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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Salvaged clockfaces to form part of new museum

Historic timepieces saved from the scrapheap will be part of a new museum about an unrivalled wartime effort.

Salvaged clock photo
Heritage group chairman Richard Brodie with one of the clockfaces

Clock faces which once kept time on the tower of a building that was a key feature of a giant World War One munitions factory have been handed to those behind the venture.

Mossband House, the building on which they once featured, was demolished several years ago despite a campaign by historians to have it saved.

The two-storey red-brick building was the factory’s headquarters. It stood prominently by the side of the A74 five miles north of Carlisle.

But it was bulldozed after the Ministry of Defence deemed it unsafe.

Members of Eastriggs and Gretna Heritage Group tried, but failed, to get English Heritage to list the building to stop it being knocked down.

They, however, later learned that not all of the building had been lost.

Its clock faces and workings have been kept in storage at DM Longtown.

One of the depot’s staff even repaired the clock workings.

They have now been donated to the historical group, which is behind the renowned Devil’s Porridge exhibition which tells the story of HM Factory Gretna, the massive munitions works which stretched nine miles from Dornock, near Annan, to Longtown.

Its members are now considering how they can be incorporated into the purpose-built museum they’re now preparing to move into next year, in time to mark the centenary of World War One’s outbreak.

Chairman Richard Brodie said: “It’s excellent that we’ve been able to get these clock faces. We’ve been trying for a number of years to acquire them.

“Mossband House was an important building in the history of the factory. It was the central offices where all the managerial decisions were made.

“We tried to get it listed, but it was probably too late by the time our campaign started. The decision had already been made.

“We’re hoping that the clock faces will play a part in the new museum we’re hoping to open in 2014. We’re going to be in talks with our builders to see if at least one of the faces can be incorporated into the facade of the building. There will be opportunities for the new clock faces to be displayed inside.”

Heritage group secretary Sheila Ruddick was also delighted they’ve been able to take possession of the clock faces. She added: “We’ve tried for a long time to get these. They are a piece of history.

“Mossband House was a right landmark between Gretna and Carlisle.”

The building, built in Georgian style, was created in about 1916.

After HM Factory Gretna ceased to exist, sections of the former plant at Longtown and Eastriggs became ammunition storage sites. It is a role still carried out at Defence Munitions Longtown, currently under the threat of closure.

Mossband House served as the HQ on what became Central Ammunition Depot (CAD) Longtown from 1939 to 1968 and in later years housed the MoD Police, CAD technical services and was used by a cadet training team.

HM Factory Gretna was specially built to ease British troops’ massive ammunition shortage during World War One, employing 30,000 people with construction starting in 1915.

The Devil’s Porridge has been telling the complex’s story since 1996, first in a church hall at Eastriggs and now in a former horse-riding arena.

Its name is taken from the description coined by Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle, for the cordite ammunition which was manufactured at the works, which he dubbed ‘the greatest munitions factory on Earth’ after visiting. Heritage group leaders say their move from Daleside to the purpose-built centre at Stanfield Farm, on the edge of Eastriggs, will help secure the exhibition’s long-term future.

Foundations for the building, being developed by ICM Developments Limited, a partnership between building contractor Iain Carruthers and Stephen Monk of M&S Engineering, both firms based in Eastriggs, are already in place.

Visitor numbers to the current attraction have hit a high of 8,000, but there are hopes this will increase to 15,000 at the new site, which will boast better interaction, new exhibits and more chances for more groups to become involved.

Mr Brodie said: “We’re trying to raise about £450,000 to do all the internal displays and make it the best museum on the border.

“We’ve raised £175,000 so far and currently have another round of funding to hear from. We’re confident we’ll have enough money to do a really good project.”

The opening of the new centre could not come at a more appropriate time, given the centenary of World War One.

“We’re hoping to play a major part in the national commemorations to remember the sacrifice of the servicemen, but just as importantly remembering the contribution of women to the war effort, working sometimes in difficult conditions,” he added.

HM Factory Gretna led to the creation of the townships of Eastriggs and Gretna and the introduction of the state management pub system imposed on Carlisle and surrounding areas and creation of the Harry Redfern-designed pubs.

The Government took control of pubs because they saw drunkenness as a threat to munitions production.

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