Blasts From The Past

A tram on Fore Street
A tram on Fore Street circa 1905
A tram on Fore Street circa 1905

Eastern Enfield armed the British Empire with rifles, bayonets and swords, but now the area is embracing different kinds of cutting edge technology.

Nestling on a marshy island bordered by the River Lea and the River Lee Navigation, The Enfield Royal Small Arms factory was constructed after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 to produce cheap good quality firearms to the British Army.

It initially used water power to drive machinery and the rivers were used to transport raw materials and finished products to the River Thames and beyond.

By 1860 the factory was producing 1,744 rifles a week and by 1887 there were 16 steam engines running massed production lines which employed 2,400 people.

The World Famous Lee-Enfield Rifle, Bren light machine gun and Sten sub-machine gun were all designed or produced at the Royal Small Arms factory which eventually closed in 1963 after playing a huge role in Great Britain’s victories in the two World Wars.

But industry in Enfield predates guns, guns and more guns, the Ponders End Flour Mill is the oldest working industrial building in Enfield.

Old black and white photograph of Ponders End Mill - circa 1910
Ponders End Mill circa 1910

The present buildings date from the late 18th century but there has been a mill on the site since at least the late 16th century and possibly since Domesday. It is still operating today and is now run by Wright’s Baking.

Other early industry around Ponders End was leather tanning – using oak bark, but had none of the longevity of the mill and became virtually extinct by the 18th century.

Grout and Baylis’ Crepe mill was established in Ponders End in 1809.

A gas works opened in Angel Edmonton in 1847 and Ponders End in 1859 and other factories around the time included a jute mill and linoleum factories.

These early factories in Eastern Enfield were established in the early 19th century with the development of the predominantly rural area around Enfield Highway driven by the railways, which began to grow rapidly in the 1840s.

Enfield’s industrial revolution, however, really began with the construction of Brimsdown Power Station in 1903, which was initially set up to power the borough’s new electric trams, but surplus electricity was soon being sold for domestic use.

Flooding at the gates of Edinson and Swan circa 1903
Flooding at the gates of Edinson and Swan circa 1903

Edison took over the former jute mill at Ponders End in 1886 and adapted it for the manufacture of electric light bulbs and later radio valves.

Belling started making electric fires in Enfield in 1912 and expanded to produce electric water heaters, cookers and immersion heaters by 1920 and a former Belling employee, subsequently set up the Edmonton switchgear firm, M K Electric.

Meanwhile, other important industries such as market gardening and brick making were also thriving.

The construction of the Cambridge Arterial Road in 1924 and steady and consistent improvements to rail
links helped improve links to central London and the wider Lee Valley and given industry in Eastern Enfield a boost.

Nowadays there are major regeneration schemes in place along the east of Enfield set to create thousands of new jobs at superb sites for business.

By providing world class facilities for industry, businesses such as Kelvin Hughes – the market innovator for radar sensors and systems – can create the next generation of high tech products from Enfield and continue to demonstrate that the borough is home to innovation.

For more information on local history, visit the heritage section on the main Enfield Council website.

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