WAC - Waltham Abbey Chronology

About WAC
WACDateEventRGM SuperintendentWar
3Abbreviations used : WA = Waltham Abbey. WASC = Waltham Abbey Special Collection. WARGM = Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills. GC = Guncotton. GP = Gunpowder. NG = Nitroglycerine. CE = Chemical Explosive. Barrels = 90lb.
43000BCArrowhead. The first recorded projectile at the RGM site. Flint arrowhead dated 3000-1800BC. Found at Newtons Pool by J.H.Munns, July 1967. For notes on arrowhead, see - wasc-0570 / wai-0173.
5Pre 800sChina, fire mixtures for warlike purposes with no saltpetre in mixture
6By 800sChinese aware of saltpetre - "hsiao", which appears in Taoist writings
7900sChinese employ "hsiao" in fire mixtures with other materials
81044Wu Ching Tsung Yao written record of fire mixtures for war which, included with other materials a mixture of saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur - "huo yao" fire drug or proto gunpowder
912th CArabs add saltpetre to incendiary mix
101249Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon sets out the secret of gunpowder in his "Letter on the Secret Workings of Art and Nature, and on the Nullity of Magic" or "De Secretis" and "Opus tertium" giving an account, in code, of saltpetre and gunpowder
111260s First report in Britain of gunpowder used to propel a projectile.
12Early 1300sGunpowder made in the Tower of London by hand methods using imported materials
131327Cannon used by Edward III in his invasion of Scotland "Crackys of War"
141346Bombard used at the Battle of Crecy by the English
151543First gunpowder mill in England (?) erected by the Lee family at Rotherhithe.
161548Gunpowder first used in civil engineering - dredging of the River Niemen
171561First references to gunpowder at Waltham Abbey. Contract in Calendar of State Papers with correspondence from Marc Antonio Erizzo to John Thomworth (Tamworth), merchant of Waltham Abbey, who bought saltpetre and sulphur. Probably as a merchant, not a maker.
18mid 1560sEvelyn Family - gunpowder manufacture at Tolworth Surrey
191570Thos Gill and Wm Byrd making gunpowder at Faversham, Kent
211590Map of Waltham Abbey (WASC 900/0) showing the Millhead Stream already in existence and the location of a Fulling Mill (later converted to an Oyle Mill)
221605GP Plot
231627Gunpowder first used for blasting in mining for ore, in Hungary
241638Gunpowder first used in Britain for blasting in mining for ore at Ecton copper mine
251640Production of Gunpowder at Sewardstone started, probably until 1715. Start of gunpowder industry in Lea Valley.English Civil War 1642-46
261643Samuel Hudson as tenant of the Oyle Mill (converted from the Fulling Mill)
271652Saltpetre Act1st Dutch War 1652-4
281662Thomas Fuller, curate of Waltham Abbey, claims in "History of the Worthies of Great Britain" that more gunpowder was "made by mills of late erected on the River Lea ... than in all England besides". (Possibly referring to the Sewardstone Mills.) Also that "the mills in my parish have blown up 5 times in 7 years but blessed be God, without loss of any man's life."
291665First recorded deaths at WA.Thomas Guttridge and Edward Simons - killed by a powder mill. Also Ralph Hudson (brother of Samuel) signed ordnance contract to supply gp to the government. The Oyle Mill converted to a Gunpowder Mill. 2nd Dutch War 1664-7
301669"an Oyle Mill, lately converted into two powder mills ... in the tenure of Samuel Hudson"
311672Ralph Hudson secured new contract; new mills built at Hooks Marsh Bridge, near present Grand Magazine, which lasted until after 16763rd Dutch War 1672-4
321673Hudson fined
331676Ralph Hudson died, succeeded by son Peter who continued with contract until 1693, when he was accused of supplying bad powder. No further contracts awarded
34War with France 1689-98
351702William Walton took over the mills. First contract awardedWar of the Spanish Succession 1702-13
361711William Walton died. His widow Philippa took over with son John.
