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The Great War Centenary 1917 - Exhibition

Boomtown - From Front Line to White Lund

Lancaster’s war time production

As the British Army expanded in size - to more than 5 million men - the need for military supplies, equipment, arms and munitions quickly saw existing suppliers unable to cope with the demand. As the war progressed more and more factories were built and many existing businesses changed their output to meet the needs.

Lancaster was no different from many towns up and down the country. Two massive factories were specially constructed to supply munitions and existing works switched their production in support of the war effort.

National Projectile Factory

This new factory was built between Caton Road and the Midland Railway’s line to Leeds via the Lune Valley. It was well served by all forms of transport, including Lancaster’s canal (used for coal supplies) that formed its northern boundary. Construction work started on 11th September 1915 and production started on 5th March 1916 even though building work was not finished until November.

Although Vickers Ltd of Barrow ran the enterprise, the local council agreed to major improvements to that part of the town including laying a new gas main, extending the bus route along Caton Road and even offering discounted access for staff to the public baths and for team sports on Giant Axe Field. The factory was designed to produce 6,000  6 inch, 3,500 9.2 inch and 6,000 60-pound shell cases a week. These were shipped out and many found their way to their sister factory on White Lund. In 1917 the Projectile Factory took in guns for repair alongside its shell case production.

Number 13 National Filling Factory

The Filling Factory site was well chosen with good communication routes between to and from Lancaster and Morecambe. At the same time it was a reasonable distance from both centres of population. The massive works, at White Lund, feature in the next gallery.

Caton Engineering Works

The disused Wagon & Carriage Works on Caton Road had ceased production in 1908. It had been used as an Internment Camp for German, Austrian and Turkish ‘aliens’ in 1914-15, before being taken over for the war effort. Caton Engineering Works was established, with much secrecy, by the Vickers and Armstrong Companies to produce torpedoes. The works employed large numbers of women including many doing precision tooling work, to produce both the Mark VIII 18 inch torpedo and the Mark II 21 inch torpedo. Production, at the end of 1917, rose to 22 torpedoes a week, with the total produced by the end of the war being noted as 1,726.

Many of Lancaster’s existing firms answered the call, changing or adapting production in their factories. Examples include:

The Lune Valley Engineering Company manufactured military field cookers, not only for the British military, but also for other counties. Each field cooker could provide enough stewed, boiled, baked or fried food for 350 men at one time. These field cookers were used in Gallipoli, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and the Western Front in France and Belgium.

William Goodacre and Sons Ltd produced a range of matting for warship decks, field gun protectors and hospital ships at their Albion Mills works. They also made various types of screening and camouflage work at their looms.

Storeys Brothers bought in machinery to make shells and, by February 1916, it was noted (and described as) ‘the munitions factory at White Cross had been added to the list of Works controlled by the Government’. In line with a number of businesses, Storey Brothers began a weekly contribution to wives and dependents of men ‘at the front’. Noting that foodstuffs were getting in short supply (before rationing was introduced), the company introduced a yearly bonus to help offset the rise in prices.

Williamsons of Lancaster continued to produce its key product, linoleum. Although it did not become one of the Government controlled factories its products were vital for the war effort. As their floor coverings were easy to clean and disinfect it was in great demand from hospitals, the Red Cross, convalescent homes and the like. This business also paid an allowance to the families of their workmen serving in the forces. They also started employing women in roles that had been exclusively for men, as the workforce enlisted and were later conscripted. In 1916, for example, of the 473 new staff taken on at Williamsons just over 87% (414) were women. Their wages never matched their male colleagues and, at 14 shillings (70p) a week, were around half those of munitions girls at White Lund.

Waring and Gillow Ltd, Lancaster’s famous furniture business of Gillows and Co dated back to the early 18th century. By the early years of the 20th century it had merged with the Liverpool based company of Waring. They produced a wide range of items for the war effort using the full range of skills found across each department. This ranged from standard joinery for packing crates, fine woodworking for aeroplane wings and upholstery for tents, haversacks and even ‘serge tunics and knickers for Indian troops’.

Waring and Gillow Ltd
Aircraft Work

Aircraft wing production at Waring & Gillows, Lancaster
Accession Number: LM74-86-2

Many components were manufactured for the DH9 aircraft.

Aeroplane wings
Aeroplane propellers
Engine beddings
Ailerons – the hinged wing flap that controlled the ‘roll’ of an aeroplane

Waring and Gillow Ltd
General Work

Of this varied assortment of articles the firm were responsible for a total output of 338,755

Ammunition Boxes
Instrument Cases
Mule ammunition carriers
Machine gun cartridge belts
Water buckets
Pom-pom cartridge belts
Lewis gun ammunition carriers
Kit bags
Gun breech covers
Waterproof gun cotton bags
Rifle slings
Mosquito head covers
Mosquito net tents
Serge Tunics
Knickers for Indian Troops
Ordinary Tents
Gas mask haversacks
Rifle bolt covers
One-man tents
Munition workers caps
Horse water buckets
Horse rugs
‘Housewives’ – a small fabric pouch for soldiers’ sewing essentials (thimble, thread, spare buttons etc) to darn or repair uniforms



© Images are copyright, Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum.
 You must seek permission prior to publication of any of our images.

Only a proportion of our collections are on display at anyone time.  Certain items are on loan for display in other institutions.  An appointment is required to consult any of our collections which are held in store.

© 2017 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum