The Hammond Family and the Craigmillar Fireworks Factory

The Craigmillar fireworks factory “Thomas Hammond & Co in The Castle Works” with its associated powder magazine can be clearly identified on the OS 25inch map 1895.




It's history has been well documented elsewhere, such as the Edinburgh Old Photos website:  so this short note will not repeat any of that but instead aims to provide some background information on its founder, Thomas Hammond, his son John and their families using census and registration records.  

Thomas was born 1835 in Birmingham son of Thomas Hammond, Glass Blower and Sarah (nee Stringer dec. pre 1869).    He initially followed his father’s Glassworking trade and in June 1854, presumably after completing his apprenticeship, married Mary Ann Williams (father James Williams, a spoon polisher).   Both were age 19 and their address is recorded as Duddeston in the parish of Aston.   Their first child John Thomas was born in 1854/1855 and a daughter Mary Ann a year or so later.  Curiously, both children were baptized together on 26th September 1858 in the parish of St Thomas, Birmingham when Thomas is recorded as a Glass Maker living at Bishopgate Street.   The reason for the delayed baptism is unknown but 1858 seems to have been a year of major change for the family.   Although Mary Ann was expecting yet another child they moved up to Edinburgh that winter and settled into the Canongate at Bakehouse Close where twins Sarah Jane and William Alfred Hammond were born on 22nd March 1859 with Thomas describing his occupation as Glass Blower, journeyman.  

The Glass Industry in Edinburgh was still thriving at this date and there were large manufacturing works in Leith and Portobello but it seems likely that Thomas’s employment was at the Ford family’s ‘Royal Holyrood Flint Glassworks’ in Canongate.  It must have been a prestigious job to draw Thomas and his family all the way from Birmingham and he must have been a skilled glassworker to have been offered the position.   Items made by this company can be seen in the Museum of Edinburgh in the Canongate 

However Canongate in the 1850s was not the healthiest of places to live and Thomas’s family do not appear to have thrived.  It has not yet been possible to find all the relevant burial records but neither Mary Ann nor William Alfred seem to have survived childhood since neither appear in the 1861 census at 16 Bakehouse Close which records just Thomas (as a Glass blower) wife Mary Ann, son John T. and daughter Sarah J.  Sarah Jane does not appear in any subsequent census, William Alfred buried on 11th February 1867 age 10 weeks was presumably named for his elder brother who had died and burials recorded for Francis Hammond d.1862, Maria Hammond d.1863 age 0 and Francis William Hammond d.1865 age 0 are all probably children of Thomas and Mary Ann.  

As a glass worker Thomas would have been using and experimenting with different chemicals to create colour in his glassware and it is probably through this that his other life-long interest developed – that of fireworks making.  However on 9th October 1867 his experiments caused the Canongate fire tragedy when the chemicals he was working with exploded leading to the death of his wife in the Royal Infirmary on 23rd October and also his assistant.   His occupation as described on Mary Ann’s burial record was “Glassblower and Firework Maker” living at 2 Chessel’s Court.   

Thomas may have suspended firework activities for a while but he continued as a glass blower and this was his occupation when, on 4th June 1869 as a widower, he married Margaret Anderson, a Hat Trimmer, at 25 Earl Grey Street, Edinburgh, daughter of John Anderson, Hatter, deceased and Margaret (nee Keller).   At this date he was living in 72 Lauriston Street but by the 1871 census he had moved to Meadow Bank Cottages with wife Margaret, son John (a glass engraver), daughter Eliza (just 20 months old) and a servant Margaret Anderson age 13.  
In 1876 firework making activities resumed at Powderhall and in the 1881 census the family was living at Logie Green.   There is no sign of Eliza (who may have been staying elsewhere) but there are three new children Thomas, Benjimin W and Marian S as well as Charlotte (prob. Anderson) age 14.   Thomas was perhaps helping out his wife’s family by providing for the younger Anderson girls but he was still describing himself as a Glass Blower.    It was son John who was now calling himself a Firework Maker and in 1887, aged 31 he married Catherine Morrison aged 21 daughter of Alexander Morrison, a brass finisher, and Janet (nee McLennan) both deceased and established his own household at 44 Salisbury Place where son Thomas William was born in 1888.   Although the 1891 census shows John in Aberdeen he was probably only there for a display because his wife (calling herself Kate) with Thomas William age 3 and a daughter just 1 year old, can be found in their own house at  Salisbury Place, Edinburgh.