371719Act regulating the storage and transportation of gunpowder
381724Further Act regulating the storage and transportation of gunpowder
391732Lawsuit against Philippa Walton, widow of William Walton
401735John Farmer's plan of the mills. Powder mills worked by horses but corning and glazing was water powered. Mills owned by John Walton, son of Philippa.
411739"Only his clothes were found on Galley Hill" - 1 man killedWar of Austrian Succession 1739-48
421741Act regulating the storage and transportation of gunpowder
431747Board of Ordnance first purchase proof mortars
441748Act regulating the storage and transportation of gunpowder
451755Act regulating the storage and transportation of gunpowder
461757John Walton dies; brothers Thomas & Bouchier Walton inherit7 Years War 1756-63
471759Government purchased the Faversham Mills
481767John Smeaton engaged to design improved mills by Bouchier Walton
491770Factory had "several curious gunpowder mills … worked by water" Making 100 x 1cwt barrels per week. Cutting of the Lee Navigation.
501771Act regulating the storage and transportation of gunpowder
511772Stamp mills outlawed. First Act regulating manufacture of gunpowder
521779Capt Congreve inspected Royal Navy's gunpowder at Plymouth - reported that only 4 barrels were serviceableWARGM ControllerAmerican War of Indepen- dence 1776-83
531781Explosion of the Corning & Glazing Engine "3 killed and much damage done in the town"
541783First detailed plan of the works WASC 900/1
5511.10.1787Government became involved with the Mills and started negotiations with Walton for the purchase. Mills producing about 600 barrels p.a. Mr James Wright (1) appointed Storekeeper James Wright (1)
569.2.1789Production resumed after refurbishment costing £35,000 under control of Major William Congreve.
5712.2.1789First explosion at WARGM
581789First set of "Gunpowder Rules" issued from Faversham
591791Congreve said "not piece work"
601793Sunday working introduced. French Revo- lutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815 Anglo-American War 1812-15
611793Steps taken to tighten security.23.2 No beer admitted. 27.2.Gravel found on shoe.- Instructions given to inspect footwear. Many references made to a days pay being stopped for safety transgressions 28.5 Flint found in seive.29.5 First references to traverses being set out.
621794Cylinder charcoal introduced, brought in from Faversham
631795Final settlement of the purchase. £10,000
64April 1795First Steam stove
6518.4.1801Explosion at new Corning House on Horse Mill Island - 9 men and 4 horses killed. (400 barrels removed by boat just before explosion)
6615.7.1801"No (electrical ?)excitation in rolling barrels on leather covered floors"
671801Detailed plan of the works (WASC 900/2)
681804Shortage of powder. 9 more horsemills built. Grand Magazine built for 1500 barrels. 20,000 barrels a year forecast. Ballincollig bought by the Crown.
691805Cheshunt Cornmill bought and shut down to conserve water for the Gunpowder Mills.
706.4.1805Mr H S Matthews appointed StorekeeperH S Matthews
711806Report by John Rennie. (Archives at Inst of Civil Engineers) Also detailed plan MR 580 (WASC 900/3)
721809Waltham Abbey Cornmill bought
73180920050 barrels
74181020688 barrels
7527.11.1811Explosion in No 4 Press House on Lower Island. Ensuing fire spread to Corning House and Reel House. - 8 men killed
76181121252 barrels
771811/12Bramahs Hydraulic Presses introduced instead of screw presses
78181221033 barrels. General Congreve created Baronet.
79181322398 barrels. 250 men employed
80181410161 barrels. William Congreve succeeded his father. There were 5 barges, nine powder boats, two ballast barges and six punts.
81181517331 barrels. 1027 barrels regenerated. Battle of Waterloo
8218169551 barrels
8318172270 barrels
8420.1.1818Mr E Middleton appointed Storekeeper (died 17.6.1825)E Middleton
8518181127 barrels
861819988 barrels
8718211012 barrels
881822365 barrels. 307 barrels regenerated. 34 men employed
891823208 barrels. 1589 barrels regenerated
901824217 barrels. 1602 barrels regenerated
911825500 barrels. 2021 barrels regenerated
9229.6.1825Mr C Wilks appointed StorekeeperC Wilks
931825Faversham Home Works sold (after leasing to private sector from 1816)
941826519 barrels. 3035 barrels regenerated
951827505½ barrels. 3396 barrels regenerated
961829985 barrels. 1244 barrels regenerated
9718302070 barrels. 1988 barrels regenerated
98c1830Charcoal manufacture transferred to Waltham Abbey
9918313294 barrels
10015.10.1831Mr James Wright (2) appointed Deputy StorekeeperJames Wright (2)
10118322733 barrels.
