Angels of Silvertown

This is the site of burial of chief chemist Andrea Angel, who had died during the explosion of the Brunner Mond factory. Posthumously awarded the Edward medal, Angel had stayed behind to help workers evacuate the site and lead firefighters to the fire. His funeral featured in several newspapers, and photographs captured both his burial, and the grieving of the newly widowed Mary Letitia Angel.

Mary Letitia Angel had the role of superintendent with many of the women working in the factory as her ward. Away from the explosion at the time of the event, Mary Angel returned to the site to help survivors and look for news of her husband. Just a few days prior to the explosion, Mary Angel was in charge of emergency evacuation training for her wards, potentially indirectly saving the lives of any of her wards that found themselves caught in the fire that led to the explosion.

Whilst there are many photos of women working during the war effort, there remains very few photos of women working to recover the site of Silvertown. It was far more likely to see women in nursing and domestic roles in First World War photography than seeing women take on more ‘male roles’ such as the rebuilding of the destroyed housing around Silvertown. The photograph of Mary Angel as a grieving widow, instead of any photographs of her as superintendent or as a part of the relief effort, is a key example of this. This could suggest that, despite the huge increase in female workers in the First World War, there was still a great deal of progress to be made before women were publicly visible figures in the world of work.

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East London Crematorium and Cemetery, Grange Rd, London E13 0HB