Bickford's safety fuse

Contributed by Cornwall Museums

Bickford's safety fuse

THIS OBJECT IS PART OF THE PROJECT 'A HISTORY OF CORNWALL IN 100 OBJECTS'.

TREVARNO. William Bickford was born at Ashburton in Devon and became a currier and leather merchant at Illogan. Upset by the amount of injuries caused by mining, he invented a safety fuse that saved many lives in Cornwall and world wide.

Bickford's first idea was to put the main explosive in a cartridge made of parchment and attach a small parchment tube containing powder as a fuse. Later he came up with the ingenious idea of winding strands of rope around a central core of gunpowder. The rope was then varnished and when lit burned at a steady pace. Bickford set up a factory at Tuckingmill but died soon after. The fuse reached America soon after its invention and Nobel's ran the company from 1926 until it closed in 1962. Millions of miles of safety fuse had been produced by then. Bickford's grandson William Bickford-Smith bought Trevarno in 1874 from the proceeds of grandfather's invention.

Photo: Bernie Pettersen

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