10213.10.1832Lt Col. C T Moody C.R.E. appointed in charge of the Royal Gunpowder ManufactoryLt Col C T Moody
1031833Ballincollig sold. WA now only government factory
10418331435 barrels. 1139 barrels regenerated
10518341077 barrels. 254 barrels regenerated
1061838Pelouze discovered that treating cotton with nitric acid produced a highly inflammable material
1072.7.1840Lt Col C T Moody C.R.E. appointed Inspector of Gunpowder
10813.4.1843Explosion at Corning House and Press House. Very violent - timber found one mile away at Enfield Lock - 7/10 men killed
1091845Order received for closure, never carried out.
11027.11.1845Capt Alexr. T Tulloh R.A. appointed Inspector of GunpowderCapt A T Tulloh
1111846Guncotton (a dangerous rival to gunpowder),discovered by Schönbein following thoughts suggested by his discovery of ozone in 1844. A mixture of sulphuric and nitric acids' nitration on cotton. Bottger discovers guncotton, independently of Schonbein
1121846Ascanio Sobrero discovered Nitroglycerine involving the nitration of glycerine
1131847Maynard discovers nitrocellulose soluble in a mixture of ether and alcohol - collodion cotton
1141847John Hall & Sons(English Patentees) announced production of GC and supply in various packings. 4oz of GC =28oz of GP
11514.7.1847Hall's factory exploded killing 21 men
1161847/83 other explosions in France at Vincennes and Bouchet
1171.7.1852Major C C Dickson R.A. appointed Inspector of GunpowderMajor C C Dickson
1181852Austria (Von Lenk) purchases rights to Schonbein GC process
1191853Capable of producing 20,000 barrels pa
1202.1854 -3.1854Capt W Henderson appointed Acting Inspector of GunpowderW.H.
1214.1854 Col W H Askwith R.A. appointed Acting Inspector of GunpowderCol W H AskwithCrimean War 1854-6
1221854Faversham Marsh Works sold (after leasing to private sector from 1832)
12318.8.1855Col W H Askwith R.A. appointed Superintendent
1241856Water driven hydraulic presses introduced. Demand starts to grow.
1253.1856Lord Panmure Lea sailing barge built
1261857First steam driven gunpowder mills (Group A). Also raised tramway system, with trucks propelled by men or boys.Indian Mutiny 1857-8
12729.10.1858Report on "Government gunpowder works at WA" published in The Engineer
1281860Explosives Act passed to include new types of explosives - proves inadequate
12927.5.1861Explosion at Group A MillsAmerican Civil war 1861-5
130Feb 1862Details of improvement sent to British Government
131July 1862Another explosion in Austria. GC production banned there
1321862Alfred Nobel added 10% NG to gunpowder and developed NG as a commercial blasting explosive
1331863Further experiments on guncotton under Mr (Sir) Frederick Abel, War Office Chemist. Made 1000-2000lbs of GC at WA over next 5 years in adapted saltpetre refinery buildings in Highbridge Street.
1341859 -1863Nobels discover that NG can be exploded by a mercury fulminate detonator. Immediate significant success as a civil blasting material - blasting oil.
1351864Lasting cloth adopted as fire prevention measure
1361864Explosion killed Emil Nobel and 4 others
1371864Earl de Grey and Ripon Lee sailing barge built
1381865Abel took out patent after solving difficulties of GC manufacture by pulping. GC became widely used in military mines and torpedoes and as a military & civil blasting agent. Its rate of combustion was too rapid for use as a military propellant and it was too sensitive for shell filling. manufacturing development continued at Highbridge Street.
