Leeds nostalgia: blue plaque for Second World War Barnbow tank factory

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Where once there was a sprawling factory churning out Centurion and Challenger tanks, there will soon be acres of new housing.

The old Barnbow Royal Ordinance Factory at Crossgates - not to be confused with the shell filling factory which was operated during the First World War and which stands about a mile or so away - is to receive a posthumous honour on Monday.

Its contribution to the city and its place in history will be marked by the unveiling of a blue plaque, presented by Leeds Civic Trust in a ceremony at 2pm.

The plaque will read: “Barnbow Royal Ordnance Factory was built 1939-40 to make armaments for the Second World War. Employing at its peak 3,000 workers including 2,000 women, it produced around 9,000 guns – six and 25 pounders, 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns, 40mm Bofors and 17 pounders for Sherman tanks. Between 1945 and closure in 1999 over 4,000 Centurion, Chieftain and Challenger tanks were built here.”

The factory was recently demolished to make way for the new Bellway Homes housing estate but the plaque will be erected on the entrance gates to the former factory which still remain on Manston Lane.

The plaque will be unveiled by Mrs Val Orrell, a former employee at Barnbow. It has been jointly sponsored by Bellway Homes, East Leeds Historical Society, and members of Leeds Civic Trust.

Lynda Kitching, Chair of Leeds Civic Trust, said: “Leeds Civic Trust feels it is important to commemorate the Barnbow Royal Ordnance Factory because its workers played such an important role in the Second World War and subsequently it played a major role in equipping our country’s armed forces. For many years it was one of the major employers in the Crossgates area of the city.”

Ross Clarkson, sales director designate for Bellway Yorkshire, said: “We are delighted to mark the Royal Ordnance Factory’s association with this site.”

In 1939 the Ministry of War bought a 60 acre greenfield site at Manston Lane, Crossgates, one mile from the original Barnbow factory. Copied from the Woolwich Factory design, Royal Ordnance Factory No9 was quickly built.

From 1940 production centred around barrels and breech-blocks for light and medium guns: six pounder, 17 pounder, 25 pounder. By the end of the War, almost 9000 barrels and breech-blocks had been produced for the Army and Royal Navy.

Barnbow’s introduction to tanks occurred before D-Day, with the fitting of the 17 pounder gun to the American Sherman M4 tank, known as the Firefly. The 17 pounder was the final wartime attempt to produce a gun effective against German tank armour. No British tank could mount the 17 pounder until the A41 Centurion.

The Cold War began and the West needed to counter the threat of Russian armour in Europe – the Russian T-34 performed outstandingly and was recognised as the world’s first main battle-tank. Clearly something special was needed. Barnbow was chosen to manufacture Centurion Mark I (Cruiser Type). The first Centurion just missed World War II. Centurion had a Rolls Royce Meteor engine (similar to Spitfires and Lancaster aircraft).

More than 150 blue plaques have been put up since 1987.