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Historic England Research Records

Royal Ordnance Factory Chorley

Hob Uid: 1009788
Location :
South Ribble
Non Civil Parish
Grid Ref : SD5630020800
Summary : Royal Ordnance Factory constructed in 1937 for the filling of shells and projectiles anf the manufacture of fuses. Recent aerial photographs (2003) show that much of the site has been cleared and is starting to be re-developed for housing.
More information : The Royal Ordnance Factory at Chorley is centred at SD 563 210, 3km
north-west of the town of Chorley straddling the Chorley to Preston
railway line.

The site for the new Royal Ordnance Filling Factory at Chorley was
chosen in March 1936 (1a) and the contract for its construction was
placed in January 1937 (1b). Locational factors that influenced its
siting included; its position in the west of England away from
continental bombers, good railway communications and a large flat
open area for the dispersal of buildings. Though this area of
Lancashire was not classified as a depressed area, a readily
available supply of labour could be brought by train from Blackpool,
Liverpool and Manchester. The factory was laid out on a green field
site covering 875 acres (354.25 hectares) encompassing the farms of
Old Worden Hall (SD 52 SE 5), Buckshaw Hall (SD 52 SE **) and Jones'
Farm. At the time it was one of the largest construction projects in
the world employing up to 15,000 workers at a cost of upto 12, 000
000. During its construction three million cubic yards of earth were
moved and 1,600 buildings constructed in the space of less than two
years. The work was sufficiently advanced for production to begin in
late 1938 or early 1939, the factory was officially opened by George
VI in March 1939. A shadow factory mirroring the production
facilities at Chorley was built at Glascoed, Gwent.

Chorley was one of an interconnected network of Royal Ordnance
Factories built during in the late 1930s and early 1940s as part of
Britain's rearmament programme. It was one of the largest Filling
Factories built in England and was constructed as one of the
permanent factories rather than others that were constructed for the
duration of the war. Its function was the assembly of munitions, the
filling of shells and the assembly of detonators, fuses and primers
using explosives and projectiles manufactured elsewhere. Although
not primarily concerned with the manufacture of explosives, a small
gunpowder establishment was built in the south west corner of the
factory. It is unclear whether this plant was manufacturing
gunpowder or processing gunpowder produced elsewhere. Chorley was
also involved in the manufacture of cordite rocket motors for 3 inch
rockets using a solid propellant of perforated cordite. These
rockets were used for air defence, air to surface rockets or coastal
bombardment and represented an area of rocket development where
Britain, for a short time possessed a world lead. The factory is
divided into two unequal parts by the Chorley to Preston railway line
running roughly east to west. To the south of the railway line and
bordering on to Euxton Lane are the administrative buildings, a
canteen and residential accommodation attached to the factory. Some
demolition of the original factory buildings has taken place in this
area and new small factory units erected in their place. This
section of the factory is connected to the larger production area
north of the railway line by a substantial road bridge over the
railway at the southern end of the main north to south spine road.
Adjoining the road bridge is the purpose built factory railway
station that conveyed many of the 30, 000 wartime workers to and from
the factory. The station remains intact although overgrown and
derelict. The wartime factory was also almost exclusively served by
rail bringing in material from the engineering and explosives
factories. Trains were marshalled in exchange sidings to the north
of the railway station served by a series of warehouses from where
empty shell cases and explosives were moved to the filling buildings
before storage in underground factory magazines. The whole factory
formerly served by an internal standard gauge railway network 25
miles in length, linking the underground storage magazines to the
exchange sidings to remove munitions from the factory. At the time
of the investigation most of the railways had been lifted except
where the rails were set into concrete roadways.

In common with all explosives handling factories the factory is
divided into distinctive groups according to function and areas
within the factory further designated as `clean' where explosives are
handled and all other areas as `dirty'. Other features common to
explosives factories included the wide dispersal of buildings, the
provision of concrete and earthwork traverses or blast screens
between buildings and where the topography allowed the sinking of
buildings below ground level. Steam for heating buildings or process
machinery was generated in a central boiler house and distributed
around the site by 97 miles of steam mains. Electricity in an 11 Kv
network was distributed by 3 ring mains serving 16 substations.
Additionally there were three air compressor stations delivering 4K
cu ft/min (1b). Other central services included the provision of
water mains to supply the fire fighting and individual drencher
systems within the buildings along with an internal telephone
network. Apart from the building specifically engaged in the
production of explosives scattered around the factory are small
offices, shift rooms where the workers changed before passing into
the `clean' areas, canteens and toilets. Also dotted around the
factory and its perimeter are a series of pillboxes or observation

The north-west corner of the factory is designated Group 3, this area
was concerned with the manufacture of fuses and primers. The
buildings in this area are long single storey shops divided into
bays. The buildings separated from one another by concrete blast
walls with air raid shelters in between. The buildings variously
housed gunpowder and cordite pellet presses and fuse assembly shops.
As a further safety feature the electric motors powering overhead
belt drives were housed in external rooms, as were the oil hydraulic
pumps at the ends of the buildings. The buildings were individually
heated by Plenum heaters converting the centrally generated steam
heat into warm air that was distributed around the building through
overhead pipes.

