Elizabeth I and her Association with Powder Mills

Bearing in mind that the Powder Mills at Leigh was first being discussed in the reign of George III and Queen Elizabeth I lived somewhat earlier, a link is bound to be tenuous. And to make matters even more insubstantial it comes via Canada (and Guildford).

The Secretary of an historical society in Quebec was viewing this website and emailed some information and a query. In 1917 there had been an explosion which levelled the gunpowder factory in his home town of Hudson. The factory was owned by Curtis & Harvey – the firm that owned our works after 1859. The Manager of the Hudson factory, Col. James Riley, told the local press at the time that the firm was one of the oldest gunpowder firms in the world and had supplied powder to the armies of Queen Elizabeth. We were asked what we knew about Curtis & Harvey and whether Col. Riley was right.

We knew about the Curtis side – it is all in the book: Sir William Curtis was clearly a bit of an old thug – a merchant banker of his day – into whatever made money, however dubious – slaves, convict ships and lending money – for which he was knighted and elected Alderman. (Nothing changes!) In 1820 he put up the money to start a gunpowder firm in Hounslow. Clearly he knew nothing about making gunpowder, so he bought in (or bought up, we are not sure which ) a powder firm from Battle called Harveys.

Talking to Professor Alan Crocker, the gunpowder expert (from Guildford), we traced one of several firms in Battle – unnamed – back to 1465 – in the reign of Edward IV. The Harvey family, father then son, had taken over one of the gunpowder firms in Battle in 1765.

So it is possible that a gunpowder firm that provided powder, even earlier than Elizabeth I, eventually was bought up by the Harvey family in 1765, who joined with the Curtis family in 1820. Then Curtis & Harvey bought the Leigh works forty years later. As I said at the beginning, it is all a bit tenuous – but quite fun.

Parish Magazine Article: Dec 2009: by Chris Rowley