The Wells Firework Factory, disused & overgrown – the Dartford Marshes

by Ian Tokelove
Wells Firework Factory, Dartford Marshes

The remains of Wells Firework Factory can still be seen on the Dartford Marshes.

As Joyce Green Lane leads across Dartford Marshes towards the River Thames, a series of derelict buildings appear on the right. Fenced off, they face the road with peeling paint, torn asbestos panelling and rusting sheets of corrugated iron, overgrown with young trees and scrub.

Wells Fireworks was founded by Joseph Wells in Dartford in 1837, probably expanding onto this low-lying saltmarsh in the early 1950s. The explosive nature of the fireworks business required isolated work units, rather than one big factory, and Dartford Marshes provided the space. If one building went up, the hope was that others would survive.

Similar thinking can be seen in the placement of nearby ammunition bunkers, which date from WW2. 

Wells firework factory on Dartford Marshes
Wells firework factory on Dartford Marshes


The company still produces specialist pyrotechnics for shows, but abandoned Dartford Marshes and domestic sales in the late 1970s or early 1980s*, unable to compete with cheaper imports. The land is now owned by Greenwich University, but is fenced off and unused for now, a wild home for nature and occasional fence-hopping urban explorers.

During the Great Flood of 1953 a surge tide overcame the river walls (lower back then) and floodwater swamped the fireworks factory. A chemical reaction set off a fire, creating explosions which broke 500 windows at the nearby (now lost) Joyce Green Hospital.

*  The Wells Fireworks website gives the closure date as late 1970s. However, a former employee tells me he recalls working here in 1982, and suggests a closure date of 1983, possibly later.  

Wells firework factory on Dartford Marshes
Wells firework factory seen from Joyce Green Lane

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