Memorial to workers of National Filling Factory No.6, Chilwell
Heritage Category: Listed Building
List Entry Number: 1263868
Date first listed: 14-Apr-1987
Date of most recent amendment: 22-May-2018
Statutory Address: Chetwynd Barracks, Chetwynd Road, Chilwell, Nottingham, NG9 5HA
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Statutory Address: Chetwynd Barracks, Chetwynd Road, Chilwell, Nottingham, NG9 5HA
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Broxtowe (District Authority)
Parish: Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference: SK5086835202
Memorial to munitions workers of National Filling Factory No.6, Chilwell, who died in accidents in the factory during the First World War including the explosion of 1 July 1918. Unveiled in 1919. A large free-standing monument, enclosed by chains carried on shell casings.
Reasons for Designation
The memorial to munitions workers of National Shell Filling Factory No.6, Chilwell, which stands on Chetwynd Road, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community and the sacrifice it made in the conflicts of the C20, in particular on the Home Front during the First World War.
* an unusual and monumental war memorial, incorporating shells that reference the National Shell Filling Factory that once stood here.
Before the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, UK munitions production was limited to three government-controlled works including the Royal Ordnance Factories at Woolwich, and a range of private companies (such as Vickers-Armstrong) holding contracts to produce ordnance principally for the Royal Navy. Over the next few months the expansion in production that was required to service the British Army in France was seriously hampered by these severe limitations. Despite an almost 400% increase in munitions output by March 1915, the ‘Shell Scandal’ broke in May that year: it was alleged in The Times newspaper that there simply was not enough high explosive ordnance to fight the war.
The Munitions of War Act, given Royal Assent on 2 July 1915, included powers for the government to create National Factories. Different types of National Factory, under varying management regimes, were established. The National Filling Factories were one type: because shell casings could be manufactured separately, filling them could now also be compartmentalised. Work that had predominantly been carried out at Woolwich was now dispersed to a range of National Filling Factories, most of which were in England. National Filling Factory No.6 at Chilwell opened in February 1916, for the filling of High Explosive shells of 4.7 inch calibre and larger.
The Chilwell factory had been designed during late-1915 specifically for amatol processing and filling. Amatol is a mix of chemicals, the preferred ratio being 20% TNT to 80% ammonium nitrate. The mix presented some technical difficulties and the Chilwell factory had some specialised features to cope. These included processing machines adapted from other industries, arranged in a continuous process which was both more efficient and had additional safety features. Much of the innovative nature of the factory was due to the oversight and management of Lord Chetwynd, who was appointed to the task by the Ministry of Munitions.
By April 1916, 7,000 shells were being produced weekly, rapidly rising to 130,000 shells using 900 tons of amatol. The factory had filled its millionth shell by 2 September 1916. On 15 June that year a record 46,725 shells were filled in 24 hours as production was ramped up towards the planned July offensive in France.
Whilst some of the factory's thousands of workers had suffered, even died, from TNT poisoning, deaths as a result of explosions were rare. Of the 17 explosions that had occurred by early 1918, one in the Melt House killed one man; and two more were killed when a 12 inch shell exploded on 5 October 1917. But on the evening of 1 July 1918 a huge explosion destroyed the Mixing House, Mixing House Extension, TNT Mill and TNT Stores, and a range of ancillary buildings. Other structures were badly damaged as 8 tons of explosives were detonated, the blast affecting buildings up to 3 miles away.
Of the 134 people who died, 25 were women, and only 32 of the dead could be identified. All the workers in the Mixing House and TNT Mill were killed. Some 250 people were injured. Rapid action by the Works Manager, Arthur Bristowe, prevented a further 15 tons of TNT being detonated by the spreading fires. In under half an hour the fires were under control and emergency services from across the region were arriving at the scene. Repairs carried out overnight enabled some of the morning’s day-shift to start work. A further, small, explosion in the Melt House on the evening of 2 July caused a fire that was rapidly smothered, and repairs continued. By 4 July the Melt House had issued 13,957 shells, and 27,800 shells were transferred to transportation for dispatch.
The dead were buried in a series of mass graves at the parish church in Attenborough, a short distance to the south-east of the factory complex. The Home Office Committee of Enquiry, convened on 8 July, published its report into the explosion on 7 August. A separate investigation by the police was prompted by Lord Chetwynd, who suspected sabotage. Neither enquiry could conclusively identify the cause of the explosion.