1391866/1867 Abel publishes "Researches on Guncotton"
1401867Nobel patented NG with a silica absorbent
1411867Alfred Nobel greatly increases safety of NG by absorbing in Kieselguhr, an inert porous silica, to produce material in conjunction with a fulminate detonator, named Dynamite
14227.2.1868Col C W Younghusband R.A. appointed SuperintendentCol. C W Younghusband
1431868E. O. Brown discovers that Nobel method of dynamite detonation by mercury fulminate can be applied to compressed GC
1441869E. O. Brown discovers that wet GC can be exploded by a small primer of dry GC - made handling much safer since GC could now be stored and transported in safer wet state.
145186915 boats in use at WA. 21'-30' in length 5'11'' - 8'6'' in width. Also 16 open boats and 2 barges built for the Lee
14616.6.1870Explosion of Press House on Lower Island. Magazine next door containing 5000 lbs of GP emptied into river. - 5 men killed
147187032 pairs of mills 27,000 barrels. 150 men employed
1481871M Berthelot publishes first treatise on explosives
1491872Factory at WA to produce 250 tons of guncotton a year in old Saltpetre factory by Highbridge St using Abel process.
1502.10.18745 am Macclesfield Bridge, Regents Canal - 2 or 3 barrels of petroleum and 5 tons of GP on narrow boat Tilbury en route for Chilwell near Nottingham exploded. 3 died. This explosion was a contributory factor in bringing about the 1875 Explosives Act
1511.4.1875Lt Col Young R.A. appointed Superintendent (died 25.5.1875)Young
15226.5.1875Capt Morgan R.A. appointed Acting SuperintendentMorgan
15329.6.1875Col R J Hay appointed SuperintendentCol R J Hay
1541875 Explosives Act. Introduced an effective and longlasting system of licensing and inspection. Col Sir V D Majendie appointed first permanent Inspector of Explosives
1551875Nobel gelatinised collodion cotton with NG as blasting gelatine - 25% more powerful than Dynamite
1562.8.1877Explosion of GC in press. Rope Mantlets introduced after this.
1571.7.1880Col C B Brackenbury R.A. appointed SuperintendentCol C.B Brackenbury
1581881Electric lighting installed at WA
1591884Factory Rule book introduced
1601884P Vielle produced a rifle powder consisting of a mixture of GC and collodion cotton gelatinised by ether-alcohol called Poudre B (B=Blanche, white) as opposed to Poudre N (N=Noir, black) which was gunpowder.
1611.7.1885Maj Gen W H Noble appointed Superintendent (died 17.5.1892)Maj Gen W H Noble
1621885South Site (Quinton Hill) purchased
1631885Turpin in France demonstrated advantages of Picric Acid as shell filling. Adopted by French government under name of "Melinite"
1641888Nobel produced a military propellant "Ballistite" a mixture of collodion cotton (45%) and NG with camphor as a gelatiniser/moderator
1651888GC Factory on South Site opened
1661889Cordite patented by Abel and Dewar - 58% NG, 37% GC, 5% Vaseline using acetone as a solvent.
16722.8.1890Explosion in No 1 Breaking down house prior to pressing - 2 men killed
1681891Telephone system introduced
1691.1891Quinton Hill NG plant completed
17016.3.1891First charge of glycerine nitrated at Quinton Hill NG plant
17121.3.1891First incorporation of NG and GC at WA. Sent to Woolwich by barge for further processing .
