The Royal Ordnance Factories were state-owned concerns which manufactured munitions in Great Britain during the Second World War. There were between 40 and 50 in all but there is no definitive list. Some were very large indeed, employing up to 30,000 workers. Many have left few remains, having been re-developed for other industrial purposes.
Thorp Arch in Yorkshire, site of No 8 Filling Factory completed in 1942 affords excellent opportunities to gain understanding of the archaeology of an ammunition plant, without trespassing. It once comprised over 3,000 buildings with 25 miles of railway track, and 9 miles of road, and employed more than 10,000 workers. The Royal Ordnance Factory, after a revival during the Korean War of the early 1950s, was formally closed in 1957.
In the early 1960s the site was purchased by George Moore, a businessman whose family furniture factory continues in production on the site. The former locomotive depot was demolished and replaced by an 8-storey tower housing the British Library Boston Spa (Boston Spa is the name of a nearby village). This branch of the library provides postal lending services, although there is a reading room open to the public. Another part of the site is occupied by HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Wealstun, an amalgamation in 1995 of two prisons established on the former factory site in 1965. The Thorp Arch estate is divided into retail and industrial sections, the latter accommodating more than 140 businesses. Several operate large factories but the majority are fairly small concerns serving local needs. It is claimed that when the retailing section opened in 1961 it was Britain’s first out-of-town retail park. Its landscape is unique. Many of the shops are former filling factory buildings, protected by earth banks. The retail park includes a café, and a children’s playground which includes a replica pirate ship, a Bren-Gun carrier and a Sherman tank. All over the estate can be seen short sections of track from the former railway system (which last saw traffic in 1965) and traces of the level crossings where the railways crossed the estate roads.