North Watford History Group

First World War Munitions Factories

Munition factory workers

During the First World War, Watford Manufacturing Company managed two munitions factories in North Watford.

The factories were both situated on the eastern side of the Watford to St Albans railway line. Factory number 1 (aka number 24) was located in Balmoral Road (Imperial Way), and factory number 2 (aka number 25) in Bushey Mill Lane (Greycaine). They were both designated filling factories and involved in the manufacture of mortar bombs, grenades, and other bombs and equipment. [1]

Factory number 1 started work in September 1915, engaged in the filling and assembling of trench warfare bombs and filling chemical shell exploders. Factory number 2 started in February 1916, engaged in filling bombs and grenades, filling and assembling aerial bombs and trench mortar fuses, and assembling chemical shells. [2]

The factories employed hundreds of women. Some of the work was hazardous to health, such as filling work involving a 'yellow powder' (probably TNT), which turned the skin yellow and was said to shorten life. This work was supposed to be rotated, but there were complaints that this was not being done. [3] There was also the risk of accidental explosions, as happened on October 4th 1917, when one female and two male workers were killed. [4]

On February 13th 1917, there was a fire at factory number 2 in Bushey Mill Lane. Most of the workers were safely evacuated, but two workmen who had been mixing explosive powder in the mixing house, where the fire started, died in hospital as a result of the accident. Next to the mixing house, in the packing room, there were tons of high explosives. Fortunately, swift action by the Works Fire Brigade and the local Brigades managed to contain the fire and prevent it reaching the explosives. It was said that had these explosives ignited, it is probable that "the greater part of Watford would have been destroyed". [5]

An eyewitness account evokes a vivid picture of a bygone age: "At that time Balmoral Road was only a lane and really finished at the little bridge. I was only a young boy and had been helping with some grocery deliveries to the factory, to earn some pennies. The alarms went and we were chased off the premises; our horse and cart had just got to the bridge when we had to quickly pull aside to let the galloping horses and fire engine pass through." [6]


Munition factory workers

Munition workers at the Greycaine factory


Research: Jill Waterson; North Watford History Group.
Author: Jill Waterson; North Watford History Group.
Photograph: with kind permission of John Ball.


  1. Nunn, JB; The Book of Watford, 2nd edition, 2003, page 158
  2. National Factories controlled by the Ministry of Munitions 1915 - 1918; Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham website
  3. Nunn, JB; The Book of Watford, 2nd edition, 2003, page 161
  4. Nunn, JB; The Book of Watford, 2nd edition, 2003, page 160
  5. Nunn, JB; The Book of Watford, 2nd edition, 2003, page 159
  6. Nunn, JB; The Book of Watford, 2nd edition, 2003, page 158

[Added by Glen: 10:11pm 13 May 2009]
[Updated by Glen: 3:00pm 25 Oct 2009]

This page was last updated on 25 October 2009.