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Latitude: 52.7886 / 52°47'19"N
Longitude: -1.6564 / 1°39'23"W
OS Eastings: 423267
OS Northings: 321284
OS Grid: SK232212
Mapcode National: GBR 5F1.220
Mapcode Global: WHCGC.J5FH
Entry Name: Office Block at Branston Depot
Listing Date: 5 February 2001
Last Amended: 26 February 2001
Source: Historic England
Source ID: 1246225
English Heritage Legacy ID: 487385
Location: Branston, East Staffordshire, Staffordshire, DE14
District: East Staffordshire
Civil Parish: Branston
Built-Up Area: Burton upon Trent
Traditional County: Staffordshire
Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Staffordshire
Church of England Parish: Branston St Saviour
Church of England Diocese: Lichfield
SK 22 SW
Office Block at Branston Depot
Offices. 1918. Built by Thomas Lowe and Sons. Brick with stone and artificial stone dressings, slate roof and brick stacks. Rectangular plan with axial corridor serving offices. Edwardian Baroque style. 3 storeys. The whole building has dentilled Tuscan entablature, supported at corners by clasped and recessed Tuscan pilasters and with second attic storey above with moulded cornice and string course to parapet. All windows are horned 6/6-pane sashes set under flat brick arches, keyed to ground floor with recessed aprons to first floor. South elevation has projecting 3-window end blocks flanking 15-window block of 7:1:7 fenestration with open-pedimented central entrance bay. Panelled double doors set in bolection-moulded architrave with broken pediment set below window in eared architrave, flanked by paired Tuscan pilasters, and with scrolled brackets flanking arched second floor window in similar architrave with key extending to pediment above. Similar treatment to side and rear elevations, to each side of the rear elevation being a tall stair window set above an entrance with panelled double doors set in moulded architrave with moulded flat hood.
Interior: retains original joinery including panelled doors in panelled reveals and some half-glazed partitions. Stairs each side of central hall have steel balustrades with swept moulded handrails.
HISTORY: This office block, together with its associated pump house, comprises the finest architectural set piece associated with the National Factories Scheme of the First World War period.
The National Factories Scheme was initiated after the creation of the Ministry of Munitions in 1915. The unprecedented scale and continual high demand placed on British industry had exposed the weaknesses of the existing system of explosives manufacture and arms production. This called for the imposition of stronger government control over the production of materiel destined for the battlefields of the First World War. There were 215 National Factories by November 1918, ranging from shell, explosives and aircraft manufacture to the first site firmly associated with the nascent biotechnology industry. Holton Heath in Dorset, where a fine group of neo-Georgian laboratory buildings, an explosives and biotechnology site have survived, is the most important of the explosives factories associated with this scheme. A distinction was made between engineering factories and those producing explosives. The purpose-built factories, which constituted half of the total of 215, invariably occupied greenfield sites: exemplified an important step in modern factory design, through the relationship of planning to process flow, and a holistic attitude to welfare and the work place as seen in the provision of leisure, canteen and health facilities on site. These borrowed from American models and had a strong influence on inter-war factory planning. 169,700 of the 305,900 employees on these sites in November 1918 were women, a factor which influenced the layout of canteen and other buildings: the canteen block at Burton, which included segregated areas for male and female workers in addition to a surgery and amenity provision, faced onto a bowling green which still survives.
The idea of constructing a national factory for the production of machine guns, the weapon responsible for considerable developments in military tactics from the late-19th century and for so much of the carnage on the Western Front, was first suggested in September 1917. The project received Treasury sanction in October, and a site was purchased at Burton-on-Trent outside the area threatened by daytime air raids. The factory was intended to produce 400 guns per week, but was still being built when the Armistice was signed in November 1918, and the first output was not secured until January 1919. In May 1919 the factory was closed as a working unit and converted into a store for guns and machinery.
The machine gun factory at Branston was built by Thomas Lowe and Sons, an established building firm in Burton. The drawings for the buildings on the site were signed off at Enfield Lock, headquarters of the Enfield Small Arms Factory. It was provided with a short rail connection to the Branston Sidings on the Birmingham and Derby Railway. Although the factory was designed for rapid construction, being built of brick and steel-framed with slate roofs, it was calculated in August 1918 that it would not be complete for a further 18 months. The present factory now consists of one (of a projected four) vast North Light sheds and a number of small ancillary buildings, not completed until after the First World War and never used for their intended purpose. After the war, the War Office placed the site in the top category of 7 National Factories to be considered for retention and future use by the State: these included the Enfield Small Arms Factory, the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham, the Royal Ordnance Factory at Woolwich and the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough (all surviving as historically important sites) . It was suggested that the National Machine Gun Factory should be kept as a working unit for production and use of machine guns in order that a permanent centre of trained machine workers and running machines might be provided in case of emergency: the lack of skilled workers had been a major problem in 1914. The decision was eventually taken, however, that the workshops at Enfield and Woolwich could be adapted should the need arise. Crosse and Blackwell, the preserved food manufacturers based at Soho in London, bought the site from the government in 1920 and commenced production - after a dispute concerning the removal of machinery from the factory - in the following year. Despite their considerable investment in the site, which included the completion of some of the factory buildings and houses in the Garden City style built to the designs of Aston Webb for employees in Burton Road, they left in 1925, followed by a silk company (responsible for the now-demolished chimney that towered over the site) which ceased production in 1930. The War Office took over the site in 1937, and the factory became an Ordnance Depot for the storage of clothing and equipment. In 1962 the War Office moved most of its ordnance supplies to Bicester in Oxfordshire.
SOURCES: History of the Ministry of Munitions (HMSO, 1922), Vol. VIII (Control of Industrial Capacity, part II, The National Factories), pp.222-3; former PSA drawings at National Monuments Record, Swindon, BHM/619-43; Dangerous Energy Project, RCHME (now English Heritage); Public Record Office MUN 4/6670, 6810
Listing NGR: SK2326721284
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