Context 160 - July 2019

14 C O N T E X T 1 6 0 : J U L Y 2 0 1 9 world war ROFs. A few, such as ROF Pembley, ROF Elstow and ROF Chorley, have been the subject of recent archaeological surveys.  3 These show that information can be hard to come by, partly due to secrecy surrounding their former existence, and the huge loss of structures and equipment. Only one munitions factory, Barnbow outside Leeds, has been designated as a heritage asset. This was the first purpose-built filling factory in the UK, dating from 1915. It was also the site of the first major loss of female civilian workers in the first world war. But at the end of the war the buildings were mostly demolished, and the site was a food store in the second world war. It was designated as a sched- uled monument in 2016, but only below-ground foundations and earthworks survive. Probably the best preserved and publicly accessible example is ROF Thorpe Arch near Boston Spa,Yorkshire.⁴ This is because in 1961, after the factory was closed, an area consisting of 18 hectares was taken for the establishment of the National Lending Library for Science and Technology (NLLST). The Boston Spa site was chosen because the existing buildings could be easily converted for book storage, and because of its location at the centre of the country with good transport links. Initial conversion from munitions factory to library consisted of joining a number of separate buildings together with link corridors, installing bookstacks, and refur- bishment. A chain-driven conveyor belt ensured a continuous flow of items to the packing and dispatch bay. In 1974 the NLLST became the Lending Library Division of the British Library, in the process incorporating the collections of the National Central Library in London and extending coverage to all subjects. With this the UK had a comprehensive document supply service without parallel in the world. Since then new buildings have been set within the grid of former filling sheds, the recent ones incorporating robotic controlled storage and retrieval facilities.Today the British Library holds books, manuscripts, newspapers, journals, sound and music recordings, videos, patents, maps, stamps, drawings and items in many formats. It is the largest library in the world, with well over 150 million items, and two thirds of this collec- tion is at Boston Spa. Yet the wartime buildings continue to serve their purpose with little change. As the collection continues to grow, so will the demand for new buildings. Fortunately, the ordered layout, flexible and functional nature of the buildings and the spaciousness of the site have the capacity to accommodate growth. It is gratifying too that the library is committed to protecting and celebrating the wartime legacy of these exceptional military works and the proud memories of all who contributed to the war effort. Peter de Figueiredo is a heritage consultant. Top to bottom: An aerial view of ROF Thorpe Arch, Boston Spa in the 1940s, showing the factory layout with a railway line around the perimeter and rail tracks leading to individual buildings (Photo: British Museum) An engineering building at ROF Thorpe Arch in the 1940s (Photo: British Museum) A sector of ROF Thorpe Arch acquired for National Lending Library for Science and Technology in 1961, now in use for book storage (Photo: British Museum) Former munitions sheds, ROF Thorpe Arch, now in use for British Library book storage (Photo: Peter de Figueiredo) 3 Pyper, A, ‘Manufacturing Munitions at Pembley’, The Carmarthenshire Antiquary , Vol 53, 2017; Cooper-Reade, H, (2009) Former Royal Ordnance 16 Elstow: building recording and oral history project ; Nevell, M, Roberts, J and Smith, J (1999) A History of Royal Ordnance Factory Chorley 4 Christiansen, M, (1999) Thorp Arch and the Circular Railway, Archive: Quarterly Journal of British Industrial and Transport History