28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
Work on the new Royal Ordnance factory at Wrexham began soon after the outbreak of war in 1939. Located where the Industrial Estate is today, during the Second World War, Wrexhamâ€™s ROF facility made cordite, an explosive propellant for shells. ROF Bishopton, ROF Ranskill and ROF Sellafield being the three other propellant factorys.
The complex was spread over a large area to minimise any damage from aerial attacks. Any existing farm buildings were left in situ while the main buildings were camouflaged to deter reconnaissance. The buildings were designed to resist incendiary bombs and blast, with thick walls, with no windows only small shuttered openings and reinforced roofs. Then surrounded with earth banks both to deflect blast and to direct any explosion from within buildings upwards, some were designed with weak end wall joints for this purpose. The site was chosen for its distance from European bombers while having good rail networks and a rural location that provided a good supply of labour but in a wide spread area.
To connect the site to the national rail network, a large marshalling yard of 10 separate roads, and these connected to the works internal network of rail lines. A passenger platform was built for military usage. All the cordite produced at the plant was taken by these sidings, along the Wrexham and Ellesmere Railway and then to Crewe. For shunting works, Diesels were used instead of Steam engines as they were less likely to ignite any stray cordite, however it is known the works had possession of an 1859 0-4-0ST known as Victory.
The site was well defended, both on the ground and from the air, several Type 2 Pillboxes still remain in the area, found in areas untouched by modern industrial developments, and the entire site was under a mile away from RAF Wrexham, which was home to at least one fighter squadron, for defending the regions industrial assets from bomber attack.
After the war, the need for cordite ceased, and so did the production facilities at Wrexham. Much of the buildings were left in place, abandoned, and agriculture again took over the fields surrounding the area.
The combined closure of ROF Wrexham and the army returning caused much unemployment in the area, with major redundancies in the area's coal mines due to increasing motor travel.
In all, there's probably about thirty or forty buildings still standing in fairly decent condition and I'd estimate that these represent about 5% of the original total, the site was massive. On the map above, just the extreme bottom right remains and a section to the east that's not shown. All structures are completely stripped apart from one I found which was guarded by overgrown hawthorn, rose hip and bramble and even then not much to see. Pillboxes, guard houses and access tunnels jump out of the undergrowth on either side of the site's internal road and rail system, though all track has long been lifted. Other buildings are more obscure in their purposes, probably acid treatment, paper scrolling, loco sheds and lookout towers or other such uses no doubt.
Rose Harrison said:Quite a few people got Acid burns there. Oh, Iâ€™ve got one or two little scars now, thereâ€™s one look with drops on it, Iâ€™ve one or two up me arms, but further up. If you got a spot on you, you see it burned you straight away, under water straight away, we had long baths in Nitrating House in case anybody got a lot on em they had to shove em in there. They were all filled with water all the time. Although nobody did not in there, but we all got splashes, but cos you got one splash on your trousers there were a hole through straight away. Thatâ€™s why we had to wear everything wool, it was made woollen. Trousers and blouses and jackets.
David Trippas said:This morning I was talking to my mother, who is 84, about her time as a supervisor at the Marchwiel munitions factory, during World War 2. She was a local girl and after leaving school at 14 her first job was in the steel testing laboratories at the Brymbo steel works. When the war started she was called up for war work and, due to her testing skill, was made a supervisor at the Marchwiel cordite factory. She told me that this large dispersed factory was camouflaged under grass and the women worked in small bays, ten each side, cutting out the white cordite and splicing the good cordite back together. This white cordite was extremely dangerous to the fighting men if it got into the finished munitions. Her job was also to check her fellow workers to make sure that they had no metal on them, which could have triggered an explosion. Even though front line soldiers came to graphically lecture them on the importance of their work and the danger that the fighting men were in, especially if the ordinance was dud or compromised. Many of the women would not comply with this rule and although she received three shillings extra for her work, she said it wasn't worth the hassle. One girl who was often late, she reported to the factory court and the worker was disciplined. She still feels a little guilty about this, apparently the women was going out with one of the men in the laboritories and was clocked in when not there. They all had to wear white canvas trousers, no make up and their hair pulled tight under a white cap. It was as said strictly forbidden to carry any metal into the work bays and the work, though skilled, was repetitive.
Sandra Ramsey said:My mum, Frances (Peggy) Price, worked at Marchwiel. She used to travel by train from Oswestry. She worked with the cordite, and was off work for almost 6 months because of the fumes. She lost a lot of weight and went down to an 18in waist. She is now 85 years old and is still proud of the work she did during the war.
Gwenfron Foster said:I used to work in a munitions factory in Marchwiel, Wrexham. We worked with the cordite for the big guns.
The factory was a huge place. There were 12 cubicles inside the factory, five to each cubicle. We'd have to strip off all our clothes and put on overalls in case we brought anything into the factory which would contaminate it.
The cordite was like lumps of coal when we got it - sort of like macaroni. We would cut a piece into four, put it onto trays - and if we'd got through 36 trays in a day we'd done well. You had to be careful though - if you damaged the cordite, it wouldn't be any good.
I wouldn't say it was very hard work, but it was dangerous. You couldn't smoke anywhere near the factory and there was a lot of ether around. Once the cordite wouldn't come down the shoot, so I put my head up to see what was the matter and I was out for the count!
Food ar wartime But we were all happy there. I made a lot of friends. Bessy from Rhosllanerchrugog was working with me in the same cubicle. One night we didn't have any cordite to work with so we were all outside the huts, singing hymns!