firework Emporium/World of Fireworks (Ipswich and Enfield)?
    http://www.octaviushunt.co.uk/

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    Pain’s (Mitcham, London)

    Pains_Classic_thumbnail.jpg pains_recent_thumbnail.jpg

    With its roots in the East End of London dating back to the 15th Century, Pains can easily claim to be the oldest Firework Company in the UK.

    The barrels of gunpowder used in the plot to blow up the Parliament of James I in 1605, were “manufactured by a gunpowder manufacturer within earshot of the Bells of Bow”.
    At that time the only such business was one John Pain, the founder of the modern day Pains Fireworks.
    The modern company, James Pain and Sons Ltd began in Brixton in 1850, and in 1877 moved to their more famous base at Mitcham, Surrey.

    They were acquired by the match company Bryant and May in the early sixties.
    In 1965, James Pain and Sons Ltd merged with Wessex Fireworks, the post-war pyrotechnics division of the Wessex Aircraft Engineering Company Ltd (known as WAECO)- also owned by Bryant and May. The merged company was called Pains Wessex and firework production moved to High Post near Salisbury. (BBC article and 1967 video HERE)
    In 1980 or 81, the Pains Wessex fireworks business was sold off. The name was bought by John Deeker, and the company now operates from a base south of Salisbury, at Whiteparish, under the name Pains Fireworks.
    Now one of the largest display companies with offices in Ireland and Dubai, and still selling a retail range.

    Pains company_history_1.jpg

    http://www.painsfireworks.com/
    http://www.painsfireworks.co.uk/company_history.html

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    Phoenix/ Britannia (Hemel Hempstead)

    The roots of Phoenix lie in Gray's Fireworks, started by Kenneth Gray in 1938. He sold the firm in 1948 to Alfred Goldstone and Philip Rose who began to manufacture under the name Phoenix Fireworks, using a site very close to the Brock's factory in Hemel Hempstead. Rose lasted only a year before departing to start Wizard Fireworks in 1949.
    The story goes that after a series of accidents and bad product, from 1950 the company began to use the Britannia Fireworks name instead.
    Four years later they sold out to another local firm, Continental Industry, a sparkler manufacturer, who wanted the factory site for their own uses.

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    Rainbow (Finchamsted, Berks)

    This firm was launched in 1948 by Herbert Nobbs in Bracknell and produced some wonderful firework artwork during their 25-year existence. From 1969 the firm co-traded a range of goods with Astra Fireworks before closing down just before Bonfire Night in 1972. Their remaining stock and raw materials were taken over by Astra who continued the Rainbow name until 1975.

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    Standard(Huddersfield)

    Standard_thumbnail.jpg

    Standard was established in 1891by a Yorkshire draper, James Greenhalgh. and moved to its current Crosland Hill site in Huddersfield in 1910. He originally used moonlighting local colliery workers to make his fireworks!
    During the 1980's and 1990's Standard become a major employer in the Yorkshire region with a 500 strong workforce (both manufacturing fireworks and office staff).
    They acquired Brock's Fireworks Ltd In 1988.
    Standard was Bought by Chinese-based Black Cat Fireworks in 1998 and all firework manufacture switched to China soon after..
    The Huddersfield site (postcode HD4 7AD) is now the UK headquarters for Black Cat, and acts as the sales, marketing and distribution centre for both Black Cat and Standard ranges.

    StandardFireworksWorkers3.jpg

    Standard/Blackcat History Webpage

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    Wallop (Middle Wallop, Hampshire and Stockbridge, Hampshire)

    Wallop_Poster_thumbnail.jpg

    Were active in the 1950's (see price list cover on Epic's Flikr site)
    More details please!!

    [​IMG]
    (Photos thanks to Firefiend)

    Their factory at Stockbridge (SO20 8DX) is now a munitions factory for Esterline Wallop Defence Systems, who make ordnance products, flares, radar countermeasure chaff launchers, missile countermeasures, torpedo decoy systems, and a variety of other pyrotechnic devices for the military.

    http://www.esterline.com/defensetechnologies/Overview.aspx

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    Wells (Dartford, Kent)

    Wells_thumbnail.jpg

    Established in 1837 by Joseph Wells who was originally an explosives lighter-man on the River Thames in London. The company remained in the family for 134 years as Joseph Wells and Sons Ltd. They also used the Crown brand name,

