Exhibition marks 100 years since girls died in Tipton Catastrophe

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Image source, Chris Hardy
Image caption,
Chris Hardy is a former engineer turned artist who began the project about 10 years ago

An exhibition commemorates the lives of 19 girls killed in a huge explosion at a West Midlands factory a century ago.

The girls, aged from 13 to 15, were removing gunpowder from live bullets at a plant in Tipton after World War One, when the fatal blast happened.

Four children survived what became known as the Tipton Catastrophe, but many more suffered horrific burns and died on 6 March 1922.

Artist Chris Hardy is honouring their memories with photos and sculptures.

The exhibition at Tipton Community Centre runs from Friday to Monday.

Image source, Pathe
Image caption,
The girls died in the factory blast on 6 March 1922

The girls, who came from poor backgrounds, were paid by the factory owner to dismantle tonnes of rifle cartridges bought by the government so the scrap metal could be collected.

It is thought the fire was started by a spark from the hobnail boots the girls were wearing at the factory in Groveland Road, according to the artist.

Questions were raised in Parliament after the event and a boss of the factory was later jailed for five years, Ms Hardy said.

Image source, Chris Hardy
Image caption,
Karen Simms, pictured with her husband Geoff, said her great grandmother had helped the girls and had kept the story alive by telling her children

"The girls lost their hair, the skin off the front of their bodies and were not recognisable afterwards," she said.

"Of course there was no NHS then and the equivalent of £1m in today's money was raised for their care and for the education and support of those that survived.

"It was known about all over the country and these poor families got sent bottles of Champagne and carpets and all sorts of odd things by people from around the country afterwards."

Ms Hardy, from Birmingham, said she had spent about 10 years painting and recreating pieces inspired by the accident after developing an interest in the story and wanted to mark the 100th anniversary in Tipton.

Karen Simms, from the town, said her great grandmother had been among those who had run to help the badly burned children, lain them on the road and tended to them.

"About two days afterwards she and another who helped, Chunky Moor, were given a shilling each for what they did... it was a terrible accident," she said.

Years later she said her grandmother had always taken her to a monument in a local cemetery and read out the names of the girls to remind her of what had happened.

Now Mrs Simms does the same thing with her own children and grandchildren.

Image source, Chris Hardy
Image caption,
Nineteen yellow dresses damaged by shotgun fire aims to show how the skin of people who worked with munitions often turned yellow from the cordite

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