History and heritage

The ‘Mills’ are steeped in history. Gunpowder was produced there for the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War and every other conflict involving our Army and Navy in-between.

Towards the end of the 19th century the Mills were converted to manufacture new and more powerful types of gun and rocket propellants fulfilling the crucial need  to supply our armed forces in the darkest days of the First and Second World Wars.  Until the end of the Cold War, the Royal Gunpowder Mills was a centre of excellence for research, development and manufacture in the top-secret field of gunpowder, explosives and rocket propellants. When this closed in 1991, a concerted campaign by local people and experts in the fields of military history, industrial archaeology and nature conservation saved the site from commercial development. Thanks to generous grants, from its owner, the Ministry of Defence, and from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Royal Gunpowder Mills opened its gates to the general public in 2001. Since then the dedicated staff and volunteers have welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors.

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The visitor attraction is due to lose the use of the Mad Lab and Rocket Vault as part of the deal.

A Unique Visitor Experience

Your Royal Gunpowder Mills, funded almost entirely by grants of public funds and entrance ticket revenue, offers a rich visitor experience. Historic buildings house a unique collection of exhibits that bring to life the fascinating story of the gunpowder manufacture at Waltham Abbey, its use in construction and mining, as well as in wars and conflicts over the centuries and eventual replacement by modern gun and rocket propellants.

Now, the Royal Gunpowder Mills is threatened again by commercial development. As astonishing as it may seem, the promoters are the trustees of the charity (The Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills Charitable Foundation) set up with an endowment of several million pounds from the public purse (i.e. your money), to protect the site for you, your children and future generations. This is possible because the Charitable Foundation is, in effect, a self-perpetuating oligarchy. Its Trustees are not local people – they have no allegiance to the local community nor are they accountable to our local or national elected representatives. They are recruited exclusively from the closed ranks of petty officialdom.

The listed Incorporating Mills which will be handed over the PGL under the current proposals.

The listed Incorporating Mills which will be handed over the PGL under the current proposals.

As the legal owner of the site, the Charitable Foundation is responsible for its upkeep. However, its exclusively elderly and male trustees are completely bereft of any vision for the future of the Royal Gunpowder Mills, which gives pre-eminence to public access for the enjoyment of its buildings and collection of historic artefacts. In a shameless dereliction of any sense of public obligation, these trustees have decided to take advantage of loopholes in the Foundation’s official charitable objectives to dispose of much of the site and its buildings – including almost all those used by the Royal Gunpowder Mills visitor attraction.

Although many, but not all, of the site’s buildings have been ‘listed’ by English Heritage and are therefore protected from demolition by a new owner or tenant, perhaps absurdly, the Charitable Foundation is not obliged to ensure public access is maintained. Buildings, which are not ‘listed’, can be demolished – although many have considerable historical significance. In these workshops, erected during the First World War, 3000 women (the famous ‘Munitionettes’) were recruited to produce the cordite desperately needed for allied offensives on the Western Front.