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Friday, January 16, 2015

The Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

Set in around 175 acres of parkland, the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey contains 21 buildings of major historical importance and is an important heritage site with a fascinating story attached to it. Because of its location(acres of woodlands surrounded by a network of canals) it was used for the production of explosives during the 17th century and was in operation for over 300 years. From the mid 1850s the site was involved in development of nitro-based explosives and subsequently used as a research establishment. Post 1991 a part of the original northern site was decontaminated and a visitor centre setup to allow the public to learn more about the history of the site. Today the Royal Gunpowder Mills is one of the most visited attractions in Waltham Abbey.

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

The ground floor of the main building houses a permanent exhibition. On the first floor there is a cinema that shows a short film about the history of explosives manufacture at the Royal Gunpowder Mills. One of the most interesting attractions within the mills is undoubtedly the 'Armoury'. It is a comprehensive collection of over 200 small arms and militaria covering the period from the English
Civil War to present day conflicts. The Armoury is staffed with volunteers and on the day we visited, there was this very knowledgeable gentleman, Nigel, who explained to us the history of different types of weapons and the technology behind them. His knowledge on the subject was amazing and it was very interesting to actually handle some of the exhibits. I had never seen sub machine guns and rocket launchers and this was an opportunity to see them up close. Apart from weapons, the exhibition also included helmets and uniforms, badges, flags, swords and bayonets.

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

From weapons we moved on to the 'Rocket Vault' which displays rockets and different types of propellants used in rocket motors - gunpowder, cordite etc. Some of the interesting exhibits included the rocket engine from a V2 that broke up in mid air over Waltham Abbey in 1945 and the Gosling motor from a Thunderbird anti aircraft rocket(from the cold war era). What really makes this attraction more interesting is the presence of volunteers(mostly former employees) who are there to answer any technical questions you may have. From this indoor exhibition room, we moved out to see the Petrel 2 - a portable launcher that could be used to launch from the deck of an Aircraft Carrier or other naval vessel as well as from land bases.

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

Our visit to the Royal Gunpowder Mills was during the half-term in October when a special event called the 'Spooky Secret Island' was organised. 'The Mad Lab' which is home to the eccentric Professor Nitrate and his loyal team of lab-rats was filled with curious gadgets and machines and an array of fantastic activities were organised for all ages. Kids were seen getting messy with monster slime making and some had even transformed themselves into witches and monsters for the day. The place was teeming with kids, all having a lot of fun.

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

At the edge of the woodland is an old water tower, now being used as a wildlife tower, which offers an excellent view across the site. The tower has an interesting collection of natural objects on display, some interactive games for children and some audio recordings too. On the top level of the tower there is a mural which shows the animals and birds that you might be able to spot at the Royal Gunpowder Mills.

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

There is a children's playground with Zip-wire, swings, some obstacle courses and even picnic tables.

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey

Forty minute guided land train tours also leave regularly throughout the day. You need to book your seat on the train tour at the Ticket Office as these rides work on a 'first come first served' basis. The tour takes you to the North end of the site which is important for wildlife and is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Access is restricted to the North end normally but the Land Train Tour will take you into this area which is home to many types of wildlife like Fallow Deer, Muntjac deer, rabbits and hare to name a few. We spotted a lone deer and also saw the remains of many of the old buildings that were used in the production of explosives. An experienced volunteer guide was on board to give commentary on the history of the site and also spoke to us about the research and development that was carried out on the site. The 40 minute tour was very informative and should not be missed. There is a also a military truck tour which follows a similar route as the land train tour.

the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey



Like every year, even this year the Royal Gunpowder Mills have loads of interesting activities planned for the February half term (14 – 22 Feb). You can join Professor Nitrate and his team in the Mad Lab and take part in some of their experiments, try your hand at hat making, build and launch rockets or test your shooting skills. And if you are interested in the history of gunpowder and explosives then don’t miss the guided Land Train tour that I mentioned earlier. There is lots to do and the guides are very friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. It is a good place for a family day out and the children are sure to enjoy a lot. Definitely worth a visit as the history behind the site is fascinating both for children and adults.

Royal Gunpowder Mills
Beaulieu Drive,
Waltham Abbey,
Essex, EN9 1JY
Phone: 01992 707370
www.royalgunpowdermills.com

Open Daily for February Half Term
Saturday 14th – Sunday 22rd February 2014, 10am – 5pm (last entry 3.00pm)
Adults £9.75, Children (3-15) £7.75
Under 3 FREE, Concessions £8.75
Family Tickets (2 adults + up to 2 children) £31.50

 

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