Now, we all know the story about Guy Fawkes and his plan to blow sky high King ]ames I, his family and a good many of the country’s tofts attending the state opening of the Houses of Parliament.
Guy Fawkes had been a soldier and was an explosives expert. He was caught in the vaults beneath the Houses of Lords along with 36 barrels of gunpowder. But, although he has become the most famous, Robert Catesby appears to have been the plot boss. Fawkes was imprisoned and tortured before he and his fellow conspirators were tried for high treason and sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. Their heads and other body portions were set up at various places around London as a reminder not to fool around with gunpowder or conspiracies.
Today, one of the ceremonies accompanying the opening of a new session of Parliament is a traditional searching of the basement by the Yeoman of the Guard, although the original cellar where the gunpowder was stored has long gone. As you would expect, there are more effective up to date scientific anti-terrorism measures taken as well.
In 2003, explosives experts from the University of Wales estimated that Fawkes’ gunpowder stash would not only have taken out parliament and its occupants but much of the surrounding area too. They estimated there was 25oo kg of gunpowder packed into the barrels, and that it would have had similar destruction capabilities as an equivalent amount of the current day explosive, TNT. That would be enough to destroy the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and damage buildings as far down Whitehall as the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street several hundred metres away. Their estimate of the massive destruction wasn’t based on guess work. They used data from damage caused to London buildings by bombing during World War II, as well as by IRA bombs in the 1970s and 198os.
Britain has seen its fair share of massive explosions and thats not even taking into account bombs dropped during Second World War.
In 1916 at Faversham, Kent, the centre of Britain’s gunpowder industry, 109 workers were killed when 15 tonnes of TNT and 150 tonnes of ammonium nitrate used in the manufacture of the high explosive, blew up when some empty sacks caught fire. The explosion was so huge that windows across the Thames estuary in Southend were shattered and reports at the time said the tremor was felt 120 miles away in Norwich.
Possibly Britain’s biggest bang – it has been called the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion – was heard and felt in 1944 and you can still see the evidence today. Masses of bombs and ammunition stored in a disused mine at RAF Fauld in north Staffordshire blew up, killing 70 people and leaving a crater 30m deep and 230m wide, about the size of 12 football pitches. The blast damaged buildings in Burton-on-Trent. five miles away and was heard in Coventry, about 30 miles distant. The explosion was caused by around 3,500 tonnes of high explosive bombs, some of which were thought to have had their detonators in place making them literally ready to blow.
In the early hours of Sunday, 11 December 2005, there was a series of explosions and then a massive fire at the Buncefield oil storage depot in Hertfordshire. With a capacity of 273 million litres- enough to fill the tanks of five million carsBuncefield had the potential to cause huge damage, but incredibly no one was killed and only 40 were injured. Some houses were damaged, but the resulting fires burned for several days, destroying most of the site and sending up huge plumes of acrid black smoke. It was caused by staff not noticing that petrol they were pumping into a storage tank overflowed. It formed a fuel-air vapour cloud that spread rapidly and then exploded. The fires spread through 20 large storage tanks, blowing them up with a sound and fury that could be heard in France.
Story courtesy from IET’s Flipside