Royal Gunpowder Mills
Essex EN9 1JY
TfL Fare Zone 6
The Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey is a fantastic industrial heritage site. Most people love the sound and sight of fireworks but few think about how explosives were made and the importance of gunpowder in world history.
The site is a wonderful mixture of natural beauty, rare wildlife, old canals and railways and low brick buildings filled with fascinating exhibits. The site stretches along the medieval Millhead watercourse that originally powered the watermills.
Displays include a steam beam engine, explosives barge, firearms from the Civil War onwards, recreations of living in the 1940s, the Gunpowder Plot, and rockets and guided missiles.
The northern part of the site is occupied by woodland planted 300 years ago to provide charcoal, one of the ingredients of gunpowder. The wood was harvested by coppicing every fifteen years. When this stopped the trees grew to form the woodland now present.
Walks on paths, across bridges and on boardwalks through the wood allow visitors to see rare wildlife such as Muntjac deer, badgers, otters, fish, butterflies and herons. There is a wildlife tower which gives excellent views over the woodland.
A number of historical re-enactments are held during the weekends in summer. Authentically costumed soldiers fire their muskets and cannons. Full details can be found on the Mills’ excellent website.
Gunpowder and explosives were manufactured on this site for 300 years. Waltham Abbey gunpowder was of the highest quality and the preferred government product. The privately owned gunpowder mills scattered along the valley were purchased by the government in 1787.
Dam Busters Bouncing Bomb
The conflicts during the 19th century and two World Wars led to an expansion of the explosives factories. It was here that the famous Dam Busters bouncing bomb was developed.
Waltham Abbey’s proximity to the east coast made it a target for German V2 rockets. In 1943 production was moved to the west of England and the factories closed.
Space Rocket Propellant Research
In 1945 the Royal Gunpowder Mills re-opened as an explosives research establishment. Work centred on solid and liquid fuels for guided missiles and specialised propellants invented for the first space rockets. The Mills were finally closed in 1991. The whole fascinating history is beautifully told throughout this wonderful site.
Plan Your Visit
There is a lot to see and do so allow 3-4 hours for a visit. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
The whole site is wheel chair friendly with the exception of the Wildlife Tower. There are wheelchairs available.
Food, Drink & Facilities
Picnic areas, Café & Toilets
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1992 707 370
TfL Fare Zone 6 Transport for London - Journey Planner
Visit the Royal Gunpowder Mills website for an excellent map and Web: How to Find Us directions
Google Maps - Royal Gunpowder Mills