This group is separated from the Group 1 buildings in the southwest
corner of the factory by the valleys of Buckshaw and Worden Brooks
covered by Worden Wood. In the bottom of the valley adjacent to the
boundary fence is a pumphouse used to supply water to the emergency
fire fighting system. The Group 1 buildings were used for the
filling of caps, primers and 0.303, 0.300mm and 9mm small arms
ammunition. The buildings are similar in form, single storey brick
built filling shops with a large central room. To either end are
covered porches and at one end a separate compartment to house an
electric motor powering the overhead drive shaft. Completed
components were passed on trays through a serving hatch into a
separate room on the side of the building for packing.

In the north-eastern corner of the factory are the subterranean Group
5 magazines used for the storage of the products of the Group 5
buildings principally cordite rocket motors and primers. The five
magazines that comprise the Group 5 magazines are each served by a
covered railway loading area, each magazine divided into a series of
chambers capped by a massive earthen mound. The production buildings
in Group 5 consist of small single storey buildings with a single
large room in the centre with covered entrances to either end. The
buildings and connecting walkways are set below ground level
providing a screen of earth between each building. Associated with
this as with the other large groups of buildings is large shifting
room and canteen.

The buildings of Group 5 are separated from those to the south Group
8 by a series of underground storage magazines served by the factory
railway system. The Group 8 buildings may be further subdivided into
those connected with fuse assembly and those used for filling. The
fuse section in the south-west corner of the group is distinguished
by relatively small shops unprotected by traverses or concrete walls,
as the amounts of explosives handled in any one building is
relatively small. The buildings used for the filling of munitions
may be separated into two principal types known colloquially in the
factory as the `Queen Mary' buildings and the `Butterfly' buildings.
The `Queen Mary' buildings are long double storey buildings
surrounded by earthwork traverses, a number of which have been raised
by concrete blast walls or Braithwaite tanks filled with earth. The
buildings take their name from the funnel like protrusions through
their roofs. These are the tops of circular double skinned steel
casings that formerly housed the process machinery within the
buildings. In one of the buildings recorded Group 8 J40 the casings
were separated by belt driven `Harvey' mixers and in one of the
casings an incorporator remained in place. The `Butterfly'
buildings, after their symmetrical form, comprise a central room
flanked by two long single storey buildings divided into bays. All
the buildings were sunk below ground level to provide a protective
screen of earth between neighbouring buildings. The `Butterfly'
buildings were originally built for the processing of lyddite, the
central rooms formerly occupied by belt driven `Harvey' mixers, the
electric motors for the belt drive housed in a separate room.

In the south-east corner of the factory was the gunpowder section.
The buildings of the gunpowder section have been demolished and its
site is occupied by more recent process buildings. The basic
functional areas within the factory survived into the post-war
period. Where new manufacturing processes were introduced these
either were accomodated in older buildings or where specialised
buildings were required sections of the older factory were demolished
to make way for new building.

At the time of investigation the redundant areas of the factory were
being stripped in preparation for demolition and further sections of
the factory were earmarked for closure. (1)

Recent aerial photographs (2003) show part of the site, around SD 5724 1990, apparently under demolition. Most of the rest of the site has been cleared and the areas around SD 5640 2119 is starting to be re-developed for housing. (2-3)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source :
Source details : Wayne Cocroft/15-DEC-1993/RCHME: Royal Ordnance Factories Project
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Source Number : 1a
Source :
Source details : Profile - The newspaper of Royal Ordnance November1988 6-7 Chorley - fifty years ago
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Source Number : 1b
Source :
Source details : Public Record Office Kew CAB 102/625 A History of Royal Ordnance Factories 1881-44
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Source Number : 2
Source :
Source details : NMR SD 5719/15 (17897/15) 24-JUL-2003
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Source Number : 3
Source :
Source details : NMR SD 5620/39-40 (17897/17-18) 24-JUL-2003
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : 20th Century
Display Date :
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date : 1937
Monument Type : Explosives Factory
Evidence : Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : NMR 12920/48
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SD 52 SE 25
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities :
Start Date : 2003-04-01
End Date : 2004-03-31