Science, nature, railways and history in one place
Recent and now
The south site was closed, decontaminated and all buildings removed and site redeveloped, but the north site with funding from Government and Heritage Lottery Fund has, after decontamination, been converted to a heritage visitor centre allowing the public to learn about the science, nature and history of the site. A large area of this site is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and another, but separate, area is a scheduled ancient monument. So only a fraction of the original site is now open.
There are quite a few attractions including a railway. The original and large layout used an 18 inch gauge, but later a part of the site used 2'6" gauge. Originally the wagons were pushed by hand but later engines were used. In the gunpowder production areas with the risks of spare spark, steam engines could not be used and they had 4 paraffin driven engines each weighing 4.5 tones. There is no evidence of passengers being carried.
In 2000 the Mills bought rolling stock from Bicton Gardens, near Exeter, most of which originally came from Woolwich Arsenal. Although not original to Waltham Abbey's railway, all are to similar War Department designs, and the carriage bodies are almost all on frames and bogies identical with those used here for the large cordite wagons of 1917. The steam locomotive 'Woolwich', built by Avonside of Bristol in 1916, is the sole survivor of 16 and one of the 6 designed to burn waste oil, and whilst at Bicton was from 1962 the sole 18" gauge steam locomotive in regular use in Britain. After the closure of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Bishopton near Paisley, they acquired a lot of 2'6" rolling stock and track parts and installed some of this. A lot of work has been done, much by volunteers, to get this fully working, including converting vehicles to carry passengers, laying more track and work with the sole surviving complete wagon turntable. Just north of the 2'6" gauge depot and visible from the land train is the recently placed 3' gauge Coal Dust Explosions Simulation Unit of 1960 from the Health and Safety Laboratory at Buxton where it was used in research into spontaneous explosions in deep coal mines. Development continues...
There is also an exhibition called Farewell to Arms, a very large collection of armoury, over 200 working guns covering the periods from the English Civil War to present day conflicts including, heavy, medium and light machine guns, sub machine guns, manual and self loading rifles, revolvers and pistols, mortars, rocket launchers and grenades. The weapons come from all over the world and represent the small arms used by all the major combatants in the English Civil War, Napoleonic, Crimean, American Civil, Zulu and Boer, First World, Spanish Civil, Second World, Korean, Vietnam, Arab-Israeli, Falklands, Gulf and Afghanistan wars and conflicts. The exhibition includes most of the weapons produced by the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, Bren guns including a rare 1938 dated MK1, .455 and .38 revolvers, Sten guns and rifles. It also contains helmets, hats, uniforms, badges, leather and webbing equipment, flags, swords, bayonets and spears.
Visitors are encouraged to learn how to load, cock, aim and fire a variety of machine guns and rifles - this "hands on" experience proves to be not only interesting and informative but also good fun and they award certificates to those who qualify.
Other exhibitions include rockets, an interactive exhibition, transport and fire related exhibitions, and models including a model railway. A 1940's exhibition has the smells and sounds of the period, you get to experience the sight and sounds of an air raid shelter and browse in a 1940s shop, peek into a 1940s Nursery and Kitchen. Besides this there are the incorporating mills where the gunpowder was produced, engine houses etc. and far more. Discover the canal system, how explosives were made and far more. It's a lot on one site.
A wildlife tower allows local wildlife to be seen from the edge of the site, nature trail and woodland, a land train taking visitors around the site.
Throughout the year there are many Events and re-enactments, on a very wide range of themes.
They have a good website, if you can't find what you are looking for take a look under visitor services, site map (website), to locate the page you want. They also have a map of the site (property) see links below.
This page is a Quick Guide, the idea of Quick Guides is to allow very basic information and linking forward information to be added to the system rather than having to wait until a full location guide has been developed. It should therefore be considered a development stage rather than a finished objective. Once more information is known the objective is to create either a Location or Featured Location page which has two grids and far more information.
Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote the CIN Page Ref at the bottom of the Planning Grid above. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.
Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.