Major blast from the past

It was six o'clock on a calm, sunny Saturday morning in August 1920. The Great War had ended nearly two years earlier, yet suddenly there was a terrific explosion such as had never been heard before in Luton.Destroyed Factory

Shocked residents were awakened from their sleep, dressed hastily to find out what had happened and then made for any available vantage point to watch events as the Inter-Continental Trust factory, off Kingsway, that had been wrecked by explosions, burst into a raging inferno.

Tons of explosives, millions of rounds of ammunition and six people were in the building at the time. Miraculously the workers all escaped with the lives, five severely burned and one - a lad - totally unscathed.

The former Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation building had been given permission in the previous March to be used for the breaking down of small arms ammunition left over from the war. Fortunately, it was sited in an area of open land with only the Laporte chemical works as a near neighbour. Equally fortunately, the blast was directed away from Laporte's and an even bigger disaster was averted.

Burning debris did reach Laporte's and numerous small fires that resulted were quickly dealt with by the fire brigade to remove further danger.

But the initial explosion scattered debris hundreds of yards, some as far as the Downs on the opposite side of Dallow Road. And continuing blasts rather like machine-gun fire continued for three hours.

No-one had objected to the siting of the factory there for its intended use, so Luton Council granted permission for it. In any case, the breaking-down process was not considered dangerous, it was said, and there had been no incidents in the interim to suggest otherwise.

It was very moving to read the events of August 14th, 1920, as graphically reported on the day by Luton's Saturday Telegraph. And it does seem to be a largely forgotten major drama from the town's past.