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The Vickers Armstrong factory was built in Eddington in 1941, and made small machined parts for Spitfires, Walrus Amphibian aircraft and Vickers Wellington bombers throughout the rest of the war. It closed in 1944.

John Adnams & Sons then used the area for grain storage and offices, until, in the early 1950s, Agricultural Services Ltd used the site to make weed killers and fertilizers. This became Fertiliquids, which operated until 1987.

The site was re-developed as Hamblin Meadow housing.

The Vickers Armstrong Factory:

John King was a well-known farmer at Folly Farm, Eddington, a tenant farmer on a large estate, but he was nevertheless a keen capitalist. He bought cottages and land wherever and whenever he could. During his long tenure of Folly Farm, he acquired many properties in the village of Eddington, which, in many cases, was instrumental in changing the physical shape of the village for all time.

Eddington 6 in OS

One of his acquisitions was a small paddock along Upper Eddington Road, which stretched down to the mill tail of Eddington Mill. The sale of this piece of land to Mr. King by mill-owner Mr. Hofland, did not please his tenant, Mr. Robinson, the miller, who used this field extensively as grazing for his large delivery horses.

This small field was to be the site of a most unexpected source of local employment - never dreamt of by those who bought and sold this land.

Early in the Second World War, the Luftwaffe bombed the Vickers-Armstrong's main armaments factory at Woolston, Southampton on 26th September 1940. It was realised that sites had to be found for the establishment of shadow factories, where piecemeal aircraft production could continue. Len Gooch was instructed to find suitable sites, various other dispersal sites for factories to be called shadow factories- where piecemeal aircraft production could continue. In six weeks, he had found 35 sites, and the small field, tucked under a hill to the north of Eddington, was one of them.

In strictest security, construction began almost immediately. The buildings were quickly erected, probably by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, using a fairly standard style of prefabricated, single storey, ‘Blister’ hangar, with a curved corrugated iron roof, brick walls extended by annexe buildings along the sides and ends of the main hangar. The Quarterly Report to the Vickers Board by Supermarine, in the third quarter of 1941, stated that the new dispersal unit at Hungerford was, along with ones in Newbury and Trowbridge, “in course of construction”. It provided additional Machine Room capacity for Supermarine, and the wider Vickers-Armstrongs company.

To hide the factory from German reconnaissance aircraft, the roof and buildings were painted with a camouflage pattern. RAF reconnaissance photographs, utilised by the Ordnance Survey in 1946, show the camouflage as well as the less discreet outline formed by the paths around the building.

OS RAF composite 1946

The Hungerford Works formed part of the Newbury & Hungerford Area (Newbury Area Dispersal Workshop) managed by Area Supervisor Tom Barby.

Many local garages were requisitioned for this same work - in Newbury, Messrs. Stradlings and Nias Garages were involved, besides that of Pass & Co. It was as an offshoot of the latter concern that Eddington operated. In reality, it was a machine shop, producing various, small machined parts, such as nuts, bolts, washers and other small using mostly small automatic lathes, even though there were a few larger machines. The bulk of the production being for Spitfires, with some being used for Walrus Amphibian aeroplanes and Wellington Bombers.

Vickers archive 2003 155The Vickers factory (from Vickers Archive ref 2003)

The factory possessed its own canteen and first-aid room, as well as the large The Machine Room, which had numerous rows of machine lathes, grinders and other tooling machines. To the side was a “glass house” office. It was staffed  by several hundred workers, who were mainly female, apart from a few highly skilled tool setters and tool makers.

Initially, a twenty-four hour, two-shift system being 8 to 8, seven days a week was in operation. Only later in the war were the hours slightly reduced whereby some had Saturday off one week and Sunday the next.

Although there are no known, employee numbers for the Hungerford Works, photographs of the Works in use (probably in mid 1943) suggest, that at its height, with two shifts, there would have been in the order of at least 200 employees on both the shop floor and in the associated office.

