OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

Andrea ANGEL (1877–1917)

Oxford Chemist, Home Front Hero

15 Banbury Road, Oxford

Andrea Angel
Andrea Angel, © Christ Church SCR

Andrea Angel was born in Bradford to Thomas Angel, inland revenue supervisor, and his wife Angelina. He attended Exeter School and won an Open Exhibition to Christ Church. He graduated with a First in Chemistry in 1899. A brilliant researcher, he went on to become a lecturer, first at Brasenose and Keble, and finally at Christ Church where he ran the Laboratory.

At the outbreak of the Great War Angel was keen to join the army but the demand for chemistry skills in munitions manufacture meant that he was forbidden to enlist. Instead, he joined Brunner Mond Company to assist their vital wartime work for the Ministry of Munitions and in 1915 was appointed Chief Chemist overseeing the purification of TNT in a former caustic soda works in the densely populated area of Silvertown, East London. At about 6.45pm on 19 January 1917 a fire started in the roof of the room where the TNT was being processed. George Wenborne, the senior worker on the shift, ran to inform Angel who was about to have dinner in the cottage adjoining the factory. Angel urged factory workers to run for safety while he and others attempted to extinguish the fire but about seven minutes after the fire had been discovered, there was a huge explosion as about 53 tons of stored TNT went up. Angel was among the 73 people who were killed; 94 others were seriously injured. The sound of the explosion was heard and the shock-wave felt all over London and Essex. The blast was heard even as far away as Southampton and Norwich. Over 60,000 properties were affected in the largest single explosion ever experienced in London.

Andrea Angel and George Wenborne were posthumously awarded the Edward Medal of the First Class, the highest award for civilian bravery, equivalent to today’s George Cross, the citation stating that they had lost their lives in endeavouring to save the lives of others. Angel was also awarded a Carnegie Hero Fund Trust medal, an award instituted in the United Kingdom in 1908 to recognise civilian heroism. The Royal Chemistry Society chose Angel as one of the 175 Faces of Chemistry during its 175th anniversary in 2016.

15 & 17 Banbury Road

From 1905 to 1917 Angel lived with his wife, Mary Letitia, and daughters Marion and Heather, at Park Villas, Banbury Road, first at no. 17 (1905–1912), above right, and then in the adjoining house at no. 15 (1912–1917), above left, where the plaque is installed. These buildings are now occupied by University of Oxford IT Services.

Sources:

  • A Hero of the Home Front, by M. C. Grossel (2016)
  • The Silvertown Explosion, London 1917 by Graham Hill & Howard Bloch (2003)

The plaque was unveiled at 15 Banbury Road, Oxford on 14 July 2018. The speaker was Dr Martin Grossel, Christ Church Chemist. Among those attending were Duncan and Matthew Rabagliati (collateral descendants of Andrea Angel), Sir Hugo Brunner, The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy (Dean of Christ Church), Cllr Gill Sanders (Chairman of Oxfordshire County Council), and Cllr Alex Postan (West Oxfordshire District Council).

Pictures taken at the unveiling ceremony:

Speech made by Dr Martin Grossel at the ceremony

Picture awaited

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

ANDREA ANGEL
1877–1917

Oxford Chemist

Gave his life for others
in the Silvertown Explosion
in London

Lived here
1905–1917

Christ Church

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

 

Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com