George Kent Ltd, based in Biscot Road, Luton, was one of several firms in the town to gear its production to the war effort between 1914 and 1919.
The firm had been founded in London in 1838 by farmer's son George Kent (born 1806). A move to Luton came in 1908, when the George Kent factory in Biscot Road was opened in June of that year (picture above).
Within a few days of the outbreak of war, offers were made by Kent's to the Government to utilise its manufacturing resources for the production of munitions. In addition to its seven-acre site in Biscot Road, a 28-acre site at Chaul End became used for a filling works from 1915.
The two factories produced about a dozen types of fuse and reached a maximum output of 130,000 fuses a week. At its height, a workforce of 8,000, mostly women, was employed on the production and filling of fuses for shells and bombs.
To cope with the huge numbers working at Chaul End, a railway halt was built on the Great Northern line that ran alongside the factory for the benefit of employees from both Luton and Dunstable. It was in use probably from 1915 to 1919 before it was no longer required and was later demolished.
By its nature, the fuse industry was a potentially hazardous one, and in addition to the 45 employees who gave their lives on the battlefield, ten workers died as a result of accidents at the works. They were later listed (including explosion dates) as:
H. Andrews - January 8th, 1917.
H. Crump - January 8th, 1917.
J. Gower - April 4th, 1916.
J. Jones - February 21st, 1917.
W. Joy - August 12th, 1918.
J. Reed - February 21st, 1918.
May Constable - March 1st, 1918.
Lillian G. Harris - March 1st, 1918.
Kate Tomkins - March 1st, 1918.
Florence Warnes - March 1st 1918.
Further details of the March 1st, 1918, fatalities are included here.
The names of all 55 victims, plus those who served in the Colours, are included on the George Kent's Roll of Honour, now housed at Stockwood Discovery Centre.
In addition, there were employees seriously injured in accidents at the works. One of them was Violet Gladys Golding, from Dunstable, who at 16 became one of the youngest people to be awarded the then newly constituted Medal of the Order of the British Empire for her courage in returning to work, despite the loss of a finger and thumb on her left hand when a detonator exploded as she was taking it from a press.
In February 1920 the Chaul End site was to be sold. The following notice appeared in the local Press.
[Slideshow pictures below: Finishing operations on filled fuses at 80 F Department, Chaul End Works; munitions girls at Biscot Road; founder George Kent; fuse girls firing waste at Chaul End in 1915, Chaul End railway halt].