Narrowboat AREandARE

From the 2009 & 2010 tantalising tales, traumas and stunning photographs of Barry (photographer) and Sandra (writer) from New Zealand aboard NB 'Northern Pride', to the stories of their 2013 return journey, purchase of 'AREandARE', progress on sustaining their live aboard continuous cruiser lifestyle, and Barry's quest to gain residency and 'Indefinite Leave to Remain' in UK ...

Monday 18 October 2010

An explosive day at Royal Gunpowder Mills

We reached Milton Keynes on Sunday night and stayed moored up while we did a bit of boat work and sorting and packing on Monday; not long left on the boat now ...

Saturday 18 September

Barry and Tom ...

It was a bit of a late start this morning, getting close to 11am before emerging into a bright and sunny day. Pete hadn't long been up and was going for a bike ride, so Tom and I made the decision to go to the 'Royal Gunpowder Mills' at Waltham Abbey. We'd been past a sign last night that said it was free entry, but on getting there we found it was £7.50 each. Not sure now what we'd been reading.

The gunpowder mills have been on this site for 300 years, owned and controlled by the government who bought it from a private gunpowder supplier. Apparently privately supplied gunpowder wasn't reliable enough to kill all the indigenous people of the conquered colonial countries, so the military got involved and purchased it in 1787. The site has been 'Top Secret' and closed to the public since. From the 1850s on it was used to develop nitro based explosives and rocket propellants.

During the first world war they had a staff of 6230, mostly local women, they were more expendable who tended to be more efficient and careful with handling armaments.

During the second world war it was used to develop the explosive RDX used in 'The Bouncing Bomb' which destroyed the hydro dams in the Ruhr Valley by 'The Dam Busters'.

Once inside the grounds some old lady gave us a hard sell on the 'Land Train' trip around the park for £2 each, and as we had very little resistance left (after last night's frivolities!) handed over the cash. The grounds and buildings around the site are very overgrown and derelict looking, though with the help of the commentator we could visualise what it was all about.

The interesting thing is that all the explosives, etc, were transported around the site by canals on special barges. Being extremely dangerous, the gunpowder needed a calmer form of transport.

A lot of the tools and equipment used were made out of brass to stop any sparks. The employees were checked each day on arrival for anything that might cause an ignition, and had to wear wooden clogs and special clothing that wouldn't cause static electricity. 


 The unusual foot bridges over the canal - you weren't allowed on the bridge if a boat was coming under because of the possibility of sparks or dropping something on it











 One of the restored gunpowder barges, and a model of the system


Part of the canal system for The Gunpowder Mill. Not sure how this all works or what it did! It doesn't look like a lock setup








 A later form of transporting - I'd have thought a coal fired engine would have been a No No!


 There's a varied array of buildings scattered around the site


At 175 acres it covers quite an area - they didn't want gunpowder production areas too close together in case one blew up and took out others


The gunpowder pressing building - the blast walls between sections was in case of an explosion it wouldn't blow out into the other side










 The local railway enthusiasts have restored this little engine


Not sure what these building were, but they looked highly secretive















 Still bits of the canal in water, and the bridges are surprisingly in good condition





Some of the research buildings and one of the many fire alarm points around the site








Tom and I had thought we'd seen everything and were the last people left in the museum when the curator said we had to leave. Tom had been looking forward to seeing some Lee Enfield rifles as I'd told him they came from this area, and so we asked this bloke where we could find them. He looked at us puzzled and said "Didn't you see our collection?". He told us to make our way to the main building and he'd meet us there. On opening the room Tom's eyes lit up, the room was full of guns of all shapes and sizes. The curator said we've got about 15 minutes while he continued locking the rest of the complex up.

The collection is vast and all belonged to one collector who'd loaned it to the museum because his wife had had enough of them all around the house. As this was his retirement fund, when the time came the museum bought the lot. The curator said the bloke has now started collecting more guns.


 What a great collection from all parts of the world


Rambo! Not quite, just Tom posing with a Bren gun

After being tossed out it was a short walk back to the boat, dinner and a quiet night. Pete wasn't up for much either, so nothing more to report!

 Meanwhile, Sandra went to a friend's 50th birthday party ...

... which was sort of a surprise, but Mandy had had an inkling that something was going on - you don't reach the age of 50 without being intuitive enough to pick up clues from friends and family trying very hard to evade the truth!  I've known Mandy and her family since I was five years old when we moved to Walmley, Sutton Coldfield - 46 years to be precise!  She now lives in Edinburgh and I live in New Zealand, so it's always wonderful to get together on rare occasions, and of course all my sisters came to the celebration too - awesome ...

IMG_1525 Viv, Kath, Mandy, Sandra & Linda


I think these are crocus flowers

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