Saturday, 28 November 2015

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Devil's Porridge Museum to open today

A £1 million museum telling the story of a massive munitions works that helped win World War One is to be unveiled.

Richard Brodie photo
Richard Brodie

The new Devil’s Porridge Museum reveals the impact of HM Factory Gretna and the legacy it has left on the borderlands.

It builds on the massive success of the Devil’s Porridge Exhibition, which has grown in popularity to such an extent that a purpose-built home for the attraction has had to be created.

The centre will be opened in Eastriggs, near Annan, today – just days ahead of the centenary of World War One’s outbreak.

HM Factory Gretna, built in 1916, stretched nine miles along the Solway coast from Dornock, near Annan, to Longtown.

Dubbed the greatest munitions factory on Earth, its construction was pivotal to the country’s war effort and its impact on life in places including Carlisle massive.

An army of women produced worked in highly dangerous conditions to produce the cordite needed for shells taken to the frontline.

It sparked the introduction of the strict state management pub system – to curb the potentially explosive consequences of munitions workers’ drinking - that controlled licensing in the city, where many of the workers lived, until the 1970s.

The works spawned the creation of the townships of Gretna and Eastriggs with its legacy remaining in the Ministry of Defence depot that remains in operation at Longtown.

The new museum is the brainchild of the Eastriggs and Gretna Heritage group, whose members have spent more than 20 years researching the history of the munitions works and uncovered amazing tales from people who worked there.

Chairman Richard Brodie said: “Thirty thousand munitions workers came here from all over Britain and the Commonwealth.

“In this quiet part of the Solway Firth, more cordite propellant was produced than all the other British factories put together.

“Before Lloyd George oversaw the building of the Gretna factory in 1915-1916, Britain was losing the war through shortage of shells.”

The museum boasts a host of interactive attractions and tells individual soldiers’ stories of those who went off to battle, as well as the battle that was fought on the home front to feed the war machine.

Mr Brodie, a former Annan Academy teacher who’s also a Dumfries and Galloway councillor, added: “The story of the 10,000 navvies who came to build the factory and drank the place dry and the 12,000 young women who came to do their bit is brought to life by personal accounts, vivid graphic panels and humorous stories.

“The creation of two miracle towns of Eastriggs and Gretna to house the workers and provide all the amenities and facilities to meet the needs is testament to the importance of the factory to the war effort.”

Among the major new additions to the heritage group’s collection being showcased at the museum is a 1917 refurbished fireless locomotive, Sir James.

It was used at the factory to haul tonnes of explosive paste – the so-called devil’s porridge, a named coined by Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – from one end of the factory to the other to be made into cordite.

The train was discovered at the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway in Ulverston, where it had been sitting in a siding.

“Conventional steam engines could not be used because of the sparks produced – so a loco powered up steam externally pumped into its pressure vessel was invented,” Mr Brodie added.

Children will be able to follow interactive stories of a munitions girl and local soldier as they make their way around the factory, pulling a beer pump to learn about the pub state management system.

Items in the Devil’s Porridge collection include clock faces from iconic tower of the old Mossband House building near Longtown that was the factory’s headquarters.


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