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HER Number:MDV114011
Name:His Majesty's Factory, Bideford


His Majesty’s Factory Bideford was a wood distillation factory built in 1915 to make acetone for high explosives. The exact location of the factory is uncertain but the timber yard and lime kiln shown in this location on the 1932 25 inch Ordance Survey map may have been associated with the factory.


Grid Reference:SS 456 259
Map Sheet:SS42NE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBideford
Ecclesiastical ParishBIDEFORD

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • National Record of the Historic Environment: 1572410
  • Pastscape: 1572410

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • ACETONE FACTORY (World War I - 1914 AD to 1918 AD (Between))

Full description

Ordnance Survey, 1930 - 1939, Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map (Cartographic). SDV336668.

Timber Yard marked.

Kenyon, D., 2015, First World War National Factories: An Archaeological, Architectural and Historical Review, 43, 134 (Report - Assessment). SDV359346.

First World War Wood Distillation and Acetone Explosives Factory, Bideford. Set up in 1915 to help meet increased demand.
The factory produced acetate of lime by wood distillation. Acetone was a key ingredient in the manufacture of cordite, used as a propellant for guns.
MUN4/6187 (TNA) describes the factory as ‘adjacent to L&SW Railway 1/2 mile south of Bideford station fronting River Torridge’. This corresponds with a timber yard shown on both 1904 and 1932 OS maps. Now occupied by builders yard.
(Site not shown on map in report)

University of Southampton, 2018, North Devon Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment, FID 3818 (Interpretation). SDV361978.

Possible site of HM Factory Bideford. Established in 1915 for production of acetone for explosives. Precise location uncertain, could relate to adjacent timber yard and limekiln.

Ordnance Survey, 2019, MasterMap 2019 (Cartographic). SDV362729.

The site is now a builder's yard.

National Monuments Record, 2019, Pastscape, 1572410 (Website). SDV362732.

His Majesty’s Factory Bideford was built in May 1915 by the Office of Woods and Forests as a wood distillation factory to make acetone for high explosives. Acetone was a vital component of the smokeless propellant for shells and bullets known as cordite. It acted as a solvent in the in the manufacturing process.

David Lloyd George had observed at an early stage of the First World War that it was to be “an engineers’ war” fought in the workshops of Great Britain as well as on the battlefields. The manufacture of high explosives had never been undertaken by the Ordnance Factories, there was limited trade capacity and stocks of commercial explosives had to be treated to bring them up to service standards. By spring 1915 the situation on the front was very serious. A shortage of ammunition, especially high explosive, entailed drastic rationing of guns. In June 1915 a Ministry of Munitions was set up under Lloyd George as its first Minister to bring about an effective supply of munitions.

Prior to 1915 practically all the acetone required for British explosives was imported from America. There was only one factory in England at Coleford, Gloucestershire. However by 1915 the government requirements far exceeded that available from American supplies. The Office of Woods erected two factories at Bideford and Dundee where 1200 tons of wood were carbonised weekly. In October 1915 the Bideford factory was taken under the control of the War Department. It had a capacity to produce 750 tons of acetone per year.

The exact location of His Majesty’s Factory Bideford constructed in Bideford, Devon, in 1915 is uncertain. A timber yard and lime kiln is shown at SS 4565 2597 on the 1932 OS map (1:2500) and may possibly have been associated with the factory.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV336668Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1930 - 1939. Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV359346Report - Assessment: Kenyon, D.. 2015. First World War National Factories: An Archaeological, Architectural and Historical Review. Historic England Research Report Series. 076-2015. Digital. 43, 134.
SDV361978Interpretation: University of Southampton. 2018. North Devon Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment. RCZAS. Digital. FID 3818.
SDV362729Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2019. MasterMap 2019. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #114765 ]
SDV362732Website: National Monuments Record. 2019. Pastscape. https://www.pastscape.org.uk/. Website. 1572410.

Associated Monuments

MDV124475Related to: Limekiln, East the Water, Bideford (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Feb 14 2020 11:43AM