In the second of our new regular ‘Wrexham History’ features, this week we take a look at the history of Wrexham’s Royal Ordnance Factory.
Work on the new Royal Ordnance factory at Wrexham began soon after the outbreak of war in 1939.
Located where the Industrial Estate is today, during the Second World War, Wrexham’s ROF facility made cordite, an explosive propellant for shells. ROF Bishopton, ROF Ranskill and ROF Sellafield being the three other propellant factories. The Wrexham site employed 13,000 workers.
The complex was spread over a large area to minimise any damage from aerial attacks. Sesswick was the site where a large water abstraction and treatment plant was built, extracting water direct from the River Dee.
The Ministry of Works built the treatment plant. Some of the farm buildings were left in place while the main buildings were camouflaged to deter reconnaissance.
The buildings were designed to resist incendiary bombs and blast, with thick walls, with no windows only small shuttered openings and reinforced roofs. Then surrounded with earth banks both to deflect blast and to direct any explosion from within buildings upwards, some were designed with weak end wall joints for this purpose.
The site was chosen for its distance from European bombers while having good rail networks and a rural location that provided a good supply of labour but in a wide spread area. To connect the site to the national rail network, a large marshalling yard of 10 separate roads, and these connected to the works internal network of rail lines. A passenger platform was built for military usage.
These sidings, along the Wrexham and Ellesmere Railway and then to Crewe, took all the cordite produced at the plant. For shunting works, Diesels were used instead of Steam engines, as they were less likely to ignite any stray cordite, however it is known the works had possession of an 1859 0-4-0ST known as Victory.
The site was well defended, both on the ground and from the air, several Type 2 Pillboxes still remain in the area, found in areas untouched by modern industrial developments, and the entire site was under a mile away from RAF Wrexham at Borras, which was home to at least one fighter squadron, for defending the regions industrial assets from bomber attack.
After the war, the need for cordite ceased, and so did the production facilities at Wrexham. Many of the buildings were left in place, abandoned, and agriculture again took over the fields surrounding the area.
The combined closure of ROF Wrexham and the army returning caused high unemployment in the area, with major redundancies in the area’s coal mines due to increasing motor travel.
In all, there’s probably about thirty or forty buildings still standing in fairly decent condition these represent about 5% of the original site. On the map above, just the extreme bottom right remains and a section to the east that’s not shown.
All the structures are completely stripped apart from one that was guarded by overgrown hawthorn, rose hip and bramble. Pillboxes, guard houses and access tunnels jump out of the undergrowth on either side of the site’s internal road and rail system, though all track has long been lifted. Other buildings are more obscure in their purposes, most likely acid treatment, paper scrolling, loco sheds and lookout towers.
Thanks to Graham Lloyd for submitting the article. More of Wrexham’s history can be found on www.wrexham-history.co.uk