Vickers archive 2003 156The Vickers factory machine shop (from Vickers Archive ref 2003)

In order to support the local women working at the factory with crèche and childcare support, a "Wartime Nursery" (later re-named Day Nursery) administered by the Ministry of Health, was opened in The Croft. It provided childcare support from 7am to 7pm both for the women working in the Hungerford Works and those in the nearby Chilton Aircraft Factory. After the war the "Day Nursery" became The Croft Nursery School.

During its short life, the "Hungerford Works" had not only given a valuable service to the nation as a whole, but had played a major role in bringing employment and much-needed income to a large number of local residents, even if under a cloak of secrecy.

See also: The Supermariners - an excellent website about the factories making Spitfire parts in the Second World War and the people who worked there. [With thanks to Dave Key for additional information and photos, 2023].

Adnams & Sons:

As the war ended, these large buildings became empty, but not for long. The Hungerford-based firm of seed and grain merchants, John Adnams and Sons, whose main offices were at 28 High Street with works at the Granary behind, were the first to cast eyes on this large expanse of covered area. It is not known whether they purchased the buildings or leased them from the ministry, but they used them extensively as a grain store and an extension to their business.

Christopher Hill Ltd:

Before long, the large, Poole based firm of millers and corn merchants by the name of Christopher Hills Ltd. took over the premises and Adnams business. They used the buildings as an outstation for the storage and distribution of large quantities of their products and had an office staff as well as representatives working from that address.

Agricultural Services Ltd:

In the early 1950s, a firm known as Agricultural Services Ltd was started at Emmer Green Garage, near Reading. They specialised in the sale and application of all manner of fertilisers and weed killers to the farming industry.

One of their most successful ventures in later years was the promotion of a nitrogen-rich by-product of the gas making industry, called Gas Liquor. This was extensively sold locally, and used by dairy farmers to promote the growth of kale, a valuable source of green winter food for milk-producing cows.

In the early days, this firm operated a small fleet of portable sprayers mounted on the back of Land Rovers. However, I believe that this same firm fell under the banner of Christopher Hill Ltd, which brought about a move. and they joined forces with the former Adnams team at Eddington.

Fertiliquid Ltd:

The undoubted success to the farmer of a liquid form of fertiliser, readily available and easily spread, coupled with a home base sufficiently large enough for the manufacture of an. increasing range of these products - in turn led to a rapid expansion of not only sales, but activity at the Eddington plant.

19880800 Fertiliquid old tanks (John Allen)Fertiliquid tanks (taken in August 1988 by John Allen)

Large square tanks now appeared, together with the first batch of small, round, vertical tanks - an omen of what was to follow. A workshop for the erection and maintenance of portable tractor-hauled sprayer tanks was incorporated into the works, as well as the usual office facilities. The now familiar sight of large lorries carrying liquid fertiliser, Fertiliquid, a name and trade mark established at that time, now became part of everyday life.

Rank, Hovis, McDougall:

It was not long before the still expanding firm of Christopher Hill attracted the attention of the large conglomerate firm of Rank, Hovis, McDougall, who bought the site in the 1960s, and paved the way for even greater activity.

Fertiliquids of Eddington, under the banner of Dalgety since 1984, became leaders in their field, and their volume of business grew from an annual total of just over two thousand tons with seven sprayers, at the time of 'RHMs acquisition to a staggering fifty thousand tons and two hundred and fifty sprayer's in the 1987s. The firm employed twenty six people, and offered a comprehensive service to agriculture over a large slice of Southern Britain.

19870600 fertiliquidFertiliquid premises, June 1987 (by John Allen)

It was announced in the local press on 14th April 1987, that the Dalgety would close the Eddington site by the end of the year, and Fertiliquid production was moved to Calne.

19880800 Fertiliquid Hill's old factory (John Allen)Fertiliquid / Hill's old factory (taken August 1988 byJohn Allen).

The land was eventually sold, and re-developed as Hamblin meadow housing estate.

[With thanks to John and Brenda Newton, 2017.]

See also:

The Croft Nursery School

- Second World War

- Chilton Aircraft Factory

- Eddington