Gunpowder production

(Important in The Blackstone Key)

One of the villains of The Blackstone Key, the treacherous Joseph Sault, is employed at the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey.

Gunpowder production was largely a private industry at this time, but the Crown had purchased the Faversham Mills in Kent in 1759 and the Waltham Abbey facility in 1787. The government did not expect to produce all of the powder required for military purposes, but rather to guarantee a reliable product and set a standard through scientific methods of production. Henceforth, the powder-makers who wished to sell to the government – and most did – would have to show that their Large Grain powder could fire a ball as far as that produced at Faversham or Waltham Abbey.

Gunpowder production was centred in Surrey, Kent, Sussex, and Essex, and there were good reasons for this. These counties either produced or had easy access to the three ingredients of gunpowder: charcoal from local forests, and sulphur and saltpetre, which were shipped to London from Italy and India, respectively. Powder-makers in the southeast of England transported their wares along rivers such as the Lea, Darent, Crane, Mole, and Hogsmill, to storage facilities on the Thames, making inland boating quite a dangerous pastime.