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The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey

The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey

Pembrey Country Park wasn't always the magnificent parkland you see today, previously it was the site of Pembrey's Royal Ordnance Factory. The isolated sand dunes of Pembrey Burrows provided the ideal conditions for the dangerous occupation of the manufacture of explosives! The sand dunes not only provided an effective screen but also minimised any possible damage in the event of an explosion. It is hardly surprising therefore, that the area attracted the producers of gun powder and dynamite as early as 1881.

It was however, 1914 before the Royal Ordnance Factory became developed on a large scale. By 1914 the Nobel Explosive Company Ltd of Glasgow, who originally intended to produce industrial explosives, agreed with the Secretary of State for War to erect and manage a Trinitrotoluene (TNT) factory at Pembrey. It was agreed that the state should bear the entire cost of the plant, which would then remain Government property after the war, with Messrs Nobel being retained as agents for administration.

Pembrey was in fact one of over 200 factories producing munitions that sprang up during the First World War. In common with most, it was run down rapidly as soon as the war ended, eventually closing in the 1920s. During the 1930s the Central Administration building was used as a convalescent home and rehabilitation centre for the children of unemployed miners. As the Second World War approached the factory was re-opened and largely rebuilt under the name of the 'Royal Ordnance Factory'.

Alfred Bernhard Nobel

Did you know?

Swedish chemist, Alfred Bernhard Nobel, was the inventor of dynamite (and founder of the Nobel Prize). His company (Nobel Explosive Company Ltd) built the Royal Ordnance factory at Pembrey. Nobel also owned Bofors, which he had redirected from its previous role as primarily an iron and steel producer to a major manufacturer of cannon and other armaments.

"Pembrey was in fact one of over 200 factories producing munitions"

The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey
The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey

The factory buildings were carefully laid out over some 200 hectares of sand dunes with the central office, police barracks, canteen, surgery, library and administrative buildings being grouped together near the entrance of the factory. Some of these buildings remain today in the form of the industrial estate adjacent to the country park entrance. The nitration buildings, magazines and other danger spots were scattered among the sand dunes a safe distance away. The site's coastal location meant that there was an economical building material readily available in the form of sand. In addition to the area's natural dunes, large quantities of sand were used to form artificial mounds and underground bunkers. These not only provided a degree of camouflage but also protection against attack or explosion within the factory. Many of these remain and have been incorporated into the landform during the reclamation of the site.

"large quantities of sand were used to form artificial mounds and underground bunkers"

The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey
The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey
The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey

The layout of the site had been given careful consideration with raw material stores, acid plants and nitration buildings laid out in a progressive order enabling an efficient flow of materials along the factory's railway system. Traces of the tracks are still visible today, particularly in front of the adventure play area.

Water was obtained from two small rivers five miles away. Intake ponds were constructed, from which water was carried in a fifteen inch main to a low level pond in the factory where it was chemically treated, filtered and pumped to high level storage tanks, to be carried by mains throughout the site. Later a number of well points were sunk within the factory. Steam was generated at four boiler stations having 33 boilers, capable of producing 5,000,000 lbs of steam per day. Electric light and power were generated at the factory's power station where seven generators with a total capacity of 4,300 kw were installed.

"The factory was entirely self-sufficient in terms of service, having its own plant and machinery to produce electricity."

The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey
The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey

Access to the site was from the main A484 Carmarthen to Swansea Trunk Road and then along a private road. Most of the materials and labour came in by train, with the site being connected to the main Paddington to Fishguard line.

The products of the processes carried out at the factory were, not surprisingly, put to war-like uses. Royal Ordnance Factory Pembrey was in fact the country's largest producer of TNT, ammonium nitrate and tetryl. During 1942 when peak production was reached some 700 tons of TNT, 1,000 tons of ammonium nitrate and 40 tons of tetryl were produced every week. In more peaceful times TNT was carefully removed from superfluous ammunitions, while ammonium nitrate was produced for use as an agricultural fertiliser. Waste TNT was burnt on isolated patches of sand, although some underwent controlled burning to produce 'carbon black' which is used in the manufacture of printers ink.

The Royal Ordnance Factory, Pembrey

A view from inside one of the bunkers still in existence today!

Production continued after the Second World War at a low level except for a sharp upturn in the 1950s at the time of the Korean War. The factory was largely concerned, in the late 50s, with the breaking down of obsolete or superfluous bombs and shells. Gradually the work-force was allowed to run down from a peak of 3,000 in 1942 to under 400 in 1961. The closure of the factory was formally announced in the House of Commons in April, 1962 upon recommendation of the Royal Ordnance Factory Review Committee. The factory was finally closed in March 1965.

In the 1970s the local authority (Llanelli Borough Council) took over the factory site and began the arduous task of transforming the area into the beautiful parkland and coastal facility you see today. More recently, in 1996, Carmarthenshire County Council was established and has continued the commitment to provide locals and visitors with one of Wales' finest, all year round parkland attractions.

"During 1942 when peak production was reached some 700 tons of TNT was produced every week"

ROF old layout

Original factory layout

A network of railway lines and bunkers, some of which remain today.

Further reading...

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01554 742424

Pembrey Country Park,
Pembrey, Llanelli,
Carmarthenshire SA16 0EJ.