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Old Parish Church at Gretna Green.

Old Postcards of Gretna

By Collections blog

Recently the Museum was donated a large amount of postcards. Some had old photos of Carlisle and the surrounding area on them which we have already posted on our website, some had funny cartoons on them which we will post soon. These postcards have old photographs of Gretna on them and show images of the Blacksmiths shop, Gretna Hall and the old Parish Church and War Memorial. There is also an image of the Blacksmiths shop which is shown above at the top of the article.

This image shows a photo of Gretna Hall in Gretna

The image below shows the old blacksmiths shop in Gretna



The final image shows the Parish Church in Gretna with the War Memorial and Prince Charlie’s Cottage



You can see all of the old photos of Carlisle here:

Susan Summers

Gretna Girl – Susan Summers

By Collections blog

These are the accounts of Susan Summers when she worked in HM Factory Gretna during World War One. The article is written by her and about what her roles were at the Factory and what life was like working there.


When war was declared I decided to help the war effort and get a job at HM Factory Gretna. We were met at the station and taken to a large hut which was to be our home from home during our stay.


Our first job was stocking furnaces with sulphur. One day, a week later, we were hurried outside. I understand there was a leak of some kind and we were never sent back.


I was then sent to take charge of the Drying Shed. The gun-cotton was in blocks, packed in bags to be put into the drying machines. They were loaded onto a conveyor belt upstairs to the screening shed where it was ground to a powder.


I can remember the shed was bitterly cold and one night we had an alert. The lights in the shed went out and we were plunged into darkness. We heard afterwards that a Zeppelin had got through to Annan.


Then I went on a more dangerous job which was underground and there too we had an alert. Our chemist dashed in shouting, “Run girls! Run for your lives!” we did and I know I only stopped when my breath gave out.

Annie Corrin

Annie Corrin – Gretna Girl

By Collections blog

Annie Corrin left Port S. Mary in the Isle of Man, and went to work at the Gretna plant when she was 19. She remained there from August 1917 until early 1919. She received roughly 15/- per week, after board and lodging had been deducted. Despite the fact that these wages were considered to be high for the period after she had sent money to her home she couldn’t afford to go to the cinema or dances in Carlisle or Dornock.


Eventually she was billeted in the Central Hotel, near Carlisle station, which had been commandeered for the munition workers. However, about six months later the hotel became a hospital for the war wounded and the girls were sent to the hostels in the Gretna township. These hostels were usually newly erected wooden huts, and the one she was sent to was called “Florence Nightingale Hostel”.


Work at the plant as based on a three shift system 7.00am – 2.00pm, 2.00pm – 10.00pm and 10.00pm – 7.00am.


Annie had initially been sent to work in the Cordite Section, and was provided with a mop cap, tunic and trousers. Her job was to separate large trays of Cordite, by taking a small handful and smashing the end, to separate the strands. The strands were then put into boxes, similar to fish boxes and weighed. After this procedure had been completed, the boxes were provided with lids which were then nailed down.


After six months, she was transferred to outside work in the Loading Sheds. She was provided with an oilskin coat, and sou’wester hat, for this work. She was instructed by a man called ‘Geordie’ into the best methods of lifting and loading the boxes of cordite sticks on to the trucks. The girls then pushed these trucks outside on rail tracks, for about a mile to another shed. Although she never found out what happened in these sheds she does remember that there were usually a couple of girls lying outside in  what appeared to be a drunk state, cause by exposure to cordite.


Early in 1919 Annie left the Gretna Plant and returned to the Isle of Man.

Agnes Helen Webster

Agnes Helen Webster – Gretna Girls

By Collections blog

Agnes Helen Webster was born on 2nd March 1899 at Burnfoot, Biel Estate, East Lothian. Her father was a gamekeeper on the estate. Agnes was one of a family of four girls and one boy.


Agnes attended school at Stenton where she had seven years perfect attendance. Her father the dies when she was 12 years old and her family would have to leave their cottage at Burnfoot.


Agnes would probably enter domestic serve until she went to Gretna. The working conditions would be in stark contrast to her rural upbringing and with running water on the floor to prevent sparks, and being exposed to highly toxic and dangerous chemicals, life at Gretna was quite harsh.


She returned to domestic service at the end of the war and in 1930 met and married Robert Bathgate Denholm from North Berwick. He was  a master cabinet maker and joiner and an accomplished amateur golfer who represented Scotland on numerous occasions. They had a family of four boys.


Agnes died in 1964 having suffered from cancer for many years.


A Royal Navy ship at sea.

World War Two ammunition shipped from Gretna to Russia

By Collections blog

We recently received a copy of the article below.  It appeared in a newspaper local to the Museum, The Annandale Observer, on September 7th 1945.  It details the wartime shipment of ammunition from a Central Ammunition Depot near Gretna Green (Eastriggs?  Longtown?).  The ammunition was sent via the Arctic convoys to Russia.  We weren’t aware of this before and were very interested to find out.


gretna to archangel arctic convoy world war two

If you are interested in this region during World War Two, you might like this book, which was published by the Museum following local history research and oral history interviews.

