Royal Small Arms Factory – Birmingham

Ordnance Survey Map of 1889 showing the location of The Royal Small Arms Factory in  Sparkbrook, Birmingham.

Facility Type & Function:

Royal Small Arms Factory (R.S.A..F.) –  British Government owned works engaged in the production and repair of small arms weapons including the short muzzle Lee Enfield infantry rifle (S.M.L.E.).

Brief History:

After the liquidation of the National Arms and Ammunition Company Limited in c.1885 the British Government procured their works in Sparkbrook to secure the expansion of their small arms manufacturing facilities which had hither to be restricted to the R.S.A.F. in Enfield. Over the next couple of years approximately £40,000 was invested by the government in re-equipping the factory. In addition to new products, the factory was also engaged in repair works.

In 1888 the works staff numbered 100 men engaged in new product production and a further 600 to 700 working on repairs. However, the removal of certain production equipment from Sparkbrook to Enfield caused concern amongst the workforce that the production of new arms on the Sparkbrook site may stop totally and the works left to concentrate on repairs only. In 1893 the question of where the government’s new rifle production should be focused, i.e. in either Enfield or Birmingham, was debated in Parliament. Later in the 1890s part of the Sparkbrook site was sold off to the Lanchester Engine Company.

In 1900 orders for Lee-Enfield rifles was split by the government between the R.S.A.F. in Enfield and the privately-owned Birmingham Small Arms (B.S.A.) Company. It was anticipated by some that Sparkbrook would assist Enfield in meeting the new orders in addition to carrying on its repair work.

In 1905 the War Office decided to cease the production of new rifles at Sparkbrook and allow it to continue only as a repair shop. The following year saw the site’s sale to the B.S.A. Company Limited under whose control it continued to operate.

Location Details:

Sparkbrook, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England

Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:

Type 1

Image courtesy of Malcolm Johnson

Function: Unknown (Note 1)

Material: Bronze

Design: Bi-facial with a plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular,   35.3 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around edge reads R.S.A. FACTORY BIRMINGHAM. In the centre field the incusely stamped identification number 1138 above a raised line.

Reverse:  Incuse stamped initials WD below a “broad arrow” symbol denoting the property of the British Government’s War Department.

Date:  c.1885 to 1906 (Note 2).

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  Yarwood, J.F. & Johnson, M.C. – Supplement to Military Tokens of the British Commonwealth. Private Publication. 2018. Token reference. MMT133.

Type  2

Function: Unknown (Note 1)

Material: Zinc based white metal alloy

Design: Bi-facial with a plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular,   36.8 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around edge reads R.S.A. FACTORY BIRMINGHAM. In the centre field the incusely stamped identification number 1138 above a raised line.

Reverse:  Incuse stamped initials WD below a “broad arrow” symbol denoting the property of the British Government’s War Department.

Date:  c.1885 to 1906 (Note 2).

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  Unknown.


Notes:

  1. Possibly a worker’s time registration or pay identification check.
  2.  While these checks were obviously prior to 1906 it is possible that their use continued after that date once the factory had been taken over by the B.S.A. Co. Ltd.

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