    According to "concept" on UKPS, they also had a factory in Dartford, East London (Joyce Green Lane, Dartford N51.468559, E0.217152).
    They finally ended manufacturing in 1971and the assets were merged with Pain's-Wessex in 1773, but the name was bought by Pyrojunkies Ltd. who have retained a manufacturing business for stage pyrotechnic in Arundel, West Sussex, run by Stuart Orr.

    http://www.wellsfireworks.co.uk/

    Ian Craig was Director and General Manager of Joseph Wells & Sons for 3 years (and formerly for Schermuly Rocket Co for 7 years). In1972, he went on to found display company Phoenix Fireworks (no relation to Phoenix above...), after Wells decided to discontinue their display activities.
    History page - http://www.wellsfireworks.co.uk/#/history/4549801130

    The remains of the Dartford Factory in 2007:

    JW_Fireworks_Factory_Dartford 2007.jpg
    (Photo Copyright Jason Orton)

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    Wessex (Salisbury / Brixton)

    Wessex_thumbnail.jpg

    Wessex Fireworks was the brand name for retail fireworks manufactured by the Wessex Aircraft Engineering Company, or WAECO, which began life in 1933 as a light aircraft engineering and servicing company.
    Their pyrotechnics division had been formed during the war and the expertise gained there was channelled into a retail goods range developed, all produced at their factory at High Post, near Salisbury.
    The company was taken over by Bryant and May in 1961 and in 1965 was merged with another of their acquisitions, Pain's, to form the Pain's-Wessex range. The last Wessex-branded fireworks were produced in 1976.

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    Wilder's (Birmingham)

    Wilders_thumbnail.jpg

    Wilder's was founded during the 1830's. Also used the Alexander Palace brand name in early years. They were acquired by Brock's Fireworks in 1961, but the Wilder's name was kept alive as a distinct brand of retail goods for another four years.

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    Wizard (Shoreditch, London and Chedburgh, Suffolk)

    Wizard_thumbnail.jpg

    A late arrival, Wizard was created in 1949 by Philip Rose, following his sudden departure from Phoenix Fireworks.
    Famous for their cheap bangers, they eventually produced a whole range of fireworks from their factory at Chedburgh, in Suffolk.
    While generally very profitable, a combination of bad debts, bank pressure and the beginning of the anti-firework lobby caused Wizard to close in early 1963.

    The Wizard name has now been re-used by several modern companies (see the next post).

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    The best on-line text history of companies I've found so far, is here:
    http://www.firework-art.co.uk/text_companies.htm

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    PLEASE NOTE: The above text and info is © Andy Pearce.
    Please contact me if you wish to use it elsewhere.
     
  2. gunpowderplot

    gunpowderplot Pro Firer/Crew

    cranes fireworks kingswood bristol late 18/early 19th century

    also octavus hunt fireworks bristol
     
  3. sultanbrown

    sultanbrown Pro Firer/Crew

    I'll have to ask the Daddy what he knows about my firework making ancestors.
     
  4. sultanbrown

    sultanbrown Pro Firer/Crew

    In case anyone is interested: :ph34r:

    My great great great great Uncle, a certain George Christopher Harrison was noted as being a firework manufacturer in 1851. I believe it was his own business although I do not know the name he (and other relatives who worked together) traded under.
    In 1881 he went to work for Pains fireworks in Mitcham, Surrey.

    The Daddy also emailed this passage about Pains, although I'm not sure where it's from so sorry if I've nicked your copy sans permission.:blush:

    "In 1885 there occurred at the Mitcham Factory an explosion and fire which was to be long remembered by local people, not only for it's spectactular nature, but also for the efficiency and enthusiasm shown by the Mitcham volunteer fire brigade {equipped with a new steam fire engine barely sixteen months previously) and those of the surrounding districts in responding to a major emergency. From the accounts carried in the Croydon Guardian and the Times it would appear that, during the morning of the 16th May, four men, Craig, Harrison, Randall and Temple, were engaged in the 'No 20 Danger Shed' on the manufacture of tourbillion. Suddenly an explosion occurred from the fine work in preperation by Randall, amd within a very few minutes the shed was completely destroyed but, fortunately, not before the workmen had escaped from the building. As a precaution against such occurrences the factory sheds had been erected at a considerable distance apart, and consequently the effects of the explosion were minimised. Nevertheless the fire which followed the explosion was spread rapidly by flying debris to other sheds which, on account of their construction and combustible contents, quickly ignited. The force of the initial explosion was felt over a mile away,and it was followed by further loud reports as seven other sheds were completely destroyed.
    Mercifully casualities were few. Some twenty men were at work around the premises that morning, but the first explosion gave them sufficient warning to escape the spreading fire. One man, James Eldgwood, was severely burned about the face and hands and had to be removed to Guy's Hospital, but George Harrison, the only other man injured, was less seriously burned and, after treatment by Dr Clarke of Mitcham, was able to return to his home in Grove Road. As it happened, the women normally employed in the sheds which were destroyed that morning were engaged on other processes in the permanent buildings. The Mitcham Brigade was first on the scene, and strove to contain the situation until they were joined by brigades from Tooting, Streatham, Croydon and Sutton, summoned by telegraph. At one time it was feared the fire would spread to the permanent buildings on the site, but the combined efforts of the brigades brought the fire under control in a little under three hours, and they were able to withdraw. James Pain and Sons were left with damage estimated at about £500."
     
