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Fob watch with an inscription which reads "H.M. Works. Gretna. Presented to J.C Meldon Esq JP. By workers on Hill No. 2 July 1916."

Worker of the Week: J. C. Meldon

By Collections blog

Worker of the Week is a weekly blogpost series which will highlight one of the workers at H.M. Gretna our Research Assistant, Laura Noakes, has come across during her research. Laura is working on a project to create a database of the 30,000 people that worked at Gretna during World War One.

This week’s worker comes from another enquiry from a member of the public, and is a fascinating one! James Charles Meldon was born in Dublin in 1873, the son of Charles Meldon, who was a barrister, nationalist politician, and M.P. for Kildare.

The Meldon family has an impressive national pedigree.[1] Meldon is a variation of Muldoon, or in Irish, Ó Maoldúin, which means ‘descendant of the servant of St. Duin.’ The Ó Maoldúin’s were rumoured to be of royal descent, they were styled as the kings of Lurg in ‘The Annuals of Loch Ce’, which chronicles Irish affairs from 1014-1590. However, the Ó Maoldúin clan was defeated in battle by the MacGuires in about 1400, losing most of their power, although they retained some of it in Ulster. Remember this family information, it is definitely important to James Charles Meldon’s story!

In 1894, James married Harriette Cololough in St Joseph’s Church, Kingstown.[2] By 1901, the Meldon’s were living in Wellington Road, Dublin, alongside two of James’ sisters, their four-year old daughter Eileen, and two servants.[3] From this glimpse into the Meldon family at the time, it appears the family are living a comfortable middle-class life. It’s in the 1901 census we also get the first mention of James Charles’ job: an electrical engineer. This was a relatively new profession—the first electrical engineer is generally considered to be Sir Francis Ronalds, who created the first working telegraph that operated over a substantial distance.[4]

James advertised his business in local papers, and it appears that he was very successful. By 1911, he’d left Dublin to live in Greystones, Wicklow. In 1912, he was involved in the town of Dundalk’s switch to electric lights; his shop there was described as a ‘veritable fairyland of brilliant light.’[5] In 1917, he was the consulting engineer at the at The New Picture House, Greystones.

But what was James Charles Meldon’s connection with H. M. Factory Gretna? Well, that’s still a little bit of a mystery. The Devil’s Porridge Museum was recently approached by a member of the public who had in their possession a beautiful presentation gift given to J. C. Meldon ‘by workers on Hill No. 2’ at H.M Factory Gretna in July 1916.

It was common for presentations to be made to fellow workers, or bosses when they were leaving and/or when they performed particularly meritoriously at their job. In the DPM’s collection, we have a silver platter given to a William McDonald as well as a souvenir given to J. C. Burnham. ‘The Hill’ mentioned is shorthand for the Nitro-Glycerine Hill, which was where Nitro-Glycerine (a crucial ingredient needed to make cordite) was fed into the cordite making process by gravity. This suggests that J. C. Meldon was involved, in some way, in this particular area of the factory. The date engraved on the watch also gives us some more clues about Meldon’s time at the Factory. July 1916 was not long after the factory started production. Coupled with his career as an electrical engineer, could Meldon have been involved in the construction of the factory, perhaps installing electrics? The ‘JP’ at the end of Meldon’s name stands for Justice of the Peace. A Justice of the Peace is a judicial officer, appointed from the local community, who sits in the magistrates court and decides on minor offences. J. C. Meldon was appointed a JP of the city of Dublin in January 1915.[6] Although this was a lay position, which is a position that doesn’t require legal training, in a way J. C. Meldon was following in the footsteps of his father, who was a lawyer, by becoming a Justice of the Peace

On the other side of the watch, Meldon’s illustrious family history is celebrated.

This is the Meldon family Crest and motto. The motto, pro fide et patria, is Latin for ‘For Faith and Fatherland.’[7] The coat of arms is a variation of the Muldoon coat of arms.[8] The hand is a symbol for faith sincerity and justice, and the crescent moon above it is a symbol of one who has been honoured by his Sovereign.

When we recently shared photos of this lovely gift across our social media, and received the following information from a Facebook follower:

It’s a half hunter Waltham watch. American manufacture, retailed by Stokes of Dublin. The serial number will give the date of manufacture, probably 1915/16. Could be 15 carot gold case. Or possibly gold plated can’t see the marks on the cover clearly.

