The History of Standard Fireworks & Where it is Now

Who are Standard Fireworks?

Standard Fireworks is a well known company that sells fireworks. Originally founded by a Yorkshireman, they have since expanded and become a global business.

Find out how a draper from Huddersfield led us to lighting up the sky several times a year.

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The History of Fireworks

Admittedly, fireworks weren’t created in Yorkshire. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that they originated in China during the 7th century.

Since then, more evidence has been found and fireworks are said to have been around in 200 BC in China. According to legend, a Chinese cook accidentally invented gunpowder whilst cooking using only three ingredients.

Fireworks didn’t arrive in the UK until the late 13th century. It wasn’t until 200 years later that they became popular.

One of the first documented firework displays in the UK was for King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York’s wedding in 1488. This brought the Yorkist and Lancastrian families together.

The beginning of Standard Fireworks

A man called James Greenhalgh originally started out as a wholesale draper. His business was based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

In 1891, James decided that he wanted to expand his business. He noticed that fireworks were becoming increasingly popular and it didn’t seem like it was going to slow down anytime soon.

As a result, James knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to supplement his business. He started to sell fireworks in the run up to Guy Fawkes Night on the 5th of November.

To begin with, many of these early fireworks were made by outsourcing to local miners. These miners wanted to earn an extra bit of money on the side.

James also decided to import from China. His supplies were being brought to Kingston Upon Hull by ship and then transferred to Huddersfield by barge along the canal system.

During the First World War, the firework business was halted as they could give away locations when lit. Instead, John helped the war effort by producing hand grenades and other munitions.

Once the war had ended, James and his business went back to producing fireworks. Despite the great depression having an effect on demand, business still increased.

By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, they had already produced that year’s supply for the 5th of November. These then had to be put into storage until after the war.

Similar to the first war, James and his business helped with the second war effort. This time however, they were producing blackout blinds, flares, and decoy bullets.

At the war’s end in 1945, James would see good fortune. There was a great demand for his businesses stored fireworks.

These fireworks were used in many celebrations around the country. Now called Standard Fireworks, James was back in business and stronger than ever.

Due to demands on the local workforce from all of the textile mills, they turned to the mining communities of South Yorkshire. They decided to employ ex-miners to make their fireworks.

Standard Fireworks was floated on the stock exchange in 1959. It dominated the UK fireworks industry with many retailers spending several years on a waiting list simply to get an account with them.

In 1988, they purchased their main rivals Scotland’s Brock Fireworks. Brock Fireworks was an older but smaller company that dated back to the early 1700’s.

Standard Fireworks transferred all of Brock Fireworks business to the Huddersfield site. This made them one of Yorkshire’s largest employers at the time.

Image of Standard fireworks out of the box, Photo Credit, Epic Fireworks, Flickr, Creative Commons
Standard fireworks out of the box, Photo Credit, Epic Fireworks, Flickr, Creative Commons

How Standard Fireworks became what it is today

In 1998, Standard Fireworks was bought by a Chinese company called Li & Fung Ltd. They started in the 1940’s making firecrackers for the American Market.

Soon after, Li & Fung decided to change Standard Fireworks name. It would now be known as Black Cat Fireworks.

Despite this, they still use the Standard Fireworks name on many of the products made for the British Market. Eventually all production was transferred to China.

The site at Crosland Hill was kept as the UK headquarters for Black Cat Fireworks UK. It remains as the sales, marketing, warehouse, and distribution centre for the company.

A display team from Black Cat regularly represents the UK in firework festivals. These are staged in various locations across the world.

Where are Standard Fireworks Now?

Since then, Li & Fung Ltd haven’t had much success. They have been on a slow downward spiral since 2014.

One of these contributing reasons is down to failed ventures. For example, they planned to open 300 shops of their own private labels but in the end only opened 5.

Since then, they have continued to miss their yearly targets. Li & Fung are continuing to struggle to make a profit.

Let’s hope that this once Yorkshire business can pull it around and become the success that it once was.