April 2015

My name is Catherine Mayo and I am the Conservation Assistant at the BMIHT Archive.

My job is extremely varied; my colleagues and I find various items in states of distress which come my way to be appraised and to eventually receive conservation treatment. My choice for Document of the Month was found quite by accident whilst looking through a box which contained Rover Company minute books, one of which needed rebinding. It wasn’t this item that drew my attention though; another item entitled ‘No 1 D Factory Drakelow, Nr Kidderminster’ was what peaked my interest. I had heard of the Drakelow Tunnels before and was intrigued to the point that I had to open the ledger

Drakelow Factory Progress

Why This Document?

During the Second World War, the Rover Company joined the government’s ‘shadow’ factory scheme. An underground factory was needed to protect aero production from air raid strikes and so Drakelow was chosen as the spot.

The first section of the ledger, ‘Construction’ gives an idea of the enormity of the project with ‘many thousands of tons of sandstone to be removed’. Machine tools, furnaces, power stations, laboratories, offices, canteens and hostel accommodation were also to be created within the underground complex of tunnels. There were several construction problems including tunnel collapses and, as the ledger records, it was almost a year before production was able to begin on 14 October 1942.

The second section, Factory Progress, is so full of interesting comments, that I found it hard to pick some notable ones to share with you. It seems that all was not straightforward with the military presence, which can be seen in this rather clipped entry on 21 December 1943: ‘American Air Force took preliminary possession of factory hostel (no official notification received by Rover)’. You can tell by the tone, that the author wasn’t altogether pleased that they hadn’t been told and that perhaps the Americans had just appeared out of the blue!

You can see the war progressing as various restrictions are lifted. On 7 April 1944, Friday overtime was generally eliminated to help with fuel economy, followed by the announcement of D-Day on 6 June. There was a relaxation of the restriction of the factory lighting in September and the Home Guard were stood down shortly after in October. At this point, you start to see a decline in the number of entries, petering out to only a few per year. By January 1945, plans for the production of the Hercules engine are being put in place and Germany unconditionally surrenders to the Allies on 9 May.

Even with the end of the Second World War, the entries for Drakelow do not cease completely. The tunnels continued to be used, but for military storage mainly. Occasional entries continue right into 1955, the very last one being recorded on 12 September – ‘Mr Mealand and Mr Davies went to Drakelow in connection with the moving of stores from Drakelow to Acocks Green’.

It was an absolute joy to read through the pages of this ledger. I gained so much insight into the factory production processes during the war and all wartime changes and restrictions that were in place. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the tunnels as well.

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