Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,352 pages of information and 245,904 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Royal Ordnance

From Graces Guide

Royal Ordnance, including the Royal Ordnance Factories, makers of guns, ammunition and explosives.

1560 The Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey were opened.[1].

Powder was stored at Greenwich from an early date

1695 Gunpowder was also stored at Upnor Castle (later the Upnor Armaments Supply Depot) from at least as early as 1695.

1716 Subsequently the Royal Brass Foundry was established for the manufacture of brass ordnance.

1759 Government purchase of the privately-owned gunpowder mill at Faversham and the establishment there of the Royal Powder Mill.

1763 The Greenwich magazine was moved to Purfleet.

1787 Purchase of the powdermill at Waltham Abbey which was named the Royal Gunpowder Factory.

1803 the Royal Carriage Department was set up

1804 Manufacture of small arms began at the Tower of London

1807 Small arms manufacture moved to the Royal Manufactory of Small Arms at Lewisham.

1811 The Royal Small Arms Factory site at Enfield was purchased

1816 Operations began at Enfield

1818 The work of the Lewisham establishment was transferred to Enfield.

1825 Closure of Faversham Mill

1855 The Ordnance Office was dissolved in 1855. The manufacturing departments, namely the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey and the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield), were transferred to the War Office.

1886 The Sparkbrook factory of the National Arms and Ammunition Co was sold to the government[2] in order to secure the production of small arms. This became the Royal Small Arms Factory (Birmingham). Over the next 2 years about £40000 was invested in re-equipping the factory[3].

1887 Report by Lord Morley's committee into the Manufacturing Departments of the Army, which consisted of 4 establishments: Woolwich, Waltham Abbey, Enfield and Birmingham; the committee made a number of recommendations for reorganisation, having taken account of modern industrial practices[4].

1887 Renamed the Royal Ordnance Factories, control passed to the financial secretary's Civil Department.

1889 William Anderson was appointed Director General of Ordnance Factories, responsible for the ordnance factories, laboratory, carriage department and gun factory at Woolwich Arsenal, the small-arms factories at Enfield and Birmingham, and the gunpowder factory at Waltham Abbey. He was required to assist these departments to work together, each under its own chief, namely, Captain Younghusband, R.N., gun factory; Colonel (sic) Barlow, R.A., laboratory and ammunition; Colonel Noble, Waltham Abbey ; Mr. J. Rigby , Enfield; Major McClintock, Birmingham; and Colonel English, gun carriages.[5].

Amongst the many hundreds of guns produced during Anderson's administration, which were at least 50% more powerful than the guns they superseded, not a single failure or accident of any kind occurred.

1899 Control of the factories was returned to the Ordnance Department.

1906 Birmingham Small Arms Co took over the Royal Small Arms Factory at Sparkbrook[6].

WWI Massive increase in production. The three historic state-controlled munitions factories at Woolwich, Enfield, and Waltham Abbey were taken over as National Factories were controlled by the Army Board at the outbreak of the war, under the Master General of the Ordnance. With the creation of the Ministry of Munitions, it was a logical step for that Ministry to take over supervision of these factories and co-ordinate their production with that of the other National Factories then being established. This change was agreed in August 1915 and thus these sites became nominally part of the National Factory programme. These factories were given the designation Royal Ordnance Factories (ROF). A fourth royal factory, the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough was also taken over by the Ministry in 1916.

1921 Royal Ordnance took over the National Filling Factories.

Post-WWI Returned to lower production levels

1934 to 1939 Many new Royal Ordnance Factories were built to enhance the capacity of the Royal Arsenal, Royal Gunpowder Factory and the Royal Small Arms Factory which, being close to London, were susceptible to being bombed[7].

1936 The factories were transferred to the Director General of Munitions Production.

1939 responsibility for the Ordnance Factories was transferred to the Ministry of Supply. There, at first, it was a directorate under the director-general of munitions production. Later it became itself a directorate general under the controller general of munitions production.

1942 There were 42 Royal Ordnance factories at this time, of which 24 were engineering, 8 made explosives, and 10 were engaged in filling ordnance (these numbers seem to have been confused by the MP reporting these statistics). The factories employed 300,000 people and were responsible for producing two-thirds of guns made in the UK and a similar proportion of the ammunition[8].

Post-War: many of the factories were closed, although some were reopened for the Korean war.

1959 the Ordnance Factories returned to the control of the War Office.

1984 Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment's Waltham Abbey South site became part of Royal Ordnance

1984 Royal Ordnance had 19 factories and 19000 employees when vested for privatization. Its largest division was ammunition followed by tanks and fighting vehicles, which had factories at Leeds and Nottingham[9].

