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Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield Lock

This article by Stephen Gilburt was first published by The Enfield Society in Newsletter 187, Autumn 2012 and refers to items which are on display in the small museum created when the factory was converted into housing in the 1990s. The museum is contained in the former main machine shop.

Picture courtesy of the Geoffrey Gillam collection, now held by the Enfield Archaeological Society.

Illustration 1. What was to become the Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) opened at Enfield Lock in 1816. In 1854 American machine tools, such as this lock recessing machine, were purchased, enabling the economic production of interchangeable parts.

Picture courtesy of the Geoffrey Gillam collection, now held by the Enfield Archaeological Society.

Illustration 2. Machinery in the machine shop was driven by two 40 horsepower steam engines. The 1853 pattern Enfield rifle went into large scale production in 1857 and by 1860 1,700 men were producing 90,000 small arms a year. The Enfield rifle was sold to both sides in the American Civil War 1861-5.

Illustration 3. The Grade II listed main machine shop of 1854-8 had a direct canal link to the Lee Navigation, enabling raw materials to be brought in and weapons transported out. The RSAF was also linked by rail to the Lea Valley line and by a narrow gauge line to the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey.

Illustration 4. Among the weapons manufactured at the RSAF were the Snider rifle of 1871, the Martini-Henry rifle of 1875 and the Lee-Enfield magazine rifle mark 1 of 1916. The mark 4 model of 1943 is still in use around the world today. All the weapons on display have been made inoperable.

Illustration 5. The First World War Lewis light machine gun was replaced in the late 1930s by the British-Czechoslovak Bren .303 light machine gun (illustrated) and by the Sten light machine gun. During the Second World War the Enfield .38 pistol revolver was also made at the RSAF and up to 350,000 people, mainly women, were employed at British Royal Ordnance factories producing 5 million small arms.

Illustration 6. Other remaining buildings include the new grindery, the polishing shop and the pattern room. Sealed pattern weapons and other historic small arms were kept there for most of the 20th century, until the RSAF closed in 1988 and the collection was moved to Nottingham and subsequently to Leeds. Much of the site was redeveloped to form Enfield Island Village, although some buildings were preserved and converted to new uses (see Newsletter 185 (Spring 2012), pages 8 and 9).

Illustration 7. This block contained the factory manager’s, factory superintendent’s and service technical manager’s offices, together with the cash office and print room.

Illustration 8. The water tower provided the factory with water for services, not drinking. Water was pumped from the River Lea to fill the tank at the top of the building.

Illustration 9. The police station was located by the main factory gate. People and vehicles entering and leaving were checked by the duty police officers.

Illustration 10. Eighty-one cottages were constructed between 1854 and 1858 in Government Row to house the factory workers. In 1881 the occupants included viewers, foremen, labourers, stokers, the pattern keeper, a gas lighter and policemen. These cottages were listed Grade II for their group value and form part of the Enfield Lock conservation area, although the RSAF itself was not included in the conservation area.

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