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The 8X’s Magazines

The Bridgend Royal Ordnance Factory

The 8 X’s

Introduction.

As early as 1936 His Majesties Ministry of Works were planning underground storage magazines at Bridgend, these were to be constructed on the North side of Brackla Hill.

Seven magazine tunnels were planned, two for high explosives (HE), and five for Cordite, these were to be driven under the hill and serviced by road and rail links.

The program started on the 25 January 2024 and tenders were accepted on the 22 nd of July 1937, and although 25 firms were reviewed for the contract only one of these was a Welsh company.

Sir Lindsay Parkinson Ltd and Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (Ldn) Ltd were initially excluded, Parkinson for their commitment of resources to the Chorley ROF site, and McAlpine’s because of their business terms.

His Majesties Ministry of Works estimated the cost of the project would be in the region of £300/400,000-0-0. (This equates to circa £20,000,000 in 2002 currency)

Tender No.

Tender Company

Tender Figure in
£ - s – d.

14272

G. Wimpey & Co Ltd

500,156. 4. 6

14273

Francois Cementation Co Ltd

522,382. 3. 11

14274

Topham Jones & Railton Ltd

525,214. 5. 8

14275

Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons (Ldn) Ltd

539,872. 19. 11

14276

Edmund Nuttall Sons & Co (Ldn) Ltd

555,360. 10. 4

14277

J.Mowlem & Co. Ltd – NJC conditions

579,553. 7. 11

14278

Pauling & Co Ltd

584,515. 8. 5

14279

Watson & Horrocks Ltd – subject fluctuations

621,320. 0. 0

14280

A Waddington & Son Ltd

646,129. 14. 8

14281

Mitchel Bros & Sons & Co. Ltd

668,099. 2. 8

14282

Kinner Moodie & Co

670,685. 5. 3

Eleven of the selected tenders for consideration – Source PRO folder WORK 26/7/1

An official letter was sent out to all twenty-five tender firms on the 26 th of August 1937 advising them that the contract had been awarded.

Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons were awarded the contract on the same date, and sent in their acceptance of the contract for £525,141 – 15s – 11d on the 2 nd of September 1937. They were selected because of their recent expertise with a water scheme at Ebbw Vale, and their performance on the Chorley extension. On the 16 th of September 1937 letters of rejection were sent out to the remaining tenderers.



Sir Robert McAlpine’s possession of the Brackla Hill Magazine Site for the start of Construction

The Contract.

The appointed Architect for the Brackla Hill magazine site was J.A. Bessant, Esq., and A.R.I.BA.

Architect, H.M. Office of Works, Westminster, S.W.1. And the Senior Civil Engineer for the site was Major H. Temple – Richards, he was the engineer responsible for drawing up the designs for the magazines and associated bills of material to be used during their construction.

The contract, detailed the construction methods, and as pig iron was in short supply in 1937 the magazine tunnel liners were to be constructed from pre-cast concrete blocks.

The seven magazine tunnels would be driven into the hill with several storage galleries leading off either side of the main entrance (clean-way) tunnels. Initially each tunnel was to be interconnected via the adjacent tunnel galleries, but due to difficulties with the ground strata this was abandoned during the construction of the two HE magazine tunnels.

Each tunnel complex would be supplied with water, electricity, drainage, steam for heating, an air conditioning plant, telephones, fire alarms and each magazine would have a rail platform loading/unloading bay extending into the tunnel entrance serviced from local railway sidings.

Completion was planned in two phases; these were HE by June 1939 and Cordite by September 1939

Construction.

Possession of the site for the commencement of work was granted to Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons on the 22 nd of September 1937 (see document 84 above), the contact completion date was set two years hence for 22 September 1939. However, the contract was finally completed on the 18 th of June 1940.

Prior to the commencement of work it was estimated that the construction labour force would consist of some 200 skilled workers with another 500 unskilled, it was hoped that these would be drawn in the main from the local labour force.

Site accommodation huts for 500 workers were planned, together with on site first aid facilities. The local hospital accommodation and facilities were considered adequate should a serious accident occur.

Initially, all went well with the two HE tunnels being completed ahead of schedule in December 1938, but the Cordite magazine tunnels C1 to C5 proved to a different matter, it soon became apparent that the ground was unstable with wet rock and shale instead of hard rock. The tunnels had to be shored up with excessive amounts of timber and the cast concrete blocks were proving difficult to use in this unstable environment.

All work ceased on the Cordite magazines in November 1938, and high level discussion were carried out between McAlpine’s, the local site architect, the quantity surveyors and staff at 4B at HMOW in London.

It was decided to complete the construction of the remaining five tunnels using pig iron liners as these were no longer in such short supply, an order was placed for these and preparations were made for the restart of operations on the 30 December 2023 at an added escalation cost of £100,000-0-0.

Unfortunately the problems didn't end with the change in design of the remaining five tunnels; the ground was still unstable and special construction techniques had to be employed to overcome these. The ground subsidence needed additional shoring and the ingress of water seeping into the tunnels require substantial backfilling with high pressure concrete.

Subsidence was noted 40 feet above the tunnels and the blue Wenlock shale rock strata was so porous that the high pressure concrete backfilling used was seen seeping out 50 feet above the tunnels.

Each tunnel consisted of a vaulted main entrance chamber; off which ran two parallel service tunnels, called Cleanways, interconnecting these were the storage galleries.