 That is all we’ve been able to uncover about J. C. Meldon’s time at H. M. Factory Gretna, and the lovely presentation gift given to him from workers there. Whilst we don’t know the details of Meldon’s involvement with the factory, the gift, coupled with his job as an electric engineer, suggests that he was involved in some way with the construction of the factory. His family background and historic connections to Irish royalty make J. C. Meldon’s connection with Gretna even more fascinating, and we wouldn’t know any of this without the help of the member of the public that reached out to us to share photos of the watch! So, a massive thank you, and do feel free to reach out to us if you know of any connections with H. M. Factory Gretna in your family history!

[1] See:;;

[2] ‘Marriages Meldon – Cololough, The Belfast Newsletter, November 27th 1894, p. 1.

[3] Irish Census 1901 <>

[4] B. F. Ronalds, “Francis Ronalds (1788–1873): The First Electrical Engineer? [Scanning Our Past],” in Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 104, no. 7, pp. 1489-1498, July 2016, doi: 10.1109/JPROC.2016.2571358.

[5] ‘Electric Light in Dundalk’ Dundalk Examiner and Louth Advertiser,

[6] The Wicklow Newsletter and Arklow Reporter, January 9th 1915.



A child next to the railway bogie outside The Devil's Porridge Museum.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2021

By News

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is celebrated every year. Its name pretty much says it all: the day aims to show girls a route into engineering and inspire them to consider it as a career! A very worthy cause if I say so myself.

An engineer is defined as: ‘a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures.’[1] Traditionally, the profession has been dominated by men, and this gender imbalance continues to this day. Only 12.37% of all engineers in the UK are women, and less than half of girls between the ages of 11 and 14 would consider a career in engineering.[2] In order to address this gender balance, days like Introduce a Girl to Engineering and organisations like the Women’s Engineering Society play a crucial role in promoting engineering to women and girls. At the Devil’s Porridge Museum, we’re very proud of the role women engineers played in H.M. Factory Gretna, so today, to (hopefully) inspire you, we’re going to delve into their history.

Women munition workers at Gretna played a crucial role in using, checking and maintaining the machines at the Factory. H.M Factory Gretna was a cordite factory, an explosive that was crucial to the war effort. Mary Ellen Hind began working in the Dornock section of the Factory aged 19 in 1916. She recalled ‘I was put in the screening shed at first and the gun-cotton came to us in big lumps, shaped like a loaf, and we put them through a machine and graded them down to sheds.’[3]

The Bale Breaking Machine that Mary Ellen is describing.

Later on, Mary Ellen was transferred to the engine house. There she worked with the machine that dried the gun-cotton. A crucial aspect of her work was checking the temperature gauge; ‘if it was too high we had to open the door and put a wedge in it, to cool down the building, if it was the opposite then we had to close it.[4] This was a potentially dangerous task, if the temperature got too hot, the building could have blown up!

The Drying Stove at Mossband where gun-cotton was dried.

We also know that women self-identified as engineering professionals. Edith Locke put down her occupation as ‘Munitions Worker – Mechanic on her marriage certificate in 1918. In this, Edith is acknowledging the level of skill and the specialised knowledge required for her job.

This is just a brief glimpse into the many and varied engineering roles women undertook at H.M. Factory Gretna. And over one hundred years on, women are still being pioneers in engineering. The WES have highlighted current female engineers who work in defence, education, law, energy, entertainment, healthcare, infrastructure, manufacturing, software and transport—a HUGE diversity of jobs and skills.

Every year, Lottie the Engineering Doll tours the country to inspire girls to become engineers. The Devil’s Porridge Museum was lucky enough to host Lottie last year for a visit (see photographs below where she explored the Museum’s industrial objects with Agnes, the Museum Manager’s daughter).

Thanks to Neve from ‘We The Parents’ website for sharing this infographic with us putting the pioneering women at HM Factory Gretna in context.  Find out more about her work here:

See the complete post here:

Here’s to women engineer’s past, present, and future!



[3] G Routledge, Gretna’s Secret War (Bookcase, 1999), p. 61

[4] G Routledge, Gretna’s Secret War (Bookcase, 1999), p. 61

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