Gretna - Encyclopedia

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"GRETNA (see ,2.583*). - A new association was given to the village of Gretna in 1915, when the Ministry of Munitions purchased a site for the erection of a large propellants factory and for houses to accommodate munition workers. The strip of land taken for the purpose was roughly 9 m. long by i m. broad, and extended from the village of Dornock on the west to Longtown on the east. The factory was erected to make the explosive known as cordite R.D.B., which had been recently invented by the Research Department and was made without the use of acetone, of which supplies were short.

An area of 7,715 ac. of lightly farmed arable and pasture land was taken under the Defence of the Realm Act in July 1915, and was subsequently increased by 1,399 additional ac. in order that the factory might convert into cordite both its own nitro-cellulose and also that produced by a factory at Queensferry. One factory was divided into separate areas for the successive processes of manufacture, and materials were carried by an elaborate system of specially constructed railway lines. The full output of 800 tons of cordite per week was attained in the beginning of 1917, and the total amount of cordite produced was 56,876 tons. The maximum number of construction and operating workers employed together was 24,700, but the number of operating workers had been reduced by the date of the Armistice from 20,000 to I t,000. The proportion of female to male labour was about seven to three. For the accommodation of this large staff, factory townships were erected; the two largest of these were Gretna, with an area of 431 ac., and Eastriggs, near Dornock, with an area of 173 ac. The total number of dwellings erected included 670 timber huts, 54 timber hostels, 310 brick or stone houses, and 134 brick hostels, accommodation being provided for 13,485 persons. The villages contained shops, halls, cinemas, recreation grounds, schools and churches, and excellent supplies of water (from the river Esk) and of electric power were provided, both for industrial and for domestic use. Surplus land was cultivated and provided large supplies of oats, potatoes, garden produce and hay. The townships were administered by a town manager who controlled housing and public services, and the factory was made a special police area. The health of the factory was very satisfactory; the total number of deaths was 145. When the factory was gradually closed down after the Armistice many of the workers were allowed to remain in the houses, though they had to find employment elsewhere or in the repair of railway wagons, which was introduced to relieve unemployment in the area. At the end of 1920 there were still some 600 operatives employed in the maintenance of the buildings or in some other work connected with the factory; but, after considerable hesitation, it was decided not to retain it for national purposes and it was offered for sale in the autumn of 1921.

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