The Brick Lane Bottle Grenade

Few could have predicted the long-lasting effect that such a simple device would have on the City in the years to come. Born of desperation and anger it not only robbed men of their futures when it was deployed, but the shock it created amongst the general populace was far out of proportion to its actual effects.

We are talking, of course, about what became called the ‘Brick Lane Bottle Grenade’. This device consists of a gin bottle filled with ethyl spirits or petroleum. Moments before it is to be deployed the hellion responsible inserts anywhere between two and six shotgun cartridges into the bottle before sealing it with a piece of rag. This is then lit and thrown. The target of the attack does not only have to suffer serious burns but they, and anyone near them, shall also be peppered with shot as the cartridges ‘cook off’. It has deterred good citizens from going to the aid of the burning victim. Often it has been dropped from rooftops or windows into trucks, omnibuses or carriages to devastating effect in their confines.

The first time that this weapon appeared was in the now infamous Cable Street massacre in 1892. Five Police Constables and their Sergeant were escorting three Aldermen away from a public meeting that had fallen to riot. As they proceeded down the street they were attacked from the roofs above by no less six of these infernal devices. Five men died horrible deaths and the others were maimed and scarred for life. The incident was witnessed by a photographer from The London Daily Chronicle and his pictures of the aftermath were quickly put on the front page. The photograph that elicited the most shock was that of three of the incendiaries watching from the rooftop. They were all women.


None of these villainesses were ever prosecuted but it was believed they came from the Cornhill Commune. A mixed force of Police and Westminster Yeomanry raided the Commune two days later and thirty-six men and women died in the ensuing battle, including three Constables and the heroic Captain of the Yeomanry, Ezekiah Briggs. This filthy hotbed of insurrection was dispersed and printed instructions found for the manufacture of these devices.

Since that time the brave men of the Metropolitan Police have had to face this menace whenever they take on the evil anarchists that befoul our city. The invention of the Vulcan Coat by the American Samuel Bryant has helped them endure this, but many good men have still perished or been terribly maimed by it.

Meanwhile in the alleys and stews of the East End women young and old have taken up the mantle of ‘Incendiary’ mimicking their ‘sisters’ of the Paris Commune. They tell of their ‘pride’ in defending their riotous communities against the forces of law and order.

Lord Ellesmere has spoken and written at length over the conditions that drive the meeker sex to such dire solutions. The infant mortality rate, the addiction to gin and whoring, and the lack of gainful employment for men and women alike. He is raising money to sweep away those foul slums around Brick Lane and replace them with sanitary, modern blocks for our urban poor to inhabit. He has also spoken on the need for a reduction in our dependence on the machine and a return to the provision of regular manual labour for the uneducated classes.

Although his Christian sentiments are much admired in the House, many feel that the undeserving poor are just that. As Lord Grimshanks is fond of saying: “They are slackers, layabouts and scroungers who do not need clean abodes and work, they need discipline and to fear the righteous anger of the law. They are unreformed incorrigibles and should be treated as such. Their leaders, those damned Russian anarchists and German Jewish Socialists who infest the East End, should be hunted down and put to the noose.”

4 thoughts on “The Brick Lane Bottle Grenade

  1. Sorry but no. The basic petrol bomb is fine, but you are well off base on the shot shell additions. To start with, it is very unlikely that a shot shell will fit down the neck of a standard gin bottle. 12 and 20 gauge shells are quite large – gin bottle cork size or bigger. You might get away with a .410 but they were rare birds being introduced in 1892 as a specialist round.

    Now to the physics. The main function of a gun barrel is to contain and direct the explosive energy of the propellant against the projectile. Without the breech and barrel to support it, the expanding gas of the propellant will simply blow out the sides of the cartridge, With some exceptions shotgun cartridges were almost always greased paper with a brass base. The paper casing would have all the effect of a firecracker.

    But what of the base and shot you say? We are now up against Newton’s second and third laws. Force =mass x acceleration. We have a bucket of force from the propellant in the form of pressure. We divvy that up by the surface area of the casing, the shot and the base. Let’s say it’s the force exerted is roughly equal on each component. F=ma therefore a=F/m. And simplifying – the mass of the shell casing is relatively small so its acceleration is large and bits of it goes whizzing off. The mass of the shot is relatively very large so its acceleration is very small and it sits there. The base is in between but still more massive than the bits of case so at best it flops a foot or two away.

    So why is this git writing out all this pedantry? Because when I was a stupid boy I threw a couple of .22s into the fire to see what would happen. Bits of brass everywhere (thank god for glasses) but no serious damage and the bullet just lay there in the hot coals. From stupidity comes knowledge 😉

    Now how you could make this work is if you put a bursting charge inside the gin bottle and found way keep it dry and then ignite it, the bottle would contain the explosion somewhat resulting in a flaming glass grenade.

    • Hi Pat,
      Thanks for the physics/chemistry lecture. No, really, I am actually very happy with such feedback and the thought that goes into it.
      When it comes down to it, being an ex-Royal Navy Weapons Artificer myself, you are quite correct. My one piece of counter-pedantry would be on the gin bottle. Late Victorian Gin and other spirit bottles often had wide necks to make pouring easier – and they were 100% recyclable so the value put into the bottle was often much greater than that in our throw away culture.
      However, if we relied on real-world physics and chemistry the various arc weapons, faraday and vulcan coats, mechanical walkers and Edison beam translators in these rules would also not work.
      The Brick Lane Grenade was created to give the Brick Lane Commune an edge. It was a difficult company to write for as most of its members are very poor and downtrodden, so I took a leaf out of the Paris Commune’s book and introduced our own version of their Incendiaries, with a little twist.
      That little twist is what turns IHMN from a Victorian skirmish game into a Victorian Science Fiction skirmish game. So I hope you will forgive me playing a little fast and loose with science and instead enjoy throwing these things at the ‘enemies of the people’ 😀

  2. Craig,
    Although it doesn’t matter for single games can you clarify whether grenades “refill themselves” in a campaign scenario? I cannot find this minutiae anywhere but it seems to make sense that you don’t have to repurchase expended stuff each game but it is rather a maximum capability within a game.

    Regards, Chris

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