Despite the devastation, in mid-September 1918 the factory filled 275,327 shells in one week, its record weekly figure. By the end of the war the factory had filled more than 19 million shells. Thousands of mines and bombs had also been produced for the British armed services. More than half of the 60-pounder and 15 inch shells used during the war had been filled at Chilwell National Filling Factory.
Of 218 fatalities that occurred in National Filling Factories during the war, more than half had been in the explosion at Chilwell. The memorial commemorating those who had died at Filling Factory No.6 was unveiled on 13 March 1919 by the Duke of Portland. Built at what was thought to have been the seat of the explosion, it commemorates all those killed at the factory and not only the 134 killed in July 1918. The factory’s construction manager, Mr SA Kay, oversaw the work and the memorial was built by factory workmen. Twelve of the factory’s workers were presented with the British Empire Medal for their acts of bravery in the wake of the explosion, whilst Arthur Bristowe was presented with the Edward Medal (the Industry equivalent of the George Cross), for having tipped burning TNT from conveyor belt trays in the TNT Mill.
In addition, a memorial bed was endowed in Nottingham General Hospital in the name of Chilwell Munitions Workers, whilst a memorial cross (since removed) was erected at the mass grave of those who died in the explosion.
Although the National Filling Factory closed, the site became a Royal Army Ordnance Corps Depot. A plaque carrying a general dedication to those who served and died in the Second World War was added to the memorial, and it was re-dedicated on 30 June 1968 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1918 explosion. A further plaque records the unveiling of the restored monument, by Mr J Boyden MP.
The memorial stands on the north side of Chetwynd Road, opposite Howell-Jones Road. The position is approximately where the Filling Factory’s Mixing House stood. The monument takes the form of a large truncated pyramid surmounted by an obelisk, square on plan. The concrete pyramid has a vermiculated surface and stands on a three-stepped base. Shell casings mounted on the upper step carry a chain enclosing the memorial, with an opening to the front.
Rectangular ashlar panels on the pyramid faces carry the dedications and commemorated names. The principal dedicatory inscription to the front face, inscribed below Lord Chetwynd’s monogram, reads ERECTED/ TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE/ MEN AND WOMEN/ WHO LOST THEIR LIVES BY EXPLOSIONS/ AT THE NATIONAL SHELL FILLING FACTORY/ CHILWELL/ 1916 TO 1918/ PRINCIPAL HISTORICAL FACTS/ OF THE FACTORY/ FIRST SOD TURNED 13TH SEPTEMBER 1915/ FIRST SHELL FILLED 8TH JANUARY 1916/ NUMBER OF SHELLS FILLED/ WITHIN ONE YEAR OF/ CUTTING THE FIRST SOD/ 1,200,000/ TOTAL SHELLS FILLED/ 19,359,000/ REPRESENTING 50.8% OF THE TOTAL/ OUTPUT OF HIGH EXPLOSIVE SHELL/ BOTH LYDDITE AND AMATOL 60PD TO 15INCH/ PRODUCED IN GREAT BRITAIN DURING THE WAR/ TOTAL TONNAGE OF EXPLOSIVE USED/ 121,360 TONS/ TOTAL WEIGHT OF FILLED SHELL/ 1,100,000 TONS.
Below that main panel a bronze plaque ornamented with a military badge carries a dedication reading TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND/ IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO GAVE/ THEIR LIVES IN TWO WORLD WARS/ AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN/ AND IN THE MORNING/ WE WILL REMEMBER THEM/ THEIR NAME LIVETH/ FOR EVERMORE. The bronze plaque below reads UNVEILED ON 30TH OF JUNE 1968 BY MR JAMES BOYDEN MP/ PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE ARMY/ ON THE OCCASION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE EXPLOSION AT CHILWELL/ "THE V.C. FACTORY"/ IN RECOGNITION OF THE BRAVERY AND FORTITUDE OF THE EMPLOYEES.
The memorial is enclosed to the rear and sides by a low coped wall and hedge.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 429325
Legacy System: LBS
Books and journals
Cocroft, W, Dangerous Energy The Archaeology of Gunpowder and Military Explosives Manufacture, (2000)
Haslam, MJ, The Chilwell Story, (1982)
Kenyon, D, First World War National Factories: An archaeological, architectural and historical review, (2015), 67-77
War Memorials Online, accessed 29 March 2018 from https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/251123/
War Memorials Register, accessed 29 March 2018 from https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/26873
‘Chilwell Memorial’, Nottingham Journal, 13 March 1919, p4
‘To Those Who Died at Chilwell’, Nottingham Evening Post, 13 March 1919, p1
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing