Royal Small Arms Factory – Enfield

Part of the R.S.A.F at Enfield Lock

Facility Type & Function:

Royal Small Arms Factory (R.S.A..F.) –  Production of the short muzzle Lee Enfield infantry rifle (S.M.L.E.), bayonets and machine guns.

Brief History:

The R.S.A.F. at Enfield Lock was concerned with the manufacture of small arms, and had been established in 1804, although much of the buildings on the site dated from the factory’s expansion in 1858. It was one of four state-run munitions works operating prior the beginning of the Great War. In August 1915 it was transferred from the War Office into the care of the Ministry of Munitions.

At the beginning of the war the R.S.A.F.’s principal product was the short muzzle Lee Enfield infantry rifle (the S.M.L.E.) of which it produced 1,000 per week. By 1916 this had risen to 6,500 per 1916.

As with other pre-existing munitions sites, limited space created difficulties in expanding production facilities. Much of the additional capacity on the site was created by switching to shift work and 24-hour production, with workers employed on six-day weeks of a 12 hour shift, and many doing additional overtime on Sundays. Nonetheless some new construction did take place on the site. For example in June 1917, in addition to the extension of the bayonet plant and the erection of a new assembling shop, the Factory Superintendent reported progress with a new barrel mill, a new stocking shop, a new automatic screw shop, a repair shop, browning shop, machine gun shop, oil store, stores for gun stocks and new accommodation for clerical staff.

Prior to the war rifle assembly and finishing was carried out for complete weapons by individual high-skilled workers. This was not an acceptable production method for the massive increases in production rates required after the outbreak of war. In addition to increasing the working hours and utilisation of the factory, as outlined above, production line manufacture was introduced. Using such systems the complex tasks which had previously been undertaken by a single skilled employee were broken down into a number of simple repetitive steps which could be carried out by an employee with relatively basic training. Opposition to this system, and in particular to the opportunities it created for the employment of women, continued throughout the war within the trade unions representing the skilled workers.

The new production methods and round the clock shift working led to the R.S.A.F.’s staffing levels being substantially increased, from around 1,800 in 1914 to 9,500 in 1918. A significant number of these new staff (nearly 1,500) were women. As a consequence of both the general increase, and the specific need to provide facilities for female staff, a number of welfare buildings were constructed including large canteens capable of seating up to 1,000 people at once. A women’s recreation room was also established large enough to host dances and other social functions.

A short history of the R.S.A.F. Enfield Lock

The R.S.A.F. continued to serve the British Government as a Royal Ordnance Factory (R.O.F.) after the Great War. Decline of the site set in after World War II and in 1963 half the site was closed. In 1984, along with a number of other Royal Ordnance Factories, the site was privatised to become part of Royal Ordnance PLC which was later bought by British Aerospace (B.A.E.). Its final closure occurred in 1988. While the site was largely redeveloped many of the former buildings remain and are being re-used for a variety of functions.

Location Details:

Enfield Loch, Enfield, Middlesex  – National Factory Area No.7

Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:

Type I

Function:  Unknown (Notes 1 & 2)

Material: Copper

Design: Uniface with a plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular,  34.9 mm

Obverse: Incuse die stamped legend around outer upper edge reads  R.S.A.F. and around bottom, ENFIELD . Stamped identification number 2298 in centre field.

Reverse:  Blank

Date: 1915 to c.1918 (Note 1)

Maker: Unknown (Note 3)

Published References:  Yarwood, J. – Military Tokens of the British Commonwealth. Page 107 – MMT052. Private Publication. 2006.

Type II

Function:  Worker’s Travel Pass (Note 1)

Material: Aluminium

Design: Uniface with a plain edge and pierced for suspension.

Shape & Size: Circular,  35.6 mm

Obverse: Raised legend around outer upper edge reads  R.S. / A.F. above a legend in five lines across centre field which reads No.  followed by incusely stamped N10 , all above a raised solid line,  / then ROUTE / incusely stamped D , / then SHELTER / incusely stamped 19

Reverse:  Blank

Date: 1915 to c.1918 (Note 2)

Maker: Unknown

Published References:  Not published


  1. This is thought to be an example of either a bus or tramp pass issued to workers at the R.S.A.F. for travel to and from work . The interpretation of the legend on this check is that the pass was issued to a worker who was assigned to use seat “N10” on dedicated workers’ bus/tram service operating Route “D” and who was to be picked-up and/or dropped of at Shelter No.19 along the same route.
  2. While here assigned to use during the Great War this check could have been used during later periods in the factory’s extensive history.


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