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Description: The Picric Acid Expense Store to the West of the Northern Magazine Section, Rotherwas Industrial Par
Date Listed: 1 September 2010
English Heritage Building ID: 508418
OS Grid Reference: SO5259938782
OS Grid Coordinates: 352599, 238782
Latitude/Longitude: 52.0454, -2.6925
1426/0/10005 CAMPWOOD ROAD
01-SEP-10 The Picric Acid Expense Store to the w
est of the Northern Magazine Section,
Rotherwas Industrial Park
An expense store for the storage and distribution of picric acid, used in the manufacture of explosive shells. It was constructed c.1916. The site architect was JF Milne and the contractors were James Mowlem Ltd. The end and partition walls are of nine inch brickwork as is the lower body of the range, beneath the floor level of the cubicles and walkway. Front and rear walls of the cubicles have wooden framing which is clapboarded to the exterior with a central door to both sides. A covered walkway with miniature railway existed on the east side, but has lost its floorboards and metal rails and a wooden railway platform on the west side has been removed. The roofing and vents are of asbestos, the roof panels being corrugated and the vents square on plan, with pyramidal caps. The range consists of 32 cubicles. Each cubicle measures five feet wide and seven feet deep.
EXTERIOR: The east side is divided into bays by square brick piers. Between these is corrugated metal walling of c. four feet in height which forms the balustrade of the former walkway. The east and west walls of the cubicles are essentially similar. There are four panes of glass to the upper walls of both front and back of each cubicle with electric lighting brackets placed on the outside and shining through the window to light the interior. The doors had no latches, but a leather closing strap and a lock. A spring mechanism attached to the brick partition walls ensured that the door could not blow shut. Several of the cubicles are missing their doors, but elements of the closing mechanism survive on several of the doors. The roof above the stores extended outwards on the east side to form a part of the system of covered walkways which joined the different buildings across the factory site. Although the wooden flooring and metal lines of the Decauville light railway have now been removed, the brick and timber supports are in place. A wooden railway platform was formerly attached to the west side of the building and projected to a depth of c. eight feet, supported on brick piers.
INTERIOR: The walls are lined with Uralite (asbestos) sheeting, over which sized and painted canvas is glued. There are angled wooden battens to the corners. The asphalt floor in each cubicle has a drain to the corner.
This is the one surviving range of expense stores of the two which were originally on site. Each cubicle was designed to store a maximum of 3,000 pounds of explosive and the design was intended to throw the force of any explosion upwards and out, rather than sideways to other compartments.
Map evidence shows that the range of stores was originally flanked on its east side by an earth traverse which has now been removed. The stores have undergone some alteration, including the dividing walls between the individual cubicles. To the south of centre ten of the dividing walls project above the roof line, to the original height. At either side of this other dividing walls have been reduced in height. The buildings have also suffered the loss of some doors and panels of clapboarding on both fronts. A fire at the southern end of the range has also resulted in damage and the collapse of the roof structure to three cubicles.
British failure in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915 was widely reported in the press in England and blamed on a lack of high-explosive shells: 'The want of an unlimited supply of high explosives was a fatal bar to our success' (The Times, May 1915). The ensuing 'shells scandal' was a contributory factor in the collapse of Asquith's Liberal Government and led to a reappraisal of arms production. The new coalition government placed David Lloyd George at the head of a new Ministry of Munitions and a series of new laws were enacted, including the Munitions of War Act of 1915. This exerted much greater control over the owners and workforce at existing factories and also allowed for the creation of a series of National Factories, of which Rotherwas was one. In June 1916 a site of 545 acres was bought at Rotherwas by the Ministry of Munitions in order to build a munitions factory. The site was split into two sections. To the north of the road and railway was the section for filling shells with picric acid (also called Lyddite), and to the south was the Amatol section (a TNT mixture). The targets set were for filling 400 tons of lyddite each week and 700 tons of amatol. The site was also supplied with storage to house six weeks of production.
The northern (lyddite) section was itself split into two parts, each a mirror image of the other, and the first filled shells were produced from here in November 1916.
The volatile nature of explosives meant that strict rules applied to access onto the site and contaminants. Picric acid was delivered to the site and stored in bond stores, at some distance from the production huts and in open ground with earth traverses to the side nearest the filling sheds. From these bond stores the acid was moved to 'expense' stores just prior to being used for the filling process.
The empty shell stores and the ranges of picric acid stores were the largest buildings on the WW1 site. Other work, such as the sifting and melting of the picric acid and the filling of shells was done in wooden huts or small brick sheds with corrugated iron roofs. These were connected by wooden walkways which were raised up above ground level and roofed with corrugated iron and which also incorporated metal tracks for small-gauge railways.
Well over a million shells were filled with lyddite at Rotherwas during the First World War and, in common with other munitions factories, large numbers of women were employed on the site handling the dangerous materials.
The improvement in production of TNT-based explosives meant that production of lyddite shells was gradually reduced and then suspended in April 1918. However, following the explosion at Chilwell, Unit 2 of the section was re-opened in August 1918 and Unit 1 was converted to charging shells with mustard gas in October of the same year. This later use required alterations to the internal layout of the filling houses, but the site was apparently not otherwise altered.
At the end of the First World War, the site was mothballed by the government. There is documentary evidence that Unit 1 of the northern section was used for charging shells with mustard gas. Following the 1935 general election the factory was again put to use in the general drive towards re-armament. With the exception of the empty shell stores, picric acid stores and transit sheds, all of the First World War buildings were demolished and replaced by new sheds surrounded by concrete blast shelters. There were twenty-four of these buildings which filled cartridges with cordite and connected these with shells filled with explosives filled on the southern section to form quick-firing ammunition, however their function was adapted as the war progressed to include filling torpedoes and 25 pound shells.
By July 1940 the northern assembly section was employing 2,100 people. Both the Empty Shell Store and the picric acid stores appear to have been used during the Second World War; the empty shell store on the northern section was preparing 3.7 inch anti-aircraft shells for filling in 1940 and there is anecdotal evidence that the picric acid stores were used for defusing faulty ammunition.
Following the Second World War parts of the factory site were converted to use as an industrial park. The eastern empty shell store was demolished between 1946 and 1961. The northern factory site was bought from the Ministry of Defence by Hereford County Council in 1973. The previous year they had bought a small piece for a new sewage works which has since been greatly expanded and resulted in the demolition of two of the picric acid bond stores. The Hereford to Ross railway closed in 1964 and in 1974 the wooden buildings inside the blast walls of the north section were demolished.
Cocroft, W D, Dangerous Energy (2000), 174-5.
Edmonds, J, The History of Rotherwas Munitions Factory, Hereford (2004).
Gifford and Partners, Rotherwas Royal Ordnance Factory Management Study, 2 vols. (2000).
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
The picric acid expense store at the former Rotherwas Munitions Factory, Northern Magazine Section, Rotherwas Industrial Park, Campwood Road, Lower Bullingham, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historical: the building is part of a munitions filling factory dating from the First World War. It represents a part of the technology of war at that time of national crisis and the large scale of munitions production which followed on from the 'shell crisis' of 1915. It also has associations with a volunteer workforce, including many women, who worked in unhealthy and dangerous conditions.
* Functional legibility: the specialist purpose of the building and the careful handling which the materials required are well represented, as is the logical production flow, using railways to transport different components around the factory site.
* Rarity: the building is one of a small group of four picric acid stores at Rotherwas which are believed to be the last remaining such buildings in existence.
* Intactness: despite some alterations and losses, the structure retains a good deal of its original fabric.
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.