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.
The company still produces specialist pyrotechnics for shows, but abandoned Dartford Marshes and domestic sales in the 1970s, 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.
Wells firework factory – useful links
wellsfireworks (dot) co.uk/history – insecure but informative link