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Royal Ordnance Factory

Places > Elstow > Second World War

During the Second World War Elstow Storage Depot was developed as an armaments factory by J. Lyons and Co. Ltd., whose name is perhaps more traditionally associated with tea and ice cream than bombs. "The exigencies of war demonstrate the versatility of man's capabilities. From the management and administration of famous catering establishments to the supply of weapons of war seems a far and almost fantastic cry, but these men made the change with enthusiasm and success" (Bates, 1947). Work began on the site in 1939 but it was not until 1941 that J.Lyons and Co. Ltd. made their first examination of the area. In February 1942 production began.

The first job undertaken at the factory was the filling of two inch trench mortar bombs, during the first few weeks an average of 6,000 bombs of this type were filled. The factory was an enormous concern and during the years 1942 - 1945 it produced over 100,000 tons of bombs, which is about one-seventh of the entire tonnage dropped by Bomber Command on Germany.

The site was vast with over 250 buildings (excluding small sheds and air raid shelters), six miles of main roads, eight miles of concrete roads and fifteen miles of railway lines. Five electricity sub-stations of 2,500 k.w. output were needed to provide electricity for the factory and power the machinery and motors. The factory also had its own medical service and surgeries on site, a fire service, police service and laundry (which struggled to deal with the problem of washing woollen garments covered with T.N.T.).

Many local people were employed at the site and came in from some thirty three Bedfordshire villages. Workers were also brought into the area and billets had to be found for approximately 3,000 individuals. A large proportion of the work was carried out by women and girls.

After the war the site was taken over by the Central Electricity Generating Board (subsequently known as National Power). Various ideas were put forward for the use of the site including plans to use it as a low-level nuclear waste storage depot. This was vigorously opposed by Bedfordshire residents and the plan was dropped. A brick monument to this particular fight can still be seen at the entrance to the old storage depot on the way out of Kempston. More recently the site has been used for warehousing and factory outlets. It is now planned to develop the area into a new settlement called Elstow Garden Village (The Wixams).



Page last updated: 27th January 2014