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National Filling Factory (Rotherwas Royal Ordnance Factory), Rotherwas

SMR Number
: 22555
Grid Reference
: SO 530 385
Parish
: LOWER BULLINGHAM, HEREFORDSHIRE

Established during WWI and operational from 1916. Used for filling a variety of munitions with explosives. All the components were produced elsewhere. It was also used for filling H.S. (Mustard Gas) shells towards the end of the war. The only one of 25 factories retained by HMG. In the late 1930s it was used for filling sea mines for use in WW2. (1)
Subject of M Phil dissertation. (2)
Rotherwas Shell Filling Factory was constructed by the Ministry of Munitions in early 1916 on the site of Rotherwas Mansion, which had been demolished to make way for the new factory complex. Shell filling began on 11 November 1916 and employees, which numbered up to nearly 6000 at the peak in 1918, were brought from all over the UK, including Ireland. Special trains were run from Barrs Court Station in Hereford out to the factory station, bringing employees on free tickets, who came in from their billets around Hereford, Leominster, Ross and elsewhere. The average output of shells was 70,000 per week during World War I, with both Lyddite and Amatol explosives being used in their production. The factory complex was used again in World War II as the Royal Ordnance Factory Rotherwas, when both shells and bombs were manufactured. A major accident occurred on 30 May 1944 when a 2000 pound bomb exploded and set off a chain reaction. The particular filling house was destroyed and a number of other buildings damaged. Where this occurred can be deduced from the large-scale plan held in Hereford Record Office under Ref. B3 86/13 [copy attached to form in HER file]. The centre of the explosion appears to have been in the south section of the complex, just to the east of the centre. This area was cleared first for redevelopment in the 1970s when Herefordshire County Council purchased a large part of the complex for use as an industrial estate. The plans indicate that the original ordnance factory complex was well spread to limit the possibility of chain reaction explosions, with a large number of the buildings served directly by railway sidings and surrounded by earth blast walls. The site was well chosen to take advantage of the railway system to move raw materials in and finished shells and bombs out, as well as transporting employees to and from the factory. Although much of the site has been redeveloped in the last 20 or 30 years, a number of WWI buildings remain and have been refurbished. A large number of Romney huts erected in the north-east section of the site during WWII also survive and have been restored as industrial starter units for the estate. All of the railway sidings appear to have been dismantled but it is still possible to deduce where these ran through some of the surviving buildings. The buildings along the south side of the site retain their earth walls for blast protection. A WWII guardhouse and associated small pillbox still exist near the east end of the site and adjoining, on the north side, the B4399 road through the site. The pillbox has been recorded separately (HER 25193). A second, all-concrete, Type 24 pillbox is to be found to the west of the factory in Lower Bullingham and was almost certainly located there to defend against attack from that direction. This is also recorded separately (HER ). (3)
Lubienski-Bodenham family sold the Rotherwas Estate in 1912, parts of which were bought by Herefordshire Council. The site was acquired by the Ministry of Munitions on 15 June 1916 with the aim of building a factory cheaply in the shortest time possible. It was built to a standard set of designs. The WWI site consisted of 27 miles standard gauge railway, 3 miles road, 9 miles of guard fence, 10 miles of footpaths and sentry paths, 370 buildings varying in floor area. It covered about 100 ha. The site was a Filling Factory, inserting explosive into shell and fitting detonators. The first Lyddite shell was filled on Nov 11 1916. Employed mainly women, many of whom came from outside Herefordshire. Several thousand were employed. BETWEEN WARS Rotherwas was retained on a care and maintenance basis. From 1926 onwards it resumed filling gas shells, but was staffed now by about 400 men. 2ND WORLD WAR Broadly covered the same amount of land but the buildings were refurbished and modernised during the run up to the war. Staffed largely by women, several thousand were employed. On 27 July 1942 a German bomber dropped 2 x 250kg bombs, killing about 22 people. On 30 May 1944 a 2000 lb bomb in a filling shed overheated and set off a chain reaction in the middle of the south section. No-one killed but much damage incurred. By the end of WWII 44 Royal Ordnance Factories were in operation in the country. POST WAR From 1945 the Council lobbied for businesses to locate at Rotherwas. In 1950s the site was developed with factories, the most consistently used area being the central section. The ROF closed in 1967. A major portion of the depot (93 ha) was sold in 1975 to Herefordshire Council. (4) (2)
During 1st World War a rail-connected outpost of the Royal Ordnance Factory of Rotherwas was established at Credenhill (HSMR 30856). (5)
Three major bombing incidents occurred in the factory. On Sept 12 1941 a milling machine overheated, explosions followed and three people were killed. On June 27 1942 a German bomber dropped two 250kg bombs on the factory, the first killed 19 people the second several people sleeping in the Police Superintendent's house. On May 30 1944 a fire started in south section shed where 2000 pound bombs were made. An explosion was inevitable. Several people stayed on risking their lives to damp the fire while others escaped to safety. Huge explosions occurred but though people were injured no-one was killed. (6) The following information is added to correct inconsistencies and errors supplied by above mentioned sources.
The site covered 507 acres (205ha). It is not certain how many men were working there in the inter-war years, however, in WWI just under 6,000 women were employed and in WWII a maximum of 8,000 women.
During the May 1944 explosion, two people were killed. Following medals were awarded for bravery and presented at Buckingham Palace: 5 George Medals, 1 OBE, 1 MBE, 9 BEMs, and 34 other commendations. (7)
Luftewaffe reconnaissance aerial photo shows site in 1940. (8)
Full history of site with pictures, social, political and economic history. (9)
Watching brief during topsoil stripping for the Chapel Road waste site in 2002 revealed traces of a ballast base for a railway or road, running across the site. Thin layer of industrial debris lay across much of site. There was an area of hard standing over S and SW areas of site. Trench excavation revealed three pits with clinker and ash deposits, poss mortar floor surface, ditch containing industrial debris, and remains of a cobbled surface. The track base, pits and building remains date to the site's use as a munitions factory during WWI and WWII. Mortar floor and cobbled surface probably belong to an earlier house. (10)
A survey was carried out of one of the TNT magazines and a pillbox, both of which were to be demolished in advance of construction of the Rotherwas Access Road. (11)
A Heritage Lottery project (Herefordshire Lore) produced a social history book detailing recordings from around 30 former workers at the munitions factory. (12)
A photographic survey of 4 of the 5 remaining south magazines was carried out in 2008 in advance of their demolition. (13)
Heritage Management Strategy (14)

