Welcome to the
Royal Small Arms Factory
Artefacts from the Royal Small Arms Factory are currently on display at Ordnance Library in Enfield as part of the Festival of Industry project, celebrating Enfield’s industrial past, present and future.
Situated in Enfield, the site of the former Royal Small Arms Factory was restored to its former glory in 2001 and boasts a rich history.
Our Museum - The RSA Interpretation Centre
Between 1816 and 1988 The Royal Small Arms Factory was at the heart of Britain’s military small arms industry.
The Interpretation Centre is a small exhibition of the Royal Small Arms Factory’s history, a vital part of the industrial past of the Lee Valley. The Centre was established to tell the story of the Factory, its workers, technology and products. Whilst small it is a valuable memorial located at the factory itself and is used as a resource by local schools.
The Interpretation Centre is opened when community events take place around the canal basin and Community Hall that have been organised by other local groups such as Enfield Island Village Trust, enact or Oasis Community Hub.
Since its establishment the RSA Trust has sought to collect the stories of former RSAF employees, creating an oral history archive and collecting objects and archival material associated with the Factory and its workers.
The RSA Interpretation Centre is wheelchair accessible on the ground floor only. Due to the age of the building and its listed status we are currently unable to arrange wheelchair access to the top of the clock tower.
Our staff are happy to assist in you viewing objects in the collection and can arrange object handling sessions if needed, subject to availability. We have wheelchair accessible toilets on site.
If you require door-to-door access to the museum, please phone the office when you reach our car park. We can lower the access control bollard onto Island Centre Way.
Open Days. Events & Queries
In association with the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices’ Association, we take part in London Open House Weekend every year.
In association with the Royal Small Arms Factory Apprentices’ Association, we take part in London Open House Weekend every year. This event is the third weekend in September and when we allow access to our John Thwaites factory clock. In addition, we have former Apprentices on hand to talk to our visitors about life working at the Factory. Climb the ladder to the top of the tower and view our turret clock!
The RSAF Factory Clock
Above the gallery space is a hidden treasure, the RSAF Factory Clock. This clock was brought to the factory when the site was rebuilt in the 1850s.
It is a John Thwaites Birdcage clock dating from 1783. It is coupled to our bell ‘Albert’, cast at Woolwich Arsenal in 1857 which can be seen outside at the top of the tower. This clock is not routinely accessible to the general public, but we do allow access every year as part of London Open House Weekend. The video below tells you a little more about our history.
Our Early History
Much of the history of the RSA factory is down to the tenacity of one Man, George Lovell – the first storekeeper (or Superintendent) of what was initially the Royal Armoury Mills.
These mills had been intended to manufacture barrels for British military muskets and rifles, owing to a shortage amongst the private gun trade in London and Birmingham, exacerbated by increased demand due to The Napoleonic Wars.
In 1808 the precursor to this factory opened in Lewisham. The mills were powered by water initially, but the River Ravensbourne would run dry in summer. A steam engine installed on the site proved too expensive to operate, leading the Board of Ordnance to seek a new location.
Enfield lock, on the Lee Navigation had the requisite water pressure needed to power the site. After a design for water works by John Rennie was rejected as too costly, the Board’s own engineer John By designed and executed the scheme.
Construction of the canal arm, millpond, factory, and cottages for the workers was completed in the autumn of 1815, with the factory starting production in 1816. This was timely as it came one year after the decisive Battle of Waterloo.
The Canal Arm
George Lovell was a very ambitious man, with an interest in efficiency and technology. He also was nonplussed at the quality of workmanship amongst the private gun trade. Whilst initially securing contracts to repair or manufacture small batches of rifles and muskets, Lovell’s vision was to create a centre of excellence in firearms manufacturing.
Throughout the 1820s and 1830s the number of services expanded, allowing the full development of firearms to take place.
The Royal Small Arms Factory
The first entirely Enfield-designed gun was the Brunswick rifle – the British Army’s first percussion lock rifle.
The next big development came in the 1850s, when the factory was completely rebuilt to house new machine tools from the United States bringing back to the UK Mass production, which had been developed at Portsmouth dockyard by Marc Brunel, and adapted for making firearms in the US by Springfield Armory and Robbins and Lawrence.
The resulting rifle, the 1853 pattern musket was a very accurate weapon which also benefited from Standardised parts. However, its new paper cartridges, combined with an indifference towards the concerns of Indian soldiers by the East India Company led to the Indian Mutiny of 1857. This rifle was produced in private factories across Britain and despite the Royal Small Arms factory not selling to either the US Army or Confederate states, was very popular in the American Civil War.
Throughout the latter half of the 19th Century, rapid development of breech loading weapons saw the factory converting most Pattern 1853 rifles into breech loading Snider rifles, to be used alongside The Martini-Henry rifles, which saw service most famously in colonial wars in Africa, such as the Zulu and Boer wars.
The culmination of this development was the Lee Enfield rifle – featuring a .303″ calibre barrel and five bullet magazine. The Bolt action firing mechanism allowed soldiers to cook and reload Their weapons whilst still prone. This rifle remained in service for over 60 years, seeing action in World War One and World War Two, as well as the Korean War.
The Lee Enfield Rifle
Throughout the Twentieth Century the Factory was home to a number of innovations, ranging from the scientific, such as lost Wax casting of hardened steel, to the social, famously 24 hour drinking. After the first world war started the government reduced the opening hours in pubs. The RSA factory had no canteen, so an exception was made that granted 24 hour licences to the four pubs in the area (The Greyhound, The Royal Small Arms Pub, The Ordnance Tavern and the Swan and Pike) with the proviso that no one bought a round of drinks. This was a criminal office called ‘Treating’!
The RSA Fire Brigade
Bus: 121, 491
Alight at ‘Canalside Walk’ stop and cross the small pedestrian bridge over the ornamental canal arm.
National Rail: Enfield Lock Station
Trains run every half an hour between London Liverpool Street and Hertford East, once per hour between Stratford (London) and Bishop’s Stortford.
London Underground: Tottenham Hale
Change from Victoria Line to National Rail and take the train to Enfield Lock Station (see above).
There is free parking available in our car park at the RSA Island Centre as well as free parking around Enfield Island Village should our car park be full. We are located just off of Mollison Avenue, a short distance from J25 of the M25. Please note that unless pre-arranged we are unable to offer large coach parking facilities.
Our address is: The RSA Island Centre, Island Centre Way, Enfield, EN3 6GS
By Boat: Enfield Lock, Lee Navigation
There are casual moorings both to the north and south of the lock. We are located approximately five minutes’ walk from the lock.