A Day At Sandling Fireworks

A visit to Sandling's bunker. Report by Tony Webster.

On a superb warm and sunny day last year (yes, we did have at least one nice day!) I was invited to take a tour around Sandling’s licensed magazines. Now for any normal pyromaniac, this is a dream come true but for me it was Heaven or to give you some idea of my true feelings: “I behaved like a kid in a sweet shop.”

I arrived at the Sandling office where I met both Graham and his wife. Our first port of call was their local “small store”. The strong metal door was duly unlocked and we proceeded to enter the building. What greeted me was racks of staging on two sides of the building, which contained numerous brown boxes loaded to the hilt with various sized shells, mainly 3, 4 and 5 inch ones, but there were some 6 and 8 inch shells in abundance too. Numerous names of different types of shells were listed on each box, names such as Gold Sparkle, Gold Willow (my favourite) and lots of Silver flash shells.

You can click on any thumbnail to enlarge the picture:


Several thousand aerial shells from three inches upwards. You can “feel” the power through the cardboard!

A whole wall of four inch aerial shells. This is a supermarket for display companies.

At this point, “The boss” reached casually into a brown box and pulled out a 12 inch shell. Now for some one who had not seen a 12 inch shell before, I was lost for words. I then wondered what he would do for his next trick, heheh. Also, this small store contained a wide selection of both Cat 3 and Cat 4 goods. Ranging from a mouth-watering selection of some small bore roman candle fans, progressing through the range, Blockbuster candle fans and onto the Cat 4 Bazooka candle fans. These looked really tasty and a much bigger bore than the Cat3 Blockbusters.

Assorted boxes of Vulcan fireworks.

Comet candle sets as they come packed, six to a box.

Now this kind of does your head in when it sinks in. Each box contains over a dozen candles. There are dozens of boxes. Do you realise just how many candles there are in this shot?

Or how about in this shot? If you thought contemplating the size of the universe was hard, you ain’t been in Sandling’s magazines. Infinity is child’s play when you’ve seen this many candles!

Also in this “small store” were a few small cakes accompanied by some huge cakes that looked very impressive, a hundred shot “Silver Fish & Crackling Bees” and a 144 shot “Silver tourbillions & salute cake” – huge items (obviously Cat 4). Next to these cakes, an open box of 3″ shells, surprisingly I noted very few rockets in the store, but even so, this was probably the biggest selection of fireworks that I had seen at such close quarters. Little did I know what was to follow? Incidentally…I was informed that thieves had broken into this small store fairly recently using…you guessed it, Oxyacetylene cutting gear. Crazy or what?!

Very worrying looking boxes with very worrying names on.

Enough pyro to blow up the Houses Of Parliament, literally.

I drove the pair of us to the next location, some distance from the first. This is where all his orders are packed (a job they do expertly). Over the years I have received countless packages from various companies in the firework trade and Sandling’s are amongst some of the best-packaged fireworks in the business. Orders were being “boxed up” as I walked round.

Then onto their equipment store, which was not far from his packing department. Upon entering this large building, immediately on the right were hundreds of empty round tubes that eventually contain the Roman candle batteries.

Empty outer tubes. These are used to make candle bundles look nicer and also a but safer for public use.

Halfway down one side were hundreds of new fibreglass mortar tubes (looked like 3, 4 and 5 inch) some of these had been assembled in to the wooden crate racks, each containing 5 mortars. Alongside these were the usual “paper” mortar tubes, thousands of them, encompassing every conceivable size. Ranging from the very small (2 inch) up to some huge ones (16 inch and above). One, I think was so big, I could have climbed inside, it was that huge (if I slimmed a little!).

Obviously no fireworks were stored here and you might think it was uninteresting for that reason, but even so, it was amazing to see so many mortar tubes in one place. Before the ban on Cat 4 came into force I had previously fired hundreds of shells which had included some very very nice 5 inch ones. I had gained loads of experience of “digging in” these 5 inch mortars and burying them 2/3 depth. But no way would I enjoy the job of burying some of these monster mortars.

A ten by ten shell rack.

This is typical of most display companies “tube storage” area with an assortment of various tubes and other display equipment.

Fibreglass mortar tubes (instead of the traditional cardboard).

Some bigger boys, for the bigger shells. Part burying these ain’t easy.

Loads of tubes here. I bet the one you need is always at the back.

For the next location, I had been warned “not to divulge the location of their licensed magazines” (at this point, I thought I was going to be blindfolded, but as I was driving…hehe). We duly arrived at the site and found five separate magazines waiting for me. One magazine would have been sufficient and very enjoyable… but five? Er! This was going to be a day to remember. The door to the first was opened (heavy steel doors) and ….WOW! This was something else. Enormous quantities of brown boxes awaited, initial reaction was…they all looked the same, then a trained Pyrotechnician’s eyes came in to play and I noted the contents and description were printed on each box. At this point I asked if I could spend my summer holiday in there.