The Solway Military Coast book

This booklet (which is included within the Solway Military Coast book), specifically looks at The Ministry of Defence depots at Eastriggs and Longtown.

The Ministry of Defence Depots: Longtown and Eastriggs

gretna to archangel arctic convoy world war two

The Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.

The life and death of Eric de Clermont

By Collections blog

Eastriggs (where The Devil’s Porridge Museum is based) is known as the Commonwealth Village.  The majority of its street names are derived from places in the Commonwealth (or Empire) such as Vancouver Road, Delhi Road, Singapore Road etc.  The township was built in World War One to house workers at HM Factory Gretna, the greatest munitions factory on earth at that time (the Museum tells the story of this factory and its 30,000 workers).  The workers came from around the world and they left their mark behind in their wartime contribution and in the place names of Eastriggs.  Here we feature one person from the Factory who worked here in World War One.

Eric de Clermont

Born: 1st November 1880

Died (in Gretna): 5th December 1918

Commonwealth connection: South Africa


eric de clermont

Eric’s experiences before World War One

1st November 1880 Eric was born in London.

1899 Eric entered King’s College, Cambridge.

1901 Eric appeared on Census return aged 20, he was listed as a student.  At that time, his family were living in Reigate.  His father, Otto (48) was listed as a Mechanical Engineer and his sister, Helen (22) as a School Teacher.  His cousin, Kenneth Heilgers (19) was also staying with them and he was recorded as an East India merchant on the census.

1902 Eric graduated from King’s College with a BA.

1903 Eric graduated from Camborne School of Mines, Cornwall with a  qualification in Ore Dressing for which he was awarded an Honours Grade Second Class.

Some time after 1903 Eric travelled to South Africa to work in mining.

1916 Eric returned to Britain.


Accidents and ill health meant that Eric couldn’t volunteer for the army.

He had been an enthusiastic rugby player, even captaining his team at King’s College Cambridge before an injury.

He lost his eye and contracted miner’s phthisis (a lung disease) whilst he was working in the South African mines.

In 1916, he was nominated for a Commission in a tunnelling company and promised he would be sent quickly to the Front but his injuries and ill health put a stop to that.

Eric’s War work

Eric de Clermont joined the Ministry of Munitions and after his preliminary training at Pitsea near Basildon, he came to HM Factory Gretna in July 1916.

For more information on Pitsea, see:

He seems to have been a well known and well liked person as these quotes demonstrate.

“He had a schoolboy’s enthusiasm for everything he undertook, and a schoolboy’s instinct of playing the game.”

“He was full of enthusiasm for his new task, and was one of the first to take over a shift; he soon became a Range Officer, and finally was appointed a Sub-section Officer.”

“He worked his Sub-section up to a pitch of the highest efficiency, and was always devising schemes for increasing output and reducing costs; this he was enabled to do by real hard work, and by the respect and confidence of his subordinates, which he won without difficulty.”

The Death of Eric de Clermont

On November 25th 1918, Eric was taken ill with influenza (the Spanish Flu).  He had to be prevented (by force) from going to work at the Factory.

He was said to have been full of high spirits when he entered the influenza hospital.

But after a few days, pneumonia began to develop and he became quieter and finally passed away on December 5th 1918 aged 38.

He was buried at Rigg Cemetery on December 7th 1918.

Eric’s death “…cast a dark shadow over the closing days of the Factory, for with his passing we had lost a man who had gained our affection as colleague and friend.  He was an outstanding personality on the Cordite Section, and it is probable that but few of the thousands on the area did not know him, his ingenuous, engaging disposition, and the hundred and one little episodes associated with his name.” 

victory avenue

Photograph above: shows Victory Avenue, Gretna which was Eric’s address when he died

“His old tweed jacket; his beatific smile when one of his many little tricks was found out; his intense local patriotism…his garden, which he would weed on a rainy day sitting on a camp-stool under an umbrella – all these, together with the many episodes remembered by those who lived with at Staff-Quarters, Sarkbridge, and at 96 Victory Avenue, remain and endear him to us.”

All quotes from Mossband Farewell magazine (in the Museum’s archive).

To find out more about Eastriggs in World War One a map has been produced:

Photo of some munitions workers outside a Gym at H. M. Factory Gretna.

Wonderful new photo of Gretna Girls

By Collections blog

We recently discovered this postcard and have added it to our collection.  It shows a group of ‘Gretna Girls’ i.e. munition workers from HM Factory Gretna outside the gymnasium.  HM Factory Gretna was the greatest factory on earth in World War One, it employed 12,000 women (The Devil’s Porridge Museum tells its story).

The workers were comparatively well looked after with a Social and Recreation Department through which the gym and other facilities were provided.  A document in the Museum’s collection states that,

“…each township [Gretna and Eastriggs built to house the workers] became possessed of an Institute, a Cinema, a spacious Hall for Meetings, Concerts and Dances, a Mission Hall, smaller buildings for general purposes and a Recreation ground with pitches for Cricket, Football, Hockey and other healthy games.  Tennis Courts and Bowling Greens were also provided.”

hm factory gretna gym

This photo has the following text written beneath it.