1985 There were 12 Royal Ordnance Factories still in operation. On 2 January the majority were vested in the UK Government-owned company Royal Ordnance Plc together with 3 Agency-operated Factories, the Waltham Abbey south site and the Royal Small Arms Factory. The small number of factories involved in nuclear weapons production, ROF Burghfield and ROF Cardiff, did not pass over to Royal Ordnance upon privatisation but were transferred to the control of AWRE.

1985 Largest European manufacturer of ammunition

1986 Royal Ordnance was bought by British Aerospace (BAe)

2005 BAe Land Systems Munitions and Ordnance employs about 1650 people at sites including the former RO sites at Birtley, Bishopton, Bridgwater, Chorley, Glascoed, Radway Green and Shrivenham. Its head office is at Glascoed. Subsequently became part of BAE Systems Land and Armaments business.

List of sites of Royal Ordnance Factories

Royal Ordnance Factories were for explosives manufacture, filling of munitions and engineering.

The original factories were:

In WWI the Ministry of Munitions took over responsibility for manufacture of explosives (see H. M. Explosive Factories) and for filling of munitions (see National Filling Factories and National Projectile Factories, etc).

In WWII Explosives factories were established at[10]:

  • ROF Bishopton; 3 explosives factories[11].
  • ROF Bridgwater; Explosive ROF. No. 37.
  • ROF Drigg; Explosive ROF. No. 36.
  • ROF Irvine; Explosive ROF. No. 33.
  • ROF Pembrey; Explosive ROF. No. 34.
  • ROF Ranskill; Explosive ROF. No. 38.
  • ROF Sellafield
  • ROF Wrexham; Explosive ROF. No. 35.

WWII Engineering factories were at:

  • ROF Cardiff; Engineering ROF
  • ROF Dalmuir; Engineering ROF.
  • ROF Leeds; Engineering ROF.
  • ROF Newport; Engineering ROF.
  • ROF Nottingham; Engineering ROF.
  • ROF Patricroft; M/C Shop Engineering ROF.
  • ROF Poole; Engineering ROF.
  • ROF Theale; Engineering ROF.

WWII: 20 Filling factories were planned but only 16 were built including[12] [13]:

  • ROF Aycliffe; ROF 59 (Filling Factory No. 8)[14]
  • ROF Brackla; Filling Factory No. 11;
  • ROF Burghfield; Filling Factory No. 18.
  • ROF Bridgend; Filling Factory No. 2.
  • ROF Chorley; Filling Factory No. 1.
  • ROF Elstow; Filling Factory No. 16. - managed by J. Lyons and Co
  • ROF Featherstone; Filling Factory No. 17.
  • ROF Glascoed; Filling Factory No. 3.
  • ROF Hereford; Filling Factory No. 4.
  • ROF Kirkby; Filling Factory No. 7.
  • ROF Queniborough; Filling Factory No. 10.
  • ROF Risley; Filling Factory No. 6.
  • ROF Ruddington; Filling Factory No 14.
  • ROF Swynnerton; Filling Factory No. 5.
  • ROF Thorpe Arch; Filling Factory No. 9
  • ROF Walsall; Filling Factory No. 15

WWII: Other Filling factories were devoted to Small Arms Ammunition:

  • ROF Blackpole; SAA Factory No. 20.
  • ROF Radway Green; SAA Factory No. 13.
  • ROF Southall; SAA Filling Factory.
  • ROF Spennymoor; SAA Factory No. 21.
  • ROF Steeton; SAA Factory No. 22.
  • ROF Summerfield; SAA Filling Factory.

Other WWII factories were at:

  • ROF Birtley.
  • ROF Blackburn.
  • ROF Brackla; ROF 41 at Brackla and ROF 53 at Waterton[15].
  • ROF Dunham on the Hill; Explosives storage depot
  • ROF Fazakerley; Rifles Factory.
  • ROF Hirwaun.
  • ROF Maltby; Rifles Factory.

Vehicle models

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 5 October 1984
  2. Birmingham Daily Post 8 April 1886
  3. Birmingham Daily Post, 5 May 1888
  4. The Times, Saturday, Jul 30, 1887
  5. The Engineer 1889/07/26
  6. The Times, 28 January 1919
  7. BAe Heritage [1]
  8. Hansard 5 August 1942 [2]
  9. The Times, 5 October 1984
  10. Wikipedia [3]
  11. ROF Bishopton [4]
  12. ROF Thorpe Arch [5]
  13. Filling Factories [6]
  14. ROF Aycliffe [7]
  15. Brackla Ordnance [8]
  • National Archives [9]