'Unloading the nitrating pans

Unloading the nitrating pans

At dinner Broomhills Canteen

At dinner Broomhills Canteen


The Devil's Porridge Museum is a very specifice museum. For centuries, the quiet, rural area around the tiny hamlets of Eastriggs and Gretna lay undisturbed with only a few farms and small settlements dotted about. Then in 1915, soon after the start of World War One, the men from the Ministry of Munitions arrived and everything changed. By 1917 the factory was producing 1,100 tons of cordite per week, more than all the other munitions plants in Britain combined, providing much-needed ammunition or the troops fighting on the front line. Within a period of 12 months the government had taken over the farms and in their place was one of the most remarkable factories on Earth. Stretching for nine miles, HM Factory Gretna employed 30,000 workers, at its height, to manufacture RDB Cordite, a new type of munitions propellant.


H.M. Factory, Gretna stretched 12 miles (19 km) from Mossband near Longtown in the east, to Dornock / Eastriggs in the west straddling the Scottish / English border. The facility consisted of four large production sites and two purpose-built townships. The facility had its own independent transport network, power source, and water supply system. Site 1, Smalmstown was to the north of Longtown. Site 2, Mossband was bounded on the west by the Caledonian Railway (now the West Coast Main Line), and the River Esk on the south and the east. Site 3, Eastriggs, was bounded to the north by the B721 and the Glasgow and South Western Railway, and south by the Solway Firth and the River Sark. Site 4, Gretna, was contained like Site 3 but it was adjacent to the Gretna township to the east. A military, 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge railway was used to move materials and supplies around the sites. The network, which had 125 miles (201 km) of track, employed 34 engines. Electricity for the munitions manufacture and the townships was provided by a purpose-built coal-fired power station. The telephone exchange was handling up to 2.5 million calls in 1918. The townships had their own bakeries, a laundries and a police force. The laundry could clean 6,000 items daily and the bakeries made 14,000 meals a day. Water was taken from the River Esk, north of Longtown, through a 42 inches (110 cm) diameter pipe to a pump house. From there it was pumped through a 33 inches (84 cm) main to a reservoir. A filtration/treatment works could handle up to ten million gallons a day.


Construction work on HM Factory, Gretna started in November 1915 under the general supervision of S P Pearson & Sons. Two wooden townships were also built concurrently to house the workers. These were established at Gretna and Eastriggs. To prevent problems with the influx of navvies and munition workers, authorities implemented the introduction of the State Management Scheme which curtailed alcohol sales through the nationalisation of pubs and breweries in the vicinity. Munitions production started in April 1916. By 1917 the largest proportion of the workforce were women: 11,576 women to 5,066 men. At its peak, the factories produced 800 tons (812 tonne) of Cordite RDB per week, more than all the other munitions plants in Britain combined. Cordite was colloquially known as the "Devil's Porridge"; the name comes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote in 1917: "The nitroglycerin on the one side and the gun-cotton on the other are kneaded into a sort of a devil's porridge". In 1917, when production reached 800 tons per week, King George V and Queen Mary visited the factory. Cordite production ceased following the end of World War I. Shortly afterwards the manufacturing plants were demolished. The entire site was retained until the 1920s when most of Site 4 and some parts of the former munition areas were auctioned for private and agricultural land in more than 700 lots. The two townships of Eastriggs and Gretna and their bakeries were also sold off. On its closure, Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills near London became the sole government-owned cordite factory until an expansion programme started at the outbreak of World War II.


Nearly twelve thousand female workers flocked to HM Factory Gretna to play a vital role during the First World War, releasing men to enlist for the front lines. Women emigrated from all parts of the United Kingdom and further afield, determined to do their bit for the war effort. Their efforts to produce thousands of tons of cordite was rewarded with excellent housing, leisure activities and a generous wage. These dedicated ladies risked their lives working with these dangerous explosives and proved they were equal to performing tasks traditionally the preserve of men. The communities of Gretna and Eastriggs were built to house the munitions workers of HM Factory Gretna. Initially the towns were constructed from timber, however the cost of wood became too expensive making it cheaper to construct red brick buildings. The architects of the townships were leading experts in the Garden City Movement and the two townships represent a significant milestone in the development of municipal housing in Scotland. Eastriggs was dubbed the ‘Commonwealth Village’ because the streets have been named after places in the Empire. The towns of Eastriggs and Gretna today remain as a reminder of the vital work that took place at HM Factory Gretna.


The Quintinshill rail disaster was a multi-train rail crash which occurred on 22 May 1915 outside the Quintinshill signal box near Gretna Green in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. It resulted in the deaths of over 200 people, and is the worst rail disaster in British history. Quintinshill box controlled two passing loops on each side on the Caledonian Main Line linking Glasgow and Carlisle (now part of the West Coast Main Line). At the time of the accident, both passing loops were occupied with goods trains and a northbound local passenger train was standing on the southbound main line. The first collision occurred when a southbound troop train travelling from Larbert to Liverpool collided with the stationary local train. A minute later the wreckage was struck by a northbound sleeping car express train travelling from London Euston to Glasgow Central. Gas from the Pintsch gas lighting system of the old wooden carriages of the troop train ignited, starting a fire which soon engulfed all five trains.


Only half the soldiers on the troop train survived. Those killed were mainly Territorial soldiers from the 1/7th (Leith) Battalion, the Royal Scots heading for Gallipoli. The precise death toll was never established with confidence as some bodies were never recovered, having been wholly consumed by the fire, while the roll list of the regiment was also destroyed in the fire. The official death toll was 227 (215 soldiers, 9 passengers and three railway employees), but the army later reduced their 215 by one. Not counted in the 227 were four victims thought to be children, but which were never claimed or identified. The soldiers were buried together in a mass grave in Edinburgh's Rosebank Cemetery, where an annual remembrance is held. An official inquiry, completed on 17 June 1915 for the Board of Trade, found the cause of the collision to be neglect of the rules by two signalmen. With the northbound loop occupied, the northbound local train had been reversed onto the southbound line to allow passage of two late running northbound sleepers. Its presence was then overlooked, and the southbound troop train was cleared for passage. As a result, both were charged with manslaughter in England, then convicted of culpable homicide after trial in Scotland; the two terms are broadly equivalent. After they were released from a Scottish jail in 1916, they were re-employed by the railway company, although not as signalmen.


Their new state-of-the-art museum has something for everyone. Experience life in a World War One Trench and explore the Factory to discover what life was like for the thousands of munitions girls who flocked to work here. Round off your visit by browsing their well-stocked shop or treating yourself to some delicious home baking in the café. There is full disabled access, toilet facilities, ample free parking and parking for coaches. Click here for an interactive 360 degree view of the museum. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : The Devil's Porridge Museum, Near Stanfield Farm, Annan Road, Eastriggs DG12 6TF

Transport: Annan (National Rail) then bus (79, 579). Bus Routes : 79, 179 and 579 stop outside.

Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00;  Sundays until 16:00

Tickets : Adults £5.00;  Concessions £4.00;  Children (5 - 15) £4.00

Tel : 01461 700021