Report - - Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey (April 2014) | Military Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey (April 2014)


Picture of Stealth
28DL Full Member
Another one crossed off the list...! I decided to head out here early doors this morning, which meant a nice blast out on the bike. Access wasn't too difficult... especially for an overweight, middle_aged loser and I didn't see another soul all morning (except some fella on the outside of the fence walking his hound, giving me a discerning look). Here's a bit of the history, which ashamedly has been plagiarised from a source on t'internet because I haven't got much time to research and put something in my own words... something I always endeavour to try and do.

The story of gunpowder production at Waltham Abbey begins with a fulling mill for cloth production; originally set up by the monks of the Abbey on the Millhead Stream, an engineered water course tapping the waters of the River Lea. Mills were adaptable and in the early 17th century it was converted to an 'Oyle Mill', i.e. for producing vegetable oils. In the Second Dutch War gunpowder supply shortages were encountered and the oil mill was converted to gunpowder production, possibly in response to this. In 1665 it was acquired by Ralph Hudson using saltpetre made in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
The Hudson family sold out to William Walton at the end of the 17th century, starting a family connection lasting almost a hundred years. The enterprise was successful under the Walton's tenure and the Mills expanded up the Millhead Stream as additional production facilities were added; the material progressing from one building to another as it passed through the various processes. The Waltham Abbey Mills were one of the first examples in the 18th century of an industrialised factory system, not often recognised.
In the 1780s there was fresh concern over security, quality and economy of supply. The deputy comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich, Major, later Lieutenant General, Sir William Congreve advocated that the Waltham Abbey Mills should be purchased by the Crown to ensure secure supplies and to establish what would now be called a centre of excellence for development of manufacturing processes and to establish quality and cost standards by which private contractors could be judged. In October 1787 the Crown purchased the mills from John Walton for £10,000, starting a 204 year ownership. Congreve was a man of immense drive and vision, a pioneer of careful management, quality control and the application of the scientific method. Under his regime manufacture moved from what had been a black art to, in the context of its day, an advanced technology. The distinguished engineer John Rennie coined the phrase ‘The Old Establishment’ in his 1806 report on the Royal Gun Powder Factory. The term refers to the gunpowder mills when they were still privately owned, before they were acquired by The Crown in 1787.
Reflecting this, the mills were able to respond successfully in volume and quality to the massive increases in demand which arose over the period of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars from 1789, culminating in the victory at Waterloo in 1815. In the years following Waterloo the Mills entered a period of quiet with a steep decline in staff numbers and production levels. However there was a steady advance in machinery and process development.
The quiet was not to last. Conflict broke out in 1854 with the Crimean War with Russia, followed by the Indian Mutiny and a succession of colonial conflicts followed, culminating in the Boer War of 1899 - 1902.
All of this provided the impulse for further development. Whilst the mills' function was to provide gunpowder for military use, either as a propellant for use in guns, or as a military explosive for demolition, etc., improvements effected there were a strong influence on private industry producing for civil activity - construction, mining, quarrying, tunneling, railway building etc. which created a massive demand for gunpowder in the 19th century.

World War I 1914 - 1918 brought a huge upsurge in demand. Staff numbers increased by around 3,000 to a total of 6,230. The 3,000 additional workers were largely female, recruited from the surrounding area, and this was a significant social phenomenon.

After WW1 there was another period of quiet before anxieties about the future surfaced again. It was decided that production at Waltham Abbey would be gradually transferred to the west of the country, safer from air attack from Europe. However, in the meantime, production continued and crucial development work was carried out on TNT production and on the new explosive RDX.

During WW2, Waltham Abbey remained an important cordite production unit and for the first two years of the war was the sole producer of RDX. RDX is one component of torpex, the explosive that was used in the Bouncing Bomb.
Total transfer of RDX production to the west of England, to ROF Bridgwater; and dispersal of cordite production to new propellant factories located: in the west of Scotland, three co-located factories at ROF Bishopton, to Wales, ROF Wrexham, and to the North East, ROF Ranskill, was achieved by 1943. Many Waltham Abbey staff played a vital role in developing the new Explosive Royal Ordnance Factories, training staff and superintending production.
The Royal Gunpowder Mills finally closed on 28 July 1945.[1]

In 1945 the establishment re-opened as a research centre known as The Explosives Research and Development Establishment, or ERDE. In 1977 it became the Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment, Waltham Abbey, or PERME Waltham Abbey. As a research centre Waltham Abbey was responsible for military propellant and high explosives and expanded into the increasingly significant field of rocket propellants, solid and liquid and a range of specialised applications, e.g. 'snifters' for altering space vehicles direction when in flight, cartridges for firing aircraft ejector seats, engine and generator starter cartridges - these applications have been called 'a measured strong shove'.
In 1984 the South site and the Lower Island works were handed over to Royal Ordnance Plc immediately prior to its privatisation. The North side however remained in Ministry of Defence control as a research centre; becoming part of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment.
After various reorganisations of Governmental research, the research centre finally closed in 1991, bringing to an end 300 years of explosives production and research.

I actually took around 200 photo's and probably didn't see half of the place so perhaps another visit will be on the cards soon. This will probably be a bit image-heavy so apologies for that but I have narrowed it down a lot. Look out for the freaky pictures... and you'll probably gather from this, and my previous reports, I'm a bit partial to mono!!!





























That'll do for now... I know the place has been done before but I hope these images provide something a little different? Thanks for looking guys and as always... feel free to comment/criticise. Feedback is always gratefully received!

Keep safe, y'all...



Picture of Stealth
28DL Full Member
Cheers for the comments guys!

I put the arm there... :D

I also strategically placed it in a pile of logs to look like someone 'buried under the rubble'... It did look pretty freaky at the time!


Picture of Stealth
28DL Full Member
Is that a euphemism...? :)

Similar threads