Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 137,336 pages of information and 220,651 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

H. M. Explosive Factories

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search

WWI The HMEF factories made the explosives to fill the shells as well as the charges to propel them.

General

The need to secure outside sources of supply of high explosives had been realised by the War Office early in the war. Only one day after the Defence of the Realm Act became law, the Government commandeered the Rainham Chemical Works for the purification of crude TNT. Before this date there had been practically no factory capacity for military TNT other than that produced at the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey (the manufacture of high explosives was never a function of the ordnance factories).

1915 January: The first new national factory for the manufacture of TNT opened at Oldbury; this was managed by a firm of acid manufacturers, Chance and Hunt. In July 1915, four more National Explosives Factories were established by the Ministry of Munitions, including a huge one at Gretna for the production of cordite. This site was so large that it had to be divided up into a number of "Area" - Dornoch Area (1,203 acres) contained the nitrocellulose and nitro-glycerine sections making a cordite paste which was transported eastward to the Mossband Area (1,381 acres); here there were eight "ranges" where the paste was made into cordite. The finished cordite was then sent to the magazines situated in the Longtoun Area (258 acres). Other Areas included the Central Electric Power Station Area at Rigg (10 acres) and the Reservoirs and Filters Area (14 acres). Townships for 19,772 workers were built at Gretna (431 acres) and Eastriggs (173 acres).

An essential element in the process of manufacturing cordite, acetone, had been previously been produced by the destructive distillation of wood. Before the war there was a small factory in the Forest of Dean set up by the Office of Woods and Forests to utilise cordwood. In May 1915, the same office opened two more factories at Bideford and Dundee. All three factories were transferred to the Ministry of Munitions in October; meanwhile, Kynoch set up its own factory which was nationalised in 1917.

By 1916 The supplies of wood alcohol for the manufacture of acetone were insufficient to meet the increasing demands. Professor Weizmann discovered a culture capable of transforming the starch of cereals, particularly of maize, into a mixture of acetone and butyl alcohol.

In Kings Lynn, an oil-cake factory had been converted in 1912 to make acetone from the starch content of potatoes. As the company was unstable it was nationalised in March 1916 and by June, was producing acetone from maize by the Weizmann process; later chestnuts were used as an alternative feedstock. The King’s Lynn factory produced acetone up until it closed at the end of 1918.[1]

HMEF Sites

  • Avonmouth

Construction started: August 1916. Opened: early 1917. Area: 249 acres Management: Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: mustard gas, sulphuric acid and picric acid (production of picric acid later abandoned). Notes: built on the banks of the River Severn. 1.5 miles from NFF Chittening, and close to the site of the Spelter Co factory under construction in August 1916.

  • Bradley (Deighton)

Construction started: January 1917. Opened: 1 July 1918. Area: 26 acres, land part owned by the Midland Railway Company. Management: Major Holliday. Munitions: picric acid (lyddite). Notes: built adjacent to Major Holliday’s works but separated by a railway embankment (for safety).

  • Colnbrook (Middlesex)

Construction started: June 1916. Management: Direct control. Munitions: guncotton.

  • Craigleith - Edinburgh

Construction started: April 1916. Contractor: designed and built by the Lothian Chemical Co. Opened: February 1917. Management: Lothian Chemical Company. Munitions: TNT. Notes: this was the last WW1 factory erected for the production of TNT.

  • Ellesmere Port

Construction started: March 1916 - February 1917. Opened: May 1917 (production started). Area: 5 acres, land owned by the Portland Cement Co. Factory area 410,601 sq ft. Management: Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: synthetic phenol and arsenic compounds.

  • Gadbrook (Northwich)

Construction started: 19 July 1915. Contractor: Brunner Mond and Co Ltd. Opened: February 1916. Area: 59 acres. Management: Brunner Mond & Company Ltd. Munitions: TNT purification.

  • Greetland (Halifax)

Construction started: January 1917. Contractor: Sharp and Mallett. Opened: August 1917. Area: 15 acres, land part owned by the Halifax Corporation and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company. Management: Sharpe and Mallett. Munitions: picric acid. Notes: built close to Greetland railway station.

  • Greenford

Construction started: August 1916 Opened: January 1917 Area: land leased from Purax Co Management: Chemical Section of Trench Warfare Department Munitions: chemical shell. Notes: satellite of Walthamstow to become the Chemical Shell Assembling Station.

Construction started: July 1915. Contractor: Pearson and Son Ltd. Opened: June 1916. Area: 9,000 acres. Management: Factory Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: cordite. Notes: built on the Solway Estuary.

  • Hackney Wick - Phoenix Chemical Works (Wallis Road)

Construction started: 1915. Contractor: works originally owned by Mr. Bragley. Area: 9,174 sq yds. Management: Factory Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: raw TNT. Notes: factory located near to White Post Lane.

  • Hammersmith (Distillery)

Original function: distillery. Opened: 1915. Munitions: phosphorus charging station for 4in Stokes bombs.

  • Irvine

Construction started: January 1917. Contractor: Nobel's Explosives Company. Opened: February 1918. Area: 222 acres Management: Nobel's Explosives Company. Munitions: nitro-cellulose powder production to reduce overseas purchases.

  • Langwith (Mansfield)

Construction started: November 1915. Opened: October 1916 (Electrolytic Section) and June 1917 (Chemical Section). Area: 10 acres, land owned by Langwith By-Product Co Ltd. Management: Langwith By-Product Company Ltd. Munitions: ammonium perchlorate. Notes: built so that Britain could be independent of Sweden in supplies of ammonium perchlorate.

