Ronan Point Explosion

Thursday 16 May, 1968 - Five killed in tower block explosion.


During the Second World War 25% of the housing in West Ham was destroyed by enemy bombing, ( some 14,000 houses being destroyed and 500 acres of land cleared). Most of the houses that survived were in poor condition and were without modern amenities. After the War the Council implemented modern building programmes but by 1965 when the London Borough of Newham came into being, there were around 8,000 names on the Council's housing list.

New and fast industrial building techniques provided a solution to the housing shortage and Larsen-Nielsen system, which used a high degree of prefabrication, was chosen for the construction of one thousand new homes in Newham.

The first stage of the programme started with the demolition of the Clever Road area of Custom House. Ronan Point in Butchers Road was one of nine identical tower blocks that were built. Over 200 feet tall, with 22 floors and containing 110 flats, Ronan Point was assembled from pre-fabricated concrete panels lifted into position by crane and held together by bolts. It was a 'system-built' block- an easily assembled structure more like a giant meccano set than a work of architecture.

Ronan Point was handed over to the Council on 11 March 1968 and by the second week of May only eight flats remained vacant.

At around 5.45 am on Thursday 16 May, 1968 there was an explosion on the 18th floor in the flat of Miss Ivy Hodge. The force of the blast blew out the non-load bearing walls of the kitchen and living room and also the load bearing outer walls of the kitchen and bedroom. The consequence of this was the corner flat on the floor above no longer had support which caused one corner of the block to collapse like a deck of cards. Five people were killed that morning.

The explosion happened when most people were still in bed but if it had happened an hour or so later when many when people would have been in their kitchens having breakfast, the death toll could have been much higher. Remarkably, Miss Hodge survived the incident and was later treated in hospital for shock, cuts and burns.

The inquiry into the cause of the disaster found that "gas had escaped into the flat due to a sub-standard brass nut joining the flexible connection from the gas cooker to the gas supply pipe. The explosion occurred when Miss Hodge struck a match to light her cooker."

The inquiry recommended that "gas supplies should be disconnected from those existing tall buildings, the design of which renders them liable to progressive collapse, until they have been strengthened." Many of the panel's recommendations are now incorporated in new specifications for today's high-rise buildings. The nine tower blocks were demolished in 1986.