Bickford-Smith’s safety fuse factory, (front range Listed Grade II). The jute spinning mill. © HES.

William Bickford was born in Devon in 1774. He worked in leather preparation in Truro, before moving to Tuckingmill near Camborne. Although he had no previous connection with the mining industry, Bickford was distressed by miners’ injuries caused by the methods of setting off explosives to break up large amounts of rock. He decided to put the explosive into a parchment cartridge to which he attached a small parchment tube containing powder as a safety fuse. This proved to be totally unreliable and no safer than the methods already being used.

One day he saw some rope-makers twisting the separate strands of rope together and thought he might be able to use this method to make a safer type of fuse. In 1831 he patented a machine which first wound strands of rope around a core of gunpowder in one direction and then wound another layer of rope in the reverse direction. This was designed to prevent the rope untwisting. The resulting fuse was varnished to make it waterproof. One end was lit and the fuse burnt along its length steadily without going out. The person laying the explosives only needed to cut off sufficient length of fuse to give time to distance himself from the resulting explosion.

Bickford’s factory in Tuckingmill, started in 1831, made 45 miles of fuse in the first year of production. A hundred years later the same factory, which had been enlarged, made over 100,000 miles of fuse. Sadly, William Bickford did not live to see the success of his invention, dying in 1834 shortly before the factory opened. His safety fuse has saved hundreds of lives and prevented many serious injuries. It continues to do so today, saving lives and preventing injuries.

Across the road from the factory which is still standing although somewhat run down, there is a road called North Roskear Road, this was known locally as 'White stocking Street', as the girls who worked at the factory wore white stockings and went to work along this road. SMITH was a great local benefactor and built various buildings for the use and education of the local people, and many of these still stand but are used for many varied things.



William Bickford