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HM Factory, Gretna

His Majesty's Factory, Gretna, or H.M. Factory, Gretna as it was usually known, was a UK government World War I Cordite factory, adjacent to the Solway Firth, near Gretna, Dumfries and Galloway. It was built by the Ministry of Munitions in direct response to the Shell Crisis of 1915.

It straddled the Scottish / English border; stretching some 12 miles (19 kilometres) from Mossband near Longtown, in the east, to Dornock / Eastriggs in the west.[1]

Construction work started in November 1915; and, as part of the construction work, it was necessary to build two wooden townships to house the workers, including much of the township of Gretna and the village of Eastriggs.[1] The influx of navvies and munition workers was met with the introduction of liquor control; nationalisation of pubs and brewing in the vicinity. Production of munitions started in April 1916 and by then a large proportion of its workers were women, in 1917: 11,576 women and 5,066 men.[2]

In 1917, when production reached 800 tons per week, King George V and Queen Mary made an Official Visit to the factory.[1]


The site

H.M. Factory, Gretna consisted of four production sites, two townships and an independent water supply system consisting of a reservoir and filters, and several water pumping stations.[3]

Site 1, at Smalmstown, was to the north of Longtown; Site 2, at Mossband, was bounded on the west by the Caledonian Railway (now the West Coast Main Line), and the River Esk on the south and the east.[3] Sites 3 and 4 were bounded on the south by the Solway Firth and the River Sark; and on the north by the (B721) Gretna to Dornock road, the townships and the Glasgow and South Western Railway.[3] The western area, Site 3, was adjacent to Eastriggs township; Site 4, to its east, was adjacent to Gretna township.[3]

Water was taken from the River Esk, north of Longtown through a 42 inch diameter pipe to the pump house.[3] From there it was pumped through a 33 inch main to the reservoir and treatment works.[3]


At its peak, the factory produced 800 tons (812 tonne) of Cordite RDB every week, more than all the other plants in Britain put together.[1] It had its own narrow gauge (2 ft or 610 mm) railway network with 125 miles (200 km) of track, and 34 railway engines, its own coal fired power station to provide electricity for the factory and townships, a water treatment plant handling ten million gallons a day, a telephone exchange which handled 2.5 million calls in 1918 as well as bakeries and a laundry.


It closed at the end of the First World War and the plant was demolished. The site however was retained until the 1920s when much of the site was sold off in some 700 lots.[4] This left the Royal Gunpowder Factory, Waltham Abbey as the sole government-owned cordite factory until the World War II expansion programme. The two townships of Eastriggs and Gretna and the bakeries were also sold off.[4]

World War II and beyond

Three areas were retained throughout the remainder of the 20th century, and were used by the Ministry of Defence for ammunition storage.

  • Some 2,500 acres (10 km²) of Site 2, at Mossband, was used in the 1930s to store ammunition. It become a Central Ammunition Depot, CAD Longtown. Later on it was downgraded to a Base Ammunition Depot, BAD Longtown.
  • Site 1, at Smalmstown, became a sub-depot of CAD Longtown..
  • 1,250 acres (5 km²) of Site 3, to the southeast of Eastriggs, was used in the 1930s by the Ministry of Supply for ammunition storage.[4] It was known as CAD Eastriggs; in the 1960s it became a sub-depot of CAD Longtown.[4] Much of the internal transport of ammunition within CAD Eastriggs was carried out using a narrow gauge railway system.[4] CAD Eastriggs was also connected to the national railway network, near Eastriggs, via a link to the Glasgow and South Western Railway.[4]

Site 4 appears to have been sold off and returned to agricultural uses.

An on site exhibition, The Devil's Porridge is on display in Eastriggs. It takes its name from a description by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1917:

The nitroglycerin on the one side and the gun-cotton on the other are kneaded into a sort of a devil's porridge

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Ministry of Munitions of War, Preface
  2. ^ Rayner-Canham
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ministry of Munitions of War, Chapter 2: Water Supply
  4. ^ a b c d e f Longtown Military Railway


  • Cocroft, Wayne D., (2000). Dangerous Energy: The archaeology of gunpowder and military explosives manufacture, Swindon: English Heritage. ISBN 1-85074-718-0.
  • Ministry of Munitions of War, (1919). H.M. Factory, Gretna: Description of plant and process. Dumfries: J. Maxwell & Son, for His Majesty's Stationery Office.
  • Rayner-Canham, Marelene and Rayner-Canhan, Geoffrey, (1996). The Gretna garrison, in: Chemistry in Britain, Pages 37 - 41. (March 1996).
  • Ritchie, E. (N/D). The Gretna Girls, Wigtown: Wigtown District Museum Service. (Note: not dated but believed to be mid 1980s - certainly pre 1986).
  • Routledge, Gordon L. (1999). Gretna's Secret War: The Great Munitions Factory at Dornock, Eastriggs, Gretna and Longtown and an Account of the Quintinshill Railway Disaster. Carlise: Bookcase. ISBN 095199210-4.
  • Routledge, Gordon L. (2003). Miracles and Munitions: A concise History of Munitions Manufacture from the time of Alfred Nobel to the building of H.M. Factory Gretna during World War I. Longtown: Arthuret Publishers.
  • Ordnance Survey. Explorer Map (Number 323). Eskdale & Castle O'er Forest. - 1:25,000 scale (2.5 inches to 1 mile). ISBN 0-319-23685-4.
  • Video/DVD, (1994). Longtown Military Railway. Carnforth: Tele Rail.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "HM_Factory,_Gretna". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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