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Hidden histories - Sedgwick Gunpowder Works

Black and white photograph of a group of men, all employees of the Sedgwick Gunpowder Works. They are sitting and standing in four rows and dressed in 1920/30s clothing.
Employees of the gunpowder works pose for a group photograph | © David Willacy

The Sizergh estate contains a hidden history of a once booming industry - in collaboration with Find My Past, and using findings from the 1921 Census, we've been exploring the secrets of the gunpowder works at Sedgwick. This autumn, see a special exhibition in Sizergh's Great Barn, and discover the stories of the people who worked there.

There are fascinating local stories to be found just a little way down the road from Sizergh, at the old Sedgwick Gunpowder Works. Its history is closely linked to the Sizergh estate.

The New Sedgwick Gunpowder Works

In 1857, Walter Charles Strickland established the New Sedgwick Gunpowder Works on the estate. It was one of seven black powder manufacturers that operated locally between 1764 and 1936.

Hidden histories

The gunpowder works had a loyal and committed workforce, with one employee, James Willacy, working there for nearly 20 years. You can learn more about his life in this special exhibition, as well as the lives of his family.

There's also the story of Thomas Faulkner, who rose up the ranks from a lowly clerk to the overseer of the entire site.

A dangerous job

The production of gunpowder was a dangerous job, and explosions were commonplace. Unfortunately, there were instances of explosions at Sedgwick, with at least thirteen fatalities. The exhibition displays reports about these explosions and their consequences, as well as photos of their aftermath.

An old photograph of a family of eight. On the front row is a little girl, her mother and father, and a little boy. On the second row is a man dressed in military uniform, a young woman and two young men, dressed smartly.
This photograph shows the Willacy family | © David Willacy

The Willacy Family

A photograph of the Willacy family, including James Willacy, who worked at the gunpowder works.

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Discover fascinating local history in this special exhibition until 30 November.

And find out more about Sizergh's hidden histories, as well as stories from across the National Trust, with Find My Past.

View of the wetland at Park End from the bird hide at Sizergh, Cumbria

Exploring the estate at Sizergh 

Connect with nature in Sizergh’s woodland, wetland and farmland. Find out about the wildlife you can spot while exploring this 1,600-acre estate.

The Rock Garden in June at Sizergh Castle, near Kendal, Cumbria. The Rock garden covers almost an acre and is closely planted with dwarf conifers, Japanese maples and hardy ferns.

Visiting the garden at Sizergh 

Feel inspired with a stroll through the gardens at Sizergh and find out what you’re likely to see growing here when you visit.