By 1891 the Hammond Fireworks factory was established in Craigmillar and Thomas had finally given up glass blowing and was now a Firework Artiste.  The family, living at 16 East Mayfield, had grown significantly with the children engaged in a variety of occupations.   Eliza and Benjamin were both fireworks makers, son Thomas was a gas engineer, Margaret, a dressmaker’s apprentice, while the youngest Violet F. was only age 2.  

Sadly just two years later in 1893 another family tragedy occurred because at 5 minutes past 6 on the morning of the 12th of May John’s wife Kate died of TB (Phthisis) aged just 27.   John’s young daughter had also died and in 1895 came the death of his father Thomas so John and his son Thomas W. moved back to join the rest the family in Upper Gray Street to run the company fireworks business between them all.   Thomas senior. didn’t leave a will but his estate which included premises at Craigmillar and Powderhall and a rather large number of payments owing to him, was assessed and valued at £2235 – 0 – 9.   Sons Thomas and John and daughter Elizabeth (Eliza) were appointed joint executors and estate duty amounted to £61 –16s – 4d.   The 1901 census shows the family living together at 41 Upper Gray Street with Margaret as Head.   All the older children are now listed as firework makers except Christina who was doing domestic work and son George (b.c. 1870) an invalid from birth.  

In 1911 the census reveals that John and son Thomas William had moved again taking up residence with the Buchan family in 4 Oxford Street, St Leonard’s, Edinburgh.   John was still a Firework Artist however Thomas was now an electrician.   This occupation would have provided a regular income and presumably also enabled him to work with his father on firework displays to create well-timed dramatic events.    

However when the First World War started in 1914 Thomas William was called up for duty.   He served as a Gunner, appropriately given his father’s career, with the 337th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA).   There are no War Diaries for the 337th Siege Battery but extracts from the diaries of 283 Siege Battery RGA on the British Army 1914-1918 Webpage “The Long, Long Trail” must reflect the activities of his own group at that time      Sadly, however Thomas W. did not survive the war because on 2nd December 1917, he was killed in action at Bapaume in France aged 29.   He is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and his name is recorded on the panel at Cambrai Memorial Louverval by the War Graves Photographic Project where he is described as John’s only son, a Firework Artist and Electrical Engineer.  John also erected a tombstone in Liberton Cemetery in memory of his son as well as that of Kate Morrison, his wife and their two other infant children. 

Thomas appears to have left a sweetheart behind in Edinburgh because he recorded an Informal Will, written in an Army Pay Book on 7th June 1917 [NAS SC70/8/724/19] leaving a life insurance policy to a Miss Nora Walter, 5 Spittal Street, Edinburgh with any remaining property to his father.   It is interesting and poignant therefore that John must eventually have moved into 5 Spittal Street since he died there in 1932 age 77 still working as a Firework Artist, as registered by stepbrother Charles living at 2 Crewe Road.   

Violet (still a scholar in the 1901 census) then continued to run the family firework/ pyrotechnic works from Craigmillar until the 1960s.   She died in 1970 at Newington, Edinburgh age 82 but is still remembered by people living in the Liberton area to this day.  

 Jill Strobridge,
Greater Liberton Heritage Project
February 2014

Copy of Will of Thomas W Hammond 1917 copyright National Archives, Scotland



Gravestone erected in Liberton Churchyard by John Hammond Firework Artist, Edinburgh in loving memory of Kate Morrison his wife died 12th May 1883 aged 27 years and two of their children who died in infancy also his son Thomas W. Hammond Gunner 337 S. Battery RGA killed in action at Bapaume, France 2nd December 1917 aged 29 years.  

Commemorative certificate to Thomas William Hammond

Scottish National War Memorial