    Standardlass likes this.
  5. Signum

    Signum Pro Firer/Crew

    Impressive bit of History there chap!

    .....1851 a different world, how different everything must have been then, not just fireworks, surreal!
    So has fireworks followed right trough your family, or were there members less interested etc - did you know of the connection before your interest started?
     
  6. sultanbrown

    sultanbrown Pro Firer/Crew

    Found all that out as the Daddy was researching the family tree, but coincidently enough my Mum, when she was a nipper, used to save up her pocket money and buy fireworks from her local newsagent and timed them and made notes about their performance and value for money. A precursor to UKFR! Still got her notebook somewhere.
    So maybe it is in the blood.:)
     
  7. Andy_P

    Andy_P Moderator

    Nice story Sultan!

    All I can come up with is that one of my relatives worked in a fireworks factory in south London (so it must have been Pains, I guess).
    No one's left alive who even knows who it was, but I grew up always having balls of thin red twine in the house, that was known as "the firework string".:)
     
  8. This Photo was taken of me age 16, whilst working at Pains fire work factory, and was published in the News of the World in 1948.
    I am now aged 80 and trying to research my ancestors my maiden name was Harrison, and my grand fathers name was Frederick Henry Harrison.
    Mr_Jean_Harrison_1948.jpg
     
  9. Andy_P

    Andy_P Moderator

    Great pic! And welcome to the forum. :D

    But I can't help wondering... You look quite 'big up top' for someone called Alan? :blink:


    P.S. - did you notice that the person described in "sultanbrown's" post (#11 above), has the same surname?
     
  10. starpyro

    starpyro Pro Firer/Crew

    LOL!:D presumably he was a she!:)
     
  11. sultanbrown

    sultanbrown Pro Firer/Crew

    Hello relative!
    My father has researched our family tree as far as is possible with online records, I'll point him in the direction of this thread as he may be able to help you.
    :)
     
  12. Just to let you know thats is a picture of my Mum!!!:D Thanks for the replies:D
     
  13. PureParty

    PureParty Pro Firer/Crew

    ha ha , good picture :)
     
  14. Illusion Fireworks

    Illusion Fireworks Pro Firer/Crew Supports UKFR

    Glad we cleared that up!

    But I am a liitle confused:

    Are these the words of your mother? It reads like it's a picture of you aged 16 at ~ 1948, then you go on to say:

    Are you 80? I just can't get the maths to work out! If your 80 your mother would have given birth to you in 1931 (before she was born!) so I I assume these are the words of your mother (works out about right if she were 16 in 1948).

    Sorry not meaning to pick holes just struggling to get my head around it!
     
  15. dogsbody

    dogsbody Pro Firer/Crew

    I think Alans Mum wrote it and he typed it word for word rather than mentioning it was from his mum (at least now that he clarified it was his mum and not him in the picture is how i read it)
     
  16. Illusion Fireworks

    Illusion Fireworks Pro Firer/Crew Supports UKFR

    Yeah the more I think about it that must be the case!
     
  17. Andy_P

    Andy_P Moderator

    It would be really cool if it turns out Alan is related to Sultan somehow!

    Or maybe I am! I mentioned earlier there was some family connection to the Pains factory.
     
  18. sultanbrown

    sultanbrown Pro Firer/Crew

    Daddy? :huh:
     
  19. John KH

    John KH Pro Firer/Crew

    Feistel Fireworks Ltd a German owned company bought the Benwell name from Haley and Weller and changed it's name to Feistel & Benwell Ltd, the German owners then sold the company to Li & Fung who changed the name to Black Cat Fireworks and the rest is history, as they say.
     
    Andy_P likes this.
  20. Andy_P

    Andy_P Moderator

    Great info, thanks! I've paraphrased it into the Benwell paragraph and added a note in the Blackcat one too.

    Any more?