Introducing The Royal Small Arms Factory: Roll of Honour Project
The RSA Trust is working with the Royal Armouries to deliver a research project that will commemorate the women, men and young people who worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) in both World Wars. The RSA Trust is providing £1,000 plus staff time to ensure the project is a success. The text below, from the Royal Armouries, gives the full details of the Roll of Honour Project.
President of the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices’ Association, Ray Tuthill explained the need for this project, “In the days when RSAF was open publicity was not encouraged [therefore] the crucial contributions made by RSAF’s workforce to the war effort have not received the recognition accorded to some others and the WW1 centenary offers an appropriate occasion to try to rectify that omission whilst living memories of the factory still survive.”
Ray’s view is echoed by John Clark, Archives and Local Studies Manager at the London Borough of Enfield, “The RSAF was an important and major employer in Enfield and did much to shape the history of the area. The contribution of its workers during both world Wars is long overdue for some recognition”.
The RSAF was the birth place of the famous Lee Enfield rifle, which played such a vital role during both world wars. At its peak during the First World War the RSAF employed over 8,500 workers making rifles, machine guns, bayonets and swords for British and Commonwealth forces, and during the Second World War there were over 6,000 staff at Enfield mainly producing the famous Bren gun and Sten gun as well as other types of machine guns for tanks and aircraft, as well as smaller shadow factories at Fazakerley and Maltby. The factory also repaired thousands of rifles during both world wars.
The project manager and head of archives at the Royal Armouries, Philip Abbott, expanded on what we hope to discover during this project, “We know a great deal of the history of the RSAF from surviving records, but very little about the people who worked there. We hope that this project will bring to the fore the stories of the ordinary men and women who played such an important role not just in the two world wars but the history of the factory in general”.
The project is funded by the National Lottery through a £9,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the RSA Trust. Partners include Enfield Local Studies and Archives, Enfield Museum and the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices Association and the RSA Trust. The project will undertake the following:
the unveiling of two commemorative plaques at Enfield Island Village where many of the original buildings of the RSAF have been preserved;
the conservation of almost 40 staff photographs taken in December 1918 and January 1919;
the transcription of four surviving staff registers containing some 1500 names of men who worked at the factory during the First World War;
the identification of other men and women who worked at the factory during 1914 to 1919;
the creation of two Rolls of Honour of RSAF staff who fell in the service of their country during the two World Wars; and
the creation of a Roll of Honour of staff who worked at the factory.
The project will be accompanied by:
Two exhibitions – one at the beginning, and one at the end of the project – illustrating the information discovered; and
Two open days at which members of the public and former members of staff of the factory will be able to come along and find out more about the project, and bring any memorabilia relating to the RSAF which they would be willing to have recorded.
There will also be educational opportunities for schools in the Enfield area studying local history as part of Key Stage 2 and 3 to contribute to the project.
How you can help
If you would like to volunteer to take part in the project, but helping us to transcribe and research the staff register and create the Rolls of Honour, please follow the link to the Royal Armouries Volunteermakers page and sign up!
The Mills have put out the following statement giving further information about the evening:
“This is the first in a series of talks bringing you the story behind the exhibits in our armoury with Royal Gunpowder Mills volunteers sharing their knowledge, using examples of historic weapons to bring history alive. Join us on a whistle-stop journey through the development of the gun, at the end of which you will know an AK from an arquebus, a Maxim from a matchlock and a Derringer from a duelling pistol.”
You can book a free ticket to the event from Eventbrite If you want to go along, why not also visit us and learn about the Royal Small Arms Factory’s contributions to the development of modern small arms?
We were delighted to welcome a tour today by a group of students from Birkbeck and Goldsmiths Colleges, part of the University of London, who were visiting the Lea Valley with local historian Jim Lewis. The students were from a range of disciplines ranging from art history to design. This tour looked at human use of landscape in the Lea Valley. Prior to their visit to the Royal Small Arms Factory site the group visited the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey and walked along the Lee Navigation down to Enfield Lock.
The group learnt about the world beating Apprenticeships offered by the Factory and about how the site came to fruition. Jim demonstrated the refinement of firearms design through the 19th and 20th Centuries. As an additional treat the Heritage Manager allowed the group to view our John Thwaites birdcage clock, with two of the students being lucky enough to see the strike mechanism for the bell in action!
If you would like to arrange a tour of the Factory site and our small museum, the RSA Interpretation Centre, for your group please get in touch with us to arrange a visit. We are also available Monday – Friday between 10am and 2pm if you want to pop in for a visit. Also, why not visit other Lea Valley Heritage Alliance attractions, download Discover here!
The RSA Trust is delighted to report that the ring of bells at St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres were officially rung for the first time on Sunday 22nd October at a blessing officiated by the Bishop of Gibraltar, Right Rev’d Dr. Richard Innes.
The RSA Trust was one of a number of supporters that raised £195,000 to see the bells cast at the John Taylor Foundry in Loughborough. Each bell has dedications by donors cast into it, the RSA Trust chose to dedicate our donation on the number five bell to “The Workers of The Royal Small Arms Factory”.
BBC East Midlands reporter Amy Harris covered the story on 1st November:
As always we are grateful to Alan Regin, David Smith and the rest of the Bells4StGeorges team in completing this memorial to the Fallen and especially to Alan in his work researching the stories of the bell ringers who gave their lives in the Great War, ensuring their remembrance.
