At 3.26am on 11 February 1907, the district of Woolwich in south-east London was rocked by a huge explosion. The blast shattered windows, demolished walls and blew off roofs. Shockwaves woke people from their sleep across a radius of 40 miles. A flash from the explosion could be seen as far away as Southend-on-Sea.
The explosion occurred at an ammunition store at the Woolwich Arsenal. "The roads and streets running off southwards of the Arsenal boundary walls presented an extraordinary spectacle," reported one newspaper. Entire streets of houses were wrecked, and fragments of bricks and broken glass were scattered on the ground. Several residents had lucky escapes as windows blew in and ceilings collapsed. Thankfully, due in part to the early hour keeping people off the streets, there were no fatalities.
Also badly damaged was the Manor Ground, the Plumstead home of Woolwich Arsenal FC. The explosion occurred just 300 yards from the ground. Initial reports said it had "ripped out the back of the grandstand, torn the roof off the stand, and hurled huge pieces of concrete and ironwork across the ground". The pitch was littered with debris, and the refreshment booth (see photo) was badly damaged. One report said the club had been "wiped out".
Woolwich Arsenal's next league match was due to be played at the Manor Ground in just five days time, against Bristol City on 16 February. It was rumoured that the match would not take place. However, club directors said that the damage was not as bad as "sensation specialists" had claimed, and that the ground was "quite intact".
After a clean-up and repairs were conducted, the ground was assessed by a local government inspector, who reported it "all safe and sound". The match was played as arranged, in front of 12,000 fans. Bristol City won 2-1, avenging an FA Cup defeat to Woolwich Arsenal that had taken place a fortnight earlier.
Woolwich Arsenal remained at the Manor Ground until 1913, when they moved to Highbury in north London, and dropped the "Woolwich" from their name to become the Arsenal.
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