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The Story of the
Holton Heath, Dorset, UK
Royal Naval Cordite Factory

Working Conditions of RNCF Staff

Working conditions in an explosive factory inevitably focused on the danger of explosion and this must have weighed on the minds of employees. Careful attention to procedure reduced the danger but the factory was a dangerous place as indicated in the page on Safety. The work could also be dirty and uncomfortable as well as dangerous, especially in the manufacture of large quantities of acids required which produced noxious fumes.
Nevertheless, there were many people willing to work at RNCF, particularly during the two World Wars. Recruitment was assisted by the fact that the major industry in the area was farming and factory wages were set somewhat in advance of the local agricultural workers wage. In particular during WWI the normal wage was increased by special bonus payments. Typically in the 1930s however the factory wage was in the region of £2:10s to £3 per week when agriculture was offering less than £2.
An interesting aspect of employment in WWI was the issue of badges to female workers and documents to the men indicating that they were doing war work. This was to combat the “white feather” campaign particularly against civilian males who were viewed as cowards by not being in the armed forces, though standing next to 1½ tonnes of nitroglycerine requires a certain amount of courage. Such a document for one of the male workers is illustrated and states that he is serving his country just as much as someone in the forces.
Discipline was very strict to maintain safety and all workers were issued with a Rule Book which they were expected to abide by. Some transgressions (such as the possession of matches) were subject to instant dismissal whilst others were merely noted on record sheets.
By Dr Bob Dukes
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