Cost: Free

From the Dungheap to the Stars: The History of Early Gunpowder

From the Dungheap to the Stars: The History of Early Gunpowder

Lecture by Kay Smith, FSA

Black powder – gunpowder – is probably, with printing and the silicon chip, one of the most important developments of the last millenium. In essence, it started the change from the use of animal, mechanical or natural sources of energy, all of which are limited, to the almost unlimited sources of chemical energy. However we know surprisingly little about its origins and early development and know even less about its properties and performance. This can be put down to a number of reasons including: few, if any, surviving artefacts; confusing and often misleading documentary sources; and the invention of nitrate based explosives in the 1860s. However, over the last 15 years, experimental and archive research by the Ho Group at the Middlealdercentret in Denmark has begun to unravel its mysteries.

One of the primary outcomes of our research has been that this seemingly simple mixture, of saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur, has proven to be amazingly complex. Its properties, particularly how fast it burns, are related to a number of interconnected variables including how it is contained, its degree of compaction as well as its composition. This lecture will outline our work over the last decade and explain some of the amazing properties of a substance that went on to contribute to the rise of Britain as a global power – gunpowder really did change the world!

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Information About Booking

All lectures begin at 13.00. Doors open at 12.30 on the day of the lecture.

Our Public Lectures are free and open to the public, but space is limited and reservations are strongly recommended to avoid disappointment. To book online, simply click the 'Reserve Your Seat' button at the top or the bottom of the page.

If you have booked a place via our website, you will have received an email confirmation. If you are unsure of whether or not you have already booked, please send an email to admin@sal.org.uk and we can check our list.

If you reserve a seat (or multiple seats) in advance, but find out you cannot attend, please let us know (if possible) so that we may allow others to book.

'Sold-Out' Lectures

Our free lectures are popular and tickets do sometimes 'sell-out' in advance. Unfortunately, we are unable to manage reserve lists for fully-booked public lectures (ie, a list of names with contact details in the case of cancellations).

However, visitors are always welcome to turn up on the day of the lecture and wait to see if any seats become free due to last-minute cancellations. We can not promise to accommodate everyone, and additional seats are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. .

Late Arrivals

Please note, guests arriving after the lecture has begun may not be admitted.

Want to See More of the Society? Book a Tour!

We are now offering public tours of our Burlington House apartments. Tours are £10 per person, and visitors can enjoy a guided tour (1.5 hrs) of our apartments with collection highlights, led by Fellow Anthony Davis, a registered Westminster Guide. Booking required (as space is limited).


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