Gunpowder was first produced at this site in the 1660s and as explosives developed so the complex expanded until it finally became a research facility for rocket propulsion in the late 20th century. As well as its documented effect on the conduct of war, gunpowder also benefited the peaceful development of the mining and civil engineering industries.
The mixing together of sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre (potassium nitrate) to form an explosive compound was discovered in China around a thousand years ago. The manufacture of gunpowder was always a dangerous process and this is well evidenced by the precautions which are still evident throughout the site.
Today Royal Gunpowder Mills house a range of exhibits which not only follow the development of gunpowder and the more modern chemical explosives but also provide a wealth of information on those who worked in the industry and its effect on the local environment.
The mills were originally powered by water and a network of canals was developed together with a narrow gauge railway system to facilitate transport around the site. The remaining canals and bridges form a scenic background for the wide variety of buildings that remain and there is now a nature reserve, behind which work is progressing on rebuilding part of the railway network.
Although walking around Royal Gunpowder Mills is easy, there is also the option of a regular land train service with a commentary. This serves as an excellent introduction before you branch out on your own to explore the grounds here more fully.
Don’t miss: the tailpiece of a German V2 flying bomb in the rockets exhibition.
Royal Gunpowder Mills, Beaulieu Drive, Waltham Abbey, Nr Epping, Essex EN9 1JY
tel: 01992 707370