We are pleased to announce that the RSA Interpretation Centre welcomed over 300 visitors this Saturday, an increase of 50% on last year’s visitor figures.
As has been the case in previous years the Centre was manned by a team of former engineers from the Factory, organised by Ray Tuthill and the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices Association. Ray was particularly busy, showing off our recently refurbished John Thwaite birdcage clock. This work was carried out earlier in the year by Thwaites & Reed, its original manufacturers. The Enfield at War display, delivered through an HLF funded project in association with the London Borough of Enfield, also proved popular.
Yesterday a delegation of trustees of the RSA Trust attended the dedication ceremony for the ring of eight bells cast for St George’s Church, Ypres. The bells have been cast to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) in 1917. The church was built in 1927 and was designed to house a set of English bells, but none were installed. Alan Regin, David Smith and other bell ringers from around the UK raised £195,000 to cast and install the eight bells at the church to rectify this.
The bells were transported to Belguim on the backs of two preserved lorries manufactured in 1915, both of which saw service on the Western Front before being placed in the aisle of the church for their dedication ceremony. The fifth bell was cast with a dedication to “The Workers of the Royal Small Arms Factory” with an accompanying dedication in the book of remembrance,
“The RSA Trust are proud to be the custodians of the former Royal Small Arms factory in Enfield. This inscription is in recognition of the dedication of the factory workers whose efforts in manufacturing the Lee Enfield Rifle contributed so much to support the Allied troops. It is also in memory of the many workers who sacrificed their lives in the WW1 battles.”
The RSA Trust is grateful for the efforts of Alan, David and their fellow bell ringers in seeing this important deed done and look forward to hearing the bells ring out in the autumn.
In September 2016 The RSA Trust agreed to sponsor a dedication on one of a set of eight ‘full circle’ tuned church bells, destined for St. George’s Anglican Church in Ypres, Belgium. The church was built as a memorial to the fallen British troops from the First World War battlefields in the 1920s. However a ring of bells was not installed at the time of construction. This is now being remedied by Alan Regin, David Smith and the rest of the Bells4StGeorges team who have raised £195,000 to cast and install the bells in time for the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
On Thursday 1st June RSA Trustee Michael Polledri MBE and our Heritage Manager attended the John Taylor & Co Bell Foundry in Loughborough to witness the fifth and seventh bells being cast. The day included a visit to the Bell Foundry Museum as well as a tour of the forge and tuning shops. We are very grateful to David and Alan for their tireless work in not only arranging the casting of these memorial bells but Alan’s work to research and tell the stories of all 1,077 bell ringers who fell in the First World War. Michael was also able to enjoy a recital by the group of bell ringers in the Foundry’s own belfry.
The RSA Trust’s dedication appears on the fifth bell and is dedicated to “The Workers of the Royal Small Arms Factory”. The set of bells will be taken to Ypres at the end of august. The video and photos below give a flavour of the casting.
Our 234 year old John Thwaite birdcage clock was reinstalled yesterday, following a two month absence whilst important refurbishment work was carried out to ensure it continues telling the time here for at least another 234 years!
The clock was taken away and maintained by its original manufacturers, Thwaite’s and Reed, the world’s oldest firm of clock-makers still in business. As part of the refurbishment they carried out the following works:
Escape Wheel (this connects the clock with the pendulum, regulating the clock)
A second short tooth has been replaced and the wheel cleaned and bearings replaced
Pallet Arbor (axle that transfers motion from the pendulum to escapement)
This has had the bushes replaced. In testing it became apparent that a counterweight will need fitting in the Clocktower, to reduce the power of the clock (which has caused unnecessary wear and tear over the last 234 years).
These have been cleaned and rebalanced
Strike activation lever (connecting the bell to the clock)
This has been repaired (a bent pin had caused the strikes to become irregular)
We are extremely grateful to Ray Tuthill, the clock’s keeper and president of the RSAF Apprentices’ Association for his attention to detail in noticing errors in the clock’s regulation, alerting us to the fact work needed carrying out. We would also like to thank the team from Thwaite’s and Reed who responded swiftly and carried out a very thorough job in restoring the clock to full working order.
We are very pleased to announce that the RSA Interpretation Centre features in a new brochure published by the Lea Valley Heritage Alliance.
Discover The Industrial Heritage of London’s Lea Valley is an important new tool to promote a lot of the ‘hidden industrial history’ of the Lea Valley through listing seven attractions alongside articles on the general history of the region. Dr. Jim Lewis, a founding member of the Alliance, has long argued in his Lea Valley series of books that London’s Lea Valley has had more industrial world firsts than any other location on Earth!
The RSA Trust furthermore sponsored the creation of the Alliance’s Website, which in time will grow into a hub of information on heritage projects taking place along the length of the Lea Valley.
The brochure can be downloaded directly from this location. Links to the other sites mentioned in it can be found below:
We are pleased to report the annual opening of the RSA Interpretation Centre as part of London Open House received around 200 visitors on Saturday. An added attraction this year was the last minute inclusion of Film London’s Kino Van, showing historic newsreel footage from around the Enfield area.
The directors would like to thank Ray Tuthill and his volunteers from the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices’ Association for manning the Interpretation Centre as well as bringing the story of the Factory to life with their memories of working at the factory.