Tag Archives: Faversham Explosion

CWG: Private Albert Dowsett

Private Albert Dowsett

Albert Dowsett was born in the Essex village of Sible Hedingham in the spring of 1868. He was the fourth of six children – all of them boys – to Stephen and Susan Dowsett. Stephen was an agricultural labourer, while his wife worked as a straw plaiter to bring in a little extra money.

Albert seems to have been a bit of a tearaway. In July 1877, a local newspaper reported that:

Ezekiel Rulton and Albert Dowsett, boys each nine years of age, were indicted for breaking into the dwelling house of Matilda Jaggard, at Sible Hedingham, and stealing two books, value 1s, on the 20th June. Rulton, having once before committed burglary was sentenced to 10 days’ hard labour and five years in a Reformatory School. Dowsett was acquitted.

Essex Standard: Friday 6th July 1877

Stephen died in the autumn of 1884, while Susan died in March 1892. By this point Albert was 23 years of age, and had found solid work in the army. Full details of this early service no longer remain available, but he fought in South Africa in the 1890s.

By 1897 he returned to England and moved to Stone, near Greenhithe, in Kent. It was here that he met and married Anna Davis, the daughter of a local brewery man. The couple set up home in the village, and went on to have three children, William, Dorothy and Margaret.

The 1911 census recorded the family living in a small terraced house close to the railway station in Greenhithe. Albert was working as a labourer in the wash mill of the local cement works, and the family had a boarder, widower William Davies, who was a weighman at the same works.

Away from work, Albert had also found another calling, and was employed as a verger at St Mary’s Church, just a few minutes’ walk from home.

War was now encroaching on Europe, and, with his previous army service, Albert was perfect to resume his military role. Given the age limitations for new recruits early on in the conflict, it is likely that he volunteered for this role. He willingly took up a post with the 3rd Supply Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).

Private Dowsett was given a guard’s role, and was part of the team given the duty of patrolling two explosives factories near Faversham. He was on duty on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd April 1916 when a fire near one of the factory buildings set off a series of massive explosions. More than a hundred people were killed; sadly this included Private Dowsett. He was 48 years of age.

Albert Dowsett was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in a mass grave the town’s Borough Cemetery.


CWG: Private William Jarvis

Private William Jarvis

William Edward Jarvis was born in the spring of 1875, the son of silk printer Edward Jarvis and his wife Elizabeth. He was one of five children, and the family were raised in Crayford, Kent.

When he left school, William found work as a stoker, and this is what he was doing when, in the summer of 1903, he married local engineer’s daughter Maud Kitchener. The couple set up home with Maud’s widowed mother, and went on to have three children, Ivy, Edward and Edna.

War was coming to Europe, and while full details of William’s military service are unclear, it is evident that he had enlisted to play his part by October 1915. He was assigned to the 3rd Supply Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and served as part of the territorial force.

Private Jarvis was part of the team given the duty of guarding two explosives factories near Faversham. He was on duty on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd April 1916 when a fire near one of the buildings set off a series of massive explosions, killing more than 100 people, William included. He was 40 years of age.

William Edward Jarvis was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in the town’s Borough Cemetery.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery

CWG: Private Ernest Court

Private Ernest Court

Ernest Court was born in the autumn of 1865, one of eleven children to Stephen and Harriet Court. Stephen was an agricultural labourer from Kent, and the family were raised in the village of St Nicholas at Wade, in the north of the county.

When he left school, Ernest followed his father and became a farm labourer. The 1881 census found him working at St Nicholas Court Farm, under William Broadley, a farmer of some 500 acres (202 hectares).

In the summer of 1894, at the age of 28, Ernest married Catherine Henman; she was a widow nine hears his senior. The couple went on to have a son, Frederick, who was born the same year, a younger half-brother to Catherine’s own son. They soon moved to Faversham, where work was more abundant.

Ernest continued to pick up jobs where he could. The 1901 census recorded him working in the stone pits; the same document gave Catherine working as a charwoman to bring in some extra money. Ten years later, Ernest was working as a road labourer for the town council. Catherine was no longer employed, but Frederick, having left school, was working as a jobbing gardener.

War was approaching Europe by this point and, by October 1915, Ernest had stepped up to play his part. Private Court was assigned to the 3rd Supply Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). While a good proportion of the regiment served overseas, Ernest remained on home soil, and was given a protective role at the Cotton Powder Company and Explosives Loading Company factories to the north of Faversham.

Private Court was based at the factories on the 2nd April 1916. That afternoon a fire set off a series of massive explosions at the site and around 110 people – Ernest included – were killed. He was 50 years of age.

Ernest Court was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in the town’s Borough Cemetery.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery

CWG: Private John Harding

Private John Harding

In a mass grave in Faversham Borough Cemetery, Kent, is a commemoration to Private John Harding, who died during the Faversham Explosion on 2nd April 1916.

Sadly, there is little concrete information about John, other than the details recorded in the Register of Soldiers Effects. This document confirms that he served in the 3rd Supply Company of the 3rd/4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). He had enlisted before October 1915 and no next of kin is recorded.

Another document suggests that Private Harding was a resident of Milton Regis, a small village to the north of Sittingbourne. Again, however, there is not enough additional information to corroborate this or to expand on his personal life.

Unfortunately, therefore, Private John Harding is destined to remain a mystery, one of more than a hundred men and women to have died on that fateful day.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery

CWG: Private William Catlow, AKA William Adams

Private William Catlow

William Adams was born in Skelmersdale, near Liverpool, in around 1868. He was the son of George and Harriet Adams, although as his name was quite common in the area at the time, it is not possible to narrow down details of his early life any further.

At some point after leaving school, William joined the army, using the surname of Catlow. The 1891 census records him as a soldier in the Private Infantry, based at the Habergham Eaves Barracks near Burnley, Lancashire.

On leaving the army, William found work as a labourer and, by the 1890s, he had moved to Kent. He met and married a woman called Kate in 1895, and they went on to have a son, Archibald, the same year. The 1911 census records the family living in Cheriton, near Folkestone, William doing labouring work, and Kate employed as a laundress.

With the outcome of the First World War, William stepped forward to play his part again. By this point, he was 46 years old and, while he was assigned to the 4th Battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), was given more of a territorial role.

Private Catlow was serving at the site shared by the Cotton Powder Company and Explosives Loading Company to the north of Faversham in the spring of 1916. On the afternoon of 2nd April 1916, a fire caused a series of massive explosions at the factories, and William was one of around 110 people to be killed. He was 48 years of age.

William Adams, known militarily as Private William Catlow, was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Faversham Explosion, in the town’s Borough Cemetery.


Memorial to the Faversham Explosion, Borough Cemetery