17217.6.1891Full production of cordite commences at WA - 2 tons per week
1731.4.1892Maj F W Barker R.A. appointed Acting Superintendent during Major Noble's illnessBarker
1741.10.1892Lt Col W McClintock R.A. appointed Superintendent (until 13.7.1894)Lt Col W McClintock
17513.12.1893Explosion at Cam House on Lower Island. - 9 men killed
17624.4.1894Beginning of real Safety Practice and Policy
1777.5.1894Explosion at Quinton Hill NG plant - 4 killed
17831.5.1894Maj F L Nathan R.A. appointed Acting SuperintendentNathan
17927.7.1894Col J B Ormsby appointed SuperintendentCol J B Ormsby
1801895Picric Acid (Lyddite) adopted for British shell filling
1811895Picric powder introduced as booster for Lyddite
1821895Opening of Sandhurst Hospital
1831897NG plant built at Edmonsey on North Site
1841898Cordite Factory completed on North Site
18520.1.1900Bt Col F L Nathan appointed SuperintendentBt Col F L NathanBoer War 1899-1902
1861901Cordite MD introduced (GC 65% NG 30% Mineral jelly 5%)
1871901 Nathan Thomson Rintoul displacement method of NG manufacture patented
1881903Booster tetryl (CE) entered British service use
1891903Quinton Hill No 1 Nitrating House plant replaced by Nathan Thomson Rintoul NG displacement plant
19015.12.1903Explosion of cordite incorporating M/c - 3 killed
1911904Quinton Hill Guncotton Factory extended. Nathan Thomson displacement system for GC nitration introduced
1921904 Germany commences use of TNT (Tri Nitro Toluene)
1931904Edmonsey Nitration Plant replaced by Nathan Thomson Rintoul NG displacement plant
1948.2.1909Bt Col F L Nathan R.A. appointed Superintendent of SA and RG Factories
1956.8.1909Maj F T Fisher R.A. appointed Superintendent of SA and RG FactoriesMaj F T Fisher
196191426 tons pw corditeFirst World War 1914-18
1973.191564 tons pw cordite
1981915Cordite RDB introduced. 200 tons pw (52% Collodion Cotton 42% NG 6 % Mineral Jelly)
1991916Quinton Hill enlarged. Building of Women's Hospital
20015.12.1917Lt Col P H Evans R.A. appointed Superintendent of RG FactoryLt Col Evans
2011925WA commenced production of RD 202 fuze powder, a mixture of ammonium perchlorate, charcoal and starch.
2021931 - 32Total Cordite production at WA 207 tons
2031933Cordite W introduced, including 6% carbamite in place of mineral jelly
2041933TNT first made at WA
20512.7.1934Dr R. C. Bowden appointed Superintendent - 1st civilian. Beginning of winding down.Dr R C Bowden
2061935 - 36Total Cordite production at WA 662 tons
2071938RDX Cyclo-trimethane-trinitramine invented. Small pilot plant at Quinton Hill producing 5 tons pw
208late 1930sCordite RDN introduced including 55% picrite (nitroguanidine)
2091938 - 39Total Cordite production at WA 3970 tons
2101939Creation of Bishopton plant. Dr Bowden is transferred there 31.7.1939
2111.8.1939Mr P G Knapman appointed SuperintendentMr P G Knapman2nd World War 1939-45
21218.1.1940Explosion at NG Mixing House handling frozen NG - 5 men killed
21320.4.1940Explosion of NG Mixing House - 5 men killed
2141940Enemy land mine destroyed the last of the water powered mills
2151940120 tons NG a week. 75 tons cordite a week
2161943January - Cordite and RD 202 production stopped. August - GC production stopped. September - NG production stopped
2171.1.1944Mr R F Smith appointed Managing ChemistSmith
21828.7.1945The Royal Gunpowder Factory was formally closed down as an Ordnance Factory and was transferred to the Chief Superintendent of the Armament Research Department for use as an Explosives Experimental Establishment.
21931.7.1945 Armament Research Department was opened.
2201.10.1946Chemical Research and Development Dept.
2211948Explosives Research and Development Establishment
2221977Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment
2231984Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment. North & South Sites split. North remained MOD. South went to Royal Ordnance
2241986Royal Ordnance bought by BAE Systems
2251989South Site closed
2267.1991North Site closed (June or July???)
2271.1992Remediation contract by S.W. Atkins on behalf of MOD (until 1996)
2281993English Heritage starts on site (until 1996)
2293.1997Trust takes over.
2305.4.2001Opening scheduled but cancelled due to Foot & Mouth crisis
23116.5.2001Site opened by Duke of Gloucester
23217.5.2001Site opens to the public
233Abbreviations used : WA = Waltham Abbey. WASC = Waltham Abbey Special Collection. WARGM = Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills. GC = Guncotton. GP = Gunpowder. NG = Nitroglycerine. CE = Chemical Explosive. Barrels = 90lb.