This article focuses on an explosive factory in Essex serving in the First World War, and is part of our coverage of WW1 on the home front under our association with the Imperial War Museum First World War Centernary Partnership.
Lisa Sargent has put a lot of work into investigating the railway; particularly its remains. Have a look at her YouTube channel here with interviews and explorations: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSJ4RZNpqsgG9DXA1kaMmDA/videos
Like the factories at Wat Tyler country park, and further way in Cliffe, Kent, Coryton was home to an explosives factory in the turn of the 20th Century. Kynochtown was the name given to the village for employees. The factory was built by the well-known ammunition firm ‘Kynochs’ in 1895 and it opened two years later. It produced generally speaking every element of the munition production line; from cotton wool-like exploding guncotton, to spaghetti-like cordite placed inside bullet cartiges, to gunpowder and the cartriges themselves. Guncotton is chemically known as nitrocellulose and exploded on impact. The explosives made at Kynochs’ factory were placed inside .303 bullet cartriges of the Lee-Enfield rifles in service at the time, and when struck by the gun’s trigger mechanism it would explode, sending the bullet at the end of the cartridge out down the barrel of the gun. The factory would’ve served through the First World War but closed a year after it came to an end; in 1919. Women dominantly worked on the site and those touching TNT powder mixing explosives by hand. This could cause skin rashes such as hives, and discolouration of the hair and skin. Their skin became yellow as did that of their children; ‘canary babies’ as they were called. This chemical change in skin colour would wear off eventually.
The Cory Brothers where coal merchants who used the site for storage after Kynochs left, and they accordingly named the village Coryton. However Mobil was an oil-refining company who took over the site in 1950 after various industrial use. A refinery was built in 1953 and this expanded into what Coryton refinery is seen as today in the 1970s. As a result Coryton village was demolished and the ground used for the refinery at this time, destroying the elegant town situated around the Fleet lake with the promise of paying to relocate residents who were almost exclusivley workers on the site.
Pictured above: Kynoch’s sewage works, fencing (white), stye on footpath for women walking to the CLR station to work at the factory, and Coryton/Shell Refinery pipes.
Pictured below: Whole-grain spaghetti? No; explosive cordite inside a bullet! Fluffy cotton-wool? No; explosive ‘guncotton! (from Wikipedia). Also are the gates with the Kynoch lions. Lisa Sargent found one of the gateposts in shrubbery in recent years, and an aerial view of the site showing definite ruined remains which correspond with a 1919s maps. Also is a map from a similar time showing the Fobbing end of the Corringham Light Railway – complete with brick ponds and the sewage works pictured.