Most of the boxes were sealed and stacked 6-10 high (depending on contents), shells (must have been thousands), roman candles (thousands), cakes of every size imaginable (thousands again) and loads of Cat 4 stuff (some very nice Poisonous Spider cakes). There were too many to list (even if I had spent my holiday there). It was Heaven. It didn’t go unnoticed how much my jaw had dropped and at this point, some of the boxes were opened. This had me spellbound. Lots of names I had recognised, but had never seen before and here they were appearing in front of my eyes, a pyro dream. After eventually recovering from the contents of the first magazine, we drove to the next one.

Each close-up shot of boxes on this page is from one section of one magazine room. Here you can see why Tony was so mesmerised by it all.

My God, if I had this lot, I could display for an hour a night, all year round!

Comet World (that big expensive cake) here sitting in vast numbers.

If the first magazine was impressive, the second was even more so and contained a slightly different selection to the first. If my memory serves me correctly (probably not, by then I was “mesmerized”) in this magazine I was handed a 16 inch shell (a purple to brocade to green with red flower one). “Handed” is not the correct explanation for it, as it was extremely heavy and there was no way I was going to drop it (not when I was informed how much they cost and the possibility that damages had to be paid for!).

I just had to have a photo of me and the 16 inch shell together and I was so far gone by then, I did something I would probably regret later… I volunteered to “hand fire” the thing. It was the first time ANYONE had ever volunteered to hand fire one! To be so close to just one 16 inch shell was almost too much, but when I eventually took my eyes off the thing I found I was surrounded by a couple of dozen of them. Each shell was housed in its own wooden crate. Now, if only I could tuck a few under each arm and walk out without being noticed. This sight of a couple of dozen 16 inch shells all in one place will remain with me for a long time (I must get out more).

Another magazine shot. Remember the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark when the Ark is sealed in a box and wheeled into a massive, top secret storage area? Apparently it was filmed here, heheh. Tony half expected to see surplus items from Area 51 lurking between the pyro.

The highlight of ANY pyro tour, the huge cat 4 items. Here, the legendary sixteen inch shell.

Close-up of the Vulcan 16 inch shell. By far the most spectacular single shell we have seen in a display.

Another shell was produced out of nowhere and this little beauty (not so little, 12 inch I think) contained several smaller “baby brothers” that were attached to the larger one. On launch, the main shell rises and each of the smaller ones drop off and produce a tiered effect.

Multiple shell unit. The main shell fires and the smaller ones create a multiple effect.

The third magazine contained some duplicates of the contents of the other two (as if there were not enough in the other two) with some very nice £220 “Display in a box” cartons. Dozens and dozens of outer cartons of every type of fireworks imaginable were to be found. It then occurred to me – three magazines so far and no sight of any rockets.

You know those huge £200+ complete display units? Here’s a wall of them.

A short distance to the next magazine and the heavy steel doors were unlocked (same heavy steel doors on each magazine) and at last: rockets and loads of them as well. Hundreds and hundreds of their Giant and Monster rockets in several types of each, but no “Mega” (the big ones). I have heard good things of these Megas and wanted to get the “feel of them” at close quarters (no, I’m not a pervert).

I found out later that they were due to be delivered the following week, together with some new triple break ones. Loads of the double break rockets were present and looked very impressive, so the triple break ones should be huge.

Assorted Cat 3 items from some of the many hundreds of boxes.

Another shot showing various Cat 3 items. Sandling import loads of quality gear and supply both through their own retail venture and also wholesale to other suppliers. You’ll see some familiar names here.

A working area at Sandling as they prepare various munitions for display.

Close-up of more work. 99% (or more) of time spent running a pyro company is “routine” jobs like this.

After all of the magazines had been visited (apart from the last one, where bats were roosting and so remained unused and empty) my overriding lasting impression (apart from trillions of superb fireworks) was… dam, it was clean…not a speck of dust or debris anywhere. Mother would have been pleased.

My thanks and much appreciation must go to Mr Lundergard (The Boss) of Sandling Fireworks who made it all possible and just to say apologies for behaving like a “kid in a sweet shop”

The Boss, Graham himself. This picture amuses me because his expression is “just another day at the office”. He is neither trembling, weeping, crying or sweating with the intense excitement of standing in the middle of all that pyro as Tony was. I suppose you get used to it after a while!

At this point a couple of famous quotes spring to mind, one…”It made my day” and two…”I’ll be back”. I should say…hopefully I will be back.

Tony Webster