The Silvertown Factory was built in Silvertown, West Ham, Essex in 1883 for the manufacture of soda crystals and caustic soda. The ending of the production of caustic soda in 1912 left part of the factory idle. In 1916, due to the shortage of shells in the British Army, the War Office took over the available part of the factory to purify the explosive TNT.
On Friday, 19th January 1917, a fire broke out at around 6 pm which, in spite of efforts to extinguish it, caused explosions the effect of which was felt for miles around. 73 people were killed, more than 400 injured and thousands left homeless.