The early part of the history of the site tells of the hard, uncomfortable and dangerous work of filling shells with high explosives to feed the insatiable appetite of the guns of the Great War until they fell silent in 1918. It recalls the calm between the Wars and the rapid build-up of the aircraft supply depot just before the outbreak of the Second World War. 90 years ago, during October 1915 building work commenced on a 308 acre site that was to become a major employer in the area and a large contributor to the war effort in Gloucester. Officially known as the National Shell Filling Factory No 5, the Quedgeley factory was one of the 5 Quick Firing establishments around Britain, setup by the Ministry of Munitions under David Lloyd George to meet the ever-increasing demand for more ammunition.
Output began in March 1917 on the site, in some two hundred and fifty buildings, mostly constructed of wood,with some 6,364 people from the surrounding area being employed. The women required, some 5,644, were drawn from Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud and neighbouring villages, many arrived at the sites by train to the small train station built on the site by The Midland Railway Company, or got to work on many of the buses that were laid on.The recruitment of male labour was a less easy matter, as the factory had to compete with several engineering works in Gloucester, who were also engaged in War related jobs.
The wage for ammunition workers was £1 for a 48-hour week in 1916, and a 3rd class weekly return rail ticket cost 2s 2d (11p in today’s money) from Cheltenham or Stroud. Even working with such dangerous materials as gunpowder, cordite and TNT, there was no difficulty in finding the numbers needed to fill the jobs. These workers could always be easily identified by the clip clop of their wooden clogs as they went to work.
They wore wood to reduce the likelihood of sparks, a good move when you consider the materials they were using, If not heard they could be easily identified by their orange-yellow faces and hands. This coloration was caused by TNT dust used in the shell filling and assembly work, and by today’s health and safety at work laws would be classed as potentially dangerous to one’s health. The possibility of an explosion was always feared and consequently precautions were taken to prevent workers taking matches or any materials connected with smoking into any dangerous areas
Similar to underground coal miners each was required to declare that they were “clear” to the policeman on duty at the entrance to each danger area, and ran the risk of being searched if any doubt existed, not a bad job for a policeman when you consider that 5,644 women worked there! The penalty for default was a substantial fine or even a prison sentence with hard labour, as about 25 offending men discovered to their cost.
Records of what happened to the women found breaking the rules, however, never came to light, or the policemen never said what took place!!
Pictured is a piece of the old equipment used on the site and was ‘saved’ from the site, it’s through to be part of a fire unit, note it was pulled by people not horses or motorised equipment and is a garden feature in someone’s front garden.
The site was divided into danger and non- danger areas. The danger area was at the North, near to Cole Avenue, and was divided in two sites by a central railway line for unloading and loading equipment. After production had been going for about a year and the initial urgency for ammunition had been satisfied life on the camp settled down and a good social side started, with many “friendly” rugby games taking place at the Kingsholm ground and with proceeds benefiting the local hospital, where some of the injured from the “friendly” games ended up. The whole site was nearly self contained. It had everything, a large canteen to feed all the workers, a shoemaker who was responsible for repairing more than 5,000 pairs of shoes, a large changing rooms for the workers to exchange their day clothes for overalls or the special danger-building clothing and it even had its own laundry which was capable of washing 2,000 workers’ suits each week,. The laundry was a large wooden shed which after the war was bought by a Mr Norman Hickman, who built a brick bungalow around the wooden frame, the house on Naas Lane where his son Tony Hickman the Fuchsia grower still lives.
The output of ammunition had been phenomenal, over TEN and a HALF MILLION, 14 and 16 inch shells filled and assembled, SEVEN MILLION cartridges and TWENTY-THREE MILLION fuses and other components filled. It was hoped other uses could be found for the sites but it was not to be. Work began in 1924 to demolish the buildings and took two years to complete. It closed in 1926, with the land being retained by the Ministry of Defence as “War Department Land” and certain areas being leased to local farmers.