Blackpole Munitions Factory – or Government Cartridge Factory No. 3 to give its proper title – was built between August 1916 and February 1917 in which month it also started manufacturing cartridges. The two types it produced were mainly the .303 calibre for British rifles and machine guns, and subsequently 7.62mm calibre for the Russian army’s standard rifle. Following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, production of this cartridge was stopped in December 1917 and a return made to producing .303 ammunition. The factory’s equipment was mothballed after the First World War was ended, the main building being used as a barracks by a specially raised defence force at a time of potential unrest in 1921 when fear of revolution rippled through the land. The site was then acquired by Cadbury’s to make wooden chocolate boxes and packing cases, with a caveat that the government could reacquire the site should it need to recommence production of cartridges given another national emergency.
With the advent of the Second World War the government duly took control of the site once more, initially earmarking it as Small Arms Ammunition Factory No. 5 before redesignating it as Royal Ordnance Factory No. 20. This time the factory made cartridge components only, as bungalows had been built near where the bullets had been filled in the First World War and the site was no longer as isolated as it had once been should there have been an explosion of propellant. The factory again made cases for the .303 bullet, this time along with cases for the 9mm sten gun bullet. After the war the site was once more used by Cadbury’s before Hygena kitchens occupied it for a while and then becoming a more diversified trading estate.
But this is more than a story of a factory site and its products – it is also of the people who worked making munitions and who maintained the buildings. Unfortunately little information survives for those who worked here during the First World War, but for the Second World War records and interviews with some of the workers provide a feel of factory life and conditions, of the social life outside work and of conditions in the specially built Malvern Hall Hostel that provided accommodation for many workers. For some workers it was quite a wrench from home life now many miles away, for others, once they had settled in, it gave a sense of freedom from the strictures of their earlier life.
Colin Jones and Mick Wilks first met when recording modern defence sites first for the national Defence of Britain Project and then the Defence of Worcestershire Project. This led to the publication of 20th Century Defences of Britian, the West Midlands area written in conjunction with Bernard Lowry, The Mercian Maquis, a history of Auxilliary Units in Herefordshire and Worcestershire written by Mick Wilks and Bernard Lowry, and The Defence of Worcestershire and the Southern Approaches to Birmingham by Mick Wilks, who has also written The Chronicles of the Worcestershire Home Guard.
Paperback | 96 pages | 242 x 171 mm | 2017
Over 20 colour and 40 b&w photographs and maps