Context 160 - July 2019

12 C O N T E X T 1 6 0 : J U L Y 2 0 1 9 PETER DE FIGUEIREDO Royal Ordnance Factories The production of munitions in the second world war depended on building facilities that were in range of centres of population, safe, efficient and out of reach of the enemy’s bombers. Royal Ordnance Factories (ROFs) was the col- lective name for the UK government’s munitions production facilities during and after the second world war. Following the Armistice of 1918, virtually all ammunition factories were closed, but with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the mid-1930s and the prospect of another war, the government saw that new factories would be required. In 1934 it was decided to replace the main surviving facility at Woolwich with a new factory in a more secure location near Chorley, Lancashire. As this scheme progressed, it became evident that more sites would be needed, with Bridgend and Glascoed in South Wales chosen for imme- diate development and others in the pipeline. The south and east of the country were ruled out as too dangerous for munitions manufacture, and even the midlands were considered unsafe from bombing raids. Yet with a requirement for large numbers of workers, it was important that they were in range of centres of population and high unemployment. By the end of the war 44 munitions factories had been built, grouped under three main generic types: engineering ROFs, explosives ROFs and filling factories. The explosives ROFs and filling factories in particular occupied huge sites, requiring separa- tion between the individual buildings and an explosives safeguarding zone around the perim- eter. ROF Kirby outside Liverpool consisted of more than 1,000 buildings with 18 miles of roads and 23 miles of railway lines within the site. It was built at a cost of £8.5 million, and at its peak there were 23,000 employees. ROF Swinnerton in Staffordshire was even larger, a 490-hectare site with 1,700 buildings, many surrounded by earth banks to contain accidental blasts. In addition to the factory, there was a cinema/theatre, seven hostels for workers and houses for employees with families. Some sites were virtually self-sufficient with their own underground reservoirs, coal-fired power stations, district heating systems, generators, telephone exchanges, laundries, medical centres and mortuaries. Detail from ‘A Munitions Factory’ by Frederick William Elwell (1944) showing women working at lathes and other equipment (Image: Imperial War Museum) Women filling shells at ROF Kirby in the 1940s (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)