First World War Sites in north west Wales




Gwaith Powdwr - Cooke's Explosives Factory

The site that is now the Gwaith Powdwr Nature Reserve, owned by the North Wales Wildlife Trust, was an explosives factory until 1995. The first factory on the site was established in 1865 as the Patent Safety Guncotton Company. It was licenced in 1876 and became part of the New Explosives Company, manufacturing explosives from gun cotton, starch and india rubber. By 1908 it was the Steelite Explosives Company Ltd.

The valley near Penrhyndeudraeth that contained the explosives factory during the First World War


During the First World War

In 1912 Dr Oswald Silberrad set up a factory on the site to manufacture explosives based on Ammonium Perchlorate, which he had developed and patented. The company was named Ergite and Company Ltd. When the war started, Silberrad persuaded the government that his explosives were suitable for war, but the factory remained under his control.

In June 1915 there was a serious explosion. No one was killed but extensive damage was done. The explosion was felt in Penrhyndeudraeth, and a singing competition in a local chapel was interrupted when the windows of the chapel were blown out. The people of the town were unaware of the cause of the large explosion and, assuming it was a German attack, they fled towards Porthmadog. When the news of the actual cause reached them and they returned home, they apparently found that many of the deserted houses had been looted.

After the explosion, in July 1915, the Ministry of Munitions nationalised and rebuilt the factory. It was re-opened in January 1916, managed by the Factories Branch of the Explosives Supply Department, and known as HM Factory Penrhyndeudraeth. After the War, there was a dispute over compensation due to the company from the government, which appears not to have been resolved and led to the company going into liquidation in 1919-20.


After the war

Through most of its history the works were known as Cooke's Explosives Ltd., after R.T. Cooke who bought the site in 1922. Cooke was a business man with coal mining interests in north-east England, and a small explosives factory in Essex. He moved the whole explosives business to Penrhyndeudraeth in 1924 and expanded the site. When Cooke retired in 1955, the factory was bought by ICI but retained the name Cooke's Explosives Ltd. The factory closed in 1995, due to a decline in the demand for explosives by the coal mining industry.


Based on information from Tegwen Haf Parry of Friends of Cooke's Group








Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders of materials included on this Website.
If visitors consider materials to be their copyright and have not been contacted by the GAT, please contact us at WWI@heneb.co.uk