Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield)

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1897. Barrel Room.
1897. Winding Cordite.
1897. Machine Gun Shop.
Machine for boring the sockets of bayonnets.

Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF), Enfield, has produced British military rifles and muskets since 1816.

  • The factory was set up because of disappointment with the quality and cost of the existing British weapons used in the Napoleonic War. At this time in Britain, they were built as individual gun components mainly in the Gun Quarter, Birmingham by a number of independent manufacturers and then hand-assembled to produce rifles. These component makers eventually combined to become the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA). The Enfield factory was intended to improve the quality and to drive down costs.
  • 1816 The Enfield factory was built on the instructions of the Board of Ordnance on marshland located on an island bordered by the River Lea and the River Lee Navigation, at Enfield Lock, close to the end of the Napoleonic War. The land was acquired in 1812 and the new factory was completed by 1816. The new site had the advantages of water power to drive the machinery and the River Lee Navigation for the transportation of raw materials and finished weapons.
  • The original ambitious plans by Captain John By included three mills. Later, the engineer John Rennie (the elder) recommended the construction of a navigable leat. The leat was made, although only one mill with two waterwheels was completed.
  • In 1816 the barrel branch was transferred from Lewisham
  • By 1818 the lock and finishing branches had been moved to the site, enabling the closure of the Lewisham factory.
  • 1823 A sword making department was set up
  • 1831 The factory fought off the threat of closure in 1831; and remained quite modest in size until the Crimean War of 1853/1856, which resulted in vastly increased production.
  • By 1856 a machine shop, built on American mass-production lines, by the Royal Engineers, based on a design by John Anderson, using American machinery powered by steam engines, was installed. The workforce increased to 1,000. Mr. Andrew Muir, eldest son of William Muir the designer of machine tools, went to the partly-built Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, to assist in bringing the works into full operation.
  • 1858 Description of the layout of the factory[1].
  • By 1860 an average of 1,744 rifles were produced per week.
  • In 1866 another major expansion took place, when the watermill gave way to steam power. The total number of steam engines grew to sixteen.
  • By 1887 there were 2,400 employees.
  • 1887 Report by Lord Morley's committee into the Manufacturing Departments of the Army, which consisted of 4 establishments: Woolwich, Waltham Abbey, Enfield and Birmingham; the committee made a number of recommendations for reorganisation, having taken account of modern industrial practices[2].
  • 1889 Production of the new model rifle designed by James Paris Lee
  • WWI The factory expanded again in World War 1.
  • Decline set in after World War 2
  • 1963 Half the site closed
  • The Royal Small Arms Factory was privatised in 1984 along with a number of Royal Ordnance Factories to become part of Royal Ordnance Plc; and was later bought by British Aerospace (BAe).
  • 1988 The site closed.

Series of articles in The Engineer

The Engineer ran a series of articles in 1859 on the factory.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Daily News, October 16, 1858
  2. The Times, Saturday, Jul 30, 1887
  3. Leicester Chronicle 10 February 1900