In each magazine there were between five and six connecting galleries between the pair of cleanway tunnels. (See Figure 1 and 2 below)

The tunnels and galleries were constructed in parabolic form to give then added strength, they were lined with engineering brick, and cavities were backfilled with concrete injected under high pressure.

      Figure 1       Figure 2

Click For Large Image

Click For Large Image

 

Each tunnel was protected against the effects of lightning along their length by a series of grounding copper conducting bars, drainage was also provide for, and although gravity fed to the outside, auxiliary pump houses were provided.

The tunnels were air-conditioned using steam heating in winter and refrigeration plants during the summer to keep the temperature and humidity near constant.

External air was vented into the tunnels by large fans mounted in the ceiling of the entrance chamber, lighting was provided along the Clearways and in each magazine gallery using intrinsically safe Mercury lamps. Each magazine had its own telephone, air raid warning system, and fire alarm.

As far as can be ascertained the HE magazines were used for the storage of bombs and HE shells, whilst the Cordite magazines were used for the storage of Cordite bags and pellets. The daily quantities of stores munitions are unknown but the capacity of the HE magazines was in the region of 15,000 cubic feet, they were called 40 ton magazines, and as there were eight galleries per tunnel; it is likely that a total of 640 tons of high explosives could be stored in the two tunnels at any one time.

The Cordite magazine tunnel capacity totalled 36,000 cubic feet, in these, each gallery could store 200 tons of Cordite explosives. As the five Cordite tunnels had between six and eight galleries over 6000 tons could be stored in them.

Incoming, munitions were transported by rail wagons from the Waterton site link line that lay on the Western side of the tunnel complex, whilst outgoing munitions were usually transported via the Coity link line to the North East of the site.

Storage commenced in the HE magazines in late 1939, but it was not until mid 1940 that the Cordite magazines were put into use as stores.


Click For Large Image

A View of the Entrance Chamber 8X4 Cordite Magazine C4 -circa 2000

Access to each tunnel was via a railway gully cut into the hillside; part of this was covered by a gantry that helped to reduce exposure to aerial bombardment.

(See Aerial Photograph below).


Move mouse over image to see Ordinance Survey Map

This photograph clearly shows the Brackla Hill Magazine Tunnel Entrances

The original photograph was taken by the German Luftwaffe in 1941, the tunnel “X” numbers were added later to the photograph by Brett Exton.

In the above photograph numbers 1 and 2 were the HE magazines, the RGHQ tunnels were numbered 8X3 and 8X4 respectively and were Cordite magazines 3 and 4, in the photograph numbers 5, 6, and 7 are the remaining Cordite magazines 5, 6, and 7.

At the entrance and extending into the entrance chamber was a platform that facilitated the loading and unloading of munitions. Munitions were then transferred to the magazine tunnels along the clearways by electrically powered trolleys called Dillies; these carts were manually operated.

The whole site was surrounded by 3300 yards of steel Danger Building Boundary Fences and Gates, some of these rose to a height of 9 feet, several pill boxes were constructed at strategic points surrounding the site; during the duration of the war these were manned by the “Home Guard”. The cost of painting the DB fencing was £753.18.9d (£37,650 in current 2002 prices) when it was painted in August/September 1939.

Authors note: Some of this fencing still remains in place in 2002 and attests to the quality of the material they were made of some 63 years ago.


Click For Large Image

HE Magazine 8X1

Located at the extreme Western Side of the Brackla Hill complex.

This tunnel site has been filled in and is no longer accessible.

Closure.

Towards the end of the war the storage capacity of the magazines were reduced considerably and by the end of December 1945 the output from Waterton site had all but ceased, with its final closure the magazine stores were transferred elsewhere.

The end of 1946 the site was shut down, and the magazines locked for the last time. Slowly the site fell into disrepair, and was stripped by vandals of most of its valuable items such a refrigeration units, steel rails, and even some of the tunnel reinforcing pig iron liners were stolen and sold as scrap iron.

Magazine 8X7 as it is Today

As post war Britain returned to peace the tunnels were forgotten, that is until the threat of nuclear war became a real possibility, however, it was not until 1961 that they were remembered by the authorities.

Finale.

Following the Cuban missile crisis the government reviewed it’s cold war strategy, there was a need for Civil defence sites, and two of the tunnels 8X3 and 8X4 were used as emergency sites by the Royal Observer Core and Civil Defence from 1965 onwards, but, not until 1969 was the facility fully completed as the SRHQ 8.2 site.

Sub regional Control Tape Relay Centre   Sub regional Control Canteen
 
Sub regional Control Dormatory   Sub regional Control Dining Room
 
     

The Government section was extensively refurbished in the 1980's as the Regional Government for Wales emergency site, but it was never used. Although new access roads were planned they were never constructed, because of alleged protests by CND.

Following the end of the cold war in 1991 the government closed the Regional Government Head Quarters site, and sold the two tunnel complexes off to Jon Lloyd Securities Ltd as a store for sensitive data for Brackla/Bridgend businesses.


References & Acknowledgements:

Dr. Stephen Fox Detail on WWII & RGHQ

Mr. Keith Ward kemax.67@bushinternet.com Detail and Photographs

Mr, Brett Exton Email: webmaster@islandfarm.fsnet.co.uk Photographs

Web Site: www.islandfarm.fsnet.co.uk

Mr Ben Soffa Web Site: www.soffa.co.uk Current Photographs

mailto:ben@soffa.co.uk

Public Records Office documents: WORK 26/71

Joe Ludlow

Bridgend

28 August 2023

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