Royal Ordnance Factory No.6 – Risley

Part of the R.O.F.  No.6 showing the blast resistant earth-bunds that protected the site’s many explosives handling and storage facilities.

Facility Type & Function:

Royal Ordnance Factory (R.O.F.) – A Filling Factory established in WW II for the filling of a variety of shells and mines including the “Grand Slam” bomb.

Brief History:

The site of this munitions filling factory comprised approximately 927 acres of land, located at Risley near to Warrington. It was one of 16 such munitions filling factories located throughout the United Kingdom during World War II and was designated R.O.F. No. 6.

 

The  land for the factory was compulsory purchased by the War Ministry on the outbreak of war in 1939. The location of this flat site being selected due to the fact that it was more often than not camouflaged by low lying mist. This made it an ideal location as it would be hidden from enemy aircraft.  Over the course of World War II the filling factory assembled and filled 1,000,000 mines and 500,000 bombs including the famous “Grand Slam”, a 22,000 lb High Explosive bomb.

Grand Slam Bombs being handled at RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, c.1944/5

Construction on the R.O.F. at Risley commenced in August 1939 with production commencing on the site in September 1940.  Like other such R.O.F Filling Factories a common feature of the site was an area of storage bunkers where the finished munitions were stored awaiting dispatch. The areas within the R.O.F Filling Factories were all numbered in a common way. Storage bunkers were designated Area 9. Risley had 20 such bunkers which were located in the main field today occupied by Birchwood Forest Park. When the new town area of Birchwood was created, most of the bunkers were demolished, but 4 of them were left in place and can still be seen today.

 A post War Ordnance Survey map of R.O.F.  No.6.

The site also comprised a number of earth-bunded and covered surface bunkers which were used to house the munitions, to protect them from potential bombing, and also to segregate the site and reduce the consequences of any accidental explosions during manufacture or storage.

The site was seved by a dedicated rail link to the Manchester-Wigan railway branch line, which was used for bringing in and dispatching both workers and off the site .

The site had several pillboxes mounted high up on earth banks surrounding the mounds covering the bunkers. Some of the rail sidings also had huge earthworks around them.

 A surviving observational pillbox on the former site of the R.O.F.  No.6.

Immediately after  World War II (January 1946) the site was taken over by the Ministry of Supply’s Directorate for Atomic Energy Production who selected the former site of R.O.F. No.6 as its headquarters as part of its aim to equip Britain with its own nuclear weapons. The early atomic site continued to used many of the old R.O.F. Factory buildings as well as the existing rail link to the Manchester/Wigan branch line.

Like other R.O.F. during World War II the workforce at Risley comprised a large number of women who undertook hard and often very dangerous work. For a direct account of the typical work and conditions at the site the reader is directed to the excellent account recorded on the BBC’s  WW2 People’s War Project entitled “Working on the Suicide Squad: At Risley Royal Ordnance Factory”.

In 1954 the Risley headquarters site was greatly expanded again with the formal establishment of the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) heralding the beginning of the civil nuclear power program which ran alongside the military one. By this time the organisation had more than 20,000 workers. Design and construction of all other UKAEA plants was overseen here, technical policy and long term planning, finance and administration as well as world leading scientific research in physics, chemistry and engineering. The biggest increase was between 1955 and 1958 when the need for producing much more plutonium and highly enriched uranium and development of new materials such as tritium required for the H-bomb, which the Government announced it would develop in February 1955. By 1961 more than 40,000 were employed, the biggest percentage at the Risley HQ.

The disused area of the former R.O.F. site was put on the market in 1963. However, no buyer was found for it until 1968, when the Warrington and Runcorn Development Corporation bought the site in preparation for building the new town of Birchwood.

Location Details:

Risley, near Warrington, Lancashire, England.

Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:

Type I

Function:  Canteen/Refreshment Token (Note 1)

Material: Brass

Design: Uniface with a plain edge.

Shape & Size: Circular,  26.4 mm

Obverse: Raised die stamped legend around outer reads  * R.O.F. * WARRINGTON  with the denominational mark of value of 2D within a beaded border in the centre field.

Reverse:  Blank

Date: 1940 to c.1945

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  None known


Notes:

  1. The mark of value on this piece is highly suggestive of it having been used as a canteen token. It is recorded that the site was served by at least one large canteen where occasionally concerts were put on for the workforce by artists from E.N.S.A.

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