Tucked away in an unassuming corner of the UK was once a vast munitions factory with a history spanning back three hundred years. As one of the country’s most reputable gunpowder mills, it’s reign had recently come to an end when, at the end of the second world war, it was deemed appropriate to build a research centre on the site, concentrating on the development of high explosives and rocket propulsion systems. This later diversified into ‘snifter’ rockets, used for adjusting the trajectory of a spacecraft in flight, and went on to include systems for ejector seats before ultimately engaging in the production of rocket motors themselves.
The site is also notable as being one of the locations used for testing the bouncing bomb in the run up to the dam busters raids. Eventually all research and production here ground to a halt in 1991 and the formerly top secret test ranges were decommissioned and abandoned, left to the undergrowth while the rest of the site finally became a museum.
Being such a sensitive site with a fairly recent history it is difficult to ascertain much information on the uses of the particular buildings but spread across the site are the housings for every stage in the production of explosives. During the war it was an obvious target to enemy aircraft, the attacks of which demolished some of the most historical buildings present.
There are still many interesting relics of the site’s former use dotted around, including some mixing machines and several very large shells. The huge old mill stones are stacked up in broken piles, giving a glimpse of the many different technologies used here.
One particular bunker contains a chamber was used in the testing of high explosives. An armoured chamber backed by over a foot of concrete was overlooked by two observation apertures from which the scientists would watch their tests. A thick armoured concrete roof, held aloft by four steel pillars provided good ventilation. Inside the chamber itself the armour has endured years of abuse from shrapnel, some pieces penetrating the steel armour right into the concrete. Looking at the walls, an obvious pattern emerges from the blasts, with the window smack bang in the danger zone. The guys running the experiments here would have had a very interesting role.
The tunnel leading into the bunker.
The good side.
The bad side.