“These Gretna girls in costume trim

Have spent the morning in ‘the Gym’

They learn to climb, to jump and run,

And to judge by their faces, it’s all great fun!”

Interestingly, the postcard wasn’t sent until 1960 and when it was sent it was sent to someone (a female student?) at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.  The main text of the postcard does not relate to the photo on the front but the Postscript does.  It seems the writer of the postcard bought it at a Church Bazaar.

The following is an extract from the back of the postcard:

“Owner of this splendid collection and really did take wk in Gretna Green Ordnance Factory set up during First World War.”

The gym is described in a Museum document as being “…fitted with all the most modern gymnastic appliances, and the classes held for girl operatives on several occasions each week, under the direction of a trained instructress, have been attended with most gratifying and beneficial results, physically and otherwise.”

The same document also describes the uniforms worn by the girls:  “The members of these classes wear a neat and serviceable uniform that affords them ample freedom for their numerous exercises.”

We are very pleased with this new addition to our Museum collection.  If you are interested in the stories of Gretna Girls and their experiences in World War One, this publication (available from the Museum’s online shop) may be of interest to you:

Lives of Ten Gretna Girls booklet


Born in a Munition Workers Hostel in 1919

By Collections blog

A recent visitor to the Museum sent us a photo of their mothers Birth certificate who used to work at the munitions factory at Powfoot during the Second World War. The visitor was researching their family tree when they discovered that one of their mothers three sisters (who her mother never mentioned) also worked in a munitions factory.  The visitor’s mother (Margaret or Peggy Sweeney) was born at the end of World War One.   Her mother (Bridget Sweeney) worked in one of the hostels for munitions girls in Eastriggs (Newfoundland House).  She was a cook as shown in Peggy’s birth certificate (below).

Birth Certificate

Old Photo

These are photographs of Margaret or Peggy Sweeney as a child and young woman.

The accommodation for the workers at HM Factory Gretna varied as many wooden huts were built to be used as hostels but also a number of brick hostels were made to house more people, these brick hostels lasted for a long time and the majority of them stand today and have been split up into houses after being sold off after the war. The brick hostels had a matron and a cook to make sure that the workers were looked after and fed properly, each hostel was named after a famous figure such as Wellington, Kitchener and Wolfe which were all situated on Victory Avenue in Eastriggs.

WW1 hostels

The hostels were built very quickly by the Irish Navvies who came to Eastriggs and Gretna to build the Factory site. Even the brick hostels were built very quickly as stated in this account: “I remember when all the navvies were there building….. we were coming on shift one morning and they were starting to build a block and when we came off in the afternoon it was all up, the whole block was built, you know, the hostels, it was all built while we were at work, all built in a day, there were hundreds of men there.” – Mary Ellen Halliday, who started working in the factory in 1916 aged 19.

Hostel being built by navvies

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited the Factory and hostels he said this about the way they were laid out “A considerable nucleus of solid brick houses which should be good for a century or more…. radiating out from this centre are long lines of wooden huts to hold the workers, cottages for the married couples, bungalows for groups of girls and hostels which hold as many as seventy in each. This central settlement is where people live – North and South of it is where they work.”

Gretna overhead view WW1

Gretna girls hockey team.

Girls hockey team at HM Factory Gretna in World War One

By Collections blog

A recent visitor to the museum was intrigued by this photo, which we have on display in our ground floor gallery.  It shows the Girls Hockey Team from HM Factory Gretna in World War One.

girls hockey team

The visitor wondered if one of the women pictured may have been Evelyn Perry.  Evelyn was appointed Physical Training Instructor at Gretna in 1917 as this page from the book ‘Challenge of Change’ recounts.

challenge of change

This is the comment that the visitor made:

The players in the photo were not named but one lady in the back row was wearing a deep yoked tunic – often an indication of a trained PE specialist and a small section of a brooch.  I rather dismissed her as being Evelyn as she appeared to be wearing the Dunfermline College of Hygiene and Physical Training brooch – see my version [below].  The top looks just visible.

However, on reflection, Evelyn was on the staff of Dunfermline College from at least 1905 – 1907 and may well have been given a brooch although she had trained at Chelsea, probably before brooches were given out [see text below for more information].

dumferline college brooch

dunfermline college

Looking at our records, we were able to find this description of hockey playing at the Factory, it is taken from a record of HM Factory Gretna’s Social and Recreational Department’s activities during World War One.

hockey at hm factory gretna

If anyone knows anymore about this, please do contact the museum as we are always looking to find out more about life here during World War One.

A train outside Gretna Church.

World War One locomotive

By Collections blog

The Devil’s Porridge Museum has the photo below in its collection.  It shows a train near St Andrew’s Parish Church in Gretna.  A railway line ran through here during World War One.

train outside gretna church

The locomotive was built in 1916 by Hudswell Clark and sent to the munitions works at Gretna.

It was sold by the Ministry of Munitions in 1922 and consigned to the scrap yard in 1957.  It somehow survived and was eventually bought by Mr Stephen Middleton, who has restored it to working order on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway (near Skipton).

Thanks to Davie Wilson, one of our volunteers, who shared this information and these photographs with the museum.


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