Gunpowder requires a flame or heat to ignite. It is made from three main components:

  • Charcoal (approx 15 parts per 100), to help the powder burn fiercely.
  • Saltpetre (approx 75 parts per 100), to provide oxygen.
  • Sulphur (approx 10 parts per 100), to help ignite easily and give out great heat.

Early Gunpowder was made from finely grinding each ingredient separately then mixing them together by hand. Later the powder was mixed wet and then dried into a cake and finally sieved. This later powder was more effective and less likely to give off dust.

As well as being dangerous, Gunpowder could easily decompose and its storage was highly regulated. The powder magazines at the site needed to by dry and cool to store powder barrels. These were then stored in neat regulation stacks. A certain proportion of barrels were then inspected at regular intervals.

Barrels were made by skilled craftsmen called coopers. Isaac Whiston was the site’s first cooper in 1777. He earned three shillings (15p) a day, a good living in those times.

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