The Royal Ordnance Factory
Bridgend South Wales
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Waterton

The Bridgend Royal Ordnance Factory

General

Early on in the planning stage it was appreciated that the Waterton site would be larger than the Brackla site, and so it was set up as the assembly plant.

Site preparation started in early 1937 with the appointment of Gee Walker and Slater Limited and Sir Lindsay Parkinson as the main site contractors. Initially it was planned for the factory to be fully up and running by mid 1940 when War with Germany was expected.

However, events moved at a much faster pace than was originally anticipated, the construction program was therefore escalated to bring Waterton on stream by February 1940, in fact some limited production began in September 1939.

(See reference section Public Records Office Documents T161/1016 and AVIA 22/2513)

Waterton was the larger of the two factory complexes covering approximately two thirds of the total 1047 acre's.

Situated on the Southern side of Brackla Hill it was located between the village of Coychurch to the East, Waterton Moor to the South, and the town of Bridgend to the West.

The ROF site boundary lay inside Cowbridge Road to the West, the A473 (known at the time as the Bridgend bypass road) to the South, and the B4181 road to the North. The site was approximately one and a half miles long by over a third of a mile wide at its widest point.

The Bridgend Royal Ordnance Factory - Waterton ordinance map - circa 1946

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The site ran alongside the main Swansea to London Great Western Railway Line and was serviced by its own halt railway station and goods sidings.

Unlike Brackla, which was mainly used for storage and for the manufacture of gunpowder for Fuzes, Waterton was the main assembly plant for the production of Detonators, Fuzes, HE shells, Bombs of various types and for the manufacture of Cordite Bags with Brackla handling Cordite pellets.

The complex was also more varied than its smaller sibling namely in the types and numbers of buildings, it was also criss-crossed by a larger network of roads and railways.

The following list of roads were the main roads that serviced the site, but these do not include the dozens of Cleanways that inter-connected them.

List of Main Site Roadways.

1. East Street 11. Park Street
2. David Street 12. Seven Road
3. Ringway 13. Kent Road
4. Gate Road 14. Western Avenue
5. Queens Road 15. North Road
6. Cheapside 16. George Street
7. New Street 17. Caradoc Road
8. Castle Street 18. Bennet Street
9. Dunraven Crescent 19. South Road
10. York Road 20. George Street

Each major road served as a boundary for a particular “munitions” area. These munitions area’s were in turn surrounded by a double fence arrangement, outside the outer fence boundary was generally known as the works or dirty area. Inside this fence were the access Cleanways, these provided access to the shops through the inner boundary fences.

There were two main entrances for the site workers; these were via the “main office block” entrance onto Park Street, and from the “Tremains Halt Railway Station” onto North Road opposite Queens Street.

At these two main pick-up/drop off points site a stream of buses would pick up arrivals and drop them off at the main access points to their particular shops whilst picking others up on their return journey to the station and main office.

The site was a virtual town in its own right for it had its own medical centre, fire station, bus service, canteens, air raid shelters, laundry, engineering workshops, power stations, water supplies, plus two boiler-houses that not only powered it’s power stations but also provided steam for heating the works.

The site had its own water reservoirs and sewerage system, there were also special wash rooms these were provided with hot and cold water for washing prior to meals and following shift change for those wanted to use them.

Each canteen provided hot meals and drinks twenty-four hours a day for 365 days a year, and the canteens were large enough to accommodate the area they served; sometimes live entertainment was provided during lunch breaks, with films or piped music at other times.

Most of the site munition shops were fed from the central paging system, this piped music when not messaging the site. The site was fully covered with its own air-raid warning system that was manned by local and site observers. Adequate air raid shelters were provided, at least 43 have been accounted for, the original shelters were replaced early on with improved shelters following the bombing of the Woolwich Arsenal when the ceilings of those shelters had collapsed on their inmates.

The site had its own police force and security service but often co-opted other workers to act as contraband searchers at shift changeover. The site was also guarded by the home guard stationed at pill boxes that surrounded the site.

All workers in the munitions areas had to wear regulation clothing, that comprised of head caps or turbans, gowns, and overshoes called galoshes, the gowns were washed and cleaned on a regular basis by the site laundry. However, most women preferred to wash their own turbans to minimise the risk of head lice.

The breakdown in employee numbers between Brackla and Waterton is not accurately known, what is known is that at its peak in 1942 the Bridgend ROF employed circa 40,000 people working a three shift system.

Assuming a ratio of 2 to 1 in favour of Waterton over Brackla, and that absenteeism was at its peak of 20% the site probably employed about 7,000 people on each shift, however, it is likely that the true number at the Waterton complex would have been somewhat higher than this figure.

A substantial number of the buildings were single storied, made of wood and were small, housing between 4 and 10 persons. They were often surrounded by earth mounds to protect them, and the neighbouring buildings from the effects of explosive blasts.

Some of these buildings had two entrances, whilst the larger ones also had two emergency exits. Each building was radiator heated from the works steam main, lighting was also provided from intrinsically safe lamps. The floors were linoleum covered, as were the wooden workbenches. Seating was provided in the form of wooden bench seats whilst the iron-mongery/fittings were usually made from Brass to reduce sparks. (See personal stories in the "Workers" chapter)

Each building also had a piped public address loudspeaker, which was also used to provide piped BBC radio music.

There were larger buildings that were more than one storey high, these were made from reinforced concrete, these were also provided with the same services as the smaller shops. Some were protected by blast walls whilst others were earth mound surround protected, in general these buildings dealt with either high explosives (HE) or were processed related e.g. Gun Cotton manufacture.

Exactly how many buildings there were on the site has not been catalogued in the documents held by the public records office at KEW. However, it has been stated elsewhere that over 1000 buildings were constructed between the Waterton and Brackla sites, but, this figure probably includes air raid shelters, washrooms, and electricity transformer substations.

Water too was a major commodity as the site consumed a significant quantity each day, this was provided in the main by the sites two reservoirs; the local water supply utility; and from two of the sites artesian wells. However, water treatment was another headache that had to be dealt with, as often the waste waters were contaminated by Red Lead, Litharge, Phosphorus and sewerage. These pollutants necessitated the construction of a large waste water sewerage main that was pumped several miles out to sea well beyond the low tide level to the Tusker Rocks off the town Porthcawl. (See "Waste" in the WAR "Production" chapter)

Transportation of munitions within the works was by means of either electrically operated carts known as “Dilleys” or by rail. The carts removed the completed munitions from each shop to storage areas where they were loaded onto flat bed rail wagons. These storage areas were constructed from reinforced concrete and covered by earth mounds and were mainly located between Kent Road and Western Avenue.

Waterton produced a wide range of munitions during its brief history although initially designated as a filling factory it took on a wider range of ordnance as time went on. (See appendix 3 and appendix 12)

Following the end of hostilities the site was run down as an ordnance factory and sold off to commercial enterprises as part of the government’s industrial estates scheme.

Today it is the home of a large number of small, medium, and large businesses that both manufacture products and provide services.

Joe Ludlow

Bridgend

10 September 2023

 

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