Kent's munitions factory to be built at Chaul End

A munitions factory to be built by George Kent Ltd at Chaul End within two months, Luton Council to lay the the electric mains to the site and power to to be provided from its already over-stretched electricity works - and no time to submit plans.

That was the pressure from the War Office that Luton Council faced at its first meeting of the New Year, on Tuesday, January 5th, 1915.

The Kent's part of the equation came in a letter from Mr Percival Blow, a St Albans and Luton architect, writing on behalf of the firm. It stated that Kent's proposed to erect a factory for filling time fuses for the War Office. The matter was so urgent that there was no time to submit plans to the next meeting of the committee dealing with them, and as the building would be of a temporary nature and would be erected in accordance with the rules and requirements of the Home Office, he asked to be allowed to proceed irrespective of the by-laws.

Mr Blow enclosed an advanced sheet showing the site of the proposed factory at the side of the Great Northern Railway, near the Chaul End crossing. It was on the Dunstable side of the railway and almost at the edge of the borough.

The Deputy Mayor, Alderman H. O. Williams, presiding in the absence of the Mayor, said he understood the matter was so urgent that there should be no delay, but plans should be submitted. He suggested that executive powers should be given to one or two members to deal with them.

The letter also stated that before the drains were laid plans would be submitted and this work would be carried out strictly in accordance with the Council's requirements.

It was further asked whether the Council would be prepared to lay the electric mains to the site at the earliest possible date, as electrical power would be used and the first delivery from the factory was required early in March.

Councillor G. Warren said he understood the War Office was pressing Messrs Kent very hard indeed to get on with the work, and there were only four houses in the country doing it.

The question of the plans was referred to the General Purposes Committee, with executive powers, and the application for electricity to the Electricity Committee.

A second letter was received by the Town Clerk from the Director of Army Contracts at the War Office relating to existing problems of electricity supply.

It read: "With reference to a complaint received from the Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation Ltd, that an important contract placed by them with this department is being delayed in consequence of their being unable to obtain an adequate supply of electricity from the Luton Corporation power station, I beg that you will be good enough to report to the Corporation the desirability of getting the additional plant at work at the earliest possible moment, as the alloy now on order from the Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation is urgently required in connection with the manufacture of war material. It is understood that the additional plant was ordered more than a year ago, and should have been working before the outbreak of war."

Town Clerk Mr William Smith stated that he had sent Mr Cooke, the electrical engineer, a copy of that letter and Mr Cooke had written a reply, a copy of which he had sent to the War Office with the following covering note: "The Luton Corporation have taken every possible step to ensure the completion of the new plant, and practically the whole of the delay in the completion has been caused by the war."

The reply by the electrical engineer read: "The statement contained in the communication is, I believe, correct. It is quite impossible to give the Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation the supply which they need until the new plant is running, and we cannot complete this plant owing to the non-delivery of sundry iron castings from Messrs Oakes and Co, of Alfreton, and new coal handling plant from Messrs Mechan and Sons Ltd, of Glasgow.

"Although the orders for these goods were placed with the respective firms before the outbreak of the war, you are already aware that we received notification last August that Messrs Mechan would be unable to carry out their contract by the time specified owing to the War Office contracts which had been placed with them, and Messrs Oakes pleaded the same excuse.

"Although I have repeatedly pointed out to both contractors that these materials are required to enable us to supply firms who have urgent War Office contracts placed with them, I have been unable to obtain delivery of the goods.

Messrs Oakes promised to supply the remainder of the cast-iron work before Christmas, but have not fulfilled their promise, and I am unable to obtain from Messrs Mechan any date when they will be able to complete delivery of the coal elevator.

"Last August I succeeded in obtaining permission from the military authorities then stationed in the town to have the turbines, water-tube boilers and sundry firebricks consigned as 'military stores', which greatly facilitated delivery. I further asked permission to have materials and goods required at these worked labelled as military stores, but for some reason the military authorities did not think fit to give me this permission, with the result that the goods have been held up by the railway companies because they have not been labelled 'military stores'.

"In your reply to the Director of Military Contracts I would suggest that you make a further request that permission be given that not only materials required for the completion of this extension, but that all stores, especially coal, for these works should be labelled 'OHMS' or 'military stores' as without these materials it is impossible to maintain the supply.

"In respect of these materials it may be mentioned that in addition to the Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation Ltd we are supplying and have received the applications for considerable increase in the supply to Vauxhall Motors Ltd, Vauxhall and West Hydraulic Engineering Co Ltd, T. Balmforth and Co Ltd, George Kent Ltd, Commercial Cars Ltd and the Skefko Ball Bearing Co Ltd, all of which inform me that they are carrying out urgent War Office contracts.

"If the War Office will assist us in this matter it will ensure the earlier completion of the extensions and the continuity of supplying afterwards. Without this permission neither firms supplying goods or the railway companies will give us any preference."

[The Luton News, January 7th, 1915]

See also

[In 1933 the former Chaul End munitions works, pictured, were acquired by Blundell Bros for use as a dye works.]