East Leeds: ‘Barnbow Lasses’ names tribute gets the go-ahead

BLAST TRAGEDY: The Barnbow Munitions Factory where 40 people died in explosions in 1916, 1917 and 1918.
BLAST TRAGEDY: The Barnbow Munitions Factory where 40 people died in explosions in 1916, 1917 and 1918.
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Parks, buildings and streets are to be named after some of the women killed in a series of explosions at a Leeds ammunition factory at the height of the First World War.

Ethel Jackson Road, Jane Few House and Elizabeth Wortley Park are just some of the place names that will forever commemorate the 37 ‘Barnbow Lasses’ and three men killed in three explosions in December 1916, March 1917 and May 1918.

Bellway, the developers building 122 apartments and houses on the site of the former shell factory where the women died, agreed to the suggestion put forward by Councillor Pauline Grahame (Lab, Cross Gates and Whinmoor) yesterday.

A new Barnbow memorial is also to be erected at Manston Park, while an idea to unveil a roll of honour at Cross Gates Shopping Centre is being considered.

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East Leeds History and Archaeology Society (ELHAS) has been campaigning for the renovation of an existing memorial to the victims, which was installed on Cross Gates Road in 2005.

The plaque has weathered and is barely legible. It is also positioned on a roundabout so is difficult to access.

ELHAS chairman Bob Lawrence said: “The outcome of this meeting can only be good, as long as the memorial is maintained.”

Barnbow was Britain’s top shell factory during the First World War and produced a total of 566,000 tons of ammunition, which was shipped overseas.

There were 16,000 people working at the site. As the war progressed and men were called up, the workforce ended up being around 93 per cent women, who were known as the ‘Barnbow Lasses’.

The first explosion occurred in Room 42 of the factory, just after 10pm on December 5 1916, where around 170 women worked in the dangerous job of filling shells.

Because of censorship at the time, no account of the disaster was made public, although many death notices appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Joan Corcoran, who was at the meeting yesterday, said her aunty Jane Swift had been ‘scalped’ in one of the factory explosions.

She said: “That’s what the doctor’s said. I could never tell what she looked like because she’d sit in front of the fire with a towel over her and wouldn’t look at anyone.

“She lived until World War II when the Woodpecker on York Road was bombed. It brought back the shock or the Barnbow explosion and she died shortly afterwards.”

Amelia Stewart died in hospital on December 30, 1916, from internal injuries – 25 days after the first explosion. Her granddaughter Wyn Baker said the commemorative plans were “excellent”.