Coordinates: ROF Chorley was a UK government-owned, munitions filling, Royal Ordnance Factory (Filling Factory No. 1). It was planned as a Permanent Royal Ordnance Factory with the intention that it, unlike some other similar facilities, would remain open for production after the end of World War II; and, together with ROF Bridgend (Filling Factory No. 2), would replace the Royal Filling Factory located at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. It was built adjacent to the village of Euxton, but was known as ROF Chorley.
After the privatisation of the Royal Ordnance Factories in the 1980s it became part of the Ammunition Division of Royal Ordnance Plc and later a production unit of BAE Systems Global Combat Systems Munitions. Chorley factory closed in 2005-07 and the majority of the site is now home to the new Buckshaw Village on the outskirts of Chorley, although many remnants remain.
In the late 1930s leading up to the outbreak of war in 1939, the British government developed a strategy to enhance the capacity of the existing three Royal factories and to disperse armaments and munitions production away from major cities and the southeast part of England which were felt to be especially vulnerable to bombing from the air. As a result the Ministry of Supply built a number of Royal Ordnance Factories and satellite factories. ROF Chorley and ROF Bridgend were the two largest filling factories, but even before they were both finished it was realised that they would not have the necessary capacity to meet Britain's and the British Commonwealth's needs for ammunition. In all some 20 Government-owned World War II Filling Factories were built, but none was so large or employed as many people as these two.
Safety considerations were paramount. The design, style and spacing of individual production buildings meant that they were separated by wide open spaces, or depending on the application approximately 20 feet (3 m) high grassed embankments and extremely thick reinforced concrete walls and overbridges, called traverses. The purpose of the traverse was to deflect any explosion skyward rather than outward to any adjacent buildings or structures.
The site was built with extensive underground magazines, comprehensive lightning protection and individual buildings linked by paths, roads and railways.
The 928-acre (376 ha) site, which was built between Euxton and the town of Leyland, had a 9 mile (approximately 14.5 kilometer ) perimeter fence which until privatisation was guarded by was to become the Ministry of Defence Police (MOD Police) Force. After privatisation they were replaced by private security guards.
The London, Midland and Scottish Railway, from Manchester Victoria to Preston, via Bolton and Euxton junction, with stations at Chorley and Leyland, cut the ROF site into two areas. The smaller area was the Administration site which lay between the railway and Euxton Lane. The factory's main Administration office was located here. It also contained test laboratories, a Medical Centre, the MOD Police and the main Canteen building. This large canteen was equipped with a stage and was used for Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) concerts and other entertainments during war time.
The larger area of the site lay to the north of the railway line and was the main Explosive, or ammunition filling, site.
ROF Chorley had its own private railway station, ROF Halt, which was last used on 27 September 1965. The railway line, particularly the station, was separated from the ROF by brick boundary walls some 20 foot (7 metres) high along each side. Access to the site from the railway station was also by means of an over bridge. The railway station and platforms were demolished in 2002 as the former ROF site was systematically flattened for conversion into housing. The new Buckshaw Parkway railway station, which opened on 3 October 2011, is built on the same site as the old station.
The main internal road, the Central Road, linking the two sites, crossed over the railway line by means of a steep road bridge, with foot paths on either side.
There was also separate entrances to the explosive site; one was known as the Leyland Gate. After privatisation the road over the railway line was little used and separate entrances, i.e. the Leyland gate and the Euxton gatehouse, were used for the two sites.
World War II production
The new factory employed over 1,000 production workers by the outbreak of the Second World War, in September 1939.
By June 1940, the numbers employed there had risen to nearly 15,000. At its war-time peak, ROF Chorley had over 28,000 employees – a staggering figure at a time when there were only around a dozen factories in the whole of Britain with a workforce each of more than 19,000 people (four of these being the Royal Arsenal, ROF Bishopton, ROF Chorley and ROF Bridgend). ROF Chorley was the site where the bouncing bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis and famed for the Dambusters raid, were filled, the main site for the filling of large capacity aircraft bombs being ROF Glascoed.
The overall cost of the plant was £13,140,000.
ROF Chorley also manufactured concrete railway sleepers and manufactured clothing.
Until the mid-1990s, in the interests of security, British Ordnance Survey maps omitted the ROF sites and showed the location as it existed before the ROF's construction. There was a persistent tale from the 1970s that the town centre of the Central Lancashire New town was pencilled in to be built on this "empty" site until it was discovered by the planners that the site was owned by the Ministry of Defence and was a licensed high explosive site. More recent editions of the maps show the detail of the buildings, road and rail links, labelled simply as "Works".
After privatisation the headquarters of Royal Ordnance Plc was moved to ROF Chorley and was accommodated in a new office block on the "Administration site" created out of a former warehouse. The registered office of Royal Ordnance Plc, however, remained in London.
The site continued to be known as Royal Ordnance Chorley, or RO Defence, Chorley for some 20 years after privatisation; but then lost its name, eventually, becoming a BAE Systems Land Systems site and then a BAE Systems Land and Armaments site. The headquarters function was moved from Chorley to BAE Systems' Filton site.
Run down and closure
In the early 1990s a Long Term strategy was drawn up for the whole site; which involved the decommissioning and decontamination of a significant proportion of the explosives area of the site and its disposal for other uses: mostly housing.
About 400 acres (1.6 km2) were declared surplus; and the buildings were cleaned of explosives by burning them. Some explosives work was carried out on part of the retained site, but this too closed in 2007. In 2000 the Royal Ordnance headquarters function was transferred to BAE System's Filton, Bristol site and more recently to Glascoed in Monmouthshire. Much of this site was total cleared of buildings and the major part was used to build Buckshaw Village. Some of the land was also developed for light industrial use.
The former Main Administration Office building was converted into an adult college and now forms part of Runshaw College's, Euxton Lane site. Central Road still exists although the bridge deck has been replaced and the road has been upgraded; it is now known as Central Avenue.
In 2009 the former ROF Heapey was decommissioned after BAE Systems stated that a contract with the MOD had finished. The site is now up for sale with many local historians proposing converting the site into a museum on the history of the ROF sites at both Euxton and Heapey.
- Cocroft, W.D. (2000) Dangerous Energy: The archaeology of gunpowder and military explosives manufacture, Swindon: English Heritage, ISBN 1-85074-718-0
- Nevell, M., Roberts, J. and Smith, J. (1999) A History of Royal Ordnance Factory Chorley, Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing, ISBN 1-85936-063-7