Week by week, we will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at Standard Fireworks, finding out how the efforts of a draper from Huddersfield led to us lighting up the sky several times a year.
Wholesale draper, James Greenhalgh was based in Huddersfield, and in 1891 decided to supplement his business by selling fireworks in the run up to Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th. Many of these early fireworks were made by outsourcing to local miners, who wanted to make extra money; although he did also import from China, with supplies being brought to Hull by ship and then transferred to Huddersfield by barge, along the canal system.
Although the firework business was halted during the First World War, they instead helped the war effort by producing hand grenades and other munitions. After the war, they went back to producing fireworks, and despite the 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 November 5th, which had to be put into storage until after the war. As in the first war, the company helped with the war effort – this time producing blackout blinds, flares and decoy bullets.
At the war’s end in 1945, there was a great demand for their stored fireworks for use in celebrations around the country, and Standard Fireworks was back in business again, stronger than ever. Due to demands on the local workforce from all the textile mills, they turned to the miming communities of South Yorkshire, employing ex-miners to make their fireworks.
The company was floated on the stock exchange in 1959 and dominated the UK fireworks industry with many retailers having to spend several years on a waiting list simply to get an account with the company. In 1988, they purchased their main rivals, Scotland’s Brock Fireworks (an older but smaller company dating back to the early 1700s), transferring all business to the Huddersfield site, and making Standard Fireworks one of Yorkshire’s largest employers.
In 1998, Standard was bought by Chinese company Black Cat Fireworks (started by Li & Fung in the 1940s to make firecrackers for the American market). Eventually, all production was transferred to China, although they still use the Standard Fireworks name on many of the products made for the British Market. The site at Crosland Hill was kept on as the UK headquarters of Black Cat Fireworks UK, and remains as the sales, marketing, warehouse and distribution centre for the company. A display team from Black Cat regularly represents the UK in fireworks festivals staged in various locations across the world. Every reason to celebrate, including annual events, such as Bonfire Night and New Year are bound to contain fireworks made on the hills of Huddersfield.