Monument Type(s)

  1. MUNITIONS FACTORY (World War I to World War II - 1916 AD to 1945 AD)
  2. PICRIC ACID WORKS (World War I to World War II - 1916 AD to 1945 AD)
  3. PILLBOX (World War I to World War II - 1916 AD to 1945 AD)

Associated Files

    Sources and Further Reading

    1. <1>SHE131 - Bibliographic reference: Cocroft, W D. 1995. Letter to Simon Woodiwiss, HWCC Archaeology Section, 26 June 1995. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England.
    2. <2>SHE13741 - Bibliographic reference: Edmonds, J. 1998. The Rotherwas Industrial Estate. Unpublished M Phil dissertation.
    3. <3>SHE18912 - Document: Wilks, M. 1998. Defence of Britain Project record form and report: Rotherwas Shell Filling Factory.
    4. <4>SHE15216 - Unpublished Report: Rowley-Williams, L. 04/2000. Rotherwas Royal Ordnance Factory Management Study, Vol I and II.. Gifford. 2664. Rep No. 2664.
    5. <5>SHE14276 - Bibliographic reference: Smith, W H. 1998. Herefordshire Railways. Book published by Sutton Publishing Ltd.
    6. <6>SHE14714 - Bibliographic reference: Blackwell, Bobbie. 05/2002. The Hidden History. Rotherwas in World War II. South Wye News.
    7. <7>SHE14562 - Verbal communication: Edmonds, John. 2001. personal observation. personal observation.
    8. <8>SHE15973 - Aerial Photograph: Anon. 01/12/1940. Luftwaffe aerial photograph. copy given to SMR.
    9. <9>SHE16132 - Bibliographic reference: Edmonds, John. 2004. The History of Rotherwas Munitions Factory, Hereford. book, Logaston Press.
    10. <10>SHE15492 - Unpublished Report: Rouse, D. 2002. Chapel Road Waste Site, Rotherwas, Hereford. A report on an Archaeological watching brief.. Archaeological Investigations Ltd. 537.
    11. <11>SHE18541 - Unpublished Report: Sworn, Simon, Jackson, Robin and Woodiwiss, Simon. 2011. Rotherwas Access Road, Herefordshire: Archaeological Assessment and Updated Project Design. Worcestershire Archaeological Service.
    12. <12>SHE18718 - Bibliographic reference: Bill Laws (Ed.). 2003. In The Munitions: Women At War in Herefordfordshire. Logaston.
    13. <13>SHE18396 - Unpublished Report: Mayes, S R. 2009. Rotherwas Futures, Hereford, Herefordshire. Archaeological photographic building survey. Archaeological Investigations Ltd. 820.
    14. <14>SHE18786 - Unpublished Report: Bapty, Ian. 2012. A Heritage Management Strategy for the Rotherwas Enterprise Zone (Draft). Herefordshire Archaeology.

    Associated events

    Protected status

    1. Listed Building (II) 508418: THE PICRIC ACID EXPENSE STORE TO THE WEST OF THE NORTHERN MAGAZINE SECTION, ROTHERWAS INDUSTRIAL PARK

    Associated Historic Landscape Character Records

    1. HHE766 - Urbanisation - Urbanisation 1
    Last Updated: 23/07/2010 12:35:57