Stanton at War – Stephen Flinders – 9th March 2015

Stephen is an ex- third generation employee of Stanton Iron Works near Ilkeston, Derbyshire. He had come into the possession of some unique records of the works, including a film taken on the site, during WW2, of the whole process of making steel bomb casings for bombs of 1600lbs down to 250lbs.

The Stanton Iron Works, was established in 1846 by Benjamin Smith at Ilkeston, due to the proximity of a deposit of iron ore, the convenience of shipping coal to the site on the Erewash and Nutbrook canals and the availability of local labour. The works at the time of WW2 had grown to cover 3.5 sq. miles.

At the outset of WW2, in October 1940, a new fully operational £1.5m facility covering 19 acres was constructed in 13 months, within the works, for the war effort, called the Stanton Gate Foundry, to make steel bomb casings.

Stephen showed us the film, starting from scrap steel, of the complete process, from mould making, steel making, casting, to the finished product. There was considerable quality control, although health and safety was very much lacking by todays standards. Flat caps and shirt sleeves, overalls for the ladies, no gloves, breathing apparatus  or protective footwear or eyeware, were used, leading to long term health problems and a few accidents. The pollution and noise were considerable, but, except when Lord Haw Haw intervened, morale was high and the food in the canteen was very good, as Stanton owned 3 farms.

2000 workers were employed in the foundry at peak. There were a few P.O.W.s and 40% were women, who only got 60% of the mens wages. The remainder were largely local men. All looked very slim!

During this period, 873,500 steel bomb casings were manufactured, at around 100 castings/hr., along with gun barrels, and other products, and because the works was traditionally an iron works, the foundry had to seek advice from steel workers from places like Sheffield.

The foundry was bought back by the company for £600,000 after victory and the whole works employed 9000 people in the 60s and 70s, making mainly iron and concrete pipes, but the Stanton Gate Foundry was demolished in 1991.

The site, still visible on the West side of the M1 next to the blue William West building, near Ilkeston/Erewash in Derbyshire, is earmarked for a development of 4000 houses, shops etc., much to the concern of those who live locally.

Stephen evoked memories of a past industry where employees spent their lives at the same factory, and the film wonderfully illustrated how industry adapted speedily to fighting  Nazism.

A most enjoyable and informative morning, clearly and enthusiastically delivered.