The Barnbow Royal Ordnance Factory in Crossgates was recently commemorated with a Leeds Civic Trust Blue Plaque. The plaque, unveiled by Val Orrell who worked at Barnbow for many years and whose father helped to build it, reads “Barnbow Royal Ordnance Factory was built 1939-40 to make armaments for the Second World War. Employing at its peak 3000 workers including 2000 women, it produced around 9000 guns – 6 and 25 pounders, 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns, 40mm Bofors and 17 pounders for Sherman tanks. Between 1945 and closure in 1999, over 4000 Centurion, Chieftain and Challenger tanks were built here.”
Placed on the former factory gates on Austhorpe Lane, which have been preserved alongside a new housing development, the plaque is sponsored jointly by Bellway Homes, East Leeds History and Archaeology Society, and Leeds Civic Trust members. It will be a visual commemoration to the importance of the factory, not only to the city but also to the whole UK during WW2 and beyond.
It was built on the 60 acre greenfield site just one mile away from the First World War Shell Filling Factory, also known locally as Barnbow. The Ministry of War’s Royal Ordnance Factory No9 was a copy of the Woolwich factory and swiftly built. The factory had produced nearly 9000 barrels and breech-blocks for the Army and Royal Navy by the end of the war. Barnbow was chosen to manufacture the Centurion Mark I, a cruiser type tank which just missed action in WW2.
Over the years, Barnbow was heavily involved in the development and manufacture of British tanks both for the Army and export to other countries. During the 1980’s privatisation schemes, Royal Ordnance Leeds was purchased by Vickers plc who were known for building naval battle fleets and aircraft including Spitfires as well as tanks. Vickers Defence Systems built a new factory on the site which opened in 1987 and produced tanks until December 1999.
The site both as the Royal Ordnance Factory and Vickers Defence Systems was one of the major sources of employment for local residents until its closure and the blue plaque is a fitting tribute. Cllr Pauline Grahame commented “I am happy to support the placing of the Blue Plaque. It keeps the memory of Barnbow alive and I would like to offer my thanks to Mark at Bellway Homes for all his support.”
Bellway Homes have been keen to retain the history of the area whilst building their new housing development, and have named the streets after the ‘Barnbow Lasses’ who lost their lives whilst working at the Shell Filling Factory during the First World War. Although a different site to the one being honoured with the plaque, both factories were known locally as Barnbow.