Crane Park is a linear park along the north bank of the River Crane from Meadway in Twickenham to the Hanworth Road in the west. The Crane had various names, including 'the Powder Mill River' due to its most important industry; the western end of the park was the site of Hounslow Gunpowder Works, which opened c.1766/8, flourishing into the early C20th. After it ceased to operate for gunpowder manufacture, the subsequent owner sold part of the site for housing and part to Twickenham Council who turned it into a public park, which was opened in 1935. It still retains important industrial archaeological remains including the Shot Tower built in 1828. Crane Park Island was created to contain a mill-pool of water used to drive mill machinery, some remains of which are still found.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/11/2010
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Prior to the reign of Henry VIII most gunpowder was imported but by the mid-C16th gunpowder mills had been established on Hounslow Heath (q.v.). The Hounslow Gunpowder Works opened c.1766/68, although the mill here started life as a corn mill before conversion to gunpowder manufacture. It passed through various owners until 1820 when Messrs Curtis and Harvey bought it, who expanded the number and capacity of the mills and improved the water supply, developing a site of over 40 ha. Charcoal was made from a mixture of charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre, and the willows growing along the banks of the Crane were the source for charcoal manufacture. The Mills were reputed to have produced the finest 'black gunpowder in Europe'.
Crane Park Island was created to contain a mill-pool of water used to drive mill machinery, some remains of which are still found on the island. Today various mill streams remain, together with wheel pits and machine bases. There are also a number of high earthen mounds that partly enclosed the small sheds where the gunpowder was ground, which were part of the security measures for this dangerous industry. Although the firm instigated fairly rigorous safety procedures, there were at least 55 explosions, including a severe explosion in January 1772 that blew up 3 mills and damaged properties at some distance such as Horace Walpole's house at Strawberry Hill (q.v.). Londoners widely thought it was an earthquake. In 1898 the firm became a limited company and was incorporated with other important gunpowder manufacturers, and in 1918 merged with the few remaining others to become Explosive Trades Ltd, taken over by ICI in 1926. However in 1927 the licence to manufacture gunpowder was cancelled.
Twickenham Councillor, Frank Yates, bought the site but he failed to sell it as a going concern, as it was now unsuitable for gunpowder production due to the increasing population here following the coming of the railway. He sold part of the site for housing and part to Twickenham Council who turned it into a public park. Crane Park was opened in 1935 and is well wooded, while still retaining important industrial archaeological remains. The one complete building remaining is the Shot Tower on the bank of the river adjacent to the bridge leading to the nature reserve on Crane Park Island was built in 1828 by Mr Jacobs of Hanworth. It once had a belfry on top and is likely to have been used as a watch tower to alert workers to fire hazard, rather than as was previously thought for the manufacture of lead shot. Work is now in progress to turn the Tower into a nature study centre. In 1990 Crane Park Island was designated as a Local Nature Reserve. Major restoration is to take place in 2010 with funding from GLA and Richmond Council. The park south of the River Crane is in LB Hounslow.
Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); John Archer, David Curson, 'Nature Conservation in Richmond upon Thames, Ecology Handbook 21', (London Ecology Unit) 1993; LB Richmond Local History Notes 'The River Crane and Gunpowder Mills'