  • Litherland (Liverpool)

Construction started: November 1914, factory nationalised in March 1916. Opened: November 1914. Area: 11 acres. Management: Botherton and Co Ltd. Munitions: TNT for small shells. Notes: built adjacent to existing works of Botherton & Company Ltd (tar distillers).

  • Lytham

Construction started: January 1917. Opened: July 1917. Area: 21 acres. Management: Mr. Lance Blythe; later by Factories Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: picric acid. Notes: closed March 1918.

  • Oldbury - Tat Bank

Construction started: December 1914. Contractor: Cape Explosives Co/ Chance and Hunt Ltd. Opened: May 1915. Area: 18 acres. Management: Chance and Hunt Ltd. Munitions: TNT. Notes: this was the first new national factory for manufacture of TNT.

  • Pembrey

Existing factory nationalised in June 1917. Opened: July 1915. Area: 760 acres. Management: Nobel's Explosives Ltd. Munitions: TNT, tetryl and propellants.

  • Penrhyn Deudrarth (N. Wales)

Existing factory nationalised in July 1915. Contractor: Ergite and Co Ltd. Opened: re-opened January 1916. Area: 11 acres. Management: Factories Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: TNT. Notes: factory destroyed by explosion in June 1915 but later rebuilt.

  • Queensferry and Sandycroft, nr. Chester

Factory adapted from existing building in July 1915. Opened: December 1915. Area: 298 acres. Management: Asiatic Petroleum Co Ltd at Sandycroft and Factories Branch of Explosives Supply Department at Queensferry. Note: originally two separate sites, later Sandycroft became a part of Queensferry. Munitions: TNT, MNT and guncotton. Notes: existing factory buildings were former engineering workshops of Williams and Robinson and Queens Ltd; had been used from the start of the war as a prisoner-of-war camp.

  • Rainham - "Rainham Chemical Works"

Construction started: November 1914. Opened: January 1915. Management: Synthetic Products Co Ltd./ Coley and Wilbraham Ltd./Chance and Hunt.

Munitions: purifying crude TNT. Notes: factory completely destroyed in an explosion on 13 February 1918.

  • Sandycroft - Chester

Existing factory nationalised in June 1918. Opened: 1918. Management: Asiatic Petroleum Co Ltd. and Factories Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: MNT. Notes: factory became part of the HMEF Queensferry complex.

  • Stratford

Management: operated by a detachment of RNVR. Munitions: prussic acid.

  • Sutton Oak (St. Helens)

Existing factory nationalised in January 1916. Opened: November 1915. Area: 16 acres, factory area 82,811 sq ft. Management: United Kingdom Chemical Products Co Ltd. and, later, the Factories Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: phenol and arsenic compounds.

  • Swindon - "Stratton Works"

Construction started: Early 1917. Opened: October 1917. Area: 67 acres, factory area 340,087 sq ft. Management: Factories Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Munitions: ammonium nitrate.

  • Trafford Park (Manchester)

Construction started: October 1915. Contractor: Hardman and Holden Ltd. Opened: July 1916. Area: land owned by Trafford Park Estates, factory area 8,400 sq yds. Management: Hardman and Holden Ltd. Munitions: toluol production.

  • Victoria - Northwich ("Victoria Salt Works")

Construction started: February 1916. Contractor: Brunner Mond and Co Ltd. Opened: August 1916. Area: 50 acres, factory area 461,802 sq ft. Management: Salt Union Ltd. and Factories Branch of Explosives Department. Munitions: ammonium nitrate and calcium nitrate tetrahydrate.

  • Walthamstow (Black Horse Lane)

Factory built July-August 1915 and nationalised in June 1916. Contractor: Baird and Tatlock. Opened: August 1915. Management: Baird and Tatlock until 1 November 1917, then taken over by the Trench Warfare Supply Department. Munitions: charging station for chemical shells (mustard gas). Notes: i) built next to Baird & Tatlock’s "Duroglass" Works (manufacturers of glass containers for chemicals.) ii) became NTWFF for charging lachymatory shells.

  • Watford

Construction started: August 1915. Contractor: James Gordon and Co Ltd. Opened: December 1915. Area: 61 acres. Management: Roburite and Ammonal Ltd. Munitions: ammonal production until aluminium became too expensive; then switched to producing amatol.

  • West Gorton (Manchester)

Existing factory of M. N. Morris and Co Ltd, nationalised in October 1915. Opened: late 1914. Area: 8 acres. Management: MN Morris & Company Ltd. of Gorton Brook. Munitions: synthetic phenol production.

Sites for Acetate and Acetone Production

  • Bideford

Construction started: May 1915; nationalised in October 1915. Management: Office of Woods and Forests, and Direct control. Products: acetate of lime by wood distillation.

  • Coleford

Existing factory constructed in 1913; nationalised in October 1915. Management: Office of Woods and Forests, and Direct control. Products: acetate of lime by wood and maize distillation.

  • Dundee (Graham Street)

Construction started: May 1915; nationalised in October 1915. Management: Office of Woods and Forests, and direct control. Products: acetate of lime by wood and maize distillation.

  • King’s Lynn

Existing factory belonging to Synthetic Products Co; nationalised in March 1916. Management: Propellants Branch of Explosives Supply Department. Products: acetone.

  • Longparish (Andover)

Existing factory of Kynoch nationalised early 1917. Products: acetate of lime by wood distillation.

  • Ludlow

Construction started: spring 1918. Management: Direct control. Products: intended for acetate of lime production.

  • Mid-Lavant (Chichester)

Construction started: spring 1918. Management: Direct control. Product: intended to produce acetate of lime.


See Also

Loading...

Sources of Information

  1. Munitions Factories [1]
  • Ministry of Munitions [2]
  • National Factory Scheme [3]