Historian relives life working in our Royal Ordnance Factories

Buckshaw before it was a village: Ex Royal Ordnance Factory Workers
Buckshaw before it was a village: Ex Royal Ordnance Factory Workers

It is fast becoming a thriving residential and industrial area, its 4,000 plus occupants making it one of the largest urban development sites in the north west.

But Buckshaw Village has not always been this way - an idea that one historian and author transformed into an illustrated discussion over the weekend.

Steve Williams, best known for his work with the Chorley Remembers project, brought back many memories on Sunday, when he hosted a ‘Buckshaw Before It Was A Village’ talk.

The village now sits on what used to be the 928 acre site of the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF), better known as the ROF Chorley, or Filling Factory No.1.

The area was designated a munitions works in 1935 with building work, which cost £13.1m over a two year period, beginning in January 1937.

The main entrance was on Euxton Lane with gates on Wigan Road and Dawson Lane.

Mr Williams said: “The site was officially opened by King George VI on March 31 1939 and during the Second World War employed over 35,000 workers, the latter representing 20 per cent of the total workforce making munitions across the UK.

“In the spring of 1943, workers at the site filled Torpex explosive into the famous ‘Bouncing Bombs’ used to attack German dams in the dambuster raids.

“Back in 1985, the ROFs nationwide were privatised, and production on the Euxton site was finally transferred to south Wales in 1997, with decommissioning and decontamination taking place between 1998 and 2007.

“Today the site is a major housing and commercial development, with buildings such as the Tesco store sitting on what was once the shell filling unit and the new Buckshaw Village Community Centre is located in the old Group 5 facility, which assembled the shell cases.

“Very little remains of the original ROF buildings except those on Euxton Lane.

“The main office building is now Runshaw College, while next door the Central Stores still remains, along with a number of signs, fire hydrants and lamps dating to 1938.”

Former workers of the ROF attended the event, telling the host it brought back many memories of what they call the demise of Euxton.

Eric Jones, who now lives in Euxton, joined the ROF as an apprentice electrician and ended up as operations manager, while Hilary Walker joined the tailor’s shop making pyjamas in 1955 before going on to more dangerous work filling shell cases.

Many of the workers met their spouses on the site, including Chorley Pals historian and author, John Garwood.

And in further research, Steve Williams also discovered that three Chorley Pals who fought in the First World War, worked at the ROF during and after the Second World War.

One of these men, Edward Ashcroft, was awarded a George Medal for bravery extinguishing a fire in one of the production shops on September 21 1941. His namesake, Charlie Ashcroft, worked at the site after a career in professional and non-league football.

Mr Williams said: “The talk was aimed at informing local residents of the history of the site, as well as encouraging former workers to get in touch with us at the Chorley Remembers project.

“I hope to compile stories of people’s memories and experiences at the ROF, publishing them in a book next year.”

The ROF talk is also being offered to other groups, who are keen to listen to Buckshaw’s history.

Chorley Remembers Project is eager to hear from more former ROF workers. To get in touch, contact the project office on 01257 273621 or via their website, www.chorleyremembers.org.uk.