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From Disney to the Olympic Games, exploring the history of Dartford's Wells Fireworks Factory

Tucked away in the dark depths of the north Kent marshes are a series of eerie looking huts which wouldn't look out of place in a Stephen King horror.

It might surprise Dartford residents to know they were once home to one of Britain's largest firework factories.

Drone footage from documentary film makers, Beyond The Point, shows the crumbling remains of the former Wells Fireworks Factory, which at the top of its trade provided displays for Royal Family jubilees, coronations and regattas.

From above, you can see the largely timber and corrugated iron sheds were purposely spaced out within several yards of each other.

This would prevent fire spreading to other buildings if one caught alight.

Kent lighterman Joseph Wells founded the explosives firm in 1837 and it operated from multiple premises before settling in Joyce Green Lane in 1938.

The then London County Council objected to the site because of its proximity to three local hospitals earmarked for treating smallpox – the Joyce Green, Orchard and the Long Reach.

The future of the former Wells Fireworks Factory remains uncertain. Photo: Beyond The Point (20798566)
The future of the former Wells Fireworks Factory remains uncertain. Photo: Beyond The Point (20798566)

It also warned it would be a target for German bombers during the war - a fear which was realised when a bomb ripped through the entry gates, demolishing the office and causing considerable damage to the manufacturing facility.

But the company's grip on the industry extended beyond Europe.

Wells secured deals with several high-profile clients across the Atlantic including a contract with Walt Disney to supply fireworks for their Florida theme park.

They even produced the party bangers for the 1960 Winter Olympics held in the Squaw Valley, California.

Despite this, the factory's production lines came to a grinding halt by the 1970s with the emergence of cheap Chinese imports most frequently blamed.

But explosives enthusiast and editor of Fireworks Magazine, John Bennett, 77, has a different take on the matter.

The Wells Firework brand was used all over the UK Photo: Epic Fireworks/Flickr (20801321)
The Wells Firework brand was used all over the UK Photo: Epic Fireworks/Flickr (20801321)

He believes there are multiple factors behind the firm's demise but says ultimately it was a victim of its own high standards.

"Wells was always my favourite firework company – making brilliant fireworks in superb labels," he said.

"They put so much into the quality of their fireworks compared to other companies."

Such was their popularity, when the marshland-based factory suffered from the ill effects of a major flood in 1953, other companies rushed to their aid.

The flooding was so bad, according to Mr Bennett, it wiped out most their stock, but competitors helped them fulfil their order for Guy Fawkes, the busiest night of the year.

That was "something which would never happen today", according to Mr Bennett.

Aerial footage taken of the former Wells Fireworks Factory in Dartford. Photo: Beyond The Point (20798726)
Aerial footage taken of the former Wells Fireworks Factory in Dartford. Photo: Beyond The Point (20798726)

He also recalls a big campaign against the industry at the time not too disimilar to the one happening now.

MPs are currently considering whether to place a ban on the sale of fireworks after a petition attracted more than 250,000 signatures in under two weeks.

Following the site's closure, a chemist at the plan, Stuart Orr, led some of the employees to West Sussex.

The company refocused its efforts specialising in close proximity stage pyrotechnics for the entertainment industry.

In 2003, Dartford's long-standing connection with the industry was reignited when the Wells brand was purchased by Explosive Solutions under the title, Pyrojunkies.

The firm produce pyrotechnic displays and special effects for a range of events including the Capital FM summertime ball and X Factor Live.

Inside one of the old decaying buildings where fireworks were once assembled. Photo: Beyond The Point (20798574)
Inside one of the old decaying buildings where fireworks were once assembled. Photo: Beyond The Point (20798574)

It is currently setting the world alight while touring with pop group Little Mix, who performed in Kent last year.

Meanwhile, the disused brownfield site in Joyce Green, home to the former factory, faces an uncertain future.

The UK Pyrotechnics Society had campaigned to take some of the sheds and preserve them at museum in Amberley, Sussex, but this plan fell through when funds were not forthcoming.

Many signs are now in place warning the public of the dangers of toxic substances and rotting floorboards.

Greenwich University was the last known registered owner of the land but has since sold it on.

It is believed it acquired the site with a view to turning it into a campus.

Joseph Richard Wells was the founder ofWells Fireworks which operated from the site in Dartford until the 1970s. (21030392)
Joseph Richard Wells was the founder ofWells Fireworks which operated from the site in Dartford until the 1970s. (21030392)

But the contaminated status meant it would incur great expense trying to do so.

This has failed to deter urban explorers from continuing to chart their visits to the derelict factory on YouTube.

In recent months, fencing has been erected around the perimeter with some suggesting the